Laura Pujos


Nobody could accuse Pujos of being dismissive about what she sees. Bloody hell no. She attends comedy shows as if she’s been asked to take notes for a Hague War Crimes tribunal; presenting each point before cross-examining it and (usually) finding it guilty of something. This jurisprudence is not in the service of seeing both sides of any argument: far from it. Pujos puts everything she sees through the wringer of watery liberal safe-space university batshit bullshit, and to such an exceptional degree that her schtick becomes oppressive and quite depressing to read.

I’m sure Kae Kurd, for example, is a very funny man but he is done little favour by Pujos’ heavy-handed advocacy. “Addressing the increase in open racism and hate crimes post-Brexit and Trump, Kurd’s strikes me as a necessary voice in comedy in current times,”Pujos attests. “The events in Charlottesville particularly poignantly indicate the relevance and pertinence of comedy shows like his.” Erm… he’s trying to have a laugh on the Free Fringe, Laura; not rescue neo-liberalism from the Nazis.

You get the distinct feeling that Pujos hasn’t seen much comedy; the sheer length of her Kurd hagiography is, to say the least, unneccesary – as is her tortuous deliberations on whether to throw Rosie Wilby’s Breakup Monologues in the bin (it didn’t actually include Rosie Wilby on the day she saw i which, we sense, threw Pujos into an existential panic). Little surprise that when she doesn’t like Thom Tuck’s discussion of ISIS and the Middle East, she uses his review to sing the praises (yet again) of Mr Kurd, the one other comedian she has seen talking about ISIS in her entire short life. Pujos makes it absolutely clear that she supports Jim Crow laws on comedy: “Tuck, a white non-Muslim comedian, is ill-positioned to make half the jokes he does,” she says. Er… what?

She continues: “Particularly problematic moments include a gag that belittles and disregards the seriousness of alcoholism as an illness,” as if Tuck has been abusing patients rather than performing comedy.

The extremist butt-rod isn’t even Pujo’s main problem. It’s not even that she is inexperienced and witheringly boring (her 143-word explanation of how Grainne Maguire pronounces her name will have you praying for death to whichever God is available, whatever your creed and colour). It’s that ALL her reviews really are about herself and her modernist, millennial search for self-betterment. It’s all “I thought” this and “I expected” that and “Oh how disappointed I was” about the other. The sheer pomposity of Pujos’ self-entitled tracts is occasionally hilarious; things are always “sadly” or “disappointingly” not what she wanted, and we should be in no doubt that this sadness and misfortune is universal.

You may wonder whether Pujos even understands her own liberal wahabbism. “They Mail on Sunday’s branding of Tuck as ‘the next David Mitchell’ led me to expect some erudite political commentary,” she says. Well who’d expect the Mail on Sunday to give you a bum steer on who to watch at the Fringe, Laura.

Laura Pujos knows three fifths of fuck all about comedy, and she wants to tell you about the profound personal journey she had watching four and a half hours of it.

Paul Whitelaw


Nick Doody has a joke (and I won’t spoil it by doing the whole thing), that says you can’t write ‘swan’ on a pig and shove it out onto the lake. And yet over the past five years we’ve discovered that we have to accept things as they’re labelled, however little sense it makes. It started with Rod Liddle in his ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt, back when he edited the Independent, which still insists that it is a newspaper. Donald Trump is apparently a president. And now this. Paul Whitelaw. Apparently a Scotsman reviewer.

The Scotsman is printing what Paul Whitelaw thinks as if he’s a journalist. Checking and double-checking the webpage just returns the same result: it has the Scotsman’s web address and all the page furniture seems to be hanging in the right place, so I suppose we just have to accept his single-paragraph assassinations, mostly of female comedians, as reviews.

There can be no real doubt, of course, that Paul Whitelaw is a troll with his ticket stamped by a newspaper, the way Picasso used to sign blank canvasses for people to do a validated shit or sneeze on. Even if we try to analyse his discharge as if it’s writing we find he is using stolen jokes to criticise comedy (“Every comedian requires a persona of some description … Eleanor Morton has chosen the persona of an ordinary person with nothing funny or interesting to say”, he says, using a joke stolen from ID Mobile who stole it from Family Guy). Despite the paucity of words, Whitelaw manages to cough up every cliché in the reviewer’s arsenal. The word “Pedestrian”, putting “-a-tron” after everything he finds ‘pedestrian’; adding “for reasons best known to herself” to things females do which he can’t (for reasons best known to himself) be bothered exploring and even – EVEN – banging ‘definitely one to watch’ on the end of Fern Brady (three stars). Oooooh, Fern Brady! Looks like you’ve got an admirer! By the way, If this all sounds childish it is merely in the course of reviewing a reviewer so squarely in the nyeah nyeah ne nyeah-nyeah school of post-millennial professionalism.

So, to conclude, we must accept that Paul Whitelaw is a thing. Except of course we don’t. Whitelaw does not have his finger on the nuclear trigger and he isn’t an artist, except possibly in the medium of piss. If he’s anything then he’s a symptom of a sad, sorry little newspaper that has utterly squandered the goodwill it once enjoyed as the keynote voice of the Fringe, giving up good writing and solid opinions for gimmickry and shlock. Little surprise they can’t now give it away, except with some fruity water and a tote bag. It’s done. It’s finished. It’s gone-a-tron.

Whitelaw is best understood not as a writer but as an attendant detail; a sort of maggot that will provide forensic colour to anyone in the future who cares to study the pathological decline and suicide of a once-great newspaper.

Edmund Rumania


Nina Keen


ninakeenIs the world just wrong? Or is Nina Keen just wrong? Because one of the two MUST be wrong.

Nina Keen is not averse to the reviewer-speak standby of saying that a thing does or doesn’t “live up to its title”. So excuse me for saying that, whether she is wrong or not, Nina Keen does not live up to her title. She is not very keen on anything much.

Her lack of enthusiasm is most pronounced on anything – and I mean ANYTHING – that transgresses her sense of propriety and polity. So Simon Munnery’s joke about his daughter “was strangely reactionary as well as deeply uncomfortable”; Daniel Nils Roberts’ “one female character was uncomfortable too; the pathetic erotica author felt rooted in sexist tropes”; Michelle Wolf has “retro misogyny and homophobia, with a dash of transphobia and ableism thrown in. This is confusing, because I could’ve sworn we’d established this was unacceptable ages ago”. Consistently Keen is confronted with things she doesn’t like politically, and these cause her discomfort and confusion. She is unable to separate her own feelings from the requirements of objective analysis. Her conclusion is always that a show has hurt her personally, and so it must be punished. No lapse from Keen’s playbook of social acceptability can be tolerated. Adam Rowe, for example, “used his own weight to justify a fatphobic routine that was at the expense of others rather than himself”. How dare he? Doesn’t he know that comedy has RULES??

This could all be written down to youthful idealism if it were not for the frankly juvenile outbursts. “We, the audience, have feelings, and violent and demeaning jokes fucking hurt.” We can only suggest (assuming that it is Keen who is wrong, rather than most of this year’s Fringe), that Keen put a trigger warning on everything outside her window and not venture beyond it until she can deal with the actual world. Because if there’s one thing the Fringe doesn’t need it’s any more of this Student Union pisswank that seeks to invalidate anything that doesn’t toe the line of insipid subservience to a single line of reasoning.

Keen admits as much when she gives Chris Coltrane four stars for defending political correctness in his show. Correct score for Coltrane’s show, I grant you, but wrong reason. Stars mean little enough already, let’s not turn them into goodie tokens for people we just happen to agree with.

Keen also likes to say that just because something is… whatever… that doesn’t make it funny. “Singing a thing doesn’t automatically make it funny” [Rachel Parris]; “Being right about something doesn’t make it automatically funny” [Simon Munnery]. It helps though, doesn’t it, Nina? I’m sure it helps.

Stephanie Withers


stephaniewithersStephanie Withers gives the impression of being scared of running over the word limit. Her reviews release their information in staccato squirts of data. Occasionally she’ll pair two sentences with a comma. But mostly it reads like this.

However, her reviews are better than this makes them sound. They’re perfectly clear and she always takes care to note the show’s premise. Her reviews tend to go such-and-such is about those moments when your blah blah goes blah. It really had me laughing when blah happpened. Blah and blah worked very well in the sketch about blah. However, I didn’t like blah so much, it needed more blah. Overall, a great bit of blah if you like your comedy blah.” And what more does anyone need?

Withers’ admirable desire to create reviews that cover the entire breadth of each show means that her writing sometimes gets squashed by Three Weeks‘ tiny word limit. So although I’m sure her description of Trgve Wakenshaw’s Kraken is accurate, it leaves me none the wiser as to what she is actually describing: “Using just his body, and vocal sound effects, ‘KRAKEN’ takes the audience’s imagination to various weird and wonderful places, creating a vivid world where we see unicorns alongside rap battles.” WHAT is going on here? I mean, she’s told us… but then again she hasn’t. I suppose I should have seen it. But I do wish I had a better idea of what I missed.

But at least Withers creates a sense of intrigue, and she has a nice way of saying that the central joke of The Pin is wearing a bit thin: “The better material seems more heavily weighted to the first half, when the editing gag is still fresh, and towards the end I perhaps started to feel the concept’s bite waning”. She is, throughout her canon of critique, politer than most reviewers.

She has some irritating habits though, such as using exclamation marks for no good reason. And when she uses inverted commas it’s not clear if she’s quoting someone or suggesting, in the style of Miranda Hart’s on-screen mother, that the term she is using is quite exotic and unique to her: “They spend their set hilariously replaying and editing sketches to ‘pad the show out’,” she tells us. But really I’m just picking holes. Withers does a very good job of jamming a lot of information into a small space as Three Weeks requires, so that all the space left over can be sold to attention-seeking morons who know no better.

Edmund Rumania

Dave Coates


davecoatesDave Coates is one of those reviewers who, like a teacher at a long-established school, wants everyone to try their best. And he wants them to be cheerful about it.Jack Barry, for example, “seems self-aware enough that his mis-steps suggest a performer in the middle of a promising learning process”. Coates could have added “Will grow into a fine young man”.

Similarly when Nathan Caton “seemed to run a little haphazardly from one topical skit to the next,” it’s mitigated by the fact his show has a “moral compass”. Coates sees the Fringe as a big classroom where the untutored flock for guidance. He gives the sort of report-card advice (“He doesn’t seem confident of his material or entirely in control of his punchlines and the set meanders, making movement from one passage to the next difficult to follow”) that will be valuable in about two years when the comedian has stopped feeling resentful. But such an approach is perfectly positive.

To adopt Coates’s style, he is clearly a reviewer with a lot to give who will grow and develop as he hones his abilities.

Sadly, Coates lets the comedy school down a bit by continually sticking his oar in wherever his personal politics are challenged. His review of Charles Booth concludes that he is “a talented performer held back by tired and often hateful material.” Hateful is a strong word, and you’d hope to see it justified in the text. But all Coates records is that Booth did some stuff on Rachel Dolezal that he disagreed with.

Similarly Jack Barry is accused of making “unsavoury” gags about suicide, as if this speaks for itself. With Minor Delays he concludes that “Occasionally the bleaker moments come across as slightly mean-spirited,” but again we know nothing of these moments except that Coates found them too bleak. When he lists “numerous grim instances of homophobia, misogyny and cultural essentialism” he starts to sound like a prosecutor in a kangaroo court. And if you’re wondering what ‘cultural essentailism’ is, don’t bother looking it up. You’re not supposed to know what it means and that’s why some people use it. In that moment of not recognising the phrase you unconsciously acquiesce to Coates’ greater knowledge and moral patrimony. If you’re not careful you could be tricked into thinking that his desire to police the boundaries of comedy is perfectly reasonable. And worst of all you’ll be arming yourself with the phrase “cultural essentialism” so you can use it when you want to call people racist but haven’t got quite enough evidence on them yet.

If you regard some things as unsayable, fine. But Coates is a reviewer and I’m just not sure that he wants to feel uncomfortable, or even challenged, for even a moment. If the jokes were poor or the arguments behind them antiquated or illogical then he ought to tell us. But for goodness sake Coates, don’t just shudder and walk away like a dirty skulking reviewer.

That was journalistic essentialism, by the way. It’s a thing.

Edmund Rumania