Tim Vine wins Edinburgh... by giving it a miss | Our look back at the Fringe of 2006

Tim Vine wins Edinburgh... by giving it a miss

Our look back at the Fringe of 2006

2006 was the year the main Edinburgh awards were styled the if.comeddies to mark their sponsorship by Intelligent Finance – and it was won by Phil Nichol’s The Naked Racist. Although many would argue that the real winner of Edinburgh this year was Tim Vine, who shelled out for giant billboard with his beaming face and name in massive letters, and in much smaller type ‘…is not appearing at this year’s festival’. A publicity win coming at a a fraction of the losses he might have racked up with an actual show,

On the real awards, other nominees were We Are Klang, Paul Sinha, David O'Doherty and Russell Howard – who’d been given a stinking one-star review by Chortle editor Steve Bennett on his debut as half of a two-hander a couple of years back. He has a rather better critical time of it at this Fringe - but this time it’s the turn of another future comedy star to get the one-star mauling, included in this selection of Bennett’s reviews from 2016...

Edinburgh Fringe Time Machine 2006

Russell Howard: Wandering

Relentlessly chipper Russell Howard is even more excited than normal, if you can believe that possible. The other night Ron Weasley was in his audience - or, we guess, the actor who plays him in the Harry Potter movies; Howard's never that precise about separating fact from fantasy.

They would make good bedfellows, as Howard is surely the boy wizard of the comedy world, with an energetic, juvenile enthusiasm and a spellbinding delivery that's truly magical.

He's a cheeky, attention-deficit jackanapes, full of impish mischief and the joys of life's simple pleasures. He's the sort of sweet-natured, uncynical person who gets a genuine kick out of seeing a monk with a skateboard, or assuming a false identity when travelling simply because of the world of possibilities it offers. Hell, he can even charm a tale of a vomit-splattered tramp into an uplifting, unpatronising fable about finding pleasure in even the most unfortunate life.

Yet for all the warmth of his all-enveloping good cheer there's depth to Howard, too. This year he split from his long-term girlfriend, which provided cause for reflection, as well as a couple of moments of heart-tugging pathos for his show, which are deftly handled to be neither mawkish nor self-pitying, just honest.

It's the crux of his message: that while life can sometimes deal you a bad hand, there's so much more to enjoy if you escape wallowing in misery. Howard is skilful enough not to labour the point, leaving it implicit among the fast-paced japery.

He recounts hilarious personal tales, most brilliantly in his confessional about his sexual experiment with Rolo yoghurt that went spectacularly wrong, as well as quirky and original observational material about anything from teenage romance films of the Eighties to the pensioner war protester in his home town of Bristol.

Added to this is a premier-league audience rapport, which allows him to flit effortlessly between punters, conjuring good-natured jokes and witty, playful asides to contribute to the show's easy, irresistible dynamism.

In short, he is the full comedy package, who's come of age with this unfailingly entertainingly show. His if.comeddie nomination was certainly well deserved.

5 stars

We Are Klang

We Are Klang are back with another cavalcade of unmitigated crap. And it's absolutely marvellous.

Those seeking barbed political satire or incisive social comment should look away now ­ these three offer non-stop boisterous fun delivered with such gloriously effervescent excess that it's impossible to resist. Nowhere on the Fringe will you hear a room ringing with such volume of uncontrollable, guttural laughter as when the Klang gang are in full flow. And they are always in full flow.

They are, simply, the best idiots in Britain, gleefully demeaning themselves with a parade of cartoon grotesques, flagrantly non-PC but done with such conviction, flair and energy it's impossible to take offence ­ even when they show more flesh than is strictly necessary.

Some old favourites are here: mental mentalist Darren Chill-Blaine and Theatre Du Bastard, whose director-cum-narrator Derek Upon-Tweed orders his players to do his every depraved bidding. But mostly the ideas are as new as they are warped: the Legal Eagle dispensing justice, a coke-crazed Su Pollard, and the world championship insult finals

It's hard to get a feel for the show from a list of characters, but imagine the most outrageous creations you can, and they won't be one tenth as twisted or inspired as the lot Greg Davies, Marek Larwood and Steve Hall have conjured up. Then you add an unstoppable devotion to gags, with barely a second going by without some hilariously inappropriate comment or stupid visual joke. They are so expressive just one look can constitute a joke.

There's more fun to be had when stark, sober reality dawns on all this insanity. Several sketches come crashing to a halt as the ridiculousness of what they are doing dawns on them. Right from the get-go, ringmaster Davies berates his two charges for going too far, their sheepish glances an admission of guilt caught out. You can tell he used to be a teacher, and generally he's the alpha male of the three. Steve is the more intellectual one, plotting to get attention and look cool, while Marek is the weird, hyperactive, attention-deficient showoff. Though, really, they all are.

They stick to the script more rigorously this year ­ but not slavishly ­ and the all-too-short hour is none the worse for that. They also know all the contrivances of the sketch show format and wilfully expose them all with their compulsive need to subvert.

Variety is said to be on the way back. And when it does, Klang will be ready to dominate it with this sort of powerhouse show that seems so wrong, but feels oh-so good.

5 stars

Comic Abuse

The best thing about this show is its colour scheme, with everything presented in stark and stylish black and yellow.

If only such attention to detail were lavished onto the agonisingly weak script.

Robert Peel, Jack Whitehall and Charlotte Perkins are all frighteningly young and winsomely appealing, eager performers, so to criticise their output seems as cruel as punching kittens.

But Comic Abuse is cliché-ridden, overlong, unsubtle, crass and unfunny.

The sketch they open with is a reworking of the old Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch in which patronising salesmen intimidate a customer for their lack of detailed technical knowledge. Here the hi-fi store staff are replaced by nasal computer nerds tied up in their own in-jokes. When the opening gag is a double-entendre about hard drives and floppies, you know you're in for a long hour.

There are plenty of attempts at wringing humour from middle-class white kids talking like rappers, from the Etonian on the bus, to a David Cameron makeover, and loads of bad puns. But they tend to mistake shoutiness for wit, when it's really all just loud, empty noise.

Worst is when Whitehall ­ who with someone else's script has the potential to become a decent, exaggerated caricature actor in the mould of David Schneider, perhaps ­ takes to the stage for a painful stand-up routine about sport.

The observations are weak ­ about how America's version of football is rubbish compared ours, or the use of the word 'handicap' in golf ­ and it's delivered with such a put-on air of inauthenticity, that we know he's just going through a script in the way he, wrongly, thinks a real stand-up would tell it.

It's perhaps nothing experience won't knock out of him, but the Fringe is an unforgiving place when it comes to making mistakes in public (and at up to £8 a ticket).

There are glimmers that any or all of these three could become bigger in the future. Peel is a solid foil, and Perkins offers a song about naïve gap-year poverty tourism that has potential. But very little of that is realised in this poorly written show.

1 star

(We know what happened to Whitehall and Perkins, daughter of the late great TV producer Geoffrey Perkins is now a producer in her own right)

Simon Amstell

‘Ooooh,' I overheard a teenage girl shriek excitedly into her phone a few hours before this show. 'I've just seen Simon Amstell WALKING IN THE STREET!' She could barely believe it, as if he would usually hover.

This is the sort of adulation you get when you've been on youth telly ­ and been rather good at it. Amstell brought a refreshing barbed irreverence to the celebrity interview on Popworld, the sort of Channel 4 show half the comics in Edinburgh are desperately trying to land.

But Amstell is doing it backwards. He's jacked that in and is busy reinventing himself as a proper stand-up, with all the credibility that entails. Minor celebrities who fancy a go at comedy is the sort of career change that has gone embarrassingly wrong before, but Amstell's smart enough to realise it's not as easy as it looks, and is prepared to put the work in.

It means his come up with a more-than-decent Edinburgh debut that stands its own alongside more experienced acts. It's not brilliant, but has some good ideas and better jokes ­ and, crucially, doesn't rely on Amstell's profile nor a diet of insider showbiz stories to sustain it. Feel that credibility rise.

He takes to the stage and with barely an acknowledgement to the audience launches into his material, a promising mixture of the vicious and the self-critical. He's funny on categorising people, on self-doubt, and on dating (what he wants is a version of himself only better, which relies on someone else wanting a version of themselves, only much, much worse).

He's slightly geeky, even to the extent of performing in a shabby cardigan, which he harnesses to his advantage. Ditto his obsession with what people think of him, right down to his addiction to reading audience feedback on Chortle.

A few gags misfire, sometimes because they're not quite good enough, sometimes because the audience doesn't quite get them. 'I will be using irony tonight,' he says sarcastically when one line sails high above people's heads. He's disarmingly self-effacing about it when things do go wrong. 'What we have here is a punchline that doesn't work, but it doesn't matter,' he admits.

Some segments are weaker than others, an overlong story about the ethics of buying a £2,000 suit while passing homeless people stands out for the wrong reason, and a couple of other tales end anticlimactically. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule, with his best routines being more than up to scratch. And any time he makes a sideswipe at a celebrity, from Jimmy Carr to Vernon Kay, it's always deliciously savage, demonstrating a cruel streak that Popworld viewers would only have seen the surface of.

It was a risk, but Amstell's hour-long debut does prove that he's a more-than capable stand-up, with a keen understanding of what he's doing and of what makes him funny. It's not quite fully realised yet, but I hope he's back next year ­ another12 months' experience will do him a world of good.

3 stars

Josie Long: Kindness and Exuberance

Best newcomer winner

I'd like to pay Josie Long the best compliment she could get. Her fringe debut is utterly amateurish.

Long, you see, celebrates a DIY mentality when it comes to her comedy. She doles out home-made badges and handwritten programmes, draws cartoons despite only rudimentary artistic talent, and attempts a song on a ukulele she can barely play. But this is a good thing.

She finds amateurism a more immediate, personal and honest form of communication , dictated by what you feel you want to do, rather than being constrained by other people's expectations or demands. With her self-inflicted pudding-basin haircut, ill-fitting charity shop clothes and an unfortunate propensity for being mistaken for someone with learning difficulties, you might think it unlikely ­ but she's the very embodiment of the punk spirit.

So yes, the production values are shambolic, and she's by no means a slick performer ­ but this show has what most others lack, real heart.

Charm is something most comedians work hard at projecting, with Long it's natural. Her Tiggerish, optimistic enthusiasm for all things wonderful in the world is irresistible. And that passion is for the minutiae that makes her happy: seeing two bus drivers chatting from their cabs, a Goth in a suit or 'adorably shit' parochial events.

There's no guile to her at all, just genuine glee. And if you doubt it, you fall into one of the few categories of things she hates: cynics. Why would you want to go through life not having any fun?

This might all sound sweet enough, but Kindness And Exuberance is not all ephemeral whimsy. There are real, actual punchlines, even if they are as seemingly random as 'I hope it gets smashed in Whitstable', and Long excels at creating imaginative character sketches of the people who inhabit her world, real or imagined. Someone should snap her up as a writer, as the dialogue she recreates is utterly genuine ­ hesitant and faltering, rather that having the artificial sheen of professional scripts ­ yet still hilariously sharp.

For all the amateurishness and endearingly fanciful ideas like her imagined supervillain Deceptive Shrimp, this is, above all a very funny show from a strikingly original voice. Lovely stuff.


Frankie Boyle: The Voice Of Black America

Frankie Boyle does what very few comedians do on the Fringe. He just tells jokes, one after the other, with no theme or even links. Then, after an hour, he goes home.

The reason so few comics take this route is because it's not easy. Audiences tend to want texture in their show, and just reeling off gags out of context is a harsh, unforgiving environment. Good job, then, that Boyle is one of the best gag-writers in the business.

This is an hour-long onslaught of brutal one-liners. Fred West, paedophiles, war and misery are all grist for the mill, and Boyle makes no apologies for any of it. 'I fucking hate charity,' is a typical feed line.

The temptation here is to simply quote a heap of Boyle's jokes to prove how good they are ­ especially given how short, sharp and pithy they are. But you really need to see him live, delivering each one with a powerfully effective punch.

He's politically aware, not because he wants to score points and get any particular opinion across ­ but simply the more he knows about politics, the more targets there are. The conflict in the Lebanon is just another source of jokes, as is John Prescott or the 'Nazi Pope'.

And he reads the red-top tabloids as much as the grown-up 'compacts', as proven by a succession of ruthlessly cruel jokes bashing celebrities. There is something here for everyone. And to offend everyone.

Boyle plays up on his Scottishness to the predominantly home crowd who've packed Pleasance One. 'There are lots of references to Motherwell that are going to sail way over your head,' he tells a couple of tourists from Hong Kong in a rare moment of banter. But it doesn't take much to get up to speed ­ pretty much most the places he namechecks are shit, for one reason or another, Glasgow is sectarian but everyone hates the English. That's about the level of knowledge you need.

Resplendent in bright pink suit, Boyle does make a couple of minor concessions towards varying the pace, most notably in a Thought For The Day section, for which he apologises in advance. Here, he dons a cheap prop crown to bark out a few philosophical pronouncements in the manner of Simon Munnery, only not quite as well as well.

But then it's back to what he does best: jokes. And since Tim Vine's not here this year ­ as the magnificently huge billboard where the Gilded Balloon used to be proclaims ­ you won't get more gags per minute anywhere else on the Fringe.


Published: 13 Aug 2020

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