It’s not a huge event on the American comedy calendar, but every August, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe plays host to hundreds of comedians from around the world. In 1981, the first winners of the Edinburgh Comedy Award were the Cambridge Footlights, a group that included Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Other winners have included Steve Coogan and Demetri Martin; Best Newcomer Awards have gone to Arj Barker and the Mighty Boosh.
The program for this year’s festival, which will feature more than 900 comedy shows, was released last week. While there are a few familiar American faces, including Todd Barry, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho, and Hannibel Buress, the program is mostly stuffed with foreign comedians unlikely be known in the US. The festival doesn’t require an invitation, anyone with an idea and bit of money can put on a show.
Have you got the entire month of August to swan about Scotland, seeing comedy shows? Call me, let’s be friends. Also, here are a few shows that are definitely worth checking out that you might not be familiar with.
Since winning Edinburgh Comedy Award for his poetry/comedy show “The Slutcracker” in 2009, Tim Key has taken a somewhat abnormal route back to Edinburgh. In the last two years, he recorded a poetry album on a boat, initially released only on vinyl, then starred in a Kafka play on the West End, before signing on as Sidekick Simon in Steve Coogan’s latest Alan Partdige incarnation, Mid Morning Matters. His new show, “Masterslut,” is being introduced at the Fringe, and it’s bound to be bizarre, unsettling, and brilliant, although the poster might just give you nightmares.
Comedy in the Dark
This eco-friendly series of shows at Edinburgh features different Fringe comics performing an hour of material in pitch black. The energy saving gimmick promises a thoroughly unique hour of stand-up, and a challenge for every comic who appears. This is a returning favorite at the Fringe, and bound to attract to good selection of comedians.
(No video clip, for obvious light-based reasons.)
Stewart Lee has achieved the status of legendary comedian in the UK, where he’s both adored and despised. While is Edinburgh show is billed as a work in progress, you won’t be disappointed. In true Lee style, his program blurb features only four negative comments that refer to him as a “smug, self-righteous, unfunny prick” and an “embarrassing old man.” Who could pass that up?
Late and Live
The legendarily harsh late night show celebrates it’s 25th year at the Fringe. A room that’s known for eating comics alive, it’s good place to end up after another show or two, if you don’t mind a group of drunk Brits doing their best to derail every comedian on stage.
A truly oddball comic, whose one-liners are less pithy puns and more nonsensical short ramblings. Don’t be put off by the mad scientist hair and hawaiian shirts, he’s got an incredible catalog of solid jokes, and is well on his way to fame in the UK.
Since winning the Best Newcomer Award in 2006, Josie Long has established a a small but growing cult following for her whimsical but earnest style. She has recently begun a charity to help students pay for university debts, but her new show, “The Future is Another Place” promisees to be “silly, friendly, ramshackle, impassioned.”
The Horne Section
This variety show has a fun, silly Vaudeville feel to it, and features different comedians from around the festival every night. The show, hosted by comedian Alex Horne, features a five piece jazz band that plays underneath the featured comic, scoring the music to match the mood and tone of the comedian’s set. There are also interactive audience games, powerpoint presentations, and possibly a magic trick or too. It’s not an easy show to describe, but it’s definitely one worth watching.
The Boy with Tape on His Face
The title pretty much says it all. Kiwi comic Sam Wills does his entire set with a piece of tape over his mouth, expressing himself using only his wide eyes and expressive body language. Whether there are actual jokes in his set is up for debate, but the show is wall-to-wall laughs. Audience interaction is a key to the show, but he’s not going to ask you what you do or make fun of you — after all, he can’t say a word. Instead, he might wave you onto the stage as the audience cheers wildly, and then ask you to don a silly costume or play a little game. Don’t be scared, just go.
A few more:
Russell Kane — Last year’s Edinburgh Comedy Award winner returns with a new “Manscaping.” Kane’s bouncy energy has made him a rising star on the British comedy scene, and his show is sure to be a hit at the festival.
Roisin Conaty — Winner of the Best Newcomer Award in 2009, Conaty returns to Edinburgh with the awesomely titled “Destiny’s Dickhead.”
Isy Suttie — Fans of the great British sitcom Peep Show will recognize as Sutty as the dorky love interest Dobby. Her show, “Pearl and Dave,” is billed as “multi-character tale of internet romance”.
Marcel Lucont Etc.: A Chat Show — The French alter ego of British comic Alexis Dubus will be interviewing guests in his nightly talk show, almost certainly while downing red wine and leering at every girl in room.
Andy Zaltzman — Best known for the podcast “The Bugle” alongside The Daily Show’s John Oliver, Zaltman’s “Armchair Revolutionary” has him thinking about his own place in the world.
Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist and comedy nerd. She gets unreasonably excited when she gets a mention on Twitter.