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The 50 shows of 2015 are complete. I might go to other shows this Edinburgh Fringe Festival but I'm not going to make an effort to.

Posted Saturday, 29th August, 2015

The final three included one more ACMS given it was their last of the Fringe. It's had a really nice vibe this year. Thom Tuck and John-Luke Roberts continue to make this oddball collection of events work really well. Would love it if it could be a bit longer but only if it didn't finish too late. 10-12 would be good, but what venue would allow them that?

Lazy Susan are an act I happened upon last year. One of those great moments where a friend and I were looking for a show, got flyered by one of the duo, thought she seemed nice and therefore went to the show. It was great fun last year and so it felt right that I pop along again at some point. Brand new show, same old great fun. I'm not sure what it is about sketch comedy. It can often lead me flat. Very few sketch acts, even ones that are highly-rated, make me laugh. I assume it's something to do with the performance. Lazy Susan have got it right, however, and I'll probably heartily recommend them for years.

The 50th show was This Is Your Trial. This improvised show where comedians play the court and the audience is the jury, but also the plaintiffs and accused, is often dependent upon the audience. It's late night slot can mean a lot of drunken folk but the quality of comedians used is often very high. Last night was probably the most fun time I've had at This is Your Trial. Every time things got a bit gross they attempted to move past it, whereas with a crowd of drunks they might have been forced to push the lowest common denominator. The two lawyers in particular, Trevor Lock and Charlotte Gittins, worked really nicely with each other and the crowd. I laughed a lot.

All in all a happy Fringe.

Show Me More

Posted Thursday, 27th August, 2015

So as the gears crunch together my foolish task of 50 shows in 25 days accelerates towards the finish line. Tuesday began well, Tiernan Douieb's show about idiots and space was great fun. He crafts jokes very well does Mr Douieb and is happy fun face carried along an audience despite the noises and distractions of folk walking in because they wanted another show, idiots making noise as they walked past and even an ice machine.

Second show was cancelled due to a lack of crowd, and half the crowd present not being to the liking of the acts, so instead I popped along to Trevor Lock's show at Bannermans on the Cowgate. It was odd that so many of the crowd had attended before. Yet it was revealed that something had gone wrong the previous day and he'd invited them to return. I don't want to destroy the fun of this show by telling you what happens. However, after the hour, I saw why they'd returned. I urge you to go along and experience it. Few actors/comedians could get away with what he does, but Lock makes a very enjoyable hour.

Third show a disappointment. I guess one never can tell when all you have is a flyer and a flyerer to go on. I'd been promised tales of archaeology and the history lover in me hoped for at least some of that. He had almost none of that. It was straight, nothing special, fine, run of the mill stand up about things. If it wasn't two for one I might be upset.

Finished with the wonderful Cariad and Paul: A Two Player Adventure. Two improvisers who've clearly got their chemistry bubbling along nicely. Both wonderfully inventive and funny and no reliance upon the tropes of improvisation that so many use, and who destroy this type of comedy for the masses. Along with Folie A Deux (see below) a really great example of what long-form improv has to offer.

Carrying on the improv theme a Wednesday lunchtime show - Austentatious. It's a group who do long-from improv in the style of an Austen novel with the only suggestion being a title written by the audience. I adore all the performers in this show and their other work is particularly good so when I saw the show for the first time last year I loved it, and was happy to return. Really great actors, really good at making jokes, creating drama and continuing to surprise the audience when it could so easily get bogged down. A hastily convened tribal meeting was the highlight but all the steps that led us their were brilliant too.

The show that had been cancelled the day before teetered on the edge of being cancelled before finally happening today. It was fun although two elderly folk left, the sexual imagery had already put them off. There were genuine laughs amongst the kind ones and interruptions form people seeking another show. I had fun and reckon with a bigger crowd the show could be really quite something. For the 11 who stayed it was perhaps demanding a bit too much energy from them. One man had a nose-bleed and I was surprised by the constant Chippenham comments. Wil Hodgson has much to answer for.

Richard Soames was really good. I'd only chosen it based on having known that he was friends with folk I also rate highly. Which, on reflection is probably how I choose most of my shows. However, if they turn out as well as this one, who can complain?! A calm, approachable stage presence, mixed in with enough sketches, audience participation, and general variety that it just constantly keeps the audience happy. Great wee show.

I followed that with Danielle Ward again. See below. Best show of the Fringe always deserves a second view. Did that for Both Josie and Tony in previous years, I'm nothing if not pointlessly devoted.

Final show of the past couple days was The Story Beast. I'd promised to see this show but work hours had always been an issue . However, having met the beast and promised it I'd visit I was duty bound. The nomination for best newcomer slightly added a concern for me. I'm nothing if not a bit of a snob when it comes to popular shows. I needn't have worried. Super fun. Great laughs and that unique take that really matters. I'd assumed I'd like The Story Beast, worryingly I was exactly correct. Go see him too...

Prize Winners

Posted Wednesday, 26th August, 2015

The Fringe hasn't finished yet so this is subject to change. However in its 11th year, if you don't count the fact I backdated all but last year's winner, we are proud to announce the MacInteresting Best Fringe Show of 2015.

This award goes to the show that had the biggest effect on me in the Fringe. Shows that changed the way I look at comedy, theatre etc. From the first great hour of live stand-up I saw (Daniel Kitson, winner 2004) through the comedy show that taught me to take risks in what I saw (Bronya & Siony, Winner 2008) via experiencing emotional depth (Smug Roberts, winner 2005), to just an amazing hour of silliness (Tony Law, winner 2012) and at times and hour that just combines them all (Josie Long, winner 2015).

Recent years have seen me also award a second prize. Last year Folie a Deux picked up that award for being an unexpected, really brilliant hour of improvised comedy. Something I'd started to assume was always a bit samey. 2013's main prize went to the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society which I went to on an inkling I might like it, turns out to be one of my favourite things ever. If it hadn't been for that, Bridget Christie's show would probably have been the stand-out for me that year.

So 2015. Winner - Phil Nicol's Cray Cray Cabaret. Sometimes a more expensive show is worth the money. Sometimes on a Saturday night, at a big venue, for over £10 there really is a show worth seeing, and worth revisiting. I really, really loved the Cray Cray Cabaret and hope it returns every year in some form or another.

2nd place - Danielle Ward - Dani Frankenstein I'd seen the show the previous year but this is the show that's really stayed with me, despite me having heard the songs before. If I could only buy a DVD recording of one show from the this year's Fringe it would be this hour. Fun and funny.

Winners of MacInteresting Award 2004-2015 Cray Cray Cabaret, Josie Long, ACMS, Tony Law, Richard Herring, Tim Vine, Sam Simmons, Bronya and Siony, We Are Klang, Stuart Goldsmith*, Daniel Kitson

Runner Ups (2008 - 2015) Danielle Ward, Folie A Deux, Bridget Christie, Daniel Kitson, Paul Sinha, Maeve Higgins, Stewart Lee, Reginald D Hunter

50 Shows

Posted Tuesday, 25th August, 2015

I've foolishly decided to see 50 shows this Fringe. No crazy bet. No bucket list style deadline. Just an arbitrary imposition. This came after I did 5 shows in a day. These 5 shows.

Decided to see Caroline Mabey on a whim. Don't remember hearing or seeing any of her work before. Just was at a nice time and being recommended by comedians I liked. Great wee show. Crowd built from just me 5 minutes before it started, to about 20 in the end but she never made it feel like that was a problem. Made jokes about it, but inclusive ones that brought us in on the joke rather than bitter gags which divide the audience and act. The end had a great wee surprise in store and wrapped up the show nicely. Good jokes, some wonderful silliness and refreshing, if brutal, honesty.

Jessica Fostekew is another name I don't remember being aware of before this fringe. However, she'd been at a few other shows I'd seen as a guest performer and been funny and likeable, always a good sign. Pregnancy and the future, they were the themes, and a jolly fun hour it was. More classically straight stand up but with warmth and a cheeky tone that is all her own. Funny show that is well worth your time.

Show 3 of day #17 of my fringe, I'm only counting the days I saw shows, was very different to the previous two in terms of my expectations. This was a performer I'd liked for years and who I was very excited to see given he'd taken a few years off from the Fringe. Paul Sinha was good. Lots of fun and although I prefer his more political, incisive, cultural unpickings rather than his light-entertainment, celebrity culture, popular tv side of things, when a show is called "Postcards from the Z list" I've no cause to complain. The interesting thing was although I undoubtedly enjoyed the show it didn't reach the highs I expect from Paul, probably because I expected too much. Go in anticipating something really funny and even if it is, you'll leave merely satiated. Assume nothing, and it can blow your mind.

Unless of course, its music. The primal, innate nature of music means that it will get you every time. I love blues and a friend of mine is in a blues band so when another friend suggested it I was very happy to attend. BLUES! by the Blueswater is a history of the blues but really its an excuse to play some great songs. Only downside is its seated and a serious show when the music is demanding you get up and dance. I don't think the band would mind but perhaps the venue doesn't want that. A really great band though. One that shows the variety and depth of blues.

I finished with another ACMS, well, it's required.

Likeable Presences

Posted Sunday, 23rd August, 2015

I'm of the opinion that a lot of peoples reviews of "bad" or "good" comedy shows are less to do with the reasons they give, and more to do with how much they enjoy the person on stage. We can find reasons to explain a bad gig. Poor jokes, clicheed material, bad delivery. However, we forgive those very easily in gigs we enjoy. I'm not saying its the be all and end all, just that it probably affects us much more than we are willing to admit.

So when I saw John-Luke Roberts and Thom Tuck's shows I was already inclined to enjoy them as I knew I like them on stage. However, I'd be wary of suggesting these very different hours to others who aren't already pre-disposed to have a good time.

John-Luke Roberts clowning, one-liners, surreal puppetry and all other manner of comedy aspects is a particular kind of brilliance. However, you have to be ready for it. It isn't straight stand up and never intends to be. Let yourself go with it and you'll have fun. The fact that there are laboured puns mixed up with a really touching emotional narrative and elaborate slapstick moments makes for a special hour of comedy. I really recommend it, but be ready for something unusual.

Thom Tuck - Scaramouche Jones is instead, a serious play. I'm not used to plays but took the risk because I felt that with Tuck in charge, it should be fun. His engaging stage-presence carried me through. It had emotional moments, funny lines and a narrative that was interesting enough. He acts it well, carries the burden of the one-man element, and although a 33 year old playing a 99 year old, is somehow believable. If, like me, you don't often do theatre, take a chance on Tuck's show.

Another wonderful stage presence I've seen this weekend was Claire Healy. Her musical show was really great fun even though it was simply her sitting at a keyboard. She drew the crowd in, made them comfortable and got laughs all the way through. The topic sounded like one I'd hate. The idea of "Oversharing" and the modern, online world doesn't appeal to me, but this show is great. Fun songs. Great audience interaction. Good times.

The final two shows of the weekend were interesting. One, Nick Doody is for me a safe, easily recommendable, classic stand up. He does well crafted jokes and stories and I always thought was a likeable presence on the stage. A friend of mine claims otherwise and I find myself doubting myself. However, I won't doubt myself too much. He's produced another show full of big laughs, lovely routines and fun jokes. Interestingly the same friend tooke me to a show they'd already seen. So keen were they to be in the same sweaty shipping crate with those people again. I found the two musical performers as ok hosts, with some nice tunes, and some well-worked routines, but just couldn't get into the shtick. It all felt too slickly contrived. Too safely crowd-pleasing. Too laboured to make jokes. Too, too much. Or maybe, I just didn't like them enough on stage. Who knows?

Finding Your Voice

Posted Friday, 21st August, 2015

After a friend's recommendation I went to see a comedian. Like many on the Free Fringe it was clear he'd gone from having one good year to having much larger crowds. Also as a younger comedian, or perhaps one not used to the hour format, he was still noticably feeling his way around what comedian he wanted to be. There were bits quite clearly copied from one famous comic, others sections that felt like him trying something new, then his own voice moving in and out through the set. My prediction is that next year it'll come together and he'll move himself forward again. This year, however, nice lines, good bits, but not quite where I guess he'd want it to be.

Musical acts are often very good. Sheer talent makes up for slightly more clicheed material, songs and the applause that follows them keep the show moving along, and there are many clever musical tricks one can do that will always entertain. This doesn't mean, however, that it is easy, nor that the very good ones aren't very good. One who is clearly very entertaining and worth seeing is Jess Robinson who, with Kirsty Newton, has a wonderful show on. I'm a sucker for mixing up styles of speaking, or music and so was always going to like it and after having a taste at the Cray Cray Cabaret (see below) I was keen to see the full show. Really good, well worth attending. It does mostly what you expect but does it very, very well.

Final show of the evening was an improvised show based on a premise. It's one I've seen before and I enjoyed the hour but felt the previous year had been more successful. Perhaps it's just luck with who the acts are. Perhaps the audience was less drunk and boorish. Perhaps the tweaks of the format have moved it away from the show I enjoyed. Whichever way. It was fine and I enjoyed it. I might not go again.

Improfessional Wrestling

Posted Thursday, 20th August, 2015

Two improvised shows in a day. Impro, Improv, "I don't like Improvised Comedy", call it what you like. However. There are ways of doing it badly and ways of doing it well. I saw two shows today. Both were paid, both were at a "reputable" venue. One was short form, with lots of games and many suggestions. The other long form, with one suggestion that the two performers used to spur on the other to create the comedy. The first had a big name. Not just a big festival name, though they undoubtedly are, but a TV favourite, the other famous only to people like me.

The big thing is. The second show was wonderful. Which given the disappointment of the last long form improvisation comedy was a blessed relief. I saw Folie A Deux last year and they were wonderful. Tonight they were, if such a thing is possible. Even better. From one suggestion it built into many odd characters, often revisited, and with every sketch ending on a joke the audience loved. It's so good you forget these aren't pre-written sketches until they break the fourth wall, or a mistake leads to more fun. I realise that no convincing will convert the nay-sayers, but a ticket to Folie A Deux is as good an effort as one can make.

Only on for a few days this year. Go see.

One a Day

Posted Monday, 17th August, 2015

One needn't fill their days with Fringe madness if they live in Edinburgh. Sometimes it's nice to just do one a day. Then enjoy the city, or, as is more likely, work in a real job. So here's the last two shows I've seen.

Michael Legge - Tell it Like it is Steve is a great show. I really like Michael Legge, not only his stand-up shows, but also his contributions on podcasts, the newest home for comedy. I've seen most of his previous shows and can happily say this one appears to be his best. Angry shouting, that never gets uncomfortable or unfunny, some well crafted jokes and although perhaps a bit niche for non-comedy fans, some great belly laughs. Wonderful comedy.

Today's fun was Megan Ford - Feminasty. I'm a fan of political comedy, issue comedy, ranty comedy and an enthusiastic feminist, so this show was one I was already predisposed to like. Knew nothing of Ford beyond twitter and panicked when it became clear there'd be a lot of characters, not my favourite style of comedy. No need to worry. It was a great show. Clearly passionate about the issue but didn't let that overtake the comedy. Even if I'd have preferred a real rant about it, but that's just me. Well worth going to, and you even get a free badge and a 'zine'.

Both two shows that leave you with a lot of the day left and a smile on your face, even if they do remind you about how awful people and the world can be. My kind of comedy.

On Calmer Seas

Posted Sunday, 16th August, 2015

After the first week of shows where I watched 12 shows in 5 days, this week has been a lot more sensible. 7 shows in 6 days. I started with Glenn Wool on Monday. A friend is a big fan of the odd, but engaging Canadian and was keen to see the show. I was glad we went and if you like Wool's thought through, yet shocking humour, then this is for you. Ends on a pun, but is clever enough to telegraph that is exactly what he intends to do.

Afternoon shows work very well when they're calm and relaxed and Christian Talbot - Is Shite at Being Irish is perfectly suited for that slot. Engaging and funny, but with a pleasant, gentle delivery. The same day I also went to see ACMS again. Far more manic and that's why they moved themselves back to an evening slot instead of bumping around the schedules like in 2014.

Sofie Hagen 's show was full when I first tried to see it. Despite the fact I'd been told that the room she had was far too big for someone's solo show. Went back on a Thursday, nearly full again. All power to her. A great show with some big laughs. Hagen is very honest about her past and I'm very happy to see how well she's doing.

However, when the free fringe giveth, it can also take away. I'm happy with my ability to spot good shows and this year everytime I've had absolutely no idea about the quality, it's been disappointing. Saw a show with 4 comedians involved, each of a fair-to-middling level of ability, which was made less fun by it's premise. Clearly they thought the audience would love to hear the backstage antics of comedians at shows. This sucked any possible energy out of the show and although a couple of the acts were good, just not my thing, they had to fight against the audience getting cold as the seemingly semi-improvised "real chat" between the comedians didn't match the honed material. Not offensively bad, just not really that enjoyable.

Then a performer you know doing really well and deserving so much more. If I was a TV producer I'd just take a few of these hour shows and put them on TV just as they are. Especially something like Danielle Ward - Dani Frankenstein. Great jokes, funny, yet incredibly sing-a-long-able songs and an ability to make sexual politics engaging without alienating the members of the audience who aren't yet aware of these problems. Her show was also pleasingly full and more power to her. I'd love her to get enough of a following that she could really follow more of her ideas through.

I should point out that Danielle Ward's show didn't match the gentle nature of this weeks post. Songs about sex, not necessarily graphic but definitely a bit in your face, were initially a bit shocking for a lunchtime show.

Finally in this 6 day period there was Simon Munnery. His intelligently silly stand-up is one of those where it's hard to see the lines between purposefully shambolic, and genuinely rough around the edges. He did exactly what I expected and I was glad that I went. An odd moment came up where I accidentally made a woman heckle, but shows the measure of a comedian when they can detect the spirit in which someone interrupts and use that in an amusing, but not aggressive way. This time to discuss the distances between Chippenham and Gloucester. As one does.

Strange and Straight-Forward

Posted Tuesday, 11th August, 2015

I like alternative comedy. I like the strange and unusual. I really enjoy it when an act surprises me with something unexpected. However, the most important thing is that the comedy is good. You know who is good? Stuart Goldsmith. Friends and I can't remember but I'm sure I saw Stuart do a quick set as part of a free show in 2005 or something, but I can't be sure. He was funny that day, and through his shows and his podcast he continues to do pretty straight-forward stand-up which is good. This year was no exception. Easily recommendable to any and all. Made better by the room not being as insufferably hot, as free fringe venues can sometimes be. Sadly one man's regular interruptions were irritating, badly timed and never funny. Mr Goldsmith handled them expertly, getting laughs from the crowd without resorting to just insulting the man.

Counter-point to this, the The Alternative Comedy Memorial Society. This is a very silly show where the emphasis is on trying new ideas and avoiding straight stand-up. It's the acts that are strange, or the odder, less usual material of famous names. Sometimes, it feels like it's an idea the act had but they never have the opportunity to let the oddity out. The line-up was mostly names I hadn't known, or at least hadn't seen before. However, it's the regulars, Tom Tuck and John-Luke Roberts, who make the evening of noble-failures fun for all. Aided and abetted by Jonny and the Baptists it was a great night. Pity the venue stinks of sick as well as being hot and sticky. However, the beer is cheap, and that always lubricates an evening of alternative.