Edinburgh Fringe 2022: reviews of the best comedy shows, from Leo Reich to Jordan Gray

·38 min read
Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Reviews best shows and hottest tickets
Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Reviews best shows and hottest tickets

Tony Law: A Now Begin in Again ★★★★☆

Where: Monkey Barrel 3

When: midday

Until: Aug 28

In a Nutshell... Over the years, Tony Law has cornered an improbable but distinct market at Edinburgh: the lunchtime hour of utterly idiosyncratic, breakneck-speed, pop-surreal meta-comedy. Canadian-born, but based over here for two decades-plus, the 2012 Edinburgh Comedy Awards nominee gets his 13-year-old son to introduce the show (which the wee fellow does with daunting confidence), after which Law snr bounds on to the stage in a white T-shirt and black top hat, a robust, industrial-looking glove on one hand. Why the hat? And why, for that matter, the glove? All is revealed – the latter, in a particularly inspired moment. And, throughout a set in which entirely unrelated topics repeatedly collide with or burgeon from each other, Law does everything he can to yank his craft limb from limb while preserving its comic impact. If there’s a running thread, it’s his Trinidadian mother’s fondness for a nag called Secretary, though in fact this – especially the lively but rote-feeling chunk of audience interaction – is bettered by several other routines here, particularly one on class warfare on board a Lancaster bomber. Yes, certain past shows of his have been a little more consistent, but should you need a mid-Fringe, midday shot of comic adrenalin, Law is still, supremely, the man to administer it. MM

Ciarán Dowd: King Rodolfo ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance QueenDome

When: 9.45pm

Until: Aug 29

In a Nutshell... How much you enjoy this show will depend partly on your appetite for a protracted account of a 17th-century swordsman crawling through a horse via its bottom. (I loved it.) At any rate, in 2018, the man in question was a Don. The following year, he was a Padre. Now, after two years of lockdown, the somehow inevitable has happened: Rodolfo is on the throne. The creation of comedian Ciarán Dowd, late of sketch trio Beasts, the preposterous, preening buccaneer-cum-rake has swiftly become one of the more dependable pleasures of the Fringe. This year sees him in his largest Edinburgh venue yet, the decidedly sympathetic Pleasance QueenDome. And. even though this was only two-thirds full the night I caught him (typical for a Sunday, though potentially taxing for a performer so clearly fuelled by the buzz of a crowd), Dowd and his capable four-strong coterie still managed to whip up something very close to a carnival atmosphere.

Now king for an inprobable 20 years, Rodolfo has issues with his wimpy son (first represented here by a cutely morose marionette), the parallel narrative thread being his attmempts to prevent himself from going the way of the Romanovs. Although there is, in fact, a genuine twist at the end – which Dowd endearingly fluffed on the night – the “plot” is above all a peg on which to hang Rodolfo’s many operatically overblown tales from his past and florid declarations of self-love. And if Dowd does, it must be said, career like Bambi on ice between Rodolfo’s cod-Hispanic accent and his native Dublin, well, that somehow just adds to the big, silly, Rabelaisian fun. MM

Jazz Emu: You Shouldn't Have ★★★★★

Where: Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Doonstairs)

When: 9.15pm

Until: Aug 21

In a nutshell... This is a work of genius. Jazz Emu (Archie Henderson) is a one-man Flight of the Conchords, a comedy songwriter who turns his virtuoso musicianship into part of the joke. He sings everything from opera to pop, playing electric bass, guitar, keys, and synth flute, while jamming live over the top of his pre-recorded videos (directed with exquisite retro-stylings by Hunter Allen).

His persona is a magnetic, fully three-dimensional comic creation. In the opening number, he dons a reflective metal DJ mask for a dancefloor banger that positions him as a kind of Dafter Punk. But he speaks with an unplaceable, faintly Scandinavian accent; he has the angular dance moves and wardrobe of Jarvis Cocker; his musical metier is smoother-than-smooth jazz-funk.

There's a complex backstory – nay, a whole comic universe – underpinning the songs. Born into a family of embittered foley artists (there are mid-show Zoom calls from his disappointed dad), Jazz Emu became a Europop star – and then an online punching-bag, after making a goblin-phobic comment during a gig in Helsinki. This show is his wonderfully insincere attempt at a celebrity apology. Stuck in this Edinburgh basement, he'd much rather be playing the O2; give him a few years, and he just might be. TFS

Matt Forde: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Beyond)

When: 8pm

Until: Aug 28

In a nutshell... Cometh the hour of political crisis, cometh the comedian who watches the political scene like a hawk. Matt Forde is in his element right now, entertained/aghast at the chaos, not mincing his words about the outgoing PM, but castigating and niftily impersonating other politicians left, right, centre, and in Scotland too.

Praising the likes of Gareth Southgate, Marcus Rashford and the Lionesses he pithily pronounces: “People talk about the politicisation of football, it’s the footballisation of politics we need to worry about.” The Tory leadership race features, with Sunak’s immigration stance coming in for a particular ribbing, but Forde also knows that people want to talk about overlong train announcements. Too pedestrian? It’s not cutting-edge – and occasionally inclines to basic, chipper bar-room banter – but there’s a gag roughly every minute, and you feel that Forde is doing the world a mighty favour by steeping himself in the muck of political life so that we don’t have to. DC

Colin Hoult: The Death of Anna Mann ★★★★★

Colin Hoult as Anna Mann at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe
Colin Hoult as Anna Mann at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Where: Pleasance Beneath

When: 9.10pm

Until: Aug 28

In a nutshell... Anna Mann is a terrific comic character for which her creator, After Life alumnus Colin Hoult, has never quite found the perfect vehicle – until now. Looking like a young Imelda Staunton drawn from memory, and decked up in a little black dress and spiffing red leather jacket, Hoult’s ludicrously theatrical, beautifully observed thesp manquée – her poster a perfectly apt Millais knock-off – launches with tragic news: her doctor has told her her heart is about to give up on her (“Maybe it’s just too full,” she sighs). She then proceeds to give us a valedictory whistle-stop tour of her life and loves. (“You could say love killed him,” she says of hubby no 2. “That, and immense old age.”) From the opening crowd-work to the wrongfooting, genuinely confessional climax, it’s cracking stuff, first-rate writing and performance coalescing into a consistently hilarious but also surprisingly poignant whole that manages to have its cake and eat it. Let’s not spoil that Big Reveal here. Suffice it to say that bereavement is by no means the only “difficult” subject that Hoult uses Mann to explore here, but such is his lightness of touch that you will laugh yourself silly throughout. MM

Jake Lambert: Liminal ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Baby Grand)

When: 7.05 pm

Until: Aug 28

In a nutshell... Lambert was a joke machine on Twitter then went on-stage, making his debut at the Fringe in 2018 with  a show called Little Lost Lad, his Twitter handle. Why he’s playing the tiny Baby Grand is perplexing; he has the smart, grinny presence to win over much larger venues, as well as bolshy/boozed-up punters. “Started the year engaged, then we broke up, now we no longer speak,” runs his introduction to Liminal – but this is the “opposite of a break-up show” he promises, regaling us with how he got back in touch during the pandemic with a girl who helped him after his first epileptic seizure, in a clothes shop, “during National Epilepsy  Week, which was fitting...” There’s plenty more where that came from, with apercus about the nature of friendship, judging by appearances, having to use disabled toilets, the boons of going to a gay bar, and encountering José Mourinho in Legoland. DC

Luke Kempner: Macho Macho Man ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Above)

When: 6.40pm

Until: Aug 29

In a nutshell: I’d be happy watching Luke Kempner’s 2013 show The Only Way is Downton at every Fringe, but times change, and Kempner’s advancing years have brought him to parenthood and perennial questions about what kind of father he should be. Given his degree in musical theatre (he was “Convict 2” in Les Mis), has he got what it takes? “This is a deep dive into the thorny issues of modern masculinity” he says ominously at the start, but it’s a light touch affair, immediately confirmed by an impression of Ready Steady Cook’s Rylan voicing Blue Planet and Michael McIntyre rattling through the pandemic. Contrasting male types are mimicked, Andy Murray and Paul Hollywood among them. Do we learn much that’s rivetingly new about men today? Nah. Do we laugh a fair bit? Yes, and Kempner exudes a boosted confidence that bodes well for his live following, not to mention his parental authority. DC

Leo Reich: Literally Who Cares?! ★★★★★

Leo Reich - Raphael Neal
Leo Reich - Raphael Neal

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Baby Grand), plus one extra show at 7pm at Pleasance Courtyard (Forth) on Aug 27

When: 9.35pm

Until: Aug 28

In a nutshell... Not since Jack Whitehall emerged at the Fringe have I come away with a surer sense that stardom beckons for a newcomer. In his first full-length show, Leo Reich talks about growing up gay, and pining for his best friend at school – the relayed pains of youth countered by bursts of parodically upbeat pop (music by Toby Marlow, who co-wrote Six). In itself, this isn’t hugely novel – nor are the outre glances at gay life today. What’s buzz-making is his zesty, Generation Z grasp of reality, or lack thereof. Reich at once presents himself as an object of satire – vapid, ignorant, impatient – and also a wit-armed rebel against that hollowness. Zipping from one apercu to the next, the height of fickle, his act laughs at the online age’s theatre of the self. A dazzling debut. DC

Vir Das: Wanted ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath)

When: 5.25pm

Until: Aug 28

In a nutshell... The first Indian comedian to have a comedy special stream on Netflix, the 43-year-old, Emmy-nominated Das has got into hot water at home as a result of a speech he gave in the States in 2021 about “the two Indias”, which went viral. (Here was a country, he said, where people “worship women during the day but gang rape them at night”.) The ensuing uproar – he was dubbed a “terrorist” and charged with defaming India - was reported by the BBC. In Wanted, he jokes: “Do you know how badly you have to f--- up before the British say that you divided India?” Scoffing at our genteel idea of “cancel culture”, he jibes: “Never complain to us how a mob came after you on Twitter!” He’s impish, dwelling on the cartoon violence of his school days, and insightful, contemplating his mic and observing that this one invention has “changed the world more than any man alive… in my country it has enabled small people to talk about big things.” In the wake of the Rushdie attack, as pertinent as it gets. DC

Sikisa: Life of the Party ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Below)

When: 8.25pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 17)

In a nutshell... Another head-turning debut show at the Pleasance, this one from a South London immigration lawyer of Barbadian heritage who may be able to jack in the day job if she can parlay the warmth of her gig here onto bigger stages. The conceit is that she’s recreating one of her house parties, allowing for outbreaks of music, but essentially it’s exuberantly packaged observational material of a mildly outspoken variety. Racial politics are affably part of the mix. She talks about dating outside her race, her white friends drink-dancing and goads the uptight thus: “I think that if an immigrant wants to stay, they should then challenge a British person for their citizenship through the Life in the UK Test.” She duly recruits audience-members to have a go (“If I win, I get your British passport!”). Fresh and often very funny. DC

Lara Ricote: GIRL/LATNX/DEF ★★★★☆

 Lara Ricote - Steve Ullathorne
Lara Ricote - Steve Ullathorne

Where: Monkey Barrel Comedy (The Hive)

When: 3.20pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 17)

In a nutshell... Lara Ricote has bona fide funny bones. The Mexico-born Funny Women Award-winner’s Fringe debut might have some rough edges – I could have done without the rap – but she has a deliciously goofy, gawky stage-presence, perfect timing, and surprising lines of thought on sex, race and disability. (If she was never told she was a “person of colour” until she moved to the Netherlands, she wonders, does that mean she really is one?) Her funniest material involves the none-too-funny-on-paper topic of her degenerative hearing-loss; a routine about why she removes hearing aids during sex is a hoot. Ricote is a talent to watch. TFS

Jamie MacDonald: Reasonably Adjusted ★★★★☆

Where: Gilded Balloon Sportsmans

When: 7.45pm

Until: Aug 29

In a nutshell... Jamie MacDonald is an immensely likable 6ft 4in Glaswegian with a sonorous voice and a natural, musical way with an anecdote. He is also blind, although, as he says at the start of Reasonably Adjusted, he hasn’t always been: “I hope you’re not disappointed,” he says, grinning. The show is essentially a belated rebuttal to the 2017 New York Times poll in which blindness emerged, by common consent, as the worst physical affliction of them all – even, as MacDonald points out, beating death. True, he has a tart message for people who try to help him in public purely to bathe themselves in glory, and doesn’t shy away from the infinite minute-by-minute challenges that the disability creates. Take, for example, his necessarily protracted response to a stranger asking him directions to a particular pub, which gives a rare, genuine taste of what it’s like to navigate a town centre when you can’t see. But that story (along with many others, especially about his increasingly un-sighted childhood) is also completely priceless, and the sheer good-humour with which MacDonald approaches his condition sends you out into the Edinburgh drizzle both doubting the validity of that NYT poll, and determined to smile more and gripe less about your own, relatively piffling problems. MM

Jack Harris: Teaching Teachers How to Teach ★★★★☆

Where: Just the Tonic at the Mash House

When: 1.55pm

Until: Aug 28

In a nutshell... Why don’t more teachers go into stand-up? After all, they’re used to public-speaking in front of unruly, even hostile audiences, and a highly developed sense of humour is presumably a job requirement. Former physics beak Jack Harris cleverly exploits the similarities in this delightful Fringe debut in which he – every bit as at ease on stage as you’d expect, and armed with (what else?) a projector – puts us in teacher-training school, while treating us like a gaggle of not terribly bright children. Carefully divided – like all good lessons – into sections, it’s often enjoyably silly (the carpenter’s-style stationery belt; yanking Queen’s Flash Gordon into the real of sex education), but it also delivers plenty of informed aperçus about a teacher’s existence, and in the brisk, advert-style “T&Cs” sections, it amounts to a government-baiting cri de coeur for the entire profession. Parents, meanwhile, will relish Harris’s repeated digs at school receptionists, and how not to warm to an ex-teacher who describes pupils as “a necessary evil”. If only double Maths were one-hundredth this much fun. MM

Rosie Holt: The Woman’s Hour ★★★☆☆

Where: Pleasance Attic

When: 6pm

Until: Aug 29

In a nutshell... Political satirist Rosie Holt has earned herself quite a following on social media thanks to little films in which she plays faux, nonsense-spouting politicians that are exquisitely and excruciatingly close to the real thing. In these times of farcical chaos in Westminster, her appearance on the scene could not be more welcome, and she has clearly put a huge amount of thought into this, her debut hour at the Fringe – but it doesn’t quite gel. There are certainly laughs to be had along the way: her opener nails a particular patronisingly and graspingly ambitious strain of politician, as does her desperately woke – and plain desperate – Leftie (“If I saw Mary Berry on the street, I’d punch her in the face”). But the show’s largely meta structure is convoluted and at times confusing, compromising the potency of even her better characters, while others (Russell Brand as a woman, an interpretive-dancing Kirstie Allsopp) feel more university revue than fully-fledged Edinburgh show – she has a better eye and ear, I think, for “types” than individuals. Holt’s energy as a performer is tremendous, and she clearly has talent: more rigorous self-editing across the board next time, and she might well unequivocally get my vote. MM

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

Where: Liquid Room Annexe

When: 5.30pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 16)

In a nutshell... I wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of “an anarchist show about the environment,” but what an unexpected treat this is. Passionate but never preachy or short of a punchline, Andrew O’Neill uses the show’s theme largely as a hook for hanging together a string of winningly silly throwaway gags. (I enjoyed a riff about Colin Derr, inventor of the colander). As for proposed solutions to the climate crisis, I wasn’t convinced by a call to cover the country in stone circles and solar-panels, but if you don’t agree with one idea there’ll be another one along in a minute. (Such as this top tip: stop making cutlery. There’s enough already. Your grandparents had forks and spoons – surely, they’re still out there somewhere.) There is room in society, O’Neill reminds us, for “a plurality of voices”, and proves it by giving us the voice of a Geordie conspiracy theorist who thinks the moon is a hoax. To cap it all off, the show ends with the best heavy-metal song about magpies you’ll hear all year. Rock on. TFS

Alasdair Beckett-King: Nevermore ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance Dome (JackDome), plus extra shows at Pleasance Courtyard at 10.40pm on Aug 19, 20 & 26

When: 7pm

Until: Aug 29

In a nutshell... There’s a touch of Bill Bailey to Alasdair Beckett-King, a stand-up from County Durham with a mane of red hair which – he tells us – drives old ladies wild. (Is it natural? “No, I was cursed by a travelling pedlar.”) Like Bailey, his genteel, whimsical vibe might best described as “Edwardian hippie”. It’s easy to imagine him in another life selling amethyst on Glastonbury Tor. In an hour ostensibly about why he doesn’t like to be beside the seaside, he teaches us about obscure varieties of seashell, turns Nirvana’s grunge into a gag about Constable’s The Hay Wain, and tuts at the crowd for finding the word “groynes” funny. Outside of one slightly hacky routine about TV crime shows, you’re never sure where the next laugh is coming from, but it’s always a delight when it arrives. TFS

Jordan Gray: Is it a Bird? ★★★★★

Where: Assembly George Square (The Box)

When: 10.25pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 17)

In a nutshell... With the beehive of Amy Winehouse, the musical comedy chops of Tim Minchin , and the irrepressible Essex cheek of a young Russell Brand, Jordan Gray has one of the breakthrough hits of the Fringe with Is It A Bird? That title neatly ties together the show’s two themes: superheroes, and being a transgender woman. Gray brings megawatt charisma – and knowingly outsized ego – to a show that ends with a costume change I don’t think I’ll ever forget. She touches on facing prejudice for who she is, but never for a second asks for our sympathy. “If I’m going to be a joke, then I might as well be in on it,” she sings, a line that captures the spirit of the hour. Come for the songs, stay for the outrageous crowd-work. (Flirting with a couple in the front row: “Between my top half and my bottom half I have something for both of you – I’m like a sexual Swiss army knife.”) Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s the sound of a star taking flight. TFS

Mat Ewins: Danger Money ★★★☆☆

Where: Just the Tonic at the Caves (Big Room)

When: 10.30pm

Until: Aug 28

In a nutshell... For years, Mat Ewins has put on jaw-droppingly high-tech shows for free in tiny pubs. This year finds him flanked by two nigh-stadium-size screens, on a bigger stage (albeit still round the back of a Free Fringe pub), for an interactive extravaganza undercut by his shouty, aggressively self-deprecating stage persona. It’s a mix that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s unique.

The high points are his bonkers homemade video games. In one, a punter tries to win £1 by pedalling an exercise bike to control a biplane-flying digital frog. (Why? No idea.) For Ewins’s take on beer pong, volunteers play the arcade game Pong by gulping lager from pints hooked up to digital sensors. If Danger Money were back-to-back games, it would be irresistible. But the bulk of the hour is an onslaught of often crude, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them video skits on the loose theme of “dangerous” feats, from surviving a plane crash to mastering time-travel. Even when his videos don’t make me laugh (most here didn’t), I’m awed at the craft that goes into them. Ewins is the sort of chap who would spend weeks reprogramming FIFA for a three-second sight gag, and there’s something noble in that. TFS

Christian Brighty: Playboy ★★★★☆

Christian Brighty - Ben Meadows
Christian Brighty - Ben Meadows

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Below)

When: 9.40pm

Until... Aug 28 (not 17)

In a nutshell... Lock up your daughters (and uncles, while you’re at it), Lord Christian Brighty is in town. With an array of wobbly props, a smattering of clever audience interaction, and a script more tightly knotted than his neckerchief, this mutton-chopped fop bonks his way across Britain, pausing only to dynamite an orphanage or take a dip, Darcy-like, in a lake.

Riding a wave of Bridgerton-mania, character comic Brighty built a huge following on TikTok with his bite-sized Regency spoofs. An amusing 10-second video doesn’t always translate to a good hour in the theatre, but in this case it indisputably has, even if Brighty’s rake is not a wholly unique creation: Ciaran Dowd’s Don Rodolfo remains the Fringe’s king of historical lotharios.

Not every gag lands (there’s at least one scatological malapropism too many), but it’s buoyed along by Brighty’s bright performance and his chemistry with unseen co-star Amy Greaves, who runs all the props and cues from the lighting booth, while also getting some of the best lines – in voiceover – as his hoop-skirted love interest. Bravo. TFS

Bobby Mair: Cockroach ★★★☆☆

Where: Monkey Barrel (Carnivore)

When: 11.05pm

Until: Aug 25 (not 15)

In a nutshell... Doing a free gig late at night in a bar that looks more like a nuclear bunker, where something unidentifiable keeps dripping from the ceiling, Bobby Mair is in his element. The room could be a metaphor for the Canadian’s empty-glass outlook and winningly scuzzy vibe.

With his downbeat, breathy delivery and combative crowd-work, Mari is less club comic than unclubbable comic. The hour has longeurs, and is a bit tonally uneven. There’s an uncharacteristic smidge of vulnerability when Mair opens up about his Borderline Personality Disorder; he’s on more confident ground when arguing that the elderly should be used to clear minefields.

Despite his own best efforts, Mair remains decent company. He serves up one of my favourite one-liners of the Fringe, too: “My wife wanted to have kids, I wanted to adopt, because I was adopted. As a compromise, we had kids and put them up for adoption.” TFS

Eryn Tett Finds her Audience ★★★☆☆

Eryn Tett
Eryn Tett

Where: Just the Tonic at the Tron

When: 5pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 15)

In a nutshell... Most young stand-ups are ploughing the same furrow of confessional, anecdotal comedy, but not Eryn Tett. A Funny Women Award finalist, she writes strikingly odd one-liners with an enviable hit-rate, gags of a kind that often take a second or 10 to land. They combine the affable stoner logic of Mitch Hedburg (“They’re only temporary tattoos if you wash”) with the Martian-baffled-by-Earth vibe of Emo Phillips (“Why do we want our babies so oily?”).

But the one-liners aren’t all there is to the hour. It’s framed as a “data-gathering” exercise, an interesting conceit that, sadly, doesn’t come off: the crowd work involved in this recurring bit veers too close to genuine admin, hobbling the show’s momentum. Still, what she lacks in confidence and polish she makes up for in charm; Tett is a memorable, distinctive new voice. TFS

Luke Rollason: Bowerbird ★★★★☆

Where: Monkey Barrel Comedy (The Hive)

When: 12.30pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 17)

In a nutshell... Some jokes are timeless: the climax of wild-eyed visual comic Luke Rollason’s utterly delightful Bowerbird involves him slipping on an honest-to-goodness banana peel. But what a journey he takes to get there!

This hour of gloriously daft sight gags begins with Rollason barefoot onstage wearing a lampshade, and includes a singing sofa, kitchen appliances turned into shonky puppets – his props-based clowning owes a heavy debt to Spencer Jones – and even a genuinely original spoof of that over-spoofed chestnut, the pottery scene in Ghost. (Rollason plays half a dozen ghosts, plus the bewildered pot.)

A bowerbird attracts its mate by building a nest of nicknacks. There’s a hint that all these props are Rollason’s own bowerbird-like appeal for love and connection – tied to his (post-lockdown?) anxiousness about leaving his home, or inviting people into it – but thankfully it’s no more than a hint. This show was written, he says, in “the worst week of his life”, but he explains no further, and pokes fun at his own efforts to earn our sympathy; goofy ingenuity wins out over grief. TFS

John-Luke Roberts: A World Just Like Our Own, But… ★★★★☆

John-Luke Roberts
John-Luke Roberts

Where: Monkey Barrel Comedy (Monkey Barrel 4)

When: 3.35pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 16-17)

In a nutshell... There’s a world where Morrissey followed Meat is Murder with the less successful Salt and Vinegar Crisps Are Embezzlement; in another world, Evil Knievel is called Morally-Ambivalent Knorrelly-Ambivalent.

John-Luke Roberts knows about all these worlds, and many more, because he’s opened a portal to parallel dimensions in his tumble-dryer – and brought along the machine (and the one-liners) to prove it. I’ll forgive him for frequently checking his notes – with hundreds of gags all starting with exactly the same set-up, this show must be a nightmare to remember.

In recent years, Roberts has produced some of the cleverest and most inventive shows on the Fringe. (His cabaret night Terrible Wonderful Adaptations, 11pm on Aug 12-13 and 19-20, is a must-see.) Blending pure idiocy, poignant musings on failed relationships and quips about quantum physics, his latest stand-up hour is another high-concept treat. TFS

Alice Fraser: Chronos ★★★★☆

Where: Gilded Balloon Teviot (Sportsmans)

When: 9.15pm

Until: Aug 29 (not 15)

In a nutshell... Alice Fraser has built a large-ish international fanbase through her podcasts (The Bugle, The Gargle, The Last Post) but a half-empty room at the Fringe is a reminder that she isn’t as well known as she should be in the UK. It’s a shame, as she’s terrific. Aside from a slightly perfunctory bit of lockdown chat near the start, her latest hour is Fraser on top form.

Like her compatriot Sarah Kendall, the Australian ex-lawyer is more of a natural storyteller than a natural joker, though her best writing has the delicious, free-flowing poetry of Dylan Moran. Gyms, she says, are “places where people go to leave their sweat”. On trendy self-help mantras: “People who say ‘you are enough’ are always... too much.”

Her latest hour is about trying to write this very show on a London-to-Edinburgh train journeys. She offers sharp portraits of her fellow passengers, who include a social-media influencer, and “four men in the same haircut - not sharing, they each had a version.”

The train, she later points out (perhaps unnecessarily) is a metaphor for life rushing past. Eager to wring every second from the day, she listens to audiobooks at 1.5x normal speed, and speaks even faster. (Long before this show starts, she’s gabbling amiably to the first punters as soon as they arrive in their seats.) But is that really the way to live? Cue a swerve into the broad-strokes philosophising Fraser has a weakness for.

Fraser insists that each of her shows should have a moral, an almost Victorian idea that might annoy some comedy fans, though I’ve always found it endearing. Wrestling to find that lesson here, she considers deviating from a rule she set herself on starting out as a stand-up: never to talk onstage about her gender, sexuality or romantic relationships. It’s a rule worth bending for the heartwarming disclosure that comes in Chronos’s last five minutes. For all her anxious clock-watching, an hour with Fraser is an hour well spent. TFS

Josie Long: Re-Enchantment ★★★☆☆

Where: Monkey Barrel Comedy (Monkey Barrel 3), plus one extra show at The Stand’s New Town Theatre 9pm on Aug 25

When: 2.50pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 17, 24)

In a nutshell... Josie Long is Fringe royalty; I’ve not seen another comic here greeted with such deafening applause. Her last touring show Tender – about having a baby – was a hilarious career-best, but her new hour finds her pleasantly coasting along with her usual brand of upbeat agitprop.

Longtime fans will be glad to hear she’s moved to Glasgow (a city she’s been misty-eyed about for years; cf. her 2016 Radio 4 series Romance and Adventure) and had a second child. As ever, the sparks in her stand-up come from the conflict Long’s happy-go-lucky “good vibes only” demeanour and her roiling anger at the erosion of our civil rights.

This year, she’s worried about our right to free speech, endangered by anti-protest legislation, and our even-more-fundmental right “not to be murdered by the state”. (One 2021 act, she notes, technically gives a free pass to undercover police to torture or kill citizens without consequence.) It’s stirring stuff, and rightly alarming to any liberal or libertarian, but never really uproariously funny – which, after Tender, is a letdown. TFS

Crybabies: Bagbeard ★★★★★

Crybabies: Bagbeard
Crybabies: Bagbeard

Where: Pleasance Dome (10Dome)

When: 5.50pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 15)

In a nutshell... The star rating above is over-generous, I know that. Alternately childish and studenty, Crybabies: Bagbeard is a sophomore show (in both senses) that pushes the boundaries of alternative comedy not one square inch. It’s an old-fashioned farce where the protagonist spends most of an hour running around without his trousers. It’s one-dimensionally silly, and undeservedly sentimental, but dear Lord, did it make me howl with laughter.

Crybabies’ Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated 2019 debut – a free show in the basement of a Brazilian restaurant – was a sublime spoof of Second World War thrillers. This sci-fi-themed follow-up, though not quite so off-the-wall, is another cast-iron delight. The sketch troupe are in a proper theatre now but still duck behind the same ratty curtain for every costume change, of which there are many. Each of the young trio plays dozens of roles in a baroque unfolding narrative that takes swipes at Stranger Things, Midsommar, The Thing, The X Files, ET, Superman and Twin Peaks.

Here, for what it’s worth, is the plot. Michael Clarke plays a frustrated science teacher called Chris Mystery (mispronounced by everyone else as “Christmas Tree”), living on a fictional Channel island. He bumps into an extraterrestrial, James Gault, whose “alien” costume consists of a loincloth plus a blue plastic off-licence carrier bag over his chin. (As Crybabies outfits go, this is high-budget.) The alien is pursued by a Men In Black-style spook (Ed Jones), who falls in love with it at a masked ball, until this marriage of two minds admits impediment in the form of an evil scientist (Gault again, this time as a kind of pound-shop Davros).

Crybabies bring the spirit of the Goon Show into the 21st century; Radio 4 should give them a series at once. Gault is their Spike Milligan – the rangy, shambling, faintly otherworldly one. Jones is the Peter Sellers – the gifted mimic with rubbery film-star looks. (His pirate slang professor is a highlight.) And Clarke is the Harry Seacombe – the music-hall singing, fourth-wall-breaking everyman hero who can’t stop corpsing at his own jokes.

At one point, Clarke finds himself alone in a forest at night: “What time is it?” he asks himself. A hand, from offstage, holds out a cardboard sign: MIDNIGHT. “Midnight!?” he cries. “That’s the latest time there is!” If that tickles you, Bagbeard will, too. If it doesn’t, I can’t help you. TFS

Laura Davis: If This Is It ★★★☆☆

Where: Monkey Barrel Comedy (Carnivore)

When: 4pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 16)

In a nutshell... If you think you had a dull lockdown, spare a thought for Laura Davis. After the charismatic Australian comic and her husband ended up stuck in his mother’s one-bedroom flat, Davis ran off to live in the woods, where she buried tinned food and performed stand-up each night to wandering critters. When a joke doesn’t land with Edinburgh’s human crowd, she quips: “Well, the bugs always liked it.”

Astonishingly, the whole living-in-the-woods thing is given short shrift in her new show, which tries to solve all the world’s ills at once, from the despoliation of our oceans to social media abuse, via sexual harassment in her industry. (Today, male comics “are so scared, some of them can’t even masturbate at a colleague any more”.)

There are plenty of strong lines, but the problem with If This Is It is partly that those topics are already well-trodden ground, and partly how Davis frames her motivation for addressing them. She used to do inconsequential, whimsical comedy about animals, she says, but “what people expect from comedy now is different… it has to be a political, uplifting, cathartic show”. This is tongue-in-cheek, but also earnest, as that’s exactly what she delivers. Putting it in those terms makes the soapboxing seem more a calculated choice than a real cri de coeur.

Davis’s previous show, the superb Ghost Machine – in which she wore a sheet-over-the-head ghost costume throughout – keep whimsy and dark subject-matter in perfect balance. With If This Is It, the balance has tipped too far to one side. TFS

Nic Sampson: Marathon 1904 ★★★★☆

Nic Sampson
Nic Sampson

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Cellar)

When: 4.40pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 15)

In a nutshell... This might be the craziest story in the history of sport. In 1904 St Louis, Missouri, hosted the Olympic games. Almost nobody turned up. It was a fiasco, but the worst part was the marathon. In a heatwave, doomed sportsmen jogged along dusty, rock-strewn roads, often running straight into oncoming traffic – there was at least one recorded car crash – and, for good measure, being chased by packs of wild dogs. As they were forbidden from drinking water, the only mid-race refreshments on offer were strychnine and raw eggs.

In his Fringe debut, likeable New Zealand comic Nic Sampson plays a dozen characters to recount this rollicking, unexpectedly heartwarming tale (his Alice Roosevelt is a glowing highlight). He takes a while to find his stride, and not all the early jokes land, but by the messy finale – in which he's repeatedly sponged down by a volunteer – he's carrying the whole crowd along on this wackiest of races. TFS

Britney: Friends and Nothing More ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Below)

When: 5.45pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 16)

In a nutshell: Charly Clive and Ellen Robertson have the kind of close-knit, effortless chemistry that comes from having been friends since school – where they gave their first performance as a comic double-act, and flopped terribly. Why that gig went wrong is a thread gently tying together an hour that’s often very funny indeed.

Like sketch contemporaries The Pin, their endearingly low-octane style involves spending as much time discussing their skits as performing them. Those out-of-character bits are a delight – one five-minute introduction to a five-second bit is a highlight. By contrast, longer, acted-out routines about Stephen King and Facebook slightly outstay their welcome. The duo’s easygoing, unhurried style may prove ultimately better suited to the screen than the stage. The BBC should follow up their 2021 TV pilot with a full series sharpish, but until that happens they’re well worth catching here. TFS

Hal Cruttenden: It’s Best You Hear It From Me ★★★★☆

Hal Cruttenden is a the Pleasance Courtyard until Aug 28 - Matt Crockett
Hal Cruttenden is a the Pleasance Courtyard until Aug 28 - Matt Crockett

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Two)

When: 8.10pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 16)

In a nutshell: Will marital break-up prove Hal Cruttenden’s break-through moment? He has long toiled on the circuit, but those years haven’t been in vain: he combines quicksilver audience repartee with tautly worded observational material, shifting between camp jollity, self-deprecating self-obsession and claws-out viciousness, happily embracing a newfound darkness to ponder ageing, disappointment, regret and the evil demeanour of cats. He's in the Remain camp, but there’s no hint of Remoaner-dom. In his strongest show to date, the recent break-up of his marriage is the prevailing theme – it’s as if it’s all being processed in real-time, with a lot of theatrical expostulations but refreshingly little recrimination. “It took me three months after we’d separated to diet and get the ring off,” he joshes. They’re still living together, just. “I get back from gigs and call “I’m home!”. She goes ‘I don’t care!’” Comedy’s alchemical ability to transmute pain into laughter is admirably to the fore. DC

Lily Phillips: Smut ★★★☆☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker One)

When: 7.35pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 16)

In a nutshell: Despite its title, Lily Phillips’s Fringe debut isn’t all that smutty. It finds the Londoner at a comic crossroads between two styles: Lou Sanders-ish, upbeat body comedy about flaps and fluids, and something rather darker. Characteristically, she opens the hour by comparing her ice-white bob to Jimmy Savile’s.

It's an unspoken rule that Fringe comedy shows must have a serious bit. Here, though, an earnest message about not objectifying women's bodies or judging them by their appearance jars oddly against some of Phillips’s sharper bad-taste lines. Britney Spears, she says, looks like “the last one awake in a crack den”.

It’s not the most original or distinctive stuff, but Phillips is a confident performer. She has good stories to tell, even if she's still figuring out how to turn them into A-grade material. Her time as an exotic-ish dancer (“I wasn’t a stripper, but I wasn’t a ballerina”) surely has enough in it for a full show, but here it’s dispensed with quickly, after a marvellously dry one-liner about her boss, a man arrested for human trafficking: “He was actually a really nice guy – he was always offering to look after our passports.” TFS

Siblings: Siblage ★★★★☆

Siblings: Maddy and Marina Bye
Siblings: Maddy and Marina Bye

Where: Pleasance Courtyard (Attic)

When: 8.30pm

Until: Aug 29 (not 15)

In a nutshell... It’s the end-of-term assembly at to Siblage High School for Talented Siblings, and we have to sit through the whole thing: from a sex ed talk, to a “what we did for work experience” presentation, to the junior years’ improvised reimagining of Wind in the Willows. This carnival of horrors is summoned up by French and Saunders-esque sketch duo Maddy and Marina Bye - real-life siblings, the daughters of Ruby Wax.

In places, the writing slips into the puerile (one teacher is called “Mrs Piss”), but what makes this show a hoot is the sheer energy of the performances, filling each skit with unexpected flourishes. Half the characters end up playing other characters, giving the hour a mad Russian-doll quality. The assembly is hijacked by a bespectacled Northern drama teacher who puts on an American football coach persona to star in his self-penned serious drama; his co-star skips on- and offstage like Fotherington-Tomas, before turning into a macho sports bro. Meanwhile, those sex ed teachers, who have accents “from every country in the world”, treat us to a vowel-mangling remake of Sex and the City. The Byes keep corpsing, but I’ll let them off without detention; nobody could make it through this with a straight face. TFS

Frankie Boyle: Lap of Shame ★★★★☆

Where: Assembly Rooms (Music Hall)

When: 6.15pm

Until: Aug 28 (not 15, 16 or 22)

In a nutshell... Frankie Boyle’s in town, with a freshly populated leper colony of gags. “They’re just jokes,” he says repeatedly, stressing that they’re fictions. There are no real-world consequences to his tactically repellent shtick, unless you feel it’s so noxiously offensive it plunges mankind lower into the cesspit. Having laughed an indecent amount during Lap of Shame, I feel compelled to restate the case for his defence, which is that Boyle valuably confronts us with our moral putrefaction, his darkness descriptive of our age’s turpitude. As his debut novel, the bestselling crime thriller Meantime confirms, he combines immaculate turns of phrase with the grubbiest trains of thought. His parents were Irish, he grew up in Glasgow; at his finest, you get a glimpse of Wilde, lying in the gutter at pub closing time. DC

Seann Walsh: Is Dead. Happy Now? ★★★★☆

Where: The Stand Comedy Club (Stand 1), plus two extra shows at 1pm at The Stand's New Town Theatre, Aug 20 & 27

When: 10pm

Until: Aug 28

In a nutshell... When he signed up to take part in Strictly Come Dancing in 2018, stand-up Seann Walsh was cock-a-hoop. But what ensued when he took part in Strictly, paired with Katya Jones, was the stuff, literally, of PTSD. The two were snapped kissing, the story ended up “on the front page of every national newspaper”, his soon to be ex-girlfriend posted a comment about his having a ‘need to control’ their relationship that went viral. Online vilification ensued. He and Katya were voted off. As a result of that circus, the tears of this clown kept falling. As he divulges in his new set, after a flip aside during his first, modest comeback gig later that year (about Jones’s then husband) also got leaked to a tabloid, he hit rock bottom. “It felt like this [would] be the rest of my life,” the 36-year-old declares.

Consumed with the idea that he would be lost to continual regret, he was poised to take his own life, only to be saved, indirectly, by his ex (I won’t spoil the excellent payoff by revealing how). Ebullient in tone, he leavens dark matter with droll patter, and memorably widens the frame to take in his upbringing, revealing that his Irish father was a heroin addict, smuggling smack abroad in his nappy and so penniless at times that everyone had to rummage in the sofa for coins.

Where previously Walsh’s jesting blokeishness could be trying, the sense now of what it was compensating for – an estranged family relationship – forgivingly casts that demeanour in a new light. And he’s a changed man, it seems; if Walsh manages to sustain this comeback, the mainstream success he near-forfeited may yet be his for the taking. DC