Will Young

FEST

willyoungThe problem with Will Young – and it’s not a terminal problem – is his apparent need to assault everything he looks at. He’ll attempt to establish an ideological standpoint, frame a performer’s whole existence or tie the whole show up into an epithet. Until he’s got his performer helpless and hogtied, Young does not feel comfortable approaching their work.

For example, he either wilfully ignores or woefully misunderstands Stuart Goldsmith’s first joke in order to make a weak point about the show in general, a fractured foundation he then builds upon. Brennan Reece’s use of a false Jongleurs-style opening to his otherwise weighty material makes him “a bit of a conman”. There may be more imaginative ways of embarking on Mark Watson’s I’m Not Here than by stating words to the effect of “He definitely is here, I saw him in the lobby”. And, in order to take on Nath Valvo, Young first embarks on a straw-man rant about what (I can only assume) he thinks Valvo believes, or perhaps it is meant to convey what other reviewers believe, or what we might believe were Young not there to give us guidance:

“Have you ever noticed how no debut comedian ever has anything valuable to say? Aren’t they ALL awful, shouty, brash white blokes finding ways to embarrass audience members as a distraction from limited observational material? Isn’t EVERY SINGLE ONE a sad disappointment for a hopeful audience risking a new act?”

I’m still not sure what that was all about, but it was almost certainly unnecessary. Still, at least once Young has his subject under wraps he delivers some decent reviewing. “It’s not for everyone, and it’s little more than the sum of its surreal parts” he says of Alison Thea-Skot while, commendably, enjoying her show to the full nonetheless. By the time Young gets to discussing Watson’s passport routine, “a rich vein to mine his own neuroses, with engaging diversions into his family life and views on modernity” I’d almost forgotten his other transgressions. When you can distil a performance this efficiently, there’s no need to go at it with a semantic pickaxe.

Ben Shannon

THREE WEEKS

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.

Will Pope

BROADWAY BABY

willpopeFor any comedian older than about 35, bringing your comedy to the Fringe has a special pitfall: the sizable chance that, if you speak on any subject other than snogging, worrying about your genitals and handing in a dissertation, the 17-year-old student reviewer will brand your material “not always relatable”.

So it’s nice that Will Pope says that Jeff Green is “so enjoyable” because “the audience can identify with so many of the issues he tackles; from marital tension to the joys and difficulties of parenthood, and the reality of coming to terms with failure”.

It’s a good thing when you can’t quite place a reviewer’s age by the things they say. Pope does some youngish things, such as putting himself in the frame too much – his Adam Riches review is peppered with “I was expecting” this or “I was disappointed” by the other. He also has a bit of a tic about asking rhetorical questions and using turgid reviewerisms such as “dry and pedestrian”. But at other times his prose is elevated and mature.

Indeed, Pope makes a decent fist of summing up what he sees in general terms. He needs to go in for the close-up a bit more: he’ll rattle on about seamless segues and universal truisms and brilliant anecdotes without providing a single example. Nobody wants Pope to give the game (or any punchlines) away, but if something’s worth seeing then he needs to whet our appetites with more than adjectival bluster.

We can add to this Pope’s habit of throwing stars around like John-Paul the Second doing beatifications. Everything so far this year is a five-star hit, apparently. But then I’m always rather unsure about how much to needle critics for really liking stuff, even if they claim to like everything. Since Pope makes a detailed case for everything he approves of, I think I won’t.

Derwent Cyzinski

Edimbrugh Fringe Dog

FREELANCE

fringedogWell, you wait 67 years for an Edinburgh Fringe parody to happen, and then two come along at once.

This one is very wet-nosed and friendly and is called Edimbrugh Fringe Dog. Fringe dog spells everything wrong and gives everyone five stars.

As you know, we at Fringepig get quite cross with reviewers who use grammar incorrectly and fail to check their work for typographical errors. You might expect that we would relax this rule for a small over-excited dog, but I’m afraid not. This dog has clearly taught itself to speak a human language, type to a basic level and upload its work to a blog site. Would it be such a massive step for him to check his bloody work?

Fringepig is staffed entirely by stuffed toys. None of us have blood, or a pulse, or a cerebral cortex, and yet here we are happily looking stuff up in Hart’s Rules and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. I can’t help thinking that, if you’re a living, breathing dog who has managed to do so much then running a spellcheck and using capital letters would be, by comparison, a very small developmental increment. This dog’s carelessness is sinking the boat for a ha’porth of tar in my opinion.

However, we value consistency above all, and by giving five stars to every single act Fringe Dog sees – or sometimes he just bumps into them or notices their poster – Fringe Dog is probably the most consistent reviewer of the Fringe this year. Also, unlike other reviewers, you could share a drink with him without feeling artistically compromised or dirty. And he seems to have no interest in upgrading his reviews in return for advertising cash, so he could teach his peers a thing or two about journalistic ethics.

However, I have a nagging (wagging?) feeling that Edimbrugh Fringe Dog’s writing style is ersatz; that he can write perfectly well and is just being cutesy to endear himself to the humans. I know that it’s natural for small dogs to want to be friends with everyone and to live entirely in the moment in a hysterical fit of unrestrainable enthusiasm, but this is the Fringe for goodness sake. There are political issues to consider, and this sort of behaviour is degrading not just to this dog but to all dogs. I know dogs who spent the whole of last year’s Fringe in a NO MORE PAGE 3 T-shirt. Have you seen Page 3 of Modern Dog? It’s nothing but a filthy anachronism.

I would give Fringe Dog no score at all. However, my colleagues disagree with me and have cut a hole in my bottom with a Stanley knife. I am leaking a steady stream of tiny polystyrene beads and I feel very weak and groggy and they say they won’t help me stitch myself up until I give Fringe Dog five pigs.

I expect five pigs are of little use to him so I’m giving him five bones.

Edmund Rumania