'Part nice-but-dim cockney Herbert, part astute observer' | We go back to the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe... and Micky Flanagan's debut show

'Part nice-but-dim cockney Herbert, part astute observer'

We go back to the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe... and Micky Flanagan's debut show

Our Edinburgh Fringe Time Machine stops in 2007 today; the year that Brendon Burns wont he main prize with his audacious So I Suppose THIS Is Offensive Now – with a surprise we couldn’t reveal in a review – and Tom Basden was named best newcomer, ahead of fellow nominees who included Micky Flanagan, Jon Richardson and Zoe Lyons. Here’s a selection of Chortle editor Steve Bennett’s reviews from the 2007 Fringe…

Edinburgh Fringe Time Machine 2007

Brendon Burns: So I Suppose THIS Is Offensive Now

Brendon Burns has never been a comic to avoid offence, preferring to embrace it while repeatedly screaming ‘screw you’ in its face at ear-shattering levels. He’s always been one to say, or yell, his piece, and how dare anyone have the gall to get upset?

Imagine, then, the hypocrisy when he found himself taking offence at something. Not at angry words carrying hundreds of years of hatred – but at a comedy Australian cork hat he was asked to wear on TV. How dare they use such a cheap stereotype that was against all he stood for. It was the final straw that pushed him walk out of ITV2’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here spin-off after just three painful days.

So this, then, is a show primarily about what is and isn’t offensive. Burns’ poster, featuring him blacked up, as Jesus and in a wheelchair (in separate poses, I should add) most certainly is. But is there more to it than that?

Unusually for a man with a reputation as a hectoring comic who tells his audience exactly what’s what, this show is thought-provokingly ambiguous. He raises questions and leaves them unanswered. Racism, you see, is not always a black and white issue.

But let’s wind things back a bit first, Burns builds up to these significant subjects. This is his first show since his raw trilogy about his own mental breakdown, and – another surprise – he’s relishing discussing something other than himself for a change.

He’ll talk about reality TV, of his reaction to the failed suicide bombers, of how relationships never work out. This sounds like the set list of every two-bob comic ever to have taken to the stage, but he nails every one with a unique, passionate and insightful routine. It’s so good he doesn’t need to be screaming it, that’s the only complaint.

His screwed-up personality is always there, lurking in the background, but in this show the confessional side of him interjects to add to the material, rather than dominating it.

Just when you’re admiring these marvellous routines for the fine stand-up they are, Burns swoops in with a impressive grand theory of humanity that almost brings the show to a juddering halt under the weight of significance he attaches to it. But don’t worry, there are jokes to hang on his overarching premise.

A lot of them are to do with relationships – a searing insight that’s about as far from the cosy Jeff Green school of cute observations you can possibly get – but the best are on those fuzzy matters of taste and political correctness.

His discussion of these is not quite what you expect in a show that’s full of surprises – and the best will leave you gasping at its audacity and awestuck at the way he pulls it off.

All this, and I haven’t even got round to mentioning the ‘slutty’ dancers bringing a touch of seedy pizzazz to the already show – and giving Burns a way of getting out of more than one hole of his own digging. It’s another impressive offering from a man who knows exactly what a festival show demands. Go see.

5 stars

Jason Cook: My Confessions

The last ten minutes of Jason Cook’s accomplished solo debut is surely the most raw, emotive and tear-jerking stand-up you’ll see on the Fringe.

As he talks with almost uncomfortable honesty about his father, his eyes redden as he chokes back genuine tears. And he’s certainly not the only fighting that impulse. This is powerful, visceral comedy that grabs your feelings and wrenches them from one direction to another.

Yet through this overwhelming tide of sentiment, he still makes you laugh. The intensity and vulnerability of the performance leaves him, and the audience, drained. You want to curse him for putting you through the emotional mill, but are filled with love, joy and guilt, too. It is, in the best sense of the word, a tough gig – and we’re all the better for going through it.

We start a long way from this fragile point. Cook, disillusioned with shouting at rowdy, drunken idiots on the corporate club circuit, has decided he wants a show of pure honesty to prove his artistic credentials. So he has decided to make ten confessions, all of them true. The first is that his girlfriend cuts his hair, the second that she’s not a qualified hairdresser. I did say it was a long way from that powerful finale, and, yes, it’s a self-deprecating ‘look at my silly hair’ putdown.

It’s a gentle introduction to himself, creating an image that gradually builds layer upon layer as the show gets better and better. We learn of his love of practical jokes – instigating, not receiving, as with most ‘pranksters’, of his childhood, of his relationship. Staples of stand-up, but told with good humour and effective charm.

Cook – a Manchester-based Geordie who’s previously been in Edinburgh as half the spoof German techno band Die Clatterschenkenfietermaus – also reveals that he’s got obsessive-compulsive order, and invites us to laugh at his ridiculous behaviour. It all sets him up as juvenile man who has to make a joke out of everything. However, there are surprising, tragic aspects of his life that are beyond even his sense of humour.

So when the show reaches its powerful conclusion, yanking at the heartstrings, you empathise so much with your honest new friend, that it’s impossible to be moved. Emotionally manipulative? Maybe. But then isn’t that what all good art’s supposed to do?

5 stars

Cook went on to write BBC Two’s Hebburn and the Gold murder-mysteries featuring Johnny Vegas and Sian Gibson.

Pappy's Fun Club

They claim it’s entirely faked, but there is a wonderful chemistry between the four cheery young members of Pappy’s Fun Club. Between them, they create a natural, knockabout energy: a gang show mentality they apply to inventive ideas, resulting a joyously upbeat hour of fast-paced shenanigans.

Their show starts relatively soberly. After the introductions are made we embark on a few imaginatively conceived scenes, restrained in delivery: such as the horror-movie trailer for Things That Are Only Scary For A Short Amount Of Time, or the mild-mannered prankster Len Taunton. They’re well done, but initially not much to elevate them above the sketch-show norm.

But gradually, though, the pieces and characters get sillier and sillier. Abraham Lincoln makes an appearance, obsessed with the phrase ‘four score and seven’; folk trio Marty, Mim and Julius entertain, with their unconventional line-up; a topless taxman with a child’s cash register strapped to his head chases up unpaid revenue; and the directions Up, Down, Left And Right star in their very own skit.

If it sounds wacky, well it is – but the script is sharp, too, not just odd for odd’s sake. And it’s all performed with a wickedly playful sense of fun. If a foursome can have a glint in their collective eye, then this lot have. None of them, incidentally, is called Pappy – that’s the name of the unseen, hospital-ridden benefactor who’s financing this splendid jamboree.

As the show drives forward, characters reappear and jokes recalled as the fragmented nature of sketch shows is thwarted, and elements of structure revealed. Finally, an inspired piece of audience participation unravels the genre brilliantly.

It’s the unquenchable verve of performers Tom ParryMatthew CrosbyBen Clark and Brendon Dodds that makes this such a joy, backed by some very clever writing. If you like We Are Klang, you’ll love this

4 stars

Jon Richardson: Spatula Pad

If, amid the plethora of comedy awards at Edinburgh, there is one for ‘most off-putting title’, Jon Richardson’s appalling Spatula Pad would walk it.

He has to apologise from the start. He thought his show’s name might combine the fact that he lives alone in Swindon and quite likes cooking in one efficient two-word title. Very obviously it doesn’t.

Yet those not deterred by gratingly bad wordplay are rewarded with one of the more assured debuts on the Fringe this year. His puns may be strained – as indeed is his voice, a nasal Northern whine which is another thing he can only apologise for – but his material is fluid, natural and funny.

He’s an unabashed misanthrope, and much of his material is a release for the irritation he feels at the other people who hinder his daily progress through their dithering. It’s not an angry show, he’s too middle-class for that, it’s more like an exasperated tut drawn out over an hour. His frustration is very easy to emphasise with, which means his routines are enjoyable effective.

Other solid material comes from the fact that Richardson - Russell Howard’s sidekick on 6Music - also suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, but has the sense of humour to realise how ridiculous his behaviour is, and can cheerfully mock the affliction.

It manifests itself in his writing, too, which, as you might expect from OCD boy, is impressively tidy, with a fascination in the detail of everyday situations. Few comics could do five minutes solely on watching a man eat a sandwich, but for Richardson, it’s a breeze.

These two threads of the hugely enjoyable show combine for most effect. He might order his cutlery drawer in one way, then become agitated when a flatmate moves it around. Stand-up is his way of expressing that, and you know his annoyance is the real deal.

There are some great lines in here, and Richardson’s a personable, natural performer. He plays things a little safe, making sure his debut is known for rock-solid stand-up rather than anything spectacular, but as a calling card to raise him up to the next stage on the circuit, it works very well indeed.

3 stars

Stewart Lee: 41st Best Stand-Up Ever

Fatherhood has had a calming influence on Stewart Lee. The potent combination of raw, visceral bitterness and powerful, combative intellect has been softened; no longer does he make mincemeat of sacred cows, now we have sarcasm-drenched grumpiness at the dumbing down of Britain.

It means his 2007 show doesn’t have the searing intensity and fearless, uncomfortable edge of his most commanding work, but still offers an irritable, petulant whine at the way of the world.

Public opinion is what most vexes him this time around, prompted at his own ranking in a meaningless Channel 4 poll of great stand-ups. His mother, utterly uninterested in comedy, is duly unimpressed, given she has already witnessed the pinnacle of comic genius: Tom O’Connor on a cruise ship.

Lee is dismissive of the consensus taste. Is Del Boy falling through a bar really the funniest thing ever? He reels of a list of infinitely better moments of TV comedy – all less suited to the instant format of packaged clip shows – each time childishly mocking the British public mewling pathetically that the pratfall is still their favourite, until he is reduced to a foetal, impotent ball, curled up on the filthy Udderbelly floor.

This is a routine that’ll be loved by comedy aficionados, as other digs at everyone from Russell Brand to Al Murray reinforce. Lee likes to work the niche, himself. Cracking an obscure comic-book reference that only two lads get, he does a brief follow-up routine just for them, defiantly working ‘the thinnest edge of the wedge possible’.

Lee’s stock-in-trade, though, is the slow, tedious repetition of his points – testing the audience’s patience, but also getting the laughs as they realise that’s exactly what he’s doing. It makes for a slow start, agonising but knowingly funny, until it’s revealed as a teasing build-up to more considered argument. Patience is rewarded.

Given his take on populism, you can imagine Lee’s take on Celebrity Big Brother and the broadcaster that peddles it – inconveniently, also the sponsor of his venue – especially in the light of him having his own stand-up series unceremoniously dumped by BBC Two before he had even started filming His unique material on a ubiquitous topic, the Jade Goody racism row, opens out into his own tongue-in-cheek observations of why Muslims made him fat.

Then, with consummate skill, every element of the preceding hour slots cleanly into place, giving a satisfying overview of the fundamental folly of bowing to public opinion - that the public are, en masse, idiots. But then Lee demonstrates that he’s above acting like an idiot himself if it gets a laugh… especially if it eminates from the belly of his tiny son.

4 stars

Micky Flanagan: What Chance Change?

Micky Flanagan is a one-man case study in social mobility. His CV, rising from Billingsgate fish porter to full-blown middle-class Kierkegaard-quoting ponce, mirrors the changing lifestyle of so much of society. As he races through the years, and the class strata, there’s sure to be something everyone can relate to.

It’s rather a belated Edinburgh debut for 44-year-old Flanagan, who’s well established as one of the more enjoyable, personable and cheerful acts on the circuit. The conflicts between his working-class roots and his current aspirations provide plenty of fodder for sharp gags with the ring of truth, and he knows how to tell them.

There are, indeed, lots of proper jokes in What Chance Change? In fact, it’s built entirely on the most efficient way of getting from one to the next, so the solid laughs keep coming as he pounds the punchlines.

Yet there’s also something missing. There’s not much drama or emotional attachment to Flanagan’s story, nothing other than a linear sequence of events from one year to the next. It’s possibly only battle-hardened critics who’ll see a comedy show that’s one laugh after another and complain that it’s not enough – punters looking for a no-frills fun time won’t go far wrong here.

Flanagan is a lovely performer. Part nice-but-dim cockney Herbert, part astute observer. His innocence, modesty and cheek wraps every comment in a warm, unthreatening charm, best illustrated by an amusing demonstration of his wooing techniques that’s daft rather never lascivious.

Flanagan’s got a couple of the funniest routines in the festival, especially one about asking for ketchup in posh restaurants which is not only hilarious, but fits beautifully with his theme of being stuck between classes.

All in all, it’s a mighty fine show, missing just one tiny element of extra drama to make it a great one.

3 stars

Published: 14 Aug 2020

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