Fiona Shepherd

THE SCOTSMAN

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

 

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

MUMBLE COMEDY

markdivinecalvertI don’t know why this reviewer has awarded himself divinity.  Perhaps he bears a passing resemblance to John Waters’ favourite drag queen. Perhaps – even more than all the other reviewers – this one believes himself appointed to pass God’s infallible judgment upon Fringe entertainment.

Whatever the reason, it comes as a disappointment that his reviews are in no way transcendent. This is the chap who wrote the review of Adam Riches that so enraged the comedian’s PR company. In fact it was a three star review that read like a three star review. It IS, on the whole, a quite bad review, but not for any criticism of Riches.

“It was a damp and wind-swept night and the welcoming warmth of the Pleasance Dome began to relaxed [sic] me into a state of mind ready for comedy,” he begins, in the desperate sub-NME style of reviewer-on-a-quest hackery. “Tonight it was Adam Riches, a successful comedian with more awards that you can shake a stick at,” he says, being succinct but somewhat clichéd. “Adam humiliated his carefully chosen audience members who were middle class,” he asserts, with the assurance of Pol Pot condemning people with glasses.

Before you know it, his reviews are over. They are rarely much longer than a couple of tweets, and if I was Riches’ PR I’d be most annoyed at the amount of work he did in return for a ticket, irrespective of its quality.

Calvert doesn’t waste time with structured sentences although, to be fair, a lot of reviewers this year have decided that the laws of English can be abandoned as long as you’re discussing Tony Law. “Trombones! A Game of catch with a beach ball, His pet dogs both alive and the ones that have gone to puppy heaven. Love making etiquette and his psychic pooch featured heavily. Reminding me of a past Beau that had a Standard Poodle who shared our bed every time we got it on.” Ugh.

Calvert is either American or, just as likely, accepts WordPress’s spelling corrections without question. He also capitalises at random, adds exclamation marks with impunity, inserts odd word spacings and sticks in quote marks for no apparent reason whatsoever: “Divine Salutes You. For that really was a ‘Good Time!’ ” I’m Sure you’re ‘Very Welcome’, Mark!

Of course, I’m not even the first person to review him. Immediately beneath his review of Adam Riches is a note from the ‘CEO’ of Mumble Comedy who, if it isn’t Calvert, is someone operating under similar delusions of grandeur. The CEO of the Mumble media empire commends “Mark’s  gutsy, honest, & frankly quite entertaining review”. I looked for the review it refers to but couldn’t find it. Just a half-paragraph of vapid cack.

Michaela Plaidface

 

 

James McColl

THREE WEEKS / THE SKINNY

jamesmccollIf all reviewers wrote like James McColl, Fringepig would be out of business. Not that Fringepig IS a business, obviously. Not until someone has the guts to take out an advert with us, anyway.

No, if they all wrote as matter-of-factly as this chap there wouldn’t be much to moan about. “Laurence Clark is a delight to spend an hour with and it’s his charisma that really holds this show together”; “Tony Law’s brilliance lies in his ability to weave together planned and improvised material into a cohesive hour of comedy”; “as a performer, [Jonny] Lennard is confident and collected, happily waiting for the audience to catch up to his trail of thought before delving into something else”. There’s really nothing to take issue with in anything that McColl writes, and probably nothing you haven’t heard before about these acts.

The downside of this (if there is one) is that McColl is not the most captivating writer. He doesn’t so much seize our attention as ease us through the broad strokes of the thing he’s seen. Neither does he provide flash-bang quotes for performers to stick on next year’s paraphernalia; McColl prefers words like ‘collected’ and ‘justified’. He can even make something he’s praising sound a bit dull, talking about Clark “regaling the audience with tale after tale”.

To sum up, McColl is a very boring, unexcitable writer who has no wish to tell us how what he watched affected him personally, and no apparent desire to draw any broader conclusions from it about comedy, society or the world. I just wish we could have him cloned.

Edmund Rumania

 

Tony Makos

THE SKINNY

tonymakosTony Makos approaches reviewing with the right attitude. He opines that Nadia Kamil’s first solo hour “is all over the shop, and barely hangs together in places”, but nonetheless grants her four stars because “it’s clear she’s having nothing less than an amazing time”. Makos puts his analytical skills behind his gut reaction in most of his critiques. It’s something more reviewers should do.

Refreshingly, Makos reacts positively to silly things that a lot of reviewers roll their eyes at. (This reviewer-reviewer is constantly gobsmacked by publications lauding Tony Law’s “glorious silliness” when they’ve derided and dismissed him for precisely that for the previous decade). Makos, though, always reacts positively to something silly. “You’ll leave completely convinced there’s nothing wrong with a grown man wearing a real suit to watch his imaginary football team play in an imaginary FA Cup final,” he says of Tony Jameson’s Football Manager Ruined My Life.

Naturally, Makos is a fan of Gráinne Maguire,  although he observes: “There’s so much squeezed into this show that it almost falls apart more than once”. Makos does seem a bit obsessed with things hanging together, falling apart or otherwise maintaining cohesion, but such a statement is usually a precursor to getting four stars. I could muse over that further but I’m not a psychiatrist.

Makos has a lovely turn of phrase: “It’s almost as if he’s forgotten his own aphorism,” he says of one of his less-admired acts (it makes sense in context).

The only criticism I can really make of Makos is the occasional sentence where his art deserts him and his inner 14-year-old takes over. There’s “This reviewer pretty much lost his shit” while watching Mary Bourke, and – concerning Mark Thomas – the startlingly myopic “Few people can consider the activist-comedian’s political work over the last 20 years to be anything but right”. Talent should not lead to incontinence and, frankly, if the consensus thought Mark Thomas was right he wouldn’t have much to campaign about, would he?

Business Leopard

 

Polly Davidson

THREE WEEKS

pollydavidsonWhen Polly Davidson says that “At least [Tony Law] is definitely funny”, she pays him scant credit. This is the only thing she is certain of in the entire review, and even then she keeps it until the end. His comedy is “all over the place”, she reports, wielding critical insight with all the dextrous grace of an octopus with a toffee hammer.

In most of her comedy reviews Davidson isn’t quite sure what she’s doing there. She po-facedly reports that a show titled The Worst Show On The Fringe, comprising acts with terrible reviews, isn’t quite as brilliant as she would have liked, and reflects that “the title does it no favours”. Davidson does not understand pathos, or bathos, or wry reflections on the art of critique that she so blithely commits herself to. If you were to explain to Davidson that the people in this show were trying to make the best of what people like she herself had said about them, Davidson would probably have screamed in agony as the burning light of Revelation set fire to her eyes and gone running through the Royal Mile like a terrorist at Glasgow Airport. And everyone would have looked at her and tutted.

I’d like to say that theatre reviews are more her forte, as she has done rather more of these, but in truth they appear little better. When she states that “I Guess If the Stage Exploded is like nothing I’ve ever seen before” I could not help but wonder how many other things she had to compare it to. I’m guessing a shared flat in Marchmont, a cot and the inside of a womb.

Business Leopard