So You Think You're Funny final 2017 | Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett

So You Think You're Funny final 2017

Edinburgh Fringe comedy review by Steve Bennett

With its high ceiling, vast stage and ambient temperature higher than most active volcanos, Gilded Balloon’s Debating Hall is an unforgiving room for stand-ups, especially ones as new as the entrants into So You Think You're Funny? Yet most conquered it last night, a couple could claim a score-draw, and a couple learned the hard way that it’s a very difficult room to win back once you’ve lost it.

Jamie D’Souza got things off to a steady start with his pun-based set, starting off with some alternative suggestions for campaign-themed months, following the success of Veganuary and Movember. Even describing how repressed his parents are and telling a story about being verbally abused in the street revolved around wordplay, which was funny enough, but  at the expense of forming  a strong connection. Still, he’s an engaging presence and a more intriguing personal storyline peeked out about  his mixed heritage – with his white cab driver father having to hear passengers dole out racist.

Esther Manilo also had material about her background. Being from Lebanon informed witty if slightly generic comments about how the Middle East is portrayed in the media – Disney’s Aladdin, we’re looking at you – and some almost stock lines about Arab women being hairy. Jokes about her very English husband – and especially his parents – had more of an air of personal authenticity, and therefore landed hardest. Again, an adept and assured performer who won our confidence, Manilo surely has greater depths.

Morgan Rees planted his flag on the  stage the moment he set foot on it. Immediately addressing a punter compere Aisling Bea  had been speaking to showed he wasn’t afraid of a little interaction, even in a tight seven-minute set. And then he fired out three gags in 30 seconds establishing a backstory about his dad leaving that would re-emerge later. Rees, who had also been a finalist in  this year’s BBC New Comedy Award and last year’s Chortle Student Comedy Award, proved himself a master of redirection, with several set-ups taking unexpected swerves in a punchline heavy set. Judges awarded him third place, and he might consider himself unlucky not to have done even better.

Sarah Mann set out her stall instantly, too, quickly telling the room she considered herself asexual – immediately making her us want to hear more.  And how very 2017! Add to that her lack of aesthetic compass which means she cannot tell what looks good, and there’s a unique angle. Although half of her set didn’t depend on these traits at all, and instead focussed on the web of lies she spun just to avoid admitting to a campsite manager that she was glamping alone – the deceit, as in all the best sitcoms, getting ever more intricate to hide a trivial initial sin. Nice work that earned her the silver on the night.

Next up, Kirsten Brown’s deadpan delivery proved too dry for the room, especially as many of her initial one-liners didn’t really cut it, sounding more like openings for slightly offbeat routines that never came. Not that she’s afraid of committing to a strange reality, given that the lion’s share of her set was devoted to historical figures such as Louis XIV and Henry VIII, but it didn’t connect too well, not helped by that straight-faced style. We liked her more when her facade momentarily cracked while impersonating a mandolin, so maybe she isn’t quite as dour as she lets on.

In contrast, Maisie Adam exudes an appealing, quirky energy and is clearly a natural wit, who conjures up memorable characters such as her school French teacher with a broad Bradford accent… even if she spent a little too  much time on the one core joke. Making full use of the stage, Adam also demonstrated a winning physicality in her comedy, to illustrate jokes about dancing. The writing is reasonable, but it is surely Adam’s innate funny bones that caught the eyes of the judges, and she was crowned this year's champion.

A much dryer performance came from Robin Allender, whose rich RP tones might be useful to the voiceover industry. But his writing needs unpicking, because he loses his  audience on needlessly complicated premises. One evoked a 1979 Soviet science fiction art film, baffling everyone; another required more knowledge of the lyrics to Bright Eyes than people brought to the gig. Obscurity would be fine if it paid off, but even his simpler lines struggled to connect, so the convoluted were doomed.

Well-spoken but deadpan Amira Saied struggled to re-energise the room. Her suggestions of what celebrities should call their perfumes held little surprises, being little more than adjectives to describe the famous figures. But her fantasy about being approached by a strange figure telling her she was the new Doctor Who had the opposite problem of being more tortuous. Maybe her fragrance should be called Underwhelming, since her material didn’t match her admirable stage poise.

Eric Rushton offered another low-key performance, although his material was sometimes better, making sarcastic quips about being another comic with self-esteem issues, wanting to be considered an artist and his stand-up dreams impacting on a relationship. There are some nice lines here, if chronically undersold, such as his envisaging God as a football manager facing flack for the universe’s performance this season. It was patchy, though, with some duds and the inward-looking approach not always paying off, but there’s promise for a new act.

Archie Henderson added some much-needed pizzazz to the end of the show with a set that had its own soundtrack – silly jingles mostly – and lighting effects. A self-proclaimed ‘bad ass motherflipper’, he radiated a delightfully daft energy that pushed some of his gags and impersonations over the line. There’s a touch of the Tim Vine about the way this comic – who’s also in the sketch trio Two Plus Ones – offers an onslaught of gags, and while the quality may waver, his enthusiasm never did, and came just at  the right time to turn around the flagging atmosphere.

Review date: 25 Aug 2017
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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