A masterclass in how to perform good comedy – even at the Edinburgh Fringe

John Robertson - a man with outstanding hair

John Robertson, a man in Dark Room with outstanding hair

Life continues as normal at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, I got a text message from Australian comedian John Robertson of The Dark Room saying simply:

“Crowd-surfed a dwarf at last night’s Spank! Life is good.”

The Scotsman gave a 4-star review to Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II ending with the line: “If you were hoping to find a Nazi themed Las Vegas style cabaret show with occasional nudity and a touch of the Nuremberg Rally then look no further.”

A while ago, I got an e-mail from Neil Dagley aka Flange Krammer, saying:

“I’m writing a spoof Edinburgh Fringe review site for the 2013 Festival.  The idea is that Golf Monthly has sent a team of reviewers to the Fringe– it’s supposed to be a wry commentary on the hundreds of totally unqualified reviewers who descend upon Edinburgh to pass judgement on the participants.

I’ve got several established comedians on board to write as guest reviewers (under golf related pseudonyms). Do you think it could be a possible candidate for a Malcolm Hardee Award, or is it a bit too subtle!”

Golf Planet - comedy site whose reviews are a load of balls

Golf Planet – comedy site whose reviews are a load of balls

Yesterday, I got a follow-up email from Neil, telling me that the established publication Golf Monthly had demanded that he change the name of his spoof review site to Golf Planet and comedian Sean Hughes had retweeted Golf Planet’s 2 golf ball review of his show Penguins, saying:Best written review so far.”

The review partly reads: “Dressed all in black, Hughes deliberately evoked thoughts of the great Gary Player… However, Hughes kept getting side-tracked by completely un-golf-related stories about his youth, which frankly left a sour after-taste following the promising start.”

I then bumped into uber-promoter/manager Brett Vincent of GetComedy who showed me the extraordinary way his printed Edinburgh brochure comes alive on an iPhone/Android phone with the Blipper app.

Brett Vincent reads his brochure with the Blipper app

Brett Vincent reads his brochure with the Blipper app

It works something like a QR code reader except you just point your phone at a picture/page in the GetComedy brochure – or at a flyer or a poster in the street – and it comes alive on your phone plus it allows you to buy tickets and see videos of the act performing.

It can show you the act before you buy the ticket.

Brett seems to be the first entertainment company in the UK to use Blipper. Other users include Justin Bieber, Heinz, JLS, The Wanted, The Gadget Show and Oyster Card.

“I just phoned Blipper up,” Brett told me, “and asked Do you fancy doing it for comedy? – I think they fancied the free comedy tickets as part of the deal. I just thought it was something different. You can go and blip all the posters, every image, watch the videos. I find out who blips it, what age group they are and if they’ve made a booking via the app. I can also find out which page you blipped in the brochure, which person you looked at and, hopefully, one day I’ll find out who you are.”

“How does it know who I am?” I asked.

“There’s a certain amount of things your iPhone can tell people because of your iOS settings,” explained Brett. “At the moment, only a few things. Your age group, your sex and sometimes your country.”

If only everything at the Fringe were so efficient.

C Venues – long-known for having such bad signage that people are constantly having to ask under-trained staff where a particular performance room actually is – managed to out-do themselves yesterday.

Their staff now appear not to know where their own outlying venue buildings are. They don’t know left from right And they don’t know the difference between the George IV Bridge and South Bridge (despite the fact South Bridge is a 5-second walk from their front door).

Lynn Ruth Miller - Grade A show; dodgy C venue

Lynn Ruth Miller – Grade A show; dodgy C venue

As a result, I arrived 3 minutes late for the wonderful Lynn Ruth Miller’s equally wonderful show Granny’s Gone Wild.

When I did arrive at the venue, of course, I had to ask two members of staff on different storeys where the actual performance room was.

Despite the fact the sound techie missed cues and the microphone only worked 50% of the time, Lynn Ruth Miller’s show – as always – was a joy for the audience particularly those, it seemed, in their 20s. A wonderful concoction of jokes and songs, it occasionally mixed in some sadness and certainly two 20-something girls in the audience were wiping away tears during one particular song.

The equally wunnerful Charmian Hughes’ show Odd One In managed to tell the true story of her youthful loves including a future Church of England bishop and recently disgraced government minister Chris Huhne. Sadly, this year, she did not do the Sand Dance.

But my evening was rounded-off with Scots comedian Brian Higgins’ show From Beer to Paternity at the Jekyll & Hyde venue – an L-shaped room with dodgy sight-lines which I have always thought was very difficult to perform in.

Brian Higgins - From Beer To Paternity last night

Brian Higgins – he went From Beer To Paternity last night

I had never heard of Brian Higgins, which just shows how much I know about comedy.

I went to see him on the recommendation of fellow Scot Alex Frackleton in Prague (of whom more, I think, in an upcoming blog).

Brian had managed to fill the basement venue to standing and awkward-sitting capacity and gave a masterclass in how to perform comedy to a mainstream mixed audience.

The word to bear in mind here is Mainstream.

We are not talking of alternative comedy, basement club-going, London-based, Islington-living Guardian readers here.

We are talking about normal people.

Alternative comedy, basement club-going, London-based, Islington-living Guardian readers are not normal people.

With some audience members from multiple ethnic origins, Brian trod a very fine PC line which some alternative comedy clubs might have been slightly (but only very slightly) unsettled by – and the same with some of the gags about women.

But this was not the world of Guardian-reading uber-PCers.

It was ordinary men, women and foreign students from Taiwan.

And they LOVED it. They loved every gag about themselves. And the couples loved it. And they all loved it. And Brian did, pretty much, seem to be hitting laughs every 10 seconds with no faltering – a laugh-rate few Guardian-rated comedians could even come close to.

He also managed to pull the rug from under the audience with a totally unexpected tragic story which had them in total, silent, rapt attention. That, he admitted, was the reason for performing this Fringe show. That one story. A story that had a sharper political knife-thrust than most trendy ‘political’ comics could ever muster.

I was sitting there thinking: He surely can’t end with this? How is he going to get the mood up again after this? He’s got them in a state of near-shock. How can he get them laughing again without seeming to be bad taste?

But he managed it through sheer professionalism.

He is a vastly experienced comic at the top of his game.

Njambi McGrath performs in Edinburgh last night

Njambi McGrath performing last night

He even interrupted the flow of his act about ten minutes in by giving a ten-minute spot to Kenyan comic Njambi McGrath who established “I am from Africa,” but then performed spot-on totally British social material with some very funny back-references to Africa. I particularly liked a joke about Oxfam which only an African could make. She is a potentially major comedian.

Anyone wanting to become a comedian should go watch Brian Higgins and try to deconstruct what is going on. You can’t beat total audience control with a seemingly casual persona.

And Njambi McGrath is one to watch.

From tomorrow, she is going to be one third of the cast in an 8-night run of a show called The Equal Opportunities Act 2010 Presents…

It promises “a Nigerian perspective from Nigeria, gold-digging stories from Kenya and dirty filthy knob jokes from Essex”

I will be there.

What is interesting is that – with the exception of the C Venues show where staff did not know where their own venues were and the microphone did not work – all the shows I have mentioned have been free shows – Charmian Hughes, Brian Higgins and the upcoming Equal Opportunities show.

I have a feeling that free shows may increasingly start winning the major comedy prizes in Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, tonight at 2.00 in the morning, I will be outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle awaiting Arthur Smith’s legendary night-time tour of the Royal Mile.

He will also be on my Fringe chat show on Monday.

Both those events are free too.

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