Fest's Edinburgh 2019 Round-Up: Best of Comedy

We saw a lot of comedy this year. Here's what stood out

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Desiree Burch
Photo by Idil Sukan
Published 23 Aug 2019

Sara Barron: Enemies Closer

2018 Edinburgh Comedy Awards Best Newcomer nominee returns with a set about her friends and relationships.

What we said: "There’s nothing philosophical or ponderous about her poise and delivery: she has a rock star presence, pacing the stage from end to end like a caged sand cat. It’s hard to believe she’s only recently broken through on the standup scene."

Jack Tucker: Comedy Standup Hour

An hour of absurdist comedy that skewers standup.

What we said: "It’s a hugely entertaining spectacle, and a wide array of standups might find it unnervingly close to home: even some of the Fringe’s critical darlings will recognise stuff they do here."

James Nokise: God Damn Fancy Man

The New Zealander returns to the Fringe with a set covering a whirlwind of topics.

What we said: "He bounds onto the stage like the most enviably together person you’ve ever seen: hench, handsome, incredibly happy to be performing for and with this particular crowd, even working a rogue audience phone ring into an in-progress anecdote, as seamlessly as you’ve ever seen."

Garrett Millerick: Smile

The Breakthrough Act 2019 Award nominee returns with a battle cry against the gloom.

What we said: "He's belatedly wise on the need not to fight every battle and woke on the outdated attitudes of Men Behaving Badly, while simply reflecting the truth that sometimes we all need to let off a little steam."

Demi Lardner: Ditch Witch 800

Amother surreal hour from the award-laden Australian.

What we said: "There’s something splendidly distinctive about Lardner’s big beat-fuelled and often gleefully gross gags. She gives due recognition to the sound guy—whose timing needs to be top-notch too, as many of these punchlines involve audio tricks—although what’s also refreshing is her lack of faux-politeness about the Fringe, and even her venue neighbours."

Myra DuBois: Dead Funny

A faux funeral from South Yorkshire's smuttiest export.

What we said: "When she belts out Annie Lennox’s 'Why' at the conclusion, hilariously and horrendously out of tune, you remember why we’ll miss her so much. Good thing she’s decided to live on after all. She’ll probably keep going forever."

Andrew O'Neill: We Are Not in the Least Afraid of Ruins; We Carry a New World in Our Hearts

An uncharacteristically topical show from the cult comedian.

What we said: "O’Neill is fiercely passionate about environmentalism and anti-capitalism, but far from preachy: he’s as susceptible to dopamine-friendly Amazon Prime purchases as anyone. What the rest of us don’t have is a stage, tremendous gags, a guitar and a huge, sometimes unsung capacity to blow the bloody roof off."

Tony Slattery: Slattery Will Get You Nowhere

Forty years on from his Edinburgh debut, Slattery returns with a set reflecting on his life and work.

What we said: "We really do start to see an interesting, honest and funny performance. The old charm is present, but joined by a compelling intensity and darkness. At its best, this show is like looking into the abyss only for the abyss to laugh back."

Laura Lexx: Knee Jerk

Laura Lexx tackles society's big issues with a light touch.

What we said: "Her strength is her ability to discuss difficult, depressing subjects with a rare lightness of touch. She practically bounces around the stage with nervous energy, her face constantly lit up with a cheeky grin."

Jessica Fostekew: Hench

A set with much to say about body image, gender roles and the undeservedly tough status of the testicle.

What we said: "It’s a marvel of timing and tone, keeping the narration as calm as can be to really maximise the moments of great shrieking fury. It also features the best ‘shut up!’ since Rik from The Young Ones."

Lou Sanders: Say Hello to Your New Step-Mummy

Surfing a wave of recent TV exposure, Lou Sanders makes her Edinburgh return.

What we said: "Any fans of the recent live shows might worry whether Sanders has anything left to give. Let those fears be allayed: she remains absolutely awash with jaw-dropping anecdotes, even after a chap-free year due to the advice of her WhatsApp-based spiritual healer."

Suzi Ruffell: Dance Like Everyone's Watching

An unapologetically happy hour of stand-up.

What we said: "It should be a disadvantage for her comedy that her life’s working out pretty well at the moment—engagement done, house bought, unnecessary but emotionally stabilising kitchen equipment sorted—but instead, her happiness is infectious."

Stevie Martin: Hot Content

A set that explores how technology and social media has infiltrated our consciousness.

What we said: "Hot Content is a show timed to perfection. Martin is meticulous. Every break out of the flow morphs into a double bluff and her audience is kept well and truly on their toes. She also incorporates slideshow remarkably well."

Max & Ivan: Commitment

A feel-good show about friendship.

What we said: "With Max & Ivan's camraderie you hope that when they clock off and go home they spend the evening still together, chatting like Morecombe and Wise in their pyjamas or going through separate front doors into the same house, as The Beatles do in Help!."

Sean Morley: Soon I Will Be Dead and My Bones Will Be Free to Wreak Havoc Upon the Earth Once More

The single-minded Sean Morley returns with an existential hour.

What we said: "It is rattle-the-ribcage hilarious, making genuinely impressive and easy-to-overlook use of some lengthy pre-taped audio that could easily be a right old mess if this wasn’t such a tightly run ship of thoughtful weirdness."

Alice Snedden: Absolute Monster

The New Zealander makes her triumphant Edinburgh return.

What we said: "The following hour is just rip-roaring standup, from an act who seems almost too close to the finished article, already."

Jen Brister: Under Privilege

An reflection on power, society and the joy and tedium of raising children.

What we said: "Brister, a gay woman, turns it back on herself, considering the middle-class luxuries she’s afforded even in a white man’s world. This is the joy of Under Privilege. Brister’s conscious the festival is an echo chamber. She isn’t afraid to be confrontational with us and knows there's no value in low-hanging fruit."

Mat Ewins: Actually Can I Have Eight Tickets Please?

The cult favourite returns with another weird and chaotic hour.

What we said: "Ewins can show off his full skill-set: mischievous videos, coding-based mischief, computer games and lo-fi CGI are all present. He’s done all of this before, but coming from such a weirdly vivid imagination it is still as hysterical as ever."

Eleanor Morton: Post-Morton

A portrait of where the comedian is now in life.

What we said: "There’s no dip in quality for Morton's prolific act. There’s bite here too, espeically on some commonsense feminism within a routine on the incredulity of male friends at the #MeToo revelations and in her views on marriage."

Chris McGlade: Forgiveness

Chris McGlade reflects after the murder of his father.

What we said: "Offering a comprehensive, unvarnished tableaux of a working-class family with dark Irish blood in their veins and domestic violence, criminality and marital tension lurking in the background, he nevertheless finds plentiful humour in their eccentricities and contradictions."

Eric Lampaert: Borne of Chaos

A bold, dramatic reflection on mental illness.

What we said: "The show isn’t designed to be a smooth ride. It’s an artistic depiction of depression, anxiety and psychosis, and we shouldn’t find that comfortable. Ultimately, Borne of Chaos is about growth, developing understanding and forgiveness."

Garry Starr Conquers Troy

Damien Warren-Smith returns as his over-confident alias.

What we said: "There’s a heavy focus on audience participation. He may have forgotten to put it on the posters but there’s a high chance his floppy penis may at any moment waggle near your face, possibly while he hand-feeds you dinner."

Kai Samra: Underclass

A hotly tipped debut hour reflecting on life as a working-class British Asian.

What we said: "This is a beautifully put-together show, narrated with flair and grace by Samra. Do stay for the closing video, too, which ties up a significant loose end."

Paul Currie: Trufficle Musk

A surreal hour of comedy with an edge.

What we said: "What Currie does prove himself a master of is undercutting the celebratory nonsense with a palpable sense of pain and darkness. Abuse and trauma are strongly hinted at throughout the piece, the otherwise joyful tone rendering these naked, emotionally raw asides all the more poignant."

Adam Riches: The Beakington Town Hall Murders

A typically weird, interactive hour from the Fringe stalwart.

What we said: "Riches runs it all in character. He’s Victor Legit, a preposterously pompous investigator who slams down Yakults and forces the whole audience to hand round a spring roll, for no other reason that it’s funny. His improvisation is excellent—and extremely bizarre—throughout."

Róisín and Chiara: Get Nupty

An off-kilter collection of sketches.

What we said: "They are visibly having a huge amount of fun, but Get Nupty doesn’t ever feel self-indulgent or as though the audience are being left out of some inside joke. In fact, the interaction is well managed, keeping us on our toes but never being overbearing or intrusive."

Desiree Burch: Desiree's Coming Early!

A shaggy-dog story about Burch’s acid-fuelled experiences at Burning Man.

What we said: "It’s one heck of a show. Burch’s background is in experimental theatre, and while the set-up here looks like traditional standup, this is as spectacular as it gets without costumes, props and fireworks. It’s a mesmerizing performance."

Courtney Pauroso: Gutterplum

The American comedian makes her Fringe debut with an expansive hour.

What we said: "Tapping into the pornification of culture and toying with the consequences of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, Pauroso blithely dismisses conventional mores of audience engagement. The frisson is palpable, the spectacle voyeuristic."

Dreamgun: Film Reads

Improv group re-imagine a different movie every night.

What we said: "Rather than let variably-talented improvisers loose on a vague theme, Film Reads, as the title suggests, is tightly scripted and clearly laboured-over with love."

Fern Brady: Power and Chaos

A fearless set that covers the personal and the politcal.

What we said: "She has particularly acute takes on class and sexuality – having learned the hard way, as a Scottish woman living in London. The highlight of the show is her very funny bid to become “the patron saint of cat-called women” by making the creepy men who deign to give her unbidden compliments regret the day they learned to wolf whistle."

Eleanor Tiernan: Enjoying the Spotlight Responsibly

An observational, satirical set about millenial life.

What we said: "As adept highlighting the mean girls-style motivations of Brexit, as she is mining her relationship status as a 40-something singleton deflecting questions about her broodiness, there's feeling in Tiernan's gags about being a substitute mother no-one asked for."

Ciarán Dowd: Padre Rodolfo

Ciarán Dowd returns as Padre Rodolfo; a priest still battling his demons.

What we said: "Dowd is smart, embedding specific, modern day observations, and unformulaic ones at that. They contrast deliciously against the priest’s flamboyant and rather grandiose demeanour, reminding the audience that this is a character, despite the (literal) smoke and mirrors (no actual mirrors)."

London Hughes: To Catch a D*ck

London Hughes reflects on her sexual history.

What we said: "She’s an energetic and captivating performer. She works the crowd excellently, drawing out audience participation in an inclusive manner despite the risqué nature of the subject matter."

Glenn Moore: Love Don't Live Here Glenny Moore

Following his Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination, Glenn Moore returns with a set reflecting his time working at LBC.

What he said: "Moore has passively absorbed and internally ruminated upon all the slights, humiliations and petty irritations visited upon him by his ex-work colleagues and girlfriend. That is until now, when Network-style, he's mad as hell and not about to take it anymore."

Josie Long: Tender

First show in five years from the Fringe favourite is a work about the ecstasy and anxiety of motherhood.

What we said: "Long’s skill as a comedian is undimmed. Her wild-eyed rants about sleep deprivation are fantastic, her observational material acutely funny, dealing with menstruation tracker apps and keep cups, and the hour is filled with deft callbacks and diligent obedience to the rule of three."

Rob Auton: The Time Show

The idiosyncratic comedian returns with a show about time.

What we said: "His touched poet persona, shuffling papers, is augmented by a naïve loveability that he characterises as canine, but which manifests itself in the pursuit of empathy."

Tony Law: Identifies

Another chaotic hour from the Canadian surrealist 

What we said: "Identifies flirts with being perceptive, but there’s absolutely no learning to be done. Law’s a born entertainer, and as he himself points out, it’s not like he, and fellow comedian Phil Nichol, can "just go and get jobs". The longer we can embrace his strange worldview, the better."

Tom Ballard: Enough

Twice nominated for Edinburgh comedy awards, Tom Ballard returns with satire seemingly made for Britain.

What we said: "To see Enough is to glimpse a prodigiously talented master performing unencumbered by expectation or risk. It feels like we're very lucky to have him here."

Aditi Mittal: Mother of Invention

Aditi Mittal returns to the Fringe with a largely biographical set.

What we said: "Highlighting the way in which positive, admirable sentiments are co-opted by the powerful, she makes some very thoughtful and timely points on issues few comedians would have the bravery or skill to tackle."

Sophie Duker: Venus

Sophie Duker's debut is chock-full of hot-takes and social commentary.

What we said: Autobiographical snippets—an anecdote about absentee fathers and an Uber driver named Daddy comes to mind here, as well as the musing that lesbian sex can feel like “working in hospitality”—are interwoven with crowd-pleasing cultural observations, demonstrating that Duker can speak from her specific positionality without ever being limited by it."

Jonny Pelham: Off Limits

A confessional, redemptive hour.

What we said: "Pelham refuses to make this too easy, and he evidently doesn’t want to be simplistically dismissed as ‘brave’. In outlining child abuse statistics he situates his comedy within pressing social concerns without ever turning this into a lecture."

John Kearns: Double Take and Fade Away

The double Edinburgh Comedy Award-winner returns with his idiosyncratic, unsettling approach to comedy.

What we said: "It’s all in the stagecraft. It seems odd to laud a comedian on their employment of the venue’s back wall, but the use of the performance space is a masterclass. Pauses in delivery create ebbs and flows, giving the audience room to find their own way through all of this."

Troy Hawke: Tiles of the Unexpected

Prolific character comedian Milo McCabe brings his foppish naif persona back to Edinburgh.

What we said: "McCabe has really fleshed out this silver-tongued 1930s cad. And not just visually (pencil moustache, cravate and silk smoking jacket): Hawke boasts a considered but subtle physical vocabulary alongside his verbal one. It’s almost clowning, so integral are the winks, grins and mannerisms to the character."

Olga Koch: If/Then

The Edinburgh Comedy Award nominee tells a love story through the medium of computer programming.

What we said: "Every time she comes close to making a point, she burns it to the ground with a beaut of a punchline. Her delivery is tricksy, too, dancing deftly on the thin line between tight script and sponteneity, each beat clearly considered but never feeling overrehearsed."

Alfie Brown: Imagination

Alfie Brown touches on family, friendship and inherited belief.

What we said: "He maintains control of the room thanks to a devastating command of language, but this is a weapon he frequently turns on himself. A highlight of this particular show involves him going into exhaustive detail regarding his grave financial debt."

Leo Mohr: When I Was Zorro

The Swiss coemdian looks to the past in his debut Fringe hour.

What we said: "It's thrilling to watch a clown dominate an audience in a seemingly unworkable space, all the while setting up and ultimately dodging traps for his own failure. Mohr reads the room and reacts accordingly, in effect delivering a bespoke version of his tirelessly inventive debut."

Laura Davis: Better Dead than a Coward

The outlandish and acclaimed Australian returns to Edinburgh with a set on – and about – a bus.

What we said: "In comparison to some other comics, Davis's eccentricities come off as truly genuine. She's unashamedly odd and inventive, but in full control of her craft."

Isma Almas: About a Buoy – Adventures in Adoption

Isma Almas returns to the Fringe after a decade with a set dealing with the trials and tribulations of adopting a child.

What we said: "The insights Almas offers into the adoption process are frequently heartbreaking, the prejudices of a system that mirrors modern dating sites with its competitive pitting of child against child cruelly emblematic of our age."

Catherine Cohen

The comedy-cabaret star's Fringe debut explores the psyche of a woman flitting between the extremes of elated overconfidence and the insecurities of wanting Instagram likes.

What we said: "You remember the show more as a joyous night out, rather than simply a joyous Fringe hour with great individual tunes or punchlines. When she sings that she wants our attention, her naturally unfaltering glamour and verve ensures that she gets it – and for the full hour."

Susie McCabe: Domestic Disaster

The multi award-winning Scottish comedian reflects on having to move back in with her parents at 39.

What we said: "It's the broader strokes of familial angst that elicit the big belly laughs of recognition, with McCabe's tendency towards sardonic incredulity affording real heft to the punchlines."