Don’t believe the hype: feminist comedy never went away, and the alternative scene is as vibrant as ever, writes Kate Copstick
MORE than ever this Fringe I have noticed that, to get the most out of the month, to go home with a little bundle of buzz in your memory, it is necessary to take your own path through the mayhem and not simply to follow the publicity trail.
The best coffee I have drunk in Edinburgh has not come from any of the chichi “specialist” barista bars but from a little café in West Nicolson Street opposite The Counting House. My favourite cocktail is to be found on PBH’s Free Fringe at the Cabaret Voltaire (the White Mexican – addictive), not a posh cocktail bar, and the same goes for shows.
This year there has been much talk about “feminist comedy” coming back to the Fringe. And it is here. It never went away. Fans of Susan Calman must be wondering what she is supposed to have been doing over the past few years.
Fringe regular Mary Bourke has never been anything other than a Muffragette. She eschews the Dworkinite approach, has loads of jokes and a Michael Winner who pops up spookily to remonstrate if Mary gets too humourless and preachy. Which she doesn’t. It is a lovely show – warm and honest, funny and punchy. She trolls the trolls and knows about Renaissance Art. She even made me sorry for Cameron Diaz.
While you can queue in the hope of getting to see the ubiquitously publicised, much tweeted about, new wave, middle-class girls chatting about the unfairness of it all, if you really want to see strong women kicking comedy ass to serious effect you should get yourself along to see Adrienne Truscott, whose show Asking For It is without a shadow of a doubt the most powerful piece of satire I have seen in a long, long time. It tackles the currently hot topic of rape and rape comedy for which it has been, as Adrienne points out, “a big year”. She is fearless, funny and quite fabulous.
Elsewhere, Hannah Gadsby has done a beautiful, brave and bloody funny show this year, the kind of show that makes you glad to be a woman. Lynn Ruth Miller, winner, at 80 years old, of the Time Out and Soho Theatre Cabaret Award is a lesson to all girls who would rather whine about “undercurrents of misogyny” than just get up and be great. Granny’s Gone Wild at C Nova is, if you are very lucky, your future.
At the John Fleming Comedy Blog Chat Show someone asked “do you have to be middle-class to get on in comedy these days?” and a silence fell as we all considered what might be an awful truth. I have, over this month, seen some gloriously off-the-wall comedy. Truly “alternative” stuff. The Free Fringe abounds with creative craziness. The Malcolm Hardee Award-winning Bob Blackman Appreciation Society is the apotheosis of “alternative”; Richard Gadd is taking comedy to places where only the footsteps of Kim Noble mark the ground; Rob Auton walks again his risky poetic path between beauty, absurdity and the abyss; Lewis Schaffer, a brilliant and powerful comic who makes self-loathing into an art form, is still free because he is still not famous; and Bob Slayer has created a whole new form of late night show at Bob’s Bookshop by not simply thinking outside the comedy box, but throwing it away.
He himself has grown into a lovely comic and, in his own show, a really great raconteur. Of course he is still Bob Slayer and, by special request of some of the audience, finished the show I saw with a performance of The Hamburger (as created by Puppetry of the Penis).
Young acts who want to take their comedy “off piste” have a place to grow here on the Free Fringe. I really enjoyed the sweetly dysfunctional relationship between Ellis & Rose in their main show. Sometimes a sense of an impending psychotic break can add a comedy frisson to an hour. Here on the Free Fringe is where you make memories. I imagine the sweet mum and her three lovely little daughters who sat in the front row of Mr Methane’s show will never forget the experience of being covered in talc as he burst a giant balloon with a farted dart. Those who spend five minutes banging themselves over the head with tin trays in memory of Bob Blackman will always remember.
A girl next to me in Lewis Schaffer’s show asked me, as we moved through to the bar and Lewis bought his whole audience a drink, if this always happens on the Fringe. Sadly, no.
There is a show which calls itself the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society. I went, but had to leave at the first interval as I was overcome by the miasma of middle-class smugness that rose every time the audience cried “A failure, a noble failure!” in response to another five minutes of “ironic” material. FYI people, and to quote Mark Twain, reports of the death of alternative comedy have been greatly exaggerated. You just don’t get the designer label where it lives.
People are really talking about comedy this year. Online and on stage. And that is good. It is particularly good in Stuart Goldsmith’s Comedian’s Comedian where, for an hour each day, Stu interrogates a well-known comic. I saw him talk to Tim Vine and, frankly, could have stayed there all afternoon listening to them talk. Goldsmith is a marvellous, well informed interviewer and Vine was utterly fascinating: genuine, modest and obviously unused to analysing himself.
There are many chat shows, discussion panels and interview shows around, it seems, and this can only be good for comedy – whether the girls are raging about rape jokes or the boys are bemoaning the tyranny of the TV panel game. After all, as one very funny man put it “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about. And that is not being talked about.”
Originally published in Scotland on Sunday