Monday, 4 August 2014

Richard Gadd - Breaking Gadd ****

Another act that I first saw in comedy competition heats is Richard Gadd, who is not your run of the mill stand up comic.

In the early days when he was a new open spot comedian, he played the character of "a new open spot comedian", trying out new material and by playing a slightly unstable version of himself he pretty much managed to de-construct and dissected the whole stand up comedy art form, by being deliberately terrible to the point that he was brilliant.

I saw his first full our show in the basement of the Argyll Bar in Marchmont which was done in front of me, a weird looking couple and four people from his Dad's work. It wasn't the easiest gigs with such a small crowd, but he still provided enough laughs, despite having a nervous breakdown on stage which you weren't sure was part of the act (it was, as his subsequent shows have demonstrated).

Since then he's gone onto much bigger and better things, going full time and performing in a number of London Theatres. So after hearing good things about last year's show "Cheese and Crackwhores" (5 stars in The Skinny being one of many good reviews) I thought it was time to see him again, this time he's moved from the basement to the top floor in the Counting House into a small room which is perfectly intimate if a little warm.

The show itself is indescribable (so much so that I'm tempted to look up the other reviewer who I know was in the room and copy her, but I'll resist the temptation). It's certainly surreal, it's certainly funny and it's certainly shocking in places. My personal highlight was the reaction of the two old dears in the front row to some of Gadd's stranger stunts - I've no idea what attracted them to the show, but they didn't look like they'd seen an episode of Breaking Bad before, put it that way.

More importantly, it's professional with Gadd interacting with audio, video and a co-performer (whose name I can't remember unfortunately) and nailing all the cues despite it being his first show of the Fringe run. It really is more of a theatre piece than a stand up comedy show now, but it's still very very funny.

So if you want to see something a bit different and you aren't offended by trivial things like sex, murder, drug taking or plant molestation then you won't regret an hour with Richard Gadd. You'll laugh, you'll wince, you'll squirm in your chair but most of all, you'll simply be entertained - although like me, you'll probably not be able to describe how or why!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Rik Caranza - Charming ****

I've mentioned Rik Caranza before in my blog. He's been around the comedy scene in Edinburgh for a while now. I must have seen him for the first time around seven years ago, upstairs at the Beehive on a random Saturday night out with the Fringe.

Back then he was a open spot with some funny lines about his ethnicity and weight and a likeable manner and he built on that when I saw him at the Laughing Horse new act competition a couple of times, standing out from the crowd as the most polished of the Edinburgh open spots and progressing to the next stage of the competition.

Later he added music to his repertoire and this year, for the first time, I saw him displaying some comedy sketch drawings, which were probably one of my highlights of the show. (Fortunately he can't do the fat jokes any more because he's slimmed down a fair bit).

This year, Caranza is assisted by Des O'Gorman, another Edinburgh based stand up comedian and actor (originally from Ireland), who I wouldn't stay stole the show, but some of the the best bits were when the two of them were working together, especially when O'Gorman burst back into the room in costume (I won't say who he was dressed as) for a film related sketch.

I saw O'Gorman in Globophobia last year and he definitely did steal the show in that one, so I should probably mention that he is doing a solo show this year too.

But the majority of the show concentrated on Rik and the word "charming" which was used to describe him in several reviews last year. Rik wanted to know, was he charming in a good way (Will Smith) or a bad way (Hugh Grant) and had a sliding scale which the audience were allowed to move depending on his material and general demeanour.

I won't tell you where he ended up on the charming scale, nor can I predict where he'll end up in his comedy career. I know he doesn't do stand up comedy full time (despite faring much better than a lot of full time comics that I've seen).

If he doesn't go down the full time route, he'll have many more good nights for years to come at the Free Festival and he'll become even more well known on the circuit in Edinburgh and Scotland. If he does go full time, his sense of timing, good choice of subject matter, and yes his charm, could see him going even further than that.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

2014 and all that...

After an eleven month blog hibernation, the Fringe returns, so it's time for me to indulge in a bit of wandering round the Fringe and rambling about what I see!

For the past 10-12 years I've habitually stuck to the same plan on day one and two of the previews... Plonk myself down in the middle of the Pleasance and wait for all the performers to offer me free tickets to their preview shows (which happens surprisingly more than you think, see my second ever blog post for more info). That, mixed in with a trip to the Free Festival Launch Party and the odd trip to Shaggers was pretty much my staple Fringe diet.

This year I've started a new job and being only a few weeks in I felt it was a bit soon to be asking for holidays so I've had to curtail my activities somewhat and my Pleasance squatting has taken the biggest hit!

I still went to the Laughing Horse Free Festival Party, which was fantastic as always and I'm getting to know more faces year on year.

With a limited amount of time I've been sticking to showcases so far, starting with Game of Loners at the Beehive (Scottish Comedy Festival), moving on to a couple of Laughing Horse Free Pick of the Fringe shows and finishing with Shaggers last night, which was great banter as always, with regular Shaggers Mike Belgrave, Christian Elderfield and Matt Price all on form and headliner Katerina Vrana (the only act on the bill I'd not seen before) rounding the show off nicely.

Game of Loners is a three comics in an hour show, with local acts Gareth Waugh, Gareth Mutch and Robin Grainger all doing 20 minutes each. I've seen all three before and all are improving well. Gareth Waugh is probably the most established of the three, doing comedy full time and performing regularly at The Stand out with the Fringe, but all three have something different to offer and are decent acts in their own right. The show I saw was the very first preview two days before the Fringe officially started on a dreich Wednesday afternoon, so understandably it was quiet which made it difficult to really get the room rocking, but once the festival is up and running and they get bigger crowds, I'm sure it'll be a hit.

The Laughing Horse showcases were similarly quiet on Thursday but two comics really stood out in difficult conditions. Tom Goodliffe had the ideal combination of likeability and good material and Oliver Meech's mix of geeky science banter and magic immediately made me want to see more of the show which is aimed at kids aged 8-80 but on during the day, so I probably won't get a chance!

Two more local comics who have come through the ranks are Rik Caranza and Richard Gadd. They're very different types of comedian who have graduated from doing 20 minutes of an hour long show to doing a full hour by themselves. I managed to catch both of them in the last couple of days and enjoyed both shows, so they'll be my first two full reviews of 2014, when I get round to it!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bob Slayer - Worldwide Bawbag ****

If you are looking for a typical run of the mill night of stand up comedy, then avoid Bob Slayer at all costs.

He is anything but normal. In the past I've seen him pin a dart board to his naked body and let audience members throw real, full weight darts at him.

I've been dragged on stage by him, dressed up as Freddie Mercury and made to sing "We Will Rock You" in front of a packed audience at the Laughing Horse launch Party about 3 years ago.

I've seen him dress up someone as a chicken and someone else as an egg to see who would come first in an arm wrestle.

I've seen him walk in to a crowd of 20 Americans and announce that he was going to speak slowly "Because they are stuuuuupid".

He's also famous for breaking his neck whilst crowd surfing in a wheelie bin at a festival.

All these antics were fairly late on in the evening and we found a slightly more subdued Bob Slayer at 16.45 in his Bookshop, a venue he is running which is more like a house party for stand up comedians the rest of the day/night.

But don't be fooled! A subdued Bob is still far more lively than most comedians. In this hour he managed to convince a woman at the front to admit that she had drunk breast milk (the story that led up to that is a cracker) and he challenged me to take off my Rolling Stones T-Shirt if I couldn't name 5 songs released by them in the 60's including B-sides. He admitted defeat after I named three because I seemed to know what I was talking about and proved I wasn't just wearing it as a fashion statement.

The remainder of the hour was taken up with stories about his time touring with semi famous bands, including a great tale about the time he decided that the comedy night he was about to perform at was a bit too bland so he decided to abseil off a balcony to get on stage.

I'll be honest, I was close to giving three stars rather than four simply because his show was so comparatively tame compared to every other show I've seen of his and it didn't exceed my mayhem expectations, but it wouldn't do him justice. He's still well worth listening to during the day!

But if you like a comedy night to resemble a hilarious drunken party rather than a live at the Apollo gig, I would recommend going to see his late show rather than this one because judging from the stories I've heard, he hasn't calmed down and you'll see the real Bob Slayer in full flow. Something every comedy fan should experience at least once in their lives!

Benjamin Crellin - Comic of Duty ***

Unfortunately I saw Benjamin Crellin on an off day and I'm increasingly convinced that basement of the City Cafe isn't as good a comedy space as it feels like because it seems that most of the comics that I see there seem to underachieve.

I don't know if it's just the room itself or if it's because it's a free venue so close to the Royal Mile that it attracts people taking a gamble, with no clue about what the show is about, so they won't necessarily like the comedian.

Benjamin Crellin is a very clever comedian. His jokes are multi-layered, well thought out and thought provoking as well.

His comedy is designed to expose first world hypocrisy and make you think about the absurd contradictions in modern life.

I liked him and I liked his material, but unfortunately the room didn't seem to enjoy his comedy. He started off attacking religion and his material was well observed but when it didn't hit the right notes it started to sound a little bit preachy and it felt like he was picking a bit of an easy target. (It wouldn't have sounded like that if he was getting laughs but on this occasion he wasn't). I'm no fan of religion so he had me on his side but pointing out that the bible has contradictions has been done to death by more comedians than I could name.

At this point I hoped he'd be able to win the room around, but I think because of the planning he has put in to the show, it makes it harder to fall back on to easy material as it would put him off track, and ruin the structure that he has put in place. The show that he has set up gives him no wiggle room to test the waters, do a bit of audience banter or a few easy knob jokes or whatever it is that works for him, to get him back on track, so he just has to power on and hope for the best. He did, but the audience only offered a few titters at the most.

He committed the cardinal sin of saying how great it was to be in England twice and unlike Lewis Schaffer who did the same thing earlier in the day, but obviously meant it and managed to win the audience back, Benjamin didn't even seem to notice that he'd done it or acknowledge the mistake.

At the end he said "I hope you enjoyed the show, even although you I think most of you didn't get it".

I did get it, but for whatever reason it didn't hit the spot with the rest of the audience on the night.

For me, this was a four star performer, who did a two star show as a one off (my logic for giving him three stars).

I would never normally consider going back to see exactly the same show twice, but if I had time (which I don't), I would go and see it again, purely because I think I would see a completely different show second time around.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Lewis Schaffer is Free Until Famous ****

When you hear people say a comedian is one of a kind it's generally not true. There will always be other comedians with the same shtick, doing similar material or acting in a similar manner on stage. Unless they are talking about Lewis Schaffer. In that case, they are right. Lewis Schaffer is truly one of a kind.

I first encountered him at Shaggers in around 2008. It was the start of the Fringe and it was pretty quiet. There were only about 25 people in the show until around 16 American teenagers walked in. Within two minutes, much to the dismay of Nik Coppin the compere and promoter, they had all walked back out because Lewis Schaffer had just told the single most offensive two part Jewish joke I have ever heard. It was fucking hilarious, but I think I'd get hate mail if I even began to describe it.

Ever since then I've wanted to see him do a full hour and I finally got the chance today.

His delivery style is very eclectic, it feels like he has about 10 hours worth of material but rather than structuring it into a show, he seems to be just saying whatever comes to mind.

His self-doubt, which pours out into the audience even before the show has started when he's helping seat people in the small room, makes him immediately endearing and it buys him time while he slowly gets into his stride, talking about himself like he was an angst ridden teenager and generally going off at tangents because he has spoken to an audience member, or mentioned something off the cuff and that's reminded him of another joke...

Co-incidentally, he shares a rare skill with Kunt from Kunt and the Gang (my last review). He can offend an audience to the point of almost losing them, before winning them back with a well crafted punch line that either makes a mockery of himself or what he's just said.

He's been described as a lot of things in reviews I've read, and also in reviews he talked about on stage... He seemed to be almost proud of the review from a critic who said it felt like he was watching a mid life crisis unravel in front of him. And it does seem like a very apt description. He's also been described as mildly racist.

I'm very much interested in the language of racism and what different people consider to be racist. You can hear a lot of things in a comedy show that would be considered racist anywhere else. I once joked with a friend that, "there is a lot of racism in the world... and personally I blame the Chinese", a statement which would be racist if it wasn't so absurd and obviously a joke.

I mention this joke because I don't wan to give any of his material away, but you need to know what to expect from his show. He takes no prisoners and everyone is a target. It's that type of humour. This is no sugar coated, made for TV comedy experience. This is about as raw as it gets.

Unplanned, uncompromising and unhinged, not everyone will like it, but I could listen to Lewis Schaffer's random tales all day long.

Kunt and the Gang *****

If you are looking for a night of straightforward offensiveness, filth and fun in a decent venue at 10pm then look no further.

Kunt and the Gang (which is really just Kunt and a couple of puppet props) is a self labelled "minor internet sensation", with some decent smutty and offensive songs on the web that he performs live around the country and beyond, mainly attracting people who have taken a liking to his sense of humour when they have seen his stuff on youtube.

When I talk to comedians, one thing they all really appreciate in a performer is the ability to lose the audience by being too rude or offensive and then winning them back, a feat that Kunt managed a few times on the night I saw him.

Given that a large percentage of the crowd will have seen him on line, viewing classics such as "Sexy Kids" (a song about Jimmy Saville) prior to seeing the show, it's a surprise that he did manage to shock so many people with is offensive jokes, but despite their expectations of crass humour, he managed to get a few gasps from the crowd, creating a real sense that they might turn on him, before he simply performed another "minor internet hit" to win them all back.

Many internet musical comedy performers struggle to fill the gaps between shows and I've heard that this is something Kunt has had to work on. There is still a slight lack of confidence when he's doing his between song banter but he's much better at it than he thinks he is, with a good delivery, some decent call backs and great one liners - his jokes about his crap beard and another about Noel Edmonds being particular highlights.

His opening song about a friend's party and his song on racial equality towards the end were my two favourites but he also added in some of his classic songs including Bangers and Mash and Wank Fantasy.

Quite simply, Kunt never disappoints. I spotted a few other Fringe performers in the show, all of them sat at the front, waving their hands in the air, and generally showing their appreciation for an act that everyone should go and see if all they want is a bit of low-brow, non arty-farty, purile, immature smut!

Take a few friends, have a few beers, and prepare to be offended in the most glorious manner!