As I have mentioned I am not a comedy critic. Frankly if my time in Edinburgh taught me anything is that I don’t know much about comedy at all. I saw a variety of shows and I’m happy to summarize or recommend some. But let’s not pretend my understanding is particularly sophisticated.
I’m trying to learn but you’ll have to bear with me until I actually get there.
DAVID O’DOHERTY: SEIZE THE O’DOHERTY (Pleasance Courtyard)
David O’Doherty performed a small section of this show when he was in New York earlier this year. It was great to see the whole piece at the Fringe. With only "4 jokes" the show is more about him telling a story interspersed with musical numbers he performs on a keyboard.
His story is focused on his downward spiral after his long-time relationship ended. He makes a show about “depression that ends in a murder” much more compelling than you might think.
He often uses musical interludes in his shows. I was friends with comedy duo Becky and Noelle. They too used music in this way. My personal favorite was a song about guys who spread their legs out on subways called Dickwad and the famous Sexual Swingset/Kurt Loder song which needs no further explanation.
O’Doherty’s songs reminded me of these. They are not musically rigorous but they give the show variety and can be quite catchy. Though during the performance I saw, he chided himself for going off on tangents during two of his songs which made him lose his focus. Never the less they were funny tangents.
His set covered topics such as the recession in Dublin, the problem with single-sex education, being an “extraordinary alien,” Cosmo’s “secrets of the ladies” but largely his depression after his break-up. Wallowing in his house over the “worst aspects of humanity” (which he lists as Nazis, self-pity and Dominos pizza), he finds it hard to go and do his “easy” job as a comedian (pointing out what else can he do with his “soft college boy hands”). His turning point involves the discovery of a mouse (which he names Ringo) in his house. His battle with Ringo, which he likens to the movie Jaws, is the best part of the show. Touching, sad, and funny.
And I apologize for taking notes during the show. I was sitting too close to the stage and it distracted him. He thought I was texting. I wasn’t. I was writing down the following sentence “Big talk when you’ve had a mild issue with looking like Alf.” Not sure writing that down was worth causing such a kerfuffle. But there you have it.
JOSIE LONG: ROMANCE AND ADVENTURE
I follow Josie Long on twitter but I had not seen her perform before. I ended up with a time slot that happened to line up and I bought a last minute ticket to her show titled Romance and Adventure. She was a fucking delight. She covered topics such as her triumphant discovery that she is very good at climbing mountains (though wholly unprepared to go down again), her squee-level obsessive love of social justice, her break-up with a long term boyfriend which sent her spinning off in the last year of her 20’s, and her efforts to get people more politically involved.
Though some of her political references went a bit over my head (I am aware of the existence of Ed Miliband but I don’t think I’ve seen him to know what was funny about her impression of him). I did however really like her impression of M.P. Dennis Skinner who according to Long “trolls the Queen” during the opening of Parliament ceremony every year.
She kept getting pockets of laughter over certain lines and she started joking that she was pleasing her audience one person at a time. The line that got me such a shout-out was when she wondered if she was the last remaining Romanov noting “I have dainty wrists and I bruise too easily.”
STEWART LEE: CARPET REMNANT WORLD (Assembly Rooms/Music Hall)
I’m one of those people who saw Jerry Springer: The Opera at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2002. I really loved it at the time. Not perfect (some pacing issues). Needed some work but audacious and I felt like a well-suited marriage of topic and opera. When I saw it on the West End a number of years later, it did not feel as fresh. Maybe it was the setting, or the changes that were made, or maybe it's time had just passed...but it was sad because I was so excited to see it again. I only mention this because I had never seen Stewart Lee perform stand-up before but I knew his named from JSTO.
I had heard he created very intellectual, heavily structured comedy. As that’s something about Daniel Kitson’s work I like I had high hopes. I ran into a friend (American) at the show. When we walked out, she and her friends hated it. I really liked it but it was not exactly what I expected. Another American who had never seen his show before loved it. So I have basically taken a useless poll of Americans for you...I think we are not to be trusted.
The show began with some funny quotes, some political humor, and then it changed. Lee turns on the audience, or a segment of the audience, and attacks them for being here for the wrong reasons. He was handing out flyers before the show in the lobby and noticed some people did not even know it was him (I did a double-take. He wasn’t wearing his glasses and I’d always seen photos of him in glasses so I was not sure it was him, but thought it was…and wondered what the hell he was doing). He criticized those who were just there for a laugh. He expected his audience to work for their laughs. Put a little in and you’ll get more out of it. He kept focusing on those who were dragging down the show for those who were “getting” it.
He then has a bit of a “breakdown” over the show just falling apart because of these audience members. His show “goes off the rails” and it appears he is intentionally taking it on a tangent because of this audience problem. He then works to get it back on track and make the structural callbacks he laid out in the beginning. I felt some of the “breakdown” went on too long. My friend and her friends just felt like he was making fun of them (because they had never seen him before etc…). They did not find the parts before he turns on the audience funny to begin with (sort of supporting his view that if you did not find his opening funny then you were not the right audience and you should leave). I thought it was very good but thought the Office World man bit went on too long. That was all the Americans who didn't like the show, liked.
Recommended if you can tolerate a comedian berating the audience.
CLAUDIA O’DOHERTY: THE TELESCOPE (Underbelly)
Australian comic Claudia O’Doherty had been recommended by David O’Doherty (no relation). I know her show was one that Daniel Kitson recommended when it was in Melbourne. Upside, I managed to get to her show with only 15 minutes between shows. Downside, I was seated behind the two tallest men on the planet and I’m a midget (oh right sorry, height-ly challenged).
I was chatting with an Australian guy, Declan, in line on the way into the show. He said that her format for this show was very unusual for her. In some ways, like Daniel Kitson’s play “As of 1.52pm GMT Friday April 27th 2012, This Show Has No Title”, it was a play within a play. Though I guess because it’s comedy it’s really a sketch within a sketch. O’Doherty comes out and suggests she wants to leave comedy to do serious work and so this is actually going to be her serious show called The Telescope. Using sound effects and video, she has a whole multi-character play she is going to put on herself. But the auto-play function breaks down and her show goes awry. She can’t stop it but she also forgets her lines. So she tries to salvage the gig by vamping in between strange video sequences. There’s no question that it was a massive undertaking: making essentially a “bad” movie and then having to deconstruct it, and create a performance around the breakdown of the film.
Now the reason sitting behind the two giants becomes important is that to fully appreciate the show and timing you should be able to see the video screen. I spent a lot of time darting my head on either side of the giants’ heads. I feel like this maybe interfered with my enjoyment of the show. I liked her deer in the headlights personality and I'd definitely see her again.
Recommended for tall people and for short people who get there early and sit near the front.
PAPPY'S: LAST SHOW EVER (Pleasance Dome)
I don't know about these guys. They are a sketch comedy crew that was recommended to me by a number of people I trust. There were a couple of their sketches I thought were fantastic. They did the same physical routine three times choreographed to three different songs all creating a different effect depending on the song. They did a live-action life montage that was very funny. But the construct of this show, a flashback from the future when these performers are old to what happened at this show tonight, did not really work for me. It just felt like I could see what was going to happen before it happened so the element of surprise or creativity just wasn't there for me. But again I'm putting on my theater lenses for comedy...
Everyone else but me seemed to like this show. So that's probably a recommendation.