Bulmers Best of the Edinburgh Fest
Promising the finest up-and-coming wits from comedy’s holy land, Bulmers Best of the Edinburgh Fest is something of a comedic tasting plate. The event offers three funnies for the price of one, allowing you to sample a dollop of the droll, a sliver of slapstick and a nibble of the absurd. And with a pedigree that boasts such big names as Arj Barker, Ross Noble and Stephen K Amos, you’re usually sure to encounter at least one performer who satisfies your comedic cravings. This year’s lineup, however, proves that it can sometimes be more miss than hit.
First up is Londoner Carl Donnelly, whose brand of humour is most akin to that ubiquitous British backpacker who sidles up beside you at a bar and insists that he can make you laugh. And while you may, to your horror, occasionally have to stifle a giggle, it’s hard to restrain from ‘accidentally’ spilling your beer into the crotch of his cargo pants. Unsurprisingly, Donnelly soon heads into “want to ‘ear about vat funny fing me and me mate Paul did when we was pissed down da’ pub?” territory. Cue fart jokes and novelty dancing. But Donnelly saves the pièce de résistance for last, concluding with a “how much would you ‘ave to get paid to suck ano’ver guy’s cock?” routine. He even throws this question out to the presumed-to-be-heterosexual male audience. I only wish I was kidding.
Ironically, Donnelly’s homophobic exit is followed by the flamboyant entrance of Tom Allen, whose material is largely centred upon the fact that he’s gay. Allen’s is a comedy of contrasts, juxtaposing his camper-than-Ray’s-Tent-City persona with his upbringing in London’s rough-and-tumble suburbs. He paints a wonderful portrait of his briefcase-toting teenage self amidst a schoolyard that’s straight out of a Mike Leigh film. Allen’s only shortfall is his constant reiteration of his sexual proclivity, exiting with the line, “I’m just going to go and be gay now”. The outsider status afforded by his sexuality has given him a clarity of vision through which he transforms his everyday experiences into hilarity. It needn't be used as a comedic crutch.
The evening concludes with Seann Walsh, another Brit who aspires to the Ross Noble school of laughs. Unfortunately, his wit does not appear sharp enough to pull off this brand of observational, physical humour. Walsh’s performance traverses Australia vs Britain clichés, an “I’m so lazy that…” bit, and his meandering observations on topics including video games, people watching and falling over. These disparate threads are tied together by weak segues, or more often no segue at all. That said, Walsh has a strong presence and energy that may yet be refined with more experience.
This year’s lineup is more like a sandwich than an epicurean feast – Allen is a tasty filling, but he’s pressed between the slightly stale, white bread humour of Donnelly and Walsh. For the indecisive festival-goer, the night is still worth a look, but some sections are a little hard to swallow.