The Stand

Jo Caulfield: Killing Time

 

04/08/18

The Stand, Edinburgh

I don’t go to see Jo Caulfield in order to be surprised. I’ve been a fan of her comedy for long enough to know what to expect – and I’m looking forward to another helping of her sly sarcasm. I’m not disappointed.

It’s Saturday night and the room is packed; Caulfield’s reputation means an audience is guaranteed, and she well deserves it. She makes it look effortless – her stage persona is all shrugs and don’t-give-a-fuck – but it would be a mistake to underestimate the skill that makes this show. She’s sharp, assessing her audience at the same time as engaging us, pushing boundaries with deceptive innocence.

In Killing Time Caulfield sticks to what she knows. ‘There won’t be a theme or a message to this show,’ she says, ‘If you want that, you’ll need to go elsewhere. This’ll just be me, talking about what I’ve done, what I’ve been thinking…’ And it is, kind of – but it’s so much more as well. It’s observational comedy, sure, but a clear illustration of why that genre persists: in the right hands – in her hands – it’s funny. She’s outraged, regularly, by other people’s behaviour, by their rudeness or their lack of awareness, by their sheer stupidity. She maintains a straight face throughout, a wide-eyed insouciance belying the audacity of some of what she says: she’s the queen of bitchy put-downs but she keeps us on her side. It’s an impressive tight-rope walk.

Okay, so there’s quite a lot of men-do-this-and-women-do-that stuff, but she makes it work – it doesn’t seem hack. The observations are fresh and precisely delivered, and the audience response is proof they hit their mark.

There’s a real joy to be had in watching someone so confident and assured. And Jo Caulfield can be relied upon to deliver a great show.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

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Andrew Doyle: Thought Crimes

 

11/08/17

The Stand, Edinburgh

Andrew Doyle, co-writer of the wonderfully acerbic Jonathan Pie, promises to be controversial. His opinions are, he says, unpopular. He is, in his own words, ‘political and a massive gay.’ But honestly, tonight, it all feels a bit tame.

There’s a lot of audience work at the top of the show, which he handles nicely – he has a clear command of the room. It’s filler though; I want to get down to some substance. The stuff about being gay is not very challenging – a few easy gags about how he’s against gay marriage because, y’know, marriage is a trap. He’s better when he gets to the politics, especially Brexit. I don’t agree with him, but he’s informed and articulate and makes his case well. And he’s absolutely right that there needs to be space for debate; no one wins when we shut each other down.

A shame then that he seeks to shut others down, with a straw man argument against identity politics, citing ‘Otherkins’ as an example of their absurdity. But it’s his argument that’s absurd: no one in this clearly politically-engaged room knows what an Otherkin is; he has to tell us (someone who doesn’t identify as human, apparently), so they’re hardly mainstream; it’s kind of cheap to use them as a means of discrediting other identities in the LGBTQ+ ‘community’, especially at a time when transgender people in particular are facing so much prejudice.

He’s drinking wine on-stage – about two thirds of a bottle of red during the hour – and things do get more interesting as he gets looser. It makes him seem vulnerable; by the end, when he’s talking about losing friends because of what he thinks, he appears to be really hurt. Or maybe that’s all part of the schtick.

Doyle is a fascinating person, and I’ll definitely watch out for him and see what else he does. He’s clever and engaging, and has the crowd laughing throughout. This show could do with a bit more focus though – and less reliance on the easy stuff.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Thursday Show

01/06/17

The Stand, Edinburgh

We have friends staying for a few days, and of course we want to show off our adopted city. In the daytime, we take them sightseeing in the Old Town, and then walking in Holyrood Park. As night falls, we lead them towards Edinburgh’s iconic comedy club, with the promise of a Thursday show that is sure to entertain.

In all honesty, we’re not au fait with any of the advertised acts, but that’s no bad thing. There are a lot of comedians working the circuit, and they can’t all be household names. We’re always happy to see something new (even if it’s only new to us), and our only fear is arriving too late to secure a seat. We’re just about in time to avert that particular disaster, although we’re perched on high stools at the very back. That’s the only drawback with this venue, really: arriving ninety minutes before the show begins is an irritating necessity.

Our compere is Jellybean Martinez, alter-ego of Matthew Ellis, and as high-octane a character as I’ve ever seen. He’s a tartan-and-frill-clad ball of energy, all bitchy campery and squealing laughs. He works the audience expertly, and – if he’s sometimes a bit much for me – the students on the front row lap up his attention. It’s adroitly done, and sets the tone for an evening we can all enjoy.

The opener is Rachel Fairburn, a Mancunian whose deadpan laconic style is bitingly funny. Her speech is laced with sweetened bile, turning humdrum tales of sibling rivalry into deliciously dark bon mots. I’d like to see what else she can do, and will make a point of seeing her show at the Fringe this year (Her Majesty, Just the Tonic at the Community Project).

Next up is Donald Alexander, a relative newcomer with a twitchy, nerdy persona, talking about being a primary school teacher and having sex with girls. It works: he’s likeable and engaging, and the crowd is on his side.

After the interval, there’s a surprise appearance from Danny Bhoy, who’s clearly working up material for his new show, Make Something Great Again For A Stronger Better Future Tomorrow Together. He is a welcome addition to the line-up, an astute and assured comedian with a lot to say. He’s our favourite of the evening, his political observations being both refreshing and dismaying – as well as funny, of course.

Glaswegian John Ross has the unenviable task of following Danny Bhoy, but he’s up to the job, making us laugh with his witty observations about enemas and railings. Yes, really. Enemas. And railings. He’s a hit with the students too; they’re raucous in their appreciation. Good stuff.

And then, before we know it, it’s already time for the headliner. Imran Yusuf‘s edgy set takes us into uncomfortable territory, but it’s excellent from start to finish. He’s very sharp indeed, making us confront the issues surrounding terrorism, as well as his frustration at always having to discuss this stuff, just because of his ethnicity. He’s certainly a comedian I’d like to see again, and I’ll be looking out for a full-length show.

All in all, we’ve had another great evening at The Stand. Our guests are happy and so are we.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Simon Munnery: Standing Still

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20/08/16

The Stand, Edinburgh

Simon Munnery has been performing stand-up for something like thirty years and is cited by many as a comic genius – but it’s clear from the moment that he stumbles onto the iconic stage of The Stand Comedy Club, that Standing Still isn’t up there with his best work.

He’s wearing a jacket adorned with empty Strongbow cider cans and Golden Virginia tobacco pouches, and he sports a weird headpiece with a revolving appendage sticking out of it. He also has a codpiece made from a pig’s head (in reference to David Cameron’s alleged exploits). He knocks a whole collection of ramshackle props flying whilst bellowing near-incomprehensible dialogue into an echo-enhanced microphone. A packed audience looks on in bemused silence.

Once through this opening routine, he treats us to a selection of bits and pieces salvaged from his illustrious past (even including a few lines as Alan Parker; Urban Warrior, dating from the early 90s). Occasionally, he holds up a selection of tattered illustrations and photographs for our consideration and, at one point, he even sings a Billy Bragg song. It all feels curiously cobbled-together, as though he hasn’t really found the time to write much new material. While the bumbling chaos is classic Munnery, this just isn’t as honed as it might have been.

This is a shame because, from time to time, he does come up with some genuinely funny stuff (the extended conversation between a ski-obsessed couple, for example), giving us a glimpse of what he’s actually capable of.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Bridget Christie: Mortal

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11/08/16

The Stand, Edinburgh

Bridget Christie’s 2016 Edinburgh Show, Mortal, is essentially a rallying cry – yes, it’s funny and yes, she’s still shows she’s one of the best comedians of the modern age, but this is really a post-Brexit call to arms. “We risk the total collapse of social cohesion in this country,” she says – and we need to do something about it. We can’t rely on our politicians; they’ve proven themselves to be corrupt and incompetent. But we are not powerless, and we can, for example, stand up and object when we see acts of racism (which have increased five-fold since the ‘leave’ side won – and no, of course not every leave voter is racist but, by God, those who are certainly feel empowered).

She’s angry – that much is clear. So angry about the reckless way that David Cameron has gambled with the nation’s future, that she has abandoned her planned show about mortality and written this new one in response to the Brexit debacle. It’s too important – too compelling a subject for her to ignore.

Christie has an energy that somehow makes her apoplectic rants endearing; she physicalises her fury like an impotent toddler, which aptly symbolises the way many of us feel in the wake of the EU referendum. An extended routine lambasting Michael Gove’s “people in this country have had enough of experts” nonsense is both hilarious and devastating, and her take-down of the Daily Mail is particularly acute.

Hurrah, then for Bridget, and commiserations to us all. We’re totally fucked. But at least she makes us laugh while she articulates the shit we’re in.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

An Evening with Jo Caulfield & Friends

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12/04/16

The Stand, Edinburgh

We missed Jo Caulfield at this year’s Ed Fringe, so here’s a golden opportunity to rectify the situation. It’s an unusual gig – she’s recording her stand up set for a new CD, Disappointed With You; and also an episode of the podcast gameshow The Good , The Bad and the Unexpected.’ The UK’s most iconic venue is packed with eager punters, ready for a good laugh, which is pretty much what they get tonight.

After a brief good-natured warm up from another Jo entirely – Jo Jo Sutherland, on comes Ms Caulfield, clearly in a mood to take no prisoners. A luckless Australian visitor, picked out in the intro session, is bluntly told that his country is of ‘no interest at all.’ ‘I’ve looked into it,’ she adds, ‘but… no, nothing.’ She then proceeds to take on a whole series of scattershot targets, knocking each one down with glee, revelling in the cantankerous middle class persona she habitually adopts. Subjects range from indecisive shoppers in queues, buying a fitted kitchen and the over friendly staff in Marks and Spencers – not the most promising list of subjects, I’ll grant you and yet, her world-weary, bitchy demeanour manages to extract the maximum amount of laughter from each subject. Her occasional potty-mouthed utterances are delivered with perfect timing and one childhood memory concerning being disciplined by her Irish Catholic father results in a punchline so shocking, we feel guilty even as we laugh out loud. She finishes by thanking us for laughing ‘for the recording’ but it was ridiculously easy. She’s a funny woman and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t see more of her on TV.

Next up, Jo introduces a short set by a young newcomer, Tony Sloan, looking like a chunkier Rick Moranis. He expertly plays the persona of the helpless loser, still living with his mother (‘It’s OK, she has the top bunk!’) and looking for romance – (‘You know what Tony is, backwards? Y-not?’)  One or two of his more obvious puns draw audible groans from the crowd, but there’s an interesting idea to be developed here and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from him in the future.

After a short interval, on troop the four comedians taking part in the podcast – Keir McAllister, Stuart Murphy, Richard Melvin and Gareth Waugh, together with Jo acting as question master. Getting them all onto the tiny stage is quite an achievement in itself. Like so many of these podcasts, the show stands or falls by the quality of the comedians in any particular episode and it is well served tonight, particularly by Stuart Murphy, who must be one of the most quick-witted comics currently treading the boards. (Interested parties should check out his free Sunday lunchtime improv shows at The Stand, with partner Garry Dobson). He manages to reduce Jo to helpless laughter at several points so perhaps it’s little wonder that his team win by a wide margin. There’s a whole series of these shows which can be found, free of charge via iTunes.

Then it’s all over and we troop off into a rainy Edinburgh night.

Jo Caulfield  – 4.6 stars

The Good, the Bad and The Unexpected – 4 stars

 

 

Yianni: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Line?

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30/08/15

The Stand 2, Edinburgh

This is a show about the nature of comedy: what makes it work and why it can sometimes seem offensive. Yianni Agisilaou is a likeable performer, who approaches the difficult subject of ‘how far is too far – and why?’ with an affability sometimes at odds with the ideas he is exploring. He’s effortlessly charming, and there is a real warmth in the room, as he establishes a clear rapport with the audience. He’s funny too: there are plenty of laughs in this hour-long consideration of what constitutes offensiveness.

If there’s a problem here, it comes from a good place. I enjoy being in this room with this cheery, intelligent comedian, but I think the work would have more impact if it were all a bit less nice. If Yianni were able to bring himself to truly offend – to make the audience gasp in real shock, perhaps – then his deconstruction of human hypocrisy and self-delusion would be far more powerful.

But still, this is a solid set from an experienced performer, who knows how to please a crowd. There are far worse ways we could have spent our last day here at 2015’s fringe.

3.6 stars

Susan Singfield