The Comedy Zone
Show type: Edinburgh Fringe 2003
Now in its 13th year, Edinburgh's favourite late-night cabaret returns to Edinburgh with a brand new line-up. The Comedy Zone has helped launch the careers of numerous established comedians including Harry Hill, Mark Lamarr, Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Al Murray and Ross Noble.
This annual stand-up show, compiled by the behemoth comedy agency Avalon, traditionally showcases the best new acts around. But if this is the best, the future doesn't look great.
The show was compered by Matthew Osborn as an archetypal English toff whose sense of superiority is founded on his supreme and unshakeable ignorance.
He lacks neither intelligence nor wit and indulges in some amusing banter with the audience. But his introduction goes so well that he appears to forget that he's a compere, setting pace and tone throughout the night for his fellow performers.
His initial, amusing, stint is overextended, and leaves too little material for his later links, affecting the transition between acts and unbalancing the show.
Russell Howard is next on - and seems not to have paid attention to the MC, as his interaction with the audience is a repetition of much of what has gone before, much to the crowd's annoyance.
Howard relies heavily on rapport with punters for his confidence, and his performance can suffer disproportionately if he cannot win us over with his zany and spontaneous repartee.
On this occasion, we remained largely unmoved by his antics and we briefly travel from the comedy zone to the entertainment free zone. However, he recovers to finish relatively strongly.
Stan Stanley's set comprised some very funny and clever material that played to the audience's imagination and intelligence, a refreshing change from the normal dumbed-down comic.
That said, his opening gag did involve masturbation, but it was in the context of sending up reality TV, and was a real and unexpected gem.
Whereas other comics sometimes rely overly on the audience to act as a catalyst for their impromptu entertainment, Stanley stuck to his strong material and incorporated the audience into his act only where it made sense to do so. He'll be one to watch for the future.
The show had already peaked by the time New Zealander Al Pitcher got on to the stage. He had plenty of presence and energy but seemed curiously detached from his performance, and much of his set felt flat and uninvolving.
He, too, attempted to banter, but the crowd were a little tired of performing for the benefit of the comedians. A squirrel-related tangent initially worked well but collapsed under its own weight, and failed to lift the mood.
A disappointing end to a disappointing evening which, other than the impressive Stanley, seldom rose above the adequate.