Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviews: Larry Owens | Mary Bourke | Fiona Ridgewell | Dan Tiernan
Larry Owens Live, Assembly Roxy (Upstairs) (Venue 139) ****
Until 27 August
An encore and standing ovation are rare sights at a Fringe comedy show. And while Larry Owens nakedly appeals to white liberal guilt, demands recognition of his talent and, more generally, shamelessly plays to the gallery during his Edinburgh debut, from the American's first note you're aware that you're witnessing a phenomenal stage presence who's got the skills repertoire to be huge. Arguably better suited to the cabaret section of the brochure (it’s effectively a 90-minute show jammed into an hour with virtually no cultural edits for a UK crowd), Live nevertheless shows Owens is a performance colossus, his voice spellbinding, a sublime tool of immense depth, nuance and variety.
The big, Black, queer act is also a versatile multi-hyphenate, who dances, performs characters, cracks wise and shares one particularly sobering song inspired by the Black Livers Matter movement, breathlessly intoning “I can't breathe” over a role call of young Black men who've died at the hands of police officers. Circling the room, his opening number sets the scene for struggle, a belting lament for him being “too gay for Black people” and simply too much in other ways to be acceptable to various audiences.
Cursorily nodding to his success in the off-Broadway musical A Strange Loop, Live is set slightly before then in 2017, framed by a series of messages from Owens' agent, casually fetishising his novelty value as a Person of Colour and urging him to jump through hoops to write (archly parodical) songs for Billie Eilish and the rapper Lil Nas X. He's also auditioning for a sketch show that's Saturday Night Live in all but name, performing bold impressions of Oprah Winfrey and Viola Davis, the latter seething with ill-disguised disdain that Jennifer Lawrence has received more Oscar love than her. Highlights are a sweetly hilarious song to Owen's therapist, Marjorie, the middle-aged white lady he's abused with his one-direction problems, and a soulful reimagining of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme. Throw in a mesmerising rendition of Stephen Sondheim's Being Alive and you've got a wonderful finale. Jay Richardson
Mary Bourke: 200% Irish, The Stand Comedy Club 2 (Venue 5) ****
Until 27 August
It is a wonderful thing (much underrated) to feel comfortable in a comedy show. We do here. This is not angry, political Mary, this is conversational, gentle, observational Mary. And personal Mary, who is an absolute privilege to meet. A comedian of this much experience, skill and heart can pretty much create comedy out of anything life flings at them. This is a bit of a masterclass in doing that.
Of course there are things in the world that cannot pass without a bit of a Bourking – low anxiety comedy clubs, Tik Tok and people who don't understand how jokes work – but we also get Peppa Pig and Michael Fassbender, Sticky Vicky (a legendary performer who has to be brought to the Fringe) and her Grandma's DNR. It is all funny, it is all delivered like a warm friendly chat, and it is lovely. The last part of the show involves her wonderful husband Simon. And his catastrophic stroke during lockdown. Do not worry, it is still properly funny, what with the medicinal effects of a fatal shark attack joke, Britain's Got Talent (Amanda Holden fans should prepare for a shock), the London Marathon and, of course, Coldplay. They say tragedy plus time equals comedy. Mary Bourke is so good she doesn't even need that much time. Kate Copstick
Fiona Ridgewell: No-Nonsense, PBH's Free Fringe @ Banshee Labyrinth (Chamber Room) (Venue 156) ***
Until 27 August
In her in Fringe debut, Fiona Ridgewell has real girl-next-door energy – if that girl has just moved back in with her micro-aggressive mother in her 30s following the collapse of her relationship. This is not a break-up show though, states Ridgewell. And that, at least, seems true, because although she shares some of the insecurities that her ex, and indeed her entire family and circle of friends, have instilled in her, she's got plenty of others that are all her own.
One of the many female stand-ups open about their spiritual use of crystals, this aspect exemplifies Ridgewell's appeal: she shares embarrassing personal stories but is sharp enough to put the craziness into a recognisable context. Easily relatable, with an abiding love of all things Disney, but also an odd preoccupation with the best-known products in the Marks & Spencer's Foodhall, Ridgewell's not the “girly girl” she initially appears to be; her boxing lessons and stand-up vocation have taught her to roll with the punches of lively audiences in Edinburgh and elsewhere. A promising newcomer with a welcoming vibe. Jay Richardson
Dan Tiernan: Going Under, Monkey Barrel Comedy (Monkey Barrel 2) (Venue 515) ****
Until 27 August
This is how to make a Fringe introduction. Furiously browed, intense, and on the front foot from the start, Mancunian comic Dan Tiernan has a strong club set opening. Catching you off guard with his unique looks, wired persona and quirky backstory about being an ex-dinner lady (the composite repository for some punchy gags), he’s also got a storming style of crowd interrogation that's in-your-face aggressive, and follows this with instant self-recrimination and pathetic, grovelling gratitude.
But he's also dyspraxic and capitalises on the condition for some richly self-mocking routines. Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, he recalls being educated in a specialist school, offering plenty of compelling detail, but occasionally playing up to the offensive, window-licker stereotype. There's little time or quarter given to sensitivities in Going Under and his running gag about suicidal thoughts is a damningly perceptive indictment of public transport in this country.
Moreover, and contrary to his vibe, he acknowledges he’s gay, making for a potent, original, intersectional fount of gags about disability, neurodiversity and sexuality, with Tiernan expressing his recently acquired individual freedom with waggishly crude lines about shagging and drugs, and by slamming his mother, his family favourite younger sister, and his stepdad in particular. His sister's serious illness also adds an unexpected layer of poignancy. The show would have been perfectly fine without it, but is elevated by Tiernan sharing it, allowing him to demonstrate a deft ability to tackle sentimentality and trauma with a perfectly pitched gallows humour that belies his relative youth and bull-in-the-baked-bean-aisle-of-the-supermarket mania.
All the while, his audience interaction is more nimble and nuanced than superficially obvious. On the night I caught him, he capably ad-libbed around the discovery of ex-Celtic player Mark McNally in the front row just as it threatened to knock him off his stride. Jay Richardson