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

Jon Stapley


jonstapleyThere are some toys at FringePig who seem to think that that theatre-hags and cabaret-whores and music-prostitutes and childrens’-show…erm… whatever class of degenerate they are… should stick to hanging around in their own fleshpots.

I’ve never really agreed, and so it is my pleasure to present the amazing, multi-faceted, quadruple-headed Jon Stapley. A good few days into each Fringe Stapley will have a break from his usual worthiness and take a look at the comedy. And then he goes home, or to the office (sorry, this is Three Weeks… he goes home, or to a McDonalds with wifi)… and he does a bloody good job of typing it up.

Stapley comes up with some intrigue for Murder She Didn’t Write about how the audience were led to believe they were suggesting themes for a murder but, in the end, didn’t really contribute to how it was staged. Perhaps that’s where the show’s name came from. But we don’t get to find out because Stapley runs out of words and can only conclude that “the clear potential for something really special wasn’t reached”.

Stapley does his best, though: “With a musical number in the first five minutes, and a double male striptease in the first fifteen, Giraffe’s blistering show lets you know what you’re in for pretty quickly,” he tells us, providing a similarly express service. He was similarly circumspect about WitTank last year, writing that “As the school’s preposterous headmaster, Naz Osmanoglu mercilessly hoovers up the biggest laughs, though all three members do get to shine.”

Stapley never butchers anything or over-reaches himself with florid epigrams. He’s just the sort of person to do a good job in a tiny space. At least, he is most of the time.

Becky Walker’s Panda

Robert Stevens


robertstevensRobert Stevens’ reviews are like Volvos. Solid little review Volvos, chugging through the Fringe with their 120 words of reasonable, proof-read, quite-well-informed blah.

He’s SO reasonable that sometimes the most cutting comments almost slip away unnoticed. He’s a bit of a mailed-fist-in-a-velvet-glove merchant: “David Elms’ low-level subtlety is a delight to watch,” he says – at which Mr Elms probably got his hopes up. “His stand-up is often so mundane that it breaks past the barrier of observational comedy into the detached realm of the absurd.” Hmm. Of Chris Stokes he says “Instead of the quiet intensity that introverts usually exemplify, Stokes simply comes off as quiet”. And Pierre Novelie nearly got away with it until Stevens says: “He’s certainly a comedian to watch, but unfortunately not quite yet”.

None of this is criticism of Stevens, of course. In fact it’s quite impressive how his feelings run into one another rather than the usual signposting of what the reviewer does and doesn’t like. His reviews are considered and mostly useful to the act. When he decides to swing into quirky he does at least save it until the end: “[James] Acaster’s career has followed the three act structure of ‘Macbeth’. Catch him before he goes mad”.

Stevens is one of those relatively few Three Weeks reviewers who can make every word of the 120-or-so limit really say something. Stevens does not, perhaps, write the most enthralling reviews, but these beige little boxes of text are reliable and safe. Ah, see what I just did? I did a compliminsult, a bit like Robert Stevens.

Lenny Leicester

Ben Shannon


benshannonBen Shannon is a likeable presence whose relaxed hand on the tiller eases the audience into the situation, combining a light-hearted patter and confidence beyond his years. Don’t take my word for it, though. Because those were not my words. They were a reviewer’s words, back when Shannon was in Three Men and a Saucepan in 2013.

Now here’s an interesting thing. Back in 2004 Michael Legge was given a one-star review by a reviewer who was Probably Not Very Good (I know, I know) and who later decided to be a comedian. The fact that Michael Legge did not make him very welcome whenever the two should meet is one of those stories comedians now tell in the backs of cars.

And now Michael Legge has been reviewed yet again by someone determined to straddle the fence of arsery and artistry while only pissing on one side of it. This time he’s got a four, so there’ll be no stern talkings-to (probably) but you have to ask yourself: where do these people get off? Not just the fence but, you know, generally? How do you SIT THERE, assessing someone doing comedy, write that it wasn’t very good, or it was okay, or it was brilliant but then a bit MEH, and then go and do it yourself, fretting about whether there’s one of those cunt reviewers in?  It’s like Jack the Ripper moonlighting as a prostitute, and hoping he doesn’t end up going home with a wrong’un.

We might shrug if Ben Shannon wasn’t bothered about opinions and that it’s, if I may quote The Wire, “All in the game”. But he tells us very proudly that he got three stars from Three Weeks on the first day of performance back then. Presumably – to misquote Victor Kiam – he liked the review so much, he joined the company. And he provides a quote from that nice Marc Blake, who used to play Helmut the German. So opinions mean a lot to him, as they do to any new comedian. Here’s mine: choose a bloody side.

If he chooses to stick with reviewing he’s by no means bad at it. His sentences are well formed and nicely paced. More importantly he manages to get his passion across in a short space of words. He occasionally tails off into throwaways like “you won’t regret” going, or “Edinburgh will be seeing more” of someone, or, in the case of Ivo Graham, the rather verbose “it would be foolish to ignore the fact that he is one of the circuit’s truly talented wordsmiths, and his skills only continue to improve”. Three Weeks only prints slug reviews, yet you can’t help imagining Shannon’s eye is on the word count and his mind, no doubt, on how many stars he needs to dish out to avoid difficult confrontations with his comedy peers as he goes to new places and meets new people.

This is why moonlighting doesn’t work, and why Mister Kipper doesn’t allow us to give these subterfugees more than one pig. So suck on your single sausage, Mister Shannon, and next year come back as a baddie OR a good guy. You can’t be both at the same time. This isn’t The Wire.

Jemyma C. Noevil

* Note: Ben Shannon is performing with Mike Reed (not, we presume, the dead one who was married to Pat Butcher) at Moriarty’s (Venue 332) for the Free Festival at 4.15pm daily. It’s free. Please donate enough money at the end that he can leave reviewing behind him.