'He's quietly becoming one of the UK’s smartest, most vital stand-ups' | Tim Harding's comedy diary

'He's quietly becoming one of the UK’s smartest, most vital stand-ups'

Tim Harding's comedy diary

Tim Harding's comedy diaryReviewer Tim Harding gives a rundown of the best comedy he's been watching in London this past fortnight... 

Between the good people at NextUp and the trend of comedians self-recording their specials for YouTube, we’re living in a boom time for recorded stand-up shows. And while it’s still rare for video to capture the energy of the live experience, it’s a huge boon for accessibility, whether you have mobility issues, a crippling fear of audience participation, or you just live on the Channel Islands.  It also goes some way towards making comedy a little less ephemeral, giving acclaimed shows a second life for those of us who didn’t manage to catch them at the Fringe.

One such show for me was Milo Edwards’ Voicemail, which I missed in 2022, but which he was kind enough to record last week at the Pleasance Theatre in London.

Nasal, acidic, like Stewart Lee at his most tart, he’s not well-known beyond fans of his political podcast Trashfuture but in the last couple of years, Edwards has quietly become one of the UK’s smartest, most vital stand-ups. Listening to him speak, he feels cutting edge, folding in the political with the personal and the esoteric at a velocity that dares you to keep up.

Unlike many comics, he’s not going to stop cracking the whip in order to make sure everyone in the room is caught up with basic concepts. This show is partly about death and mourning, but he decentres the heavy events in his narrative in favour of a flurry of stinging gags. The atmosphere in the room was fantastic, and I suspect it will translate to an unusually good recording.

Speaking of acts who should be getting more acclaim, Jessica Fostekew’s Mettle was just another killer hour from one of the most underrated and reliable comedians in the country.

In many ways, her viewpoint is that of the typical millennial everywoman – certainly her arc of having a baby, getting into weightlifting and getting into a relationship with a woman is a very popular one in my neighbourhood. This show has a harder political edge than her last two acclaimed efforts, Hench and Wench, and uses a thin allegory to focus on climate change, which is tougher material to work with than feminism or parenthood, but she comes closer than most to making it fly, even if the laugh rate suffers a little.

Fool’s Moon is a mixed-bill surrealist cabaret that now seems to have a recurring slot at the Soho Theatre, which is cool to see. Host Paulina Lenoir is very charismatic in French accent and a series of ostentatious wigs, and her personality dominates the evening even when she’s not on stage.

Unusual influences often make for interesting comedy, and Lenoir’s mashup of haute couture and Jean Cocteau creates a unique atmosphere and visual presentation.

Clowning’s most common pitfall is the propensity to come on stage with one good idea and coast on the momentum, and Fool’s Moon has a little of that to it: Dolly Kershaw completely obscured in a big nose costume and Cabbage the Clown completely obscured in a big hat costume both tread this path to some extent.

The exception was Lorna Rose Treen, who was doing material from her 2023 show Skin Pigeon, but reminds you how great things can get when a talented clown sits down to actually write their material.

Finally, an odd double bill of Ed Byrne and Dina Martina to round off the fortnight. Byrne’s show Tragedy Plus Time is of course the widely-acclaimed hour reflecting on the death of his brother, influential comedy producer Paul Byrne.

It’s a lovely and touching exploration of the narrow valence of acceptable emotions among brothers but I didn’t find it as funny I thought I might. Byrne’s brand of impish laddiness is well suited for panel shows but feels kind of retrograde over the course of an hour – nothing to do with sociopolitical viewpoints or matters of good/bad taste, it’s simply a question of what you find surprising enough to make you laugh, and this show felt a little predictable to me.

Dina Martina, on the other hand, can never go out of style as far as I’m concerned. Among the pantheon of great drag queens she has perhaps the strangest energy. She comes on dressed as if Winnie the Pooh was a military dictator, microphone strapped to her head in a kind of industrial surgical brace that she has to keep adjusting every few seconds. 

Her show Sub-Standards functions nicely as an introduction: she sings songs, plays a few very funny videos in the vein of Tim and Eric, and tells long rambling stories pronouncing most of the words wrong, like she learned English from a text-to-speech programme, while repeatedly implying that she eats babies.

She’s actually much less bawdy and confrontational than most drag acts – her surrealism has a melancholy, almost winsome aspect, especially when she struggles through the musical numbers with her pleasantly tuneless singing voice. Though there are some lower energy periods here, it also gave me a handful of the biggest laughs I’ve had in 2024.

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Published: 24 Feb 2024

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