Tag Archives: Njambi McGrath

Comedy critic Kate Copstick on what she likes and giving 1 & 2-star reviews

Copstickeither yawning or orgasming on a tow horse. It is difficult to be conclusive

Copstick in her Mama Biashara charity shop in London, either yawning or orgasming on a toy horse.

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are reviving our Grouchy Club chat show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August and also doing it as a one-off in London on 22nd February during a Jewish Comedy Day. (Neither of us is Jewish, but we are both Scottish and they are paying a fee).

“Initially, I wanted to be an actress,” Copstick told me this week, “because then I would never need to be myself. But I have never wanted to be a stand-up comic.

“Why?”

“Because a good stand-up comic is about being yourself. In the very short time that I did try stand-up, the primary thing that was wrong with me was there was nobody there.”

“Well,” I told her: “You say you didn’t want to be yourself, but you are the most opinionated, apparently-self-confident big-mouth in town. Your reviews are full of your own character. You would admit your reviews can be acerbic?”

“Yes.”

“So isn’t that cowardly? You don’t want to be yourself as a stand-up comedian to say what you think to people’s faces; but you can acerbic behind a pen”

“Maybe it is cowardly,” replied Copstick, “but, if someone gave me the chance to do a live review show I would happily do that. I happily sit in The Grouchy Club and rip into shows and criticise people. But that’s not stand-up. Stand-up is self-motivating and, the older I get, the more I realise not everyone is remotely interested in what I want to chunter on about.”

“Why are they interested?” I asked. “You clearly are the most influential and feared critic at the Edinburgh Fringe. Is it because you’ve been around so long? – You started in 1999.”

“No,” said Copstick, “I’m a good critic because I’m honest – sometimes brutally. I know what I’m talking about. I can communicate my thoughts well.”

“You say you know what you’re talking about,” I argued, “but you’ve not done stand-up properly. “

“I know enough about stand-up as the audience and about comedy in general. I think it’s a good thing to be able to criticise with inside knowledge but, on the other hand, there is absolutely no point saying: This guy was absolutely dreadful, but I feel his pain and I know what it’s like and, frankly, the audience was dreadful. That is not a valid critique.”

“Are you open-minded?” I asked.

“Very open-minded. Much more than I used to be. I’m happy to give anything a chance.”

“What did you used to be closed-minded about?”

“I used to be much more likely to go folded-armed and pursed-lipped at some free-form craziness. I used to require ‘form’. I used to think: I want to see this is a show. I want to see you’ve thought about this. I want to see you have not just wandered on-stage and are burbling to me.”

“And now you like Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

“Yes. Quite possibly Lewis Schaffer in 1999 might have driven me absolutely crazy.”

“At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” I said, “I know you saw Njambi McGrath’s show Bongolicious, but decided not to review it. Why?”

Njambi McGrath - Bongolicious

Njambi McGrath -“Brilliant” Fringe show

“It was listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe Programme and it wasn’t a comedy show. I thought it was a brilliant show, but not a comedy show. In the criminal areas of auto-theft, they call it a cut-and-shunt: you take the front half of one car and the back end of another car and slam them together. She had a strange little 10-minute warm-up at the start and then this EXTRAORDINARILY powerful piece of theatre about the atrocities perpetrated by white colonists in Kenya. I wrote little bits about it elsewhere, where I was not required to put a star-count on it… It was a brilliant show, but was not a 5-star comedy show. It was in the wrong section of the Fringe Programme and it would have been unfair to review it as Comedy.”

“You were telling me at the Fringe,” I said, “what you sometimes do when you write a 1-star or 2-star review of a comedy show.”

“I am hired as a critic,” said Copstick. “I have to say what I think and feel, otherwise I would just be a PR. But I think all performers deserve a fighting chance and I am, after all, only one person. If I really loathe the show, I try to make my review as entertaining as possible and as polemical as possible because I know a 1-star review will sell almost as many tickets as a 5-star review and, if you make your 1-star review polemical enough, people will go Oh my God! I have to see that! because everyone wants to see a car crash.”

“So,” I said, “in a way, a 2-star review could be worse than a 1-star review.”

“What I try to do in a 2-star review,” explained Copstick, “is seed it with combinations of words or even just one word which, if the performer is smart, they can ‘pull’ a quote from that I am happy for them to mis-use.

“The late, usually-great, Jason Wood did a show once which I thought was just appalling. It was lazy, using old stuff – ten years after people had died, he was doing half-baked impressions of them – I was really angry because Jason was a funny, funny, clever, talented guy. I ripped into the show and gave him a 1-star review but, by midnight that night, the Assembly Rooms where he was performing (under its previous owners) had big banners all over the place saying:

“A STAR!” (KATE COPSTICK, THE SCOTSMAN)

Copstick does not mind taking the piss - in this case to her doctor

Copstick likes taking the piss – in this case to her own doctor

“It was brilliant! Brilliant! Just wonderful. I am devastated to say that The Scotsman made him take the quote down. But I thought it was brilliant. If performers can be creative with their show and I can be creative with my review, then why can’t they be creative with my review of their show?

“The FringePig website – which popped up last year and which reviewed the Fringe reviewers – they did a review of me and it was surprisingly accurate. One of the things they picked up on was that now I absolutely love a maverick – Johnny Sorrow, Bob Slayer, for godsake.

“Again, we’re back to honesty and passion. I would rather see Bob Slayer – honesty, passion and drink – than some pointless, say-nothing, manufactured wannabe. Now that comedy has become an industry, one of the things that is wrong is a load of people coming in thinking Oh! I can be the next Jack Whitehall! and they stand up and are a kind of manufactured persona. There’s no real person there.

“Someone like Simon Munnery ought to get a bloody knighthood. He’s been nurturing his crazy since most of the people on stage now were foetuses.”

“You should get back on stage,” I suggested.

“I am peripherally involved in a comedy show at the Fringe this year… as well as The Grouchy Club and The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.”

“Are you?” I asked, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”

“It’s about assisted suicide.”

“Ah! The Exit guy!” I said.

“Yes. Philip Nitschke.”

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke – ‘Dr Death’ does stand-up comedy

“Are you going to be killed every day?” I asked.

“No, I’m sort-of directing it. Philip is the most wonderful guy, though it’s very difficult to get him into the country because they ask: Have you come in to kill people? – No, I’m coming in to do a comedy show in Edinburgh.

“The show is Philip and female stand-up Mel Moon, who suffers from a horrible endocrine disorder. She joined Exit with a view to topping herself before she turned into a puddle.

“I love the idea, because it’s a way of using comedy to get across an incredibly powerful message. I think you can ‘kick a lot of ass’ comedically or satirically that you can’t do when presenting it straight. So we’re doing satirical sketches. Hopefully I’m also filming a documentary, looking at previews, people’s reactions, the creative process. It’s part of a bigger idea.”

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How to write a comedy show about a serious subject – the British in Africa

Njambi McGrath in Soho last week

Njambi in Soho prepares for Leicester Square show tomorrow

“I suppose a lot of new comics don’t realise you can talk about serious subjects,” Kenyan-born comedian Njambi McGrath told me last week.

When I blogged about her in February, Njambi told me she wanted to write a book about the British colonial period in Kenya – with her parents’ lives as a narrative thread – and, to encourage herself to do the hard work involved in researching it, she would write an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show – Bongolicious – on the same (decidedly non-comedic) subject.

“How is the book coming along?” I asked her last week.

“Hard work,” she told me. “And emotional. I’ve been phoning my mother, who’s back in Kenya, but she speaks with great difficulty because she’s got Parkinson’s Disease and she needs someone to translate to me what she’s saying.

“The British used to come to a village and collect people, make them dig their own graves and then shoot them.

“My grandmother was born at the time a lot of the Settlers moved in. I was reading about the traditions in the time when my grandmother was circumcised and the etiquette and the dances they had to do two or three months beforehand.

“The missionaries all came to East Africa to ‘save’ us. They all had spheres of influence. The ones local to my grandmother were Scottish. Presbyterians.

“She turned to the church because she was looking for solace but, in order for her to be accepted, she had to abandon all cultural practices, because the church people found some cultural practices to be morally repugnant – and these were people from Glasgow!”

“What cultural practices were repugnant?” I asked.

“They way they dressed; their dancing; the way they used to cut their ears.”

“Sounds like a Saturday disco night in Glasgow,” I said.

“How strong is religion in Scotland?” Njambi asked me.

“Don’t even ask,” I said. “If you’re Catholic or Protestant in Glasgow, you’re in a lot of trouble, but being black gives you a Get Out of Jail card… So some of the stuff you’ve been researching for the book will be in the Edinburgh show?”

Njambi McGrath - Bongolicious

Njambi will be Bongolicious in Edinburgh

“I can’t put everything in, of course,” said Njambi, “and there are some things I am omitting because they are rather gruesome. For example, I won’t talk about shooting into the graves, because it’s already clear what’s happening.”

“And,” I said, if you have 55 minutes of brutality, it loses impact. You don’t want to cheapen the material with laughs, but it helps to pace the show.”

“It’s difficult,” said Njambi. “There are some areas where people can laugh – like about the Settlers, who were ridiculous. The stuff that is very deep I can’t joke about. Like the soldiers who used to come in at night and ask the women if they wanted their children to be raped or killed… I’m working like crazy to find a few more punchlines.”

“Sometimes people laugh from relief,” I said.

Njambi is performing a preview of Bongolicious at the Leicester Square Theatre tomorrow night and then at other venues. She tests parts of it every week at her comedy club – Heavenly Comedy – in Shepherd’s Bush.

“I want to test the reaction on real audiences,” she tells me. “I want it to end up like a rollercoaster.”

“What about the end?” I asked. “You sort-of need to have an ‘Up’ at the end, which is difficult to pull off without cheapening what’s gone before.“

“The end of the story is much more positive,” explained Njambi, “because it is about my parents and that’s a positive thing – two young people who get together and save enough money to buy a farm – They survived, despite all odds, when many people didn’t survive. Maybe around 300,000 people were killed. Some are in mass graves. Some are in a museum… In a museum!”

“Your mother must be very proud,” I said.

“She is just happy to be heard,” Njambi told me. “My mother is 67; she struggles massively to talk. All these things happened and there was no acknowledgement. Life moved on as if nothing had happened. The reason it has made me so emotional is I grew up without knowing anything about it. My parents, either consciously or unconsciously, didn’t mention any of it.

“My mother has only just told me how the children were called to go and see public hangings. There was an incident where Mau Maus had been blown up with hand grenades and the children were taken out of school to go and see the mutilated bodies.”

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Atrocities in Kenya – a good starting point for Edinburgh Fringe comedy

Njambi McGrath in Shepherd’s Bush last night

Njambi McGrath in Shepherd’s Bush last night

Comedian Njambi McGrath (pronounced Jambi McGrah) is thinking about writing a non-humorous book. Given that most of the UK publishing industry is currently running scared of anything not written by or about a famous TV name, I suggested she might make her idea into a comedy show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe because that would encourage her to do the necessary additional research for the book and also potentially give the idea some publicity which might impress publishers.

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I have a particular bee in my bonnet about the fact that the best comedies are often about tragic situations.

“It was finding out about your parents which got you interested, wasn’t it?” I asked Njambi yesterday, while she was preparing for her weekly Heavenly Comedy Club in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. “You thought they were boring and had never done anything very interesting.”

“Yes,” said Njambi. “I always wondered why my parents were so poor as children. I was not brought up poor in Kenya, but my parents had been poor to a degree I could not understand. And I didn’t understand why my parents never talked about their childhood.

“Then I found out my mum was 8 years old when they moved her to this camp in the mid-1950s. Her sisters were 13 and 14 and were considered grown-ups, so they were included in all the women who were going to dig the trenches.

“They would wake up at six o’clock in the morning and spend all day digging trenches. They were given no money and no food. So basically they relied on handouts. They were given flour by the Red Cross and made porridge.

“What the British would do was turn up at a village and burn it down and then the villagers would be herded onto lorries and taken to a patch of ground and they would sleep under the sky until they built their own houses and then they lived in these ‘special’ villages which had trenches round them to ‘protect’ them from the Mau Mau.

“They would start by building one person’s house and all sleep there and then they would build another house and do the same until they had built the whole village.

“The people in these ‘special’ villages were mostly women, because the men were taken to detention camps. The British assumed all the Kikuyu men were Mau Mau. The women had to dig trenches to surround the new villages and surround them with barbed wire and, when they finished that, they would work all day clearing the forests so the Mau Mau couldn’t hide there.”

“And the Mau Mau were…?” I asked.

“The Kikuyu tribe,” explained Njambi, “were basically farmers and we lived in the most fertile land in Kenya with bright red soils, so the British moved us away from there and put us into special reserves and taxed us – hut tax and poll tax – but we had no money. The Kikuyu used to make money from their land but they no longer had that, so they were forced to work for the white settlers, the majority of whom had come from South Africa and were very right wing.

“The conditions imposed on the Africans were that they had to pay these taxes and wear a big ID hanging round the neck – basically like a bull. They used to call it a ‘bull bell’.

Jomo Kenyatta, first President of Kenya

Jomo Kenyatta, first President of Kenya

“People were very disgruntled and the Mau Mau were men like Jomo Kenyatta (later President of Kenya) who went to the British and said We’re not happy with our rights. We want land rights. They weren’t taken seriously, so a branch of them decided it was going to have to be armed resistance rather than talking.

“They were based in the forests and their tactics were to go and either kill a settler or to kill a sympathiser of the settlers, because the British had chiefs who were Africans and they were as cruel if not worse. So the Mau Mau would kill people and caused a lot of terror because nobody knew where they were. They were all Kikuyu men or the vast majority were.”

“Why were they called Mau Mau?” I asked.

“No-one knows for sure,” said Njambi. “They think it’s because ‘mzungu’ means ‘white man’ and it’s an abbreviation of that and ‘go home’.”

(One theory is that Mzungu Aende Ulaya, Mwafrika Apate Uhuru roughly means If the foreigner goes back to Europe, the African may get freedom)

“The women were put into villages separate from the men,” explained Njambi, “so they could give information about the men. Some of them, like my grandmother, were single mothers. She had no man, but they didn’t believe her. A single Kikuyu woman in Kenya was seen as a suspicious woman. People like that were tortured so they would give information about their husbands… but they had no husbands.

“The Mau Mau would come at night and harass the women in the special villages to give them food. But they had none. They were given flour by the British Red Cross. My mother ate flour from the age of 8 to 14. When they wanted to make it exciting, they put salt in the flour. Many of my mother’s friends died because they were mal-nourished. It was a double whammy for the women. They were harassed by the Mau Mau and by the British.

“If women did not co-operate or they were too weak to dig – if they were ill or injured from all the digging – they were assaulted to co-operate and coerced to work.

Idi Amin addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 1975

Idi Amin addresses UN General Assembly in New York, 1975

“The people persuading the women to co-operate were people like Idi Amin (later President of Uganda, but then in the British Army). His job was to coerce people into giving information about the rebels. He was promoted year on year on year because he brought in results. He found ways of making women talk. He found new ways of breaking women. The British re-defined rape, using bottles, broken glass, hot boiled eggs and barbed wire. It didn’t matter if you were 13 or 14. You were considered a woman.

“My mother stayed in the village from the age of 8 to 14. When I found that out, I knew why she was so poor as a child and why she didn’t want to talk about her childhood.

“My father was a different story. His mother was killed in one of the raids.”

“By the British or by the Mau Mau?” I asked.

“Nobody really knows,” said Njambi. “She was found dead with her baby son – my father – suckling on her breast. My father had an older sister who was 5 years old and they moved into the streets of Nairobi and she looked after him. She used to beg and my father lived in the streets until he met my mother.

“Because of all the years he lived in the streets, my father became very ingenious. He used to beg, get money, go buy sweets and sell them at the bus stop. Slowly, slowly, he made enough money to buy more stock and more stock. Eventually he met my mother in a train. She was 14 and she was going to look for a job. My father proposed on the train. They started working as  team. Every day selling sweets. He was living in a hut. He was no longer living on the streets. They worked hard and they earned enough money to buy a farm and they had children and they put us in good schools. I was put in a boarding school. Education was very important for my father. He was all about bettering himself. He bettered himself. He taught himself karate, became a black belt and represented the country. He spoke five languages. And, one day, I came home and told him: Mum, Dad, I’m in love with a British boy.

“I fell in love with a British boy. What can you do?”

“And you want to turn this story into a book,” I said.

“Yes.”

“And a comedy show,” I said.

“I’m challenged by how I’m going to make it funny,” said Njambi.

As I said at the start, I believe that the best comedies are often about tragic situations – and you can do that without diminishing the horror of the situations. The most important thing is a meaningful story and people the audience cares about.

Njambi has a good starting point here.

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Kenyan-born comic Njambi McGrath talks about Bongo Bongo Land clitoris

Njambi McGrath performs in Edinburgh last night

Njambi at Edinburgh Fringe in August

“She is a potentially major comedian. Njambi McGrath is one to watch,” wrote a highly respected, sexually attractive, hirsute and increasingly prestigious commentator on the UK comedy scene.

OK. It was me writing in my blog at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Comedy fan Sandra Smith bet me yesterday that I would never be described as sexually attractive and hirsute.

DON’T MESS WITH ME is my message to Sandra Smith. And I suspect DON’T MESS WITH NJAMBI McGRATH is a more general warning.

Her website starts: “Njambi has been described as the hottest thing to come out of Africa since the Sahara.”

Last week, she contacted me because she saw a female TV comedian taking notes at one of her shows – then saw her own jokes being repeated by the female TV comedian on air.

I think that female TV comedian is a tad unwise.

Njambi on Sky News

Njambi was interviewed on Sky News recently

Njambi was profiled in the Guardian last Friday. She was interviewed on the BBC World Service’s Newsday yesterday. And she was voted one of the Top Five up-and-coming female comedians by – of all things – the Sun‘s Fabulous magazine.

Not bad for a Kenyan-born stand-up who only started in comedy three years ago after attending university in London and New York. She has a degree in IT.

“Who’s your publicist?” I asked when I talked to her yesterday.

“I haven’t got a publicist!” she laughed. “Up until now, no-one has been interested in doing any stuff on me; it’s only lately that my profile has started to go up a little bit.”

Njambi at the Comedy Cafe Theatre in London

Njambi performing at the Comedy Cafe Theatre in London

“Why did you start in comedy?” I asked.

“I work in adult education – the National Childbirth Trust – and I wanted to engage my clients – my pupils – in what would be an unforgettable experience for them. I wrote a few jokes so that these people who expected to come in and learn about childbirth would start off by laughing and then I would talk about serious stuff and then they’d be laughing and then I’d talk about haemorrhaging in childbirth. I wanted them to learn in a refreshing way. And my husband said to me: Just go along to a comedy club and see what happens there.

“I went on stage – which was the hardest thing to do – and talked about things other than childbirth. My first routine was not a great success, which is to be expected, but I ended up being addicted to performing and I found I enjoyed writing and exploring ideas.

Recent poster for Njambi’s Heavenly Comedy club

Poster for Njambi’s Heavenly Comedy club

“I run a weekly comedy club – Heavenly Comedy – in Shepherd’s Bush where I can try out new material. And now I’m really looking forward to working on my 2014 Edinburgh show Njambi’s Bongolicious.”

“Errrr… Bongolicious?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Njambi. “A UKIP MEP talked about giving aid to Bongo Bongo Land and I thought that was so funny and I thought I’m just going to play around with that. I was going to call my show Queen of Bongo Bongo Land, but then I thought No, that’s a bit naff and I thought Njambi’s Bongolicious kept the jungle element.”

“Being black is complicated,” I said, “because you don’t want to be pigeonholed as a ‘black’ comedian but, at the same time, it can be a selling point and you have to juggle those two things.”

Njambi doorsteps London Mayor Boris Johnson at Westfield, Stratford

Njambi doorstepped London’s Mayor Boris Johnson in Stratford

“Ye-e-e-s,” said Njambi warily. “I don’t want to get pigeonholed because I’m a more mainstream comedian. I’ve done a few urban (black London) gigs, but I try not to be too ethnic, just because that’s not the type of comedian I want to be.”

Njambi came to the UK in her early teens.

“Where were you born in Kenya?” I asked.

Kiambu.”

“Your parents are still in Kenya?”

“Yes. My father started off as an orphan – a street child – a parking boy. But he made it out of poverty, which is rare – especially for those parking boys, because they are dying in the streets. He worked very hard and eventually he bought a farm.

“When my parents split up I ended up living with my mother and I went from being financially OK to being not very OK financially, because most women in Africa, when the family breaks down, the man keeps everything and the woman has nothing.”

“And some – though not all – of your Bongolicious show will be about Africa?” I said.

“Yes,” said Njambi. “My poster is going to show me in a very glamorous dress, breast-feeding a monkey and I’m wearing a very big diamond that is bleeding. I wanted it to be as eye-catching as possible. I’m going to be confronting all the issues that people dare not talk about because maybe they haven’t been affected by any of these issues. Things like female genital mutilation, the invisibility of women in Africa… I want it to be on the edgy side and punchy but not so shocking that people don’t want to see it.”

“What do your parents think of you being a comic?” I asked.

“I’ve always been headstrong. They’ve always known about my determination… People ask why Kenyans are such fast runners and the answer is because we’re running away from things like hungry wildlife, neo-colonial legacies and people who are after your clitoris.”

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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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