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


Martin Gray


When you work at the Scotsman, I guess, you don’t feel you need to impress anyone. I mean sure, the paper is going down the tubes faster than a KY-jellied eel poo at a waterpark but for the moment it’s still the grand dame of Scottish journalism. Or croque monsieur, since Scotsman is the most patriarchal title on earth.

But enough of this flannel. Martin Gray is a flannel-free reviewer. Everything he writes comes across as being in a jocular offhand, as if he’s only talking to you because you’ve been put on the same table at a wedding and he’s trying to stop it being awkward. No sooner has he made a statement than he’ll brush it under the carpet. “But honestly it doesn’t matter”; “it’s forgivable, because…”; “Or not…”. He doesn’t take anything he’s seeing too seriously, and thank the Abrahamic deities. It’s only a festival.

Whereas most young reviewers these days forget to say whether anything was funny or not, Gray is not of this school. He describes shows as “very funny” (Gareth Waugh) or “a fun hour” (David Mills) or, and get this – “Impossible to describe in one word” (Chris Forbes). It’s almost as if nobody has told him that he has to insist that a piece of comedy he likes is funny because of some provable and universal constant. There’s no soapboxing or blackboard work. Seriously, he’d better behave in this job because there’s no way he can work for Fest. Turning up at comedy, enjoying himself and leaving? It’s pure madness.

Gray does a good line in leading the reader to the spoiler and then shutting them down. “I can’t get into it”; “That’s for the man himself to tell you”; “just as a sausage isn’t always a sausage, sometimes a banjo string isn’t just a banjo string. Ouch.” (okay I think that one spoilt). But it’s all a sort of families-may-be-listening level of saucy. In fact, this is Radio 2 reviewing. He’s reviewing’s Ken Bruce, basically. It’s not making me buy new boots, get my head shaved and leave home, but I trust it implicitly.


Claire Smith


clairesmithClaire Smith – or ‘The Scotsman’s Clair Smith’, as the Wow24/7 website denomes her – is every bit as good a reviewer as you’d expect a veteran hack to be. (Note to comedians: ‘hack’ is not a pejorative term in journalism.)

You might not agree with everything she writes, nor the assumptions on which she builds her arguments. In her review of Felicity Ward she writes that “a lot of creative people fear analysing their quirks”, despite working in an environment where 1,200 comedy creatives want to talk about their quirks for a whole hour. And her comment that Henning Wehn’s “joke telling is as dry, logical and precise as German engineering” is the sort of thing a freshly-minted student reviewer would think is really clever.

However, such bumps can only jolt the reader because the rest of the road is so smooth; on the whole Smith’s reviews are marvellously clear, articulate and witty without giving the impression she’s trying to compete with her subject. She tells us that “Candy Gigi eats onions, disco dances in a pig mask and false boobs shaking maracas, and simulates sex with a blow-up doll dressed as a Hasidic Jew. She talks about poo and dirty sex and does unspeakable things to a real chicken”. This seems to commit the reviewing sin of set-listing, but the important thing is that Smith only does this where it’s genuinely intriguing. And it certainly is with Candy Gigi.

Smith’s matter-of-factness results in some statements that don’t sound like passages on the way to critical approval but in fact are: “Ward has galloping irritable bowel syndrome, severe anxiety and bouts of depression”. “[Christie] begins by constructing a ludicrously grotesque definition of a feminist”; “Christie lengthily, wilfully and deliberately misses the point of Nigel Farage”. It’s a small thing but helps reinforce Smith’s ability to hold a show at arm’s length and to see it before she judges it.

I have a small problem with her comment about This is Your Trial that “Defence lawyer Rachel Parris probably should have laid off the Chardonnay before the performance”. If she was drunk then tell us, but let’s not jump to the conclusion that pretty blonde girls only quaff bimbo juice. Well, not if you’re going to declare an admiration for Bridget Christie.

Are we allowed to say that girls are pretty? Of course we are. Although I did wonder how Candy Gigi’s “lovely skin” was a vital factor next to her pig mask and onion-scoffing. But if such minor improprieties are the price of seeing some old-school professionalism on the Fringe then it’s a price worth paying.

Jemyma C. Noevil

Fiona Shepherd


fionashepherdFiona Shepherd is rock and pop reviewer for The Scotsman, but they let her write about comedy too because everyone is multitasking at Scotsman Towers these days. Jay Richardson makes sandwiches in the canteen. Joyce Macmillan maintains the drawbridge and the boiling oil. And anyway, comedy was once going to be the new rock n’ roll, except that never really happened.

Shepherd keeps it fluffy. Rarely does she make ivory-tower pronouncements about how something isn’t serving comedy, or why a certain sort of joke just won’t do. Instead she uses big words and a sort of aloof other-worldliness to create distance between herself and the reader: “It is tempting to say that Tony Law’s show is going to be great when it’s finished but one suspects that life in the Tonezone is perpetually in a rather frantic, reassuringly bonkers state of becoming and that Law knows exactly what he is doing despite appearing to be going with the eccentric flow.”

In this way rather acerbic statements are instantly neutralised and washed over with a sense that Shepherd isn’t entirely sure what she’s looking at anyway. Perhaps she dreamed it. She also likes to put grown-up phrases next to goofy words (‘state of becoming’; ‘bonkers’).

This reaches a metaphysical peak when discussing how Paul Foot’s show culminates “in his prestigious ‘formal comedy from the table’, which tastes just like jokes he has written out in advance”. Indeed, Shepherd is all about taste. In some ways her arms-length reviews give a better flavour of a show than many of her contemporaries who get so close to the thing we can’t tell what we’re, erm, eating.

No doubt this is a result of writing about music, which – above even writing about comedy or food – must rank as the most pointless and self-defeating task in the world.

Shepherd refuses to give anything approaching a police-witness account of what she’s seen. Just as a music journo like Everett True would describe the sound of a band as like a waterfall of pineapple jelly, or like a phone ringing too late at night to be social, so Shepherd skips over the nitty gritty and points at a series of moving pictures. So she cuts and pastes a series of ‘bonkers’ Tony Law things in a single paragraph  so that they sound rather more bonkers than even Law intended. And while reading this we are distracted from the quite important question of whether or not Shepherd liked it.

She never really tells us, except by the allocation of stars. Is this a lightness touch or is it just being flaky? Well, it’s certainly engaging, and it reads well.

Mister Kipper


Kate Copstick


katecopstickWhat would The Scotsman’s Fringe coverage be without Kate Copstick’s Fringe Diary? Nowhere much. The Scotsman that The Scotsman is written for is something between a grumpy Presbyterian minister and a right-on civil servant; Copstick’s bawdy reportage is the only thing that keeps the national ink from being a killjoy at its own party.

If plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery then Copstick has been truly feted; a whole legion of spotty wannabes have grown up wanting to stab and eviscerate like her. When in 2004 she said she would “rather cut out and eat her own ovaries” than watch another minute of a young acts’ three-hander, a benchmark was set in critical butchery. Sadly her protégés tend to chop things up without any of her finesse.

Copstick loves and hates in equal measure; a three-star review usually means that the two impulses clashed without a clear winner. She seems unable to like anything without taking a carnal interest in it; her paragraphs drip with sexual innuendo that, lately, has been getting a bit old. Once a green-ink predator, she is becoming more like one of Harry Enfield’s dirty old ladies and her reviews, once shocking, now have all the sad sexual angst of a Gentings casino on a rainy Monday night.

Realising the need for change, perhaps, Copstick has redefined herself as a champion of the free show and an advocate of anarchy. She delighted in the Ellis and Rose black-eye affair when most other reviewers wanted to dismiss it as a dreadful deceit. If something is not just bad but truly catastrophic, new-era Copstick is willing to see some merit in it. In 2012 she said The Caves were the epicentre of the Fringe when other hacks said they were just the Free Fringe with tickets. You have to love her contrarian nature even as you wonder whether she’s still needed. She’s a Rolls Royce of bitchiness lost in a traffic jam of Vauxhall Corsas.

Business Leopard has been pondering Copstick’s venomous account of the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society: “I went,” she says, “but had to leave at the first interval as I was overcome by the miasma of middle-class smugness that rose every time the audience cried ‘A failure, a noble failure!’ in response to another five minutes of ‘ironic’ material.” At first I thought it was the inverted snobbery a lot of hacks feel when confronted by a whole room of people enjoying themselves at unreconstructed silliness. But it’s more than that. ACMS is a show that is generally well-liked, always sells out, and needs to broker no peace with self-appointed kingmakers. It has inoculated itself from failure by calling everything a failure. ACMS is no threat to Copstick’s ovaries, but, my God, a few more shows like that at the Fringe could really chop her cock off.

Business Leopard