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The Fringe 2009

The Fringe, which is a fringe festival originally created around the Edinburgh International Festival (which is rather more posh/high brow/full of itself), but which has completely outgrown its older sibling, and is now (according to the all-encompassing knowledge of Wikipedia, anyway) the world's largest arts' festival, (and I realise this sentence had altogether too many sub-clauses) has begun!

I know this, in part because the Edinburgh Tattoo (which is part of the Edinburgh International Festival bit) means F-somethingorothers are flying over my flat, and various fireworks display explode in the same location. And, of course, I know this because the town is full. There is nowhere to run. Or walk. Mostly you will just be stuck behind some idiot who thinks sheep dolls or recreations of the Loch Ness monster with a tartan hat are much too fascinating to leave any brain power for moving out of the way for a student hunting for a bottle of milk in the corner shop.

It started on the 7th (the Fringe, not the invasion of idiot tourists). So why is it I don't write about it till today? The truth is, I have been hiding in my room, sticking fingers in my ear, turning the volume of iTunes up and pretending the world is a nice place without quite so many people. But today I finally ventured out of my flat and faced the world of stand-up comedy that is the Free Fringe.

I wrote an article about this concept last year, and my first meeting with it this year was a mixed blessing. I brought along a notepad, as you do if you intend to write anything sensible about your experience, (especially if your mind makes goldfish point and laugh), but that proved to be a mistake. Last year I brought it to every gig I went to see. No problem.

This year, I lent it to Tim while we were waiting for the show (at the Dragonfly) to start. Then the compère came on, noticed the pad (it was a small room), and insisted Tim leave because they did not want any dirty reviewers there. I answered that the pad was mine, but the moron was on a roll and said the show would not start until Tim left. My thoughts at the time may be shortly summarised as "what the fuck", and I believe the room was in general harmony. After having ensured proper tension and preventing any hope of a laugh for a while, the compère then retracted everything, presenting the whole thing as a joke. If it were, it went on for much too long; if it weren't, what was his problem? Surely you want your shows to be covered? Publicity is good. The only thing you get by opposing note-taking is an inaccurate review, which does nobody much good.

Of course, an inaccurate review seems to be what the first guy was counting on. The compère's protests may have been sensible in view of what followed. We were supposed to see "45 Minutes to Save the World", but for some reason that never happened. Instead we were treated to a selection of 15-minute sections from other shows. The first of these was by far the worst. His humour was on the "penis!" variety.

There are levels to stand-up comedy. I have studied it for some time now, and the pattern is easily discernible.

At the lower end of the spectrum, there are the
"penis!" "wank!" and "something up my arse" jokes. They rely solely on the crossing of taboo lines and are really never funny more than once in a series. It is basically on the level of saying "fuck" and "cunt" simply because your mother told you not to.

Following this, slightly above it, but also trite and rather sad are the class jokes that are everywhere in Britain.

Above this level we find puns. They are not in themselves inherently funny, but the bravery and necessary ironic distance that they entail these days (mostly) provides a certain amount of kudos.

And then, bathed in glorious shining light, there is Good Standup Comedy. This, like all good things, is hard to describe, but I feel one can safely rely on good old Shklovsky in this instance and say that it lets you see things anew. It conjures up an image that denaturalises what you have seen too many times. And that makes you laugh.

It is safe to say my first experience of this year's Fringe was not of the latter variety. Unfortunately I cannot give you his name (because the compère discouraged note-taking). He had dark hair and a picture of Ernie from Sesame Street, though, and he claimed it looked like him. I am not inclined to disagree. He also made fun of the thing my face does when I am highly skeptical and/or disgusted. I cannot control it, and it happened rather a lot. He seemed not to realise that it was because he was shit, though. Maybe it will come to him late one night.

He was followed by better acts (to be fair, anything else would be hard to do -- although it must be said that he never quite reached the abysmal lows of certain acts last year (but the Fringe is still young)), but I do not have their names.

The exception, as the high point of the evening -- at least as I see it, was Jez Scharf (at least I think that was his name, as I have mentioned the idiot compère discouraged note-taking). If you plan on visiting the Fringe, he can be seen at The White Horse (Venue 296) at 12.30 to 13.30 every day -- something called Cool Fun. There was a bow tie involved. And a guitar. And that is all I am saying on the subject.

I am not going to get into more detail. I would say, however, that it is not yet too late. There is still time to get to Edinburgh. I will keep telling you that the Fringe is good. At least sometimes. It is certainly ... colourful. And Edinburgh is a nice place. Come one, come all: you certainly won't be the only ones here.


Mary,  09.08.09 16:13

I am rather disappointed that I am arriving in Edinburgh too late for the Fringe; it seems like it could be fun. Although I don't suppose I would enjoy the crowds. At all. There is always next year, I suppose.

Also: I completely agree with you re the different levels of stand-up comedy. The good kind is all too rare. It is very disappointing.

Camilla,  09.08.09 16:18

But you are not arriving too late. It is a week later this year than it was last year, so you are catching the final bit of it. It doesn't end until the 30th.

Tor,  09.08.09 19:46

I think I will take your advice and come to Edinburgh. Next Sunday, or so. And maybe we can go see this Jez Scharf. But I don't like sitting in crowded rooms listening to people who think they're funny when they're not, so maybe we can try to avoid those?

Camilla,  09.08.09 19:47

Good luck with that plan. I think the best way of avoiding that would be to pay for our entertainment, and even that is not a guarantee of any kind. We could of course start stalking Dylan Moran. It is quite shocking that he does not have a Fringe show.

Tor,  09.08.09 19:51

Actually, I think I am quite willing to pay if that increases the probability of actual funniness.

Camilla,  09.08.09 19:55

Well, the Cool Fun one is free. Or "free" -- they do expect you to drop something in their bucket.

Tim,  10.08.09 18:38

The second guy was called Toby Brown, IIRC. I think he was the best out of the three. And I didn't get the name of the girl who was performing as I left, but in the first few minutes of her show she made me laugh more than I had at all of the other people. She was the only reason I put any money in the bucket on my way out.

Camilla,  11.08.09 00:10

Was she in the "two slang words for genitals save the world" group? She was fairly good. But not excellent.

Tim,  11.08.09 09:43

Yes, that was her. "Pecker and Foof Save the World". Apparently the world needing a lot of saving that night, but didn't seem to get it.