Jordan Brookes: 'There’s nothing quite like this on the Fringe' | We look back at the reviews from last year's Fringe

Jordan Brookes: 'There’s nothing quite like this on the Fringe'

We look back at the reviews from last year's Fringe

So we come bang-up to date with our recap of reviews from past Edinburghs, with a few from last year, all written by Chortle editor Steve Bennett. Jordan Brookes  won the main award, Catherine Cohen best newcomer and Fringe Of Colour the panel prize. 

Fringe time machine 2019

Jordan Brookes: I've Got Nothing


I’ve Got Nothing is stand-up’s answer to Waiting For Godot, with Jordan Brookes restlessly killing time with no apparent purpose, just counting down the clock until his hour’s up. 

References to joking while the world burns may suggest some metaphor about the futility of entertainment as we all await our inevitable end. But if this is merely fatalistic distraction, it’s a damn funny way to go.

Brookes spends the show teasing and misdirecting the audience, pranking them with misleading questions, unanswerable moral dilemmas and false endings. From the apparent chaos , running jokes emerge, such a wonderfully disturbing hypothetical Oedipal situation. Some of the most ridiculous scenarios are the most earnestly done, like imagining a man-sized Freddo, while any potentially sincere moment is treated flippantly.

This restless 33-year-old makes full use of his gangly physicality too. Unbounded by the stage, he occupies every corner of the room at some point, running to the exit, clambering over the back rows and invading the tech box.

The show starts with him seducing the microphone as if it were a woman he picked up at a disco. And every 14 minutes he does a crazy dance, sillier than any of John Cleese’s silly walks, to win back our attention. Apparently, that’s the average concentration span, but with this compelling, unpredictable trickster on stage, no one’s going to be drifting off.

When things happen in the room, he runs with them, adding to the false feeling that he’s a man with no plan and that any distraction that gives him something to do is to be seized with both hands. The tone can be confrontational but never aggressive. He believes he’s getting no respect from the crowd and pounces on any evidence.

Ideas come and go and then come back again. Some apparently insignificant moments seed a later routine. Others are just as trivial as they seem.

There’s nothing quite like this on the Fringe, with Brookes managing to be artistically ambitious without being self-indulgent. What better way to kill time?

4stars


 Catherine Cohen: The Twist...? She's Gorgeous

The illusion of glamour and the gnawing anxieties that all the sparkle in the world cannot conceal collide in Catherine Cohen’s compelling car-crash cabaret.

She is a skilled nightclub chanteuse – but with more issues than the New York Times and keen to overshare them all. So while she exudes predatory sexuality, she cannot keep a lid on the seething can of insecurities that drove her to a career in the spotlight in the first place.

‘Boys never wanted to kiss me, so now I do comedy,’ the American purrs in her introductory song – but that need for attention as belated compensation is only the beginning of her psychological issues.

She has an underlying lack of confidence and self-esteem, which are shared with shameless flamboyance. In the eye of this contradictory maelstrom, she freely concedes the precise reasons she can’t find love. Since she’s distrustful of respect, she desires a man who will use her not care for her. Oh, and shall we throw some misplaced body issues in there too? Her therapist must be very busy.

The honesty is brutal, right down to painting a bleak picture of joyless, mechanical masturbation, but the complete lack of abashment in sharing her deepest secrets is mesmerising – and hilarious.

Her claim to be the voice of a generation might be entirely tongue-in-cheek, but this is an acutely relevant show in this age of social media when everybody projects an upbeat image, despite what’s in their heads. She’s what the YouTuber character Miranda Sings could have been if she was three-dimensional.

Fully harnessing that put-on assertiveness, Cohen’s performance is a force of nature: powerful, stunning, destructive (but only to herself). In songs which cover such topics as a #MeToo revenge fantasy and the difficulty in getting clothes for normal body types, she displays an impressive voice with range, power and sass. 

Accompanied by her sometime co-writer Henry Koperski on the keyboard, Cohen will also occasionally break out into some weird choreography to add a new visual; element to the hectic comedy.

In the chat between songs she verges on the maniacal in her incredibly fast-paced, stream-of-consciousness, confessional banter, part ad-libbed, part-planned. If there’s an occasional misstep when the two join, she’ll style it out with elan.

This is a full-throttle performance with gags and outlandish confession at every turn. You won’t be able to keep your eyes off her – which is exactly as she wants it.

4.5 stars


London Hughes: To Catch A D*ck

No prizes for guessing what this is about - and no, it’s not duck shooting. The Fringe guide’s censorious caution notwithstanding, this delivers what it promises: a fully raucous hour of frank and funny tales from a battle-hardened veteran of the dating scene.

Hughes clearly believes in the mantra that you should perform for the gig you want, not the gig you have, and fires more energy into the cramped Pleasance Attic as she would in the O2. 

And the audience – which contains six men to more than 40 women tonight – returns it, hollering their support, rocking back in laughter. There have been quieter audiences on Jerry Springer, and Hughes encourages it, forging an easy rapport with everyone with her supercharged swagger, her disarming honesty and her ability to ad-lib around crowd interactions while keeping the show on track.

‘Sex-positive’ doesn’t begin to cover her enthusiasm for the subject that dwells on her one-track mind, as she gleefully reclaims the word ‘ho’ as a badge – or should that be vadge – of honour.

‘Write what you know’ is the oldest adage in the book, and Hughes has done her research. She takes us through her dating life from school to now, when she’s hoping to settle down. She believes it’s time to end the one-night stands now she’s turning 30.

However, she also thinks the prospects of that aren’t great since she finds most men consider her ‘too much’. She gives that notion short shrift, mind, arguing the confidence she exudes as a successful, attractive woman would be seen only as assets in a man. The feminist cry is loud from the start of this show to its climax, while she occasionally gets in a little jibe about race, too, all adding context to the crudity. But it’s all undercurrent, as she’s largely happy to be outrageously honest for its own sake.

As Hughes romps through her experiences, she’s upfront about every detail. We learn that her first job in showbiz was working for Babestation, but she got fired for being too raunchy, and that the notches on her bedpost include encounters with a sugar daddy foot fetishist, a Lamborghini-driving investment banker and a future champion boxer.

She can report back, too, on her findings on how penises vary, while sharing some handy hints for the straight ladies and gay men in her target demographic – including an ice cream trick to revive flagging ardour. There must be a Hardon Dazs pun in there somewhere.

To Catch A Dick – if we can lose the coy asterisk – may ultimately be a triumph of vivacity and chutzpah over content. But what a victory it is! Whatever the female equivalent of big dick energy is, Hughes has it by the truck-load, and it’s more than enough to ensure a wild and hilarious ride.

4 stars


Tarot

Dressed as to evoke the ghosts of Victorian children, three sinister figures with blackened eyes enter the attic and lay out a magic circle of salt in ritualistic protection against the dark forces they are about to unleash.

But while gothic sketch trio Tarot dabble in the supernatural, with a jet-black strand underpinning many of their scenes, this is the least sombre evocation of the occult you are likely to find. It’s a coarse, raucous blast of ridiculous, mischievous energy, hilarious for its unfettered outrageousness.

The show is never the same twice. Ostensibly that’s because there are nine Tarot cards representing different skits and not time to perform them all. By yelling ‘Brucie’ in honour of the late Mr Forsyth at each in turn, the audience – now complicit in the madness – choose which will be performed, and in which order.

But the main sense of exciting unpredictability comes from the performers’ willingness to muck about, while stilling keep their eyes on the prize punchlines. This sketch supergroup – comprising Ed Easton and Kath Hughes from Gein’s Family Giftshop and Goose’s Adam Drake – are literally bouncing with enthusiasm at the chance to do this. They tease, provoke and dare each other to keep things spontaneous while offering a running commentary (‘Horrible, isn’t it?’) to include the audience in their conspiracy.

A sauna-based scene involving Easton and Drake in only their too-small towels, superficially about toxic masculinity, is a fantastic bit of high-stakes slapstick – especially given the presence of a teenager in the room; jeopardy that Easton milks for all it’s worth. It might not be too sophisticated, but it’s laugh-from-the gut hilarious, heightened by the repetition of a choice turn of phrase.

Sketches tend to start conventionally, such as the ‘shall I play mother?’ premise listing a lot of parental clichés, before spiralling off into the bleak. Death, incest and bloody injuries are all on the menu. 

Meanwhile dabbling int the Tarot cards means they are flirting with powers they cannot hope to understand, which can surely only end badly. In fact, they end with the same manic pandemonium that has hallmarked the whole hour, just amped up even further. Performances from all three are never less than compelling: bold and fearless; over-the-top in comedy but taut and dramatic when needed.

Comparing Tarot to League of Gentlemen seems trite, but they invite it with their publicity including a quote from Reece Shearsmith. He found it ‘brilliant’ and it would be hard to disagree with that verdict of this high-octane hot mess that’s one of the balls-out funniest shows on the Fringe. Quite literally, if that towel sketch goes wrong.

4.5 stars


Max & Ivan: Commitment

Fringe stalwarts Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez must have warped time to create this show. Somehow they have crammed about 90 minutes of story, some impressive set pieces, and jokes upon jokes upon jokes all into this one hour.

Their narrative, far more autobiographical than usual, is that Ivan appointed Max as best man for his wedding, which of course meant planning the stag do. Ivan’s got a great track record as a party-planner and had the notion of getting Ivan's adolescent band back together. However, that plan was hamstrung by the small issue that none of the other members, now flung to the four corners of the globe, wanted to do it. So what to do instead?

We start this warm celebration of the pair’s friendship before they met. Witness the embarrassing pictures of Ivan from back when he was the frontman of Voodoo 7:2, as well as some as Max in his teenage wrestling career. Cringe-inducing old photographs are often the mainstay of Fringe shows, but entertaining as they are, they are one of the less interesting parts of the jigsaw here. (The old recordings of Ivan's singing voice are quite a different matter).

Max tells the story of their shared history and party preparations with a relatively straight bat, while Ivan is the eccentric dolt, jumping in with wild digressions and idiotic misunderstandings – not to mention remarkably clear diction and expressive hands, as a previous review has pointed out. Not that Max is entirely off the hook in the shameful past stakes – he’s shown as having made some dubious youthful decisions, too.

Commitment is rammed with inventive in-jokes and savvy wordplay. It’s directed by fellow comic Kieran Hodgson, who has a track record for making multi-layered shows of his own, and the same discipline is applied here. That Ivan seems to live in a world of his own, obsessed with an obscure vocabulary-building app, a master of the art of facebusking, and creator of a new sort of rhyming slang (Ivanglish™) adds a delicious absurdity. You’ll never see a % sign in quite the same way again.

The keep this astonishing gag rate, production, script and performance are all drum-tight, perfectly timed to maximise the laughs from every aside, or every PowerPoint slide.

The fine bromance gives an emotional core to the myriad gags, while the narrative is absolutely compelling, from Max’s former party successes to the question of what he'll do  to give his pal the stag do he deserves. 

His commitment to one particular element is well beyond the call of duty, and while they’ve played fast and loose with some elements of the story for worthy cause of even more punchlines, the uplifting, feelgood conclusion has the ring of truth. Commitment is a thing of joy.

4.5 stars


Jack Tucker: Comedy Stand-Up Hour

There has always been something compelling about seeing a stand-up struggle. For it surely the height of valiant failure to witness the spiralling indignity of a comic reaching ever-desperately to find something, anything, that will entertain the crowd.

Through his obnoxious, wretched alter-ego Jack Tucker, American comic Zach Zucker recreates that torment every night. Tucker is the ultimate hack comedian, a sleazily unkempt figure who’s all truculent Noo Yawk bluster and no material. 

An aggressively triumphant sound effect follows every cheesy line: usually Lenny Kravitz singing American Woman, a gun cocking, or a blast of machine-gun fire (so you may have to put real-world events to the back of your mind). 

He checks we understand the most universal of reference points, has to steal a glance at his notes on the back of his hand to remember where he’s playing – and of course mangles the pronunciation – and randomly drops in clichés like ‘give it up for the bar staff’ with zero sincerity. 

He could be playing the same low-rent circuit as Neil Hamburger, but while Gregg Turkington’s creation has all-but given up, tragically trudging through his miserable set night after night like a punishment from the Greek gods, Tucker still believes he can make it. He’s investing all this energy into the act, because however little it is, it’s all he’s got – especially after his wife left him. As revealed in dewy-eyed asides to the audience, this aspect makes the wild desperation a little more endearing. 

In his destructively optimistic delusion, Tucker grossly overestimates how successfully he’s doing, while taking disproportionate pride in every minor success. For example, after the most perfunctory bit of crowd work he’ll let out a triumphant cry of ‘riff!’ as if to congratulate himself on an achievement unlocked.

Stand-ups mocking stand-ups is hardly new, and of contemporary comedians Nick Helm also uses sound stings and bellicose delivery to batter a crowd down. But what sets Zucker apart is the sheer chaotic energy that never lets up; his Gaulier-honed clown skills that add a manically clumsy slapstick, and his rapport with director Jonny Wooley in the tech booth, who triggers those sound cues, nudging Zucker to ad-lib and push the performance in a slightly different direction.   

A caveat: there is a good chance all this will irritate you intensely. Zucker wears his walk-outs as a badge of honour and at this performance, maybe nine people headed for the door about 40 minutes in – a perfectly timed departure to give fresh poignancy to the act and more reason for Tucker to fight to turn things around. It helps stop the central joke wearing thin over an hour.

But strap in for the ride, and it’s a raucously hilarious 60 minutes.

4.5 stars


Click here for all our reviews from the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe.

Published: 27 Aug 2020

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