The year Peter Kay played the Edinburgh Fringe | Some choice reviews from the 2002 festival

The year Peter Kay played the Edinburgh Fringe

Some choice reviews from the 2002 festival

Today we go back to look at some of the reviews Chortle editor Steve Bennett wrote for the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe; the year that Daniel Kitson won the Perrier and sketch group The Consultants (Neil EdmondJustin Edwards and James Rawlings) were named best newcomers...

Edinburgh Fringe Time Machine 2002

Jerry Springer  The Opera

It all makes sense now. Overemotional fat people in torment over their screwed-up lives - opera and Jerry Springer are a perfect match.

But it takes the genius of people like Stewart Lee and his co-writer Richard Thomas not only to see the link between high and low culture, but make such a visionary leap to create such an awesome full-blown production around this simple idea.

Clearly it's a great gag, but the show is so much more than that basic juxtaposition. Yes, classically trained voices belting out expletive-riddled arias about how 'My Mum Used To Be My Dad' or 'I Used To Be A Lap-Dancing Pre-Operative Transvestite' is indeed very funny in itself. But there's a hell of a lot more to this simply awesome production.

Jerry Springer has been given the full opera treatment. The Teflon host has an inner Valkyrie dictating his conscience, trailer-trash guests balefully lament thier yearning to be on TV, and the show ultimately climaxes in a full descent-into-hell, fire-and-brimstone good-versus-evil confrontation that packs a almighty dramatic punch.

What more could you want of a show? Passionate conflict, impressive displays of brilliantly imaginative swearing, a cast of glamorous drag queens and pitifully sordid crack whores, the resolution of the eternal battle between good and evil. There's even an outrageously bad taste Ku Klux Klan song-and-dance number that puts Springtime For Hitler to shame. This show's got the lot - and then some.

Without exception, every one of the huge cast looks and sounds amazing, from the chorus singers who comprise the on-stage audience to Jerry himself and his stoic bouncer Steve. Costumes perfectly evoke the American underclass Springer feeds off, and the brilliant performers prompt laughs before they even sing a word - and when they dowow.

Unforgettable numbers (if that's the word - I'm no opera aficionado, well, I wasn't until now) include the inspired Talk To The Hand, Bisexual Bye-Bye and In-Bred Three-Nippled Cousin-Fucker.

In a fringe where most comedy shows comprise little more than a microphone and black backdrop - and maybe even a multimedia PowerPoint demonstration - Jerry Springer The Opera is reassuringly expensive. A full-blown production with a cast of around 20 and a small orchestra doesn't come cheap, but its producers can rest easy that they'll get a healthy return when the show clears up on Broadway and the West End - as it inevitably will.

It doesn't matter if you're not a fan of opera, or of the compelling car-crash viewing that is Jerry Springer, this has to be the must-see show of the fringe. Bring on the pitiful losers, the weirdos and the creeps - and have the time of your life.

5 stars


Folk The World: Flight Of The Conchords

You are going to be sceptical about this - I know I was - but two unknown New Zealanders performing a modest spoof on folk music is one of the highlights of this year's Fringe.

That the audience for these undiscovered comedy heroes boasted more performers than the Late and Live bar speaks volumes about the quality of this delightfully funny show, whose word-of-mouth buzz is spreading fast. And rightly so.

The strength is in the beautifully underplayed performance of atmospheric music and killer dialogue, delivered in earnest deadpan.

It's a gloriously silly pastiche interspersed with devastatingly sardonic backchat - all treated entirely seriously, which only heightens the laughs.

Their songs, with titles such as Love Is Like Sellotape and Albee The Racist Dragon, combine deliberately clunky metaphors and beautifully warped logic to fantastic effect.

One favourite - though it's hard to choose a definitive from their subtly hilarious catalogue - is the self-censored rap based around the theme "There's too many mother-uckers -ucking with my shi-"

A French song they attempt is a little too Priorite a Gauche (although avec un certain extra je ne sais quois) and a couple of other numbers fall slightly short of the five comedy stars, though they are all musically wonderful.

These likeable guys dispel any notion that the musical spoof is a moribund comedy form with a real treat of a show. For all their modesty, they are sure to go far.

4 stars


Peter Kay

Peter Kay creates a delightful picture of ordinary British life with his elegant, but straightforward, observational routines.

The rich humour provides laughs of instant recognition, as previously missed absurdities are highlighted for what they were.

It comes as a revelation that we all appear to share the same childhood - we all have the same mothers with the same stupid sayings, the same fathers with the same approach to bonfire nights.

Such things cannot be universally true, of course, especially in a country as diverse and multicultural as Britain, but he is devastatingly effective at creating a comedic world of his own and inviting eager audiences to take a peak.

He mocks the malapropisms of his elderly relatives who ask 'Have you got Harry Potter on VD?' and are baffled by answering machines and cashpoints, then turns his keen eye to our own behavioural quirks - such as conversations with taxi drivers.

Like Victoria Wood before him, Kay enhances his viewpoint with strategically placed product names, evoking an atmosphere with mere mention of Rola Cola, Netto or Soda Stream.

His Bolton accent also helps build the mood of his world - the effectiveness of simple verbal patterns like 'I were going to t'cash and carry' should not be underestimated.

This isn't the most exciting of shows - its structure is loose and its content safe - but it is expertly handled by an easy-going comic who seems to love just being on stage. And it is very funny.

His encore was a bit of an anticlimax, unoriginally comprising a medley of misheard lyrics (or mondegreens) of the type often used by local radio DJs or found strewn across the web.

But it did nothing to lessen the achievements of this distinctly class act. Working class that is.

4 stars


John Oliver

John Oliver has based his debut Edinburgh show on death, a concept he can be no stranger to, given the lukewarm reception his obscure observations receive.

For while he makes some good points, he makes few good jokes, which is something of a drawback.

Time and time again, he has a moderately amusing idea, eliciting quiet smiles all round, then he proceeds to milk those thoughts dry, with variations on the theme the audience never truly brought into in the first place.

Typical of these is the awkwardly set-up idea that charity shops should provide histories for their second-hand clothes usually donated after someone dies, in a similar way to car log books.

It's a fairly pointless concept, which is then tiresomely illustrated with Oliver detailing an imagined history of each item of clothing on a full tailor's dummy (and there were quite a lot of items)

Similarly, what should have been a short, funny routine about historical re-enactment societies was extended well past its limits. Did no one tell him brevity is the soul of wit?

Death's a big enough subject, and Oliver's clearly an intelligent comic who's done his research (he's got the reference books to prove it), so it's a mystery why was show was so lacklustre and thin.

There's also little warmth to the performance, which makes it seem a little like a lecture. Oliver really only acknowledged the audience to make light of the fact they didn't laugh when he expected them to. Which was frequently.

There were a couple of redeeming routines. Oliver even managed to find a decent line humour in the Kursk submarine disaster, and at best he combined imaginative thinking with good gags, though these moments were all-too sparse.

And despite all the cleverness, the biggest laugh of the night went to the slapstick finale - a man dressed as a penguin literally dancing with Death.

2 stars

Another career successfully crushed by a Chortle review...Where is John Olvier now, eh? Not playing the Colchester Chuckle Cabin, I'll tell you that....


Richard Herring: Talking Cock

It's a wonder no one thought of this before.

Given the sheer number of knob gags ejaculated from the mouths of comedians every day, it's a surprise that no one has yet decided to theme an show around their 'Spam javelin', as Herring calls it.

The acclaimed comic also had another bright idea: Get his substantial fan base to write the show for him.

For this offering - cleverly billed as the male answer to the Vagina Monologues - is based on the responses to a questionnaire posted on-line at www.talkingcock.co.uk.

This has produced a number of statistics about what men, and women, think of the 'yoghurt-spitting sausage', as well as some revealing opinions and painful anecdotes that bring a tear to the eye (on your face, idiot).

Herring unveils these results at relevant points on the big screen behind him, which sometimes makes the proceedings seem like a pornographic Family Fortunes. ("We asked 1,500 people what they called their penis")

Of course, this show was always going to be a list of cock jokes - though it's actually more of a catalogue, as the gags are meticulously grouped together and weaved around some serious points.

Why are men always boasting of their penis size? Yet why is it essentially an object of shame? Why is the John Wayne Bobbitt story considered funny, when if a similar thing happened to a woman it would be shocking?

Mind you, these points are always flippantly made. For every mention of 'penile fascism' there's half a dozen about 'our fathers' spunking cocks'.

And no answers are offered, other than a plea for everyone - male, female, straight or gay - to celebrate the importance of the penis. But it does give the show some feeling of structure, even though it is still evolving as Herring receives more replies to his survey.

And it's hard to compete with some of those responses. Once someone confesses to having put his penis into a jelly spooned into a toilet roll, it's very hard to top it with a joke or pithy observation. To his credit, 'Dick' Herring does.

This was never going to be the trickiest of topics to make funny, but with his incredulous style and intelligent agenda, Herring has successfully created an unfailingly entertaining show of substance from simply talking cock.

4 stars


Sarah Kendall is Well Balanced

If you need evidence of the irrelevance of IQ tests, look no further

Sarah Kendall claims a score of just 82. Two points fewer, and she would have been officially classed as a retard.

Yet she has produced one of the brightest shows on the fringe, breezily intelligent and effortlessly funny, and all delivered with sparking style.

The show is nominally about mental health - but it barely scratches the surface. Instead it provides a loose collection of sharp observational comedy and winningly self-deprecating anecdotes.

This willowy Australian is cunningly manipulative - but in a good way, using her naturally chatty and charismatically open manner to take the audience exactly where she wants them.

That she can move seamlessly from talking of Annabel Chong "officially the biggest whore in the world" to tapestry is evidence, were it needed, of how comfortable she is with her wide-ranging material.

The phrase that peppers her show is "so I started reading up on it," a dedication to research that throws up plenty of original topics, with a string of strong gags to back them up.

Her uncle's mental health problems that provide the title for the show hint at some deeper and more sensitive comedy. He has autism and brain damage, and Kendall finds it easy to laugh at his outbursts - though others find it distasteful. This - and surely every - audience laugh, but guiltily.

At the heart of this section is the paradox that the insane don't know they are insane, so how can the rest of us be so sure of our own state of mind?

One way to work it out is to go and see Kendall's brilliant show, as you'd clearly be mad not to.

4 stars


Ebony and Irony 

What a clever and funny title. Sadly it's the best bit of a show as dreadful as the McCartney/Wonder abomination that inspired the pun.

This show comprises a half-hour set from each comedian. Matt Blaize opens the show with a gag or two before introducing "the light to my darkness, the irony to my ebony... Russell Howard". As it transpires, this proves completely misrepresentative, as any irony or light is about to be completely lost in the comedy abyss into which, we are about to fall.

Howard launches into a dialogue with the miniscule but attentive 'crowd', although nothing of any humour emanated from this, as his initial gambits received merely a muted response. Howard's confidence then appeared to ebb away as he alighted on the surreal subjects of Siamese twins and midgets riding on dogs to universal bewilderment.

Realising that all is not well, he reassures himself - if not the paying punters - by reminding himself he has had a great day and that nothing can spoil it. Unfortunately, it's too late for the audience who will remember this day only for this awful experience that is unfolding.

Howard becomes increasingly defensive and implies that those who did make the effort to attend are somehow at fault.

He apologises profusely to Matt Blaize before handing over what has become the poisoned chalice of stage time.

Blaize tries to lift the mood by criticising Richard Blackwood and his '38 scriptwriters' for their inability to come up with anything more original than black males' mythical aversion to cunnilingus.

He insists that he and his black friends love to orally satisfy their women (are you listening, ladies?) so Blackwood is not only unimaginative but incorrect. We could care less, we could laugh more.

He then informs the audience that they are about to take part in The Honesty Game in which they may learn something about themselves.

We are delighted to take even the smallest crumb from this Spartan meal and enter with unwise gusto into this participation. A quick-fire round of moral questions result in male members of the audience being made aware that they are likely only to require monogamy from their female partners until said partner indulges in lesbian sex with their gorgeous best mate. I seem to remember Richard Blackwood coming up with a similarly enlightening 'gag' some time ago. Perhaps, in an attempt to avoid prosecution under the Trades Description Act, Blaize was being ironic.

He then upset the mild-mannered but assertive audience by riding roughshod over national sensitivities and unwittingly insulting the Scottish nation. Things grew ever more chaotic as Blaize entered into a power struggle with an audience that hadn't asked for a fight in which no one could emerge as victors.

In the song, McCartney and Wonder suggested "there is good and bad in everyone". Not tonight there wasn't.

1 stars

Ah well, even future stars have a bad day at the office early in their careers... This review was written by critic Margaret Ishola 

Published: 9 Aug 2020

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