It is far too early to tell whether this was the ‘Best of Edinburgh’, but it was darn good! I think you have two options with the showcases; either hold back and try and find one genuinely curated by some powerhouse to bring high-flyers together or get in early.
If you take the first option, good luck to you. I went for the second, picked one based on the venue, the Pleasance Courtyard, and took the plunge, using that as an indicator of prowess and probability.
In this case, it worked! I came up trumps, and I knew it within moments of host Sian Davies walking onto the stage and starting their warm-up for the showcase.
In Sian, we have a decent human, clearly oozing empathy and brimming with intelligence, and I felt in safe hands. I’d go see Sian’s show.
As the first act of the Best of Edinburgh Showcase Show line-up, I thought Ali Woods might struggle to follow Sian Davies. A few minutes into his routine, we both relaxed, he found his stride, and I realised he was his own thing.
Ali offers light and observational comedy with jokes about going on holiday and girlfriends. These gags come only slightly at the expense of his girlfriend and rather more at the expense of our weird holiday rites. It works, and the tall Londoner is now cracking jokes full-time.
However, Ali Woods also jokes about life in the UK versus life pretty much everywhere else. It’s a generalisation, of course, but it made me think.
Let’s update” light and observational” comedy to “apparently light and observational”. I’ll cite the joke made about admin buildings and oppression as evidence. Ali once had an office job in a different life, and I suspect it was one with a promising career ladder.
I probably would go to see Ali’s show.
Paul F. Taylor
I wish I had seen Paul F. Taylor during his handlebar moustache phase. Paul is an ambush comedian. That’s to say, I didn’t see it coming-hidden punchlines and links.
In fact, I think Paul expertly manages expectations while keeping his audience engaged with quirky, fun and brief sketches. Then, Paul ramps things up a bit more: we’re still being whimsical and cleverly concise, but the smarts are showing through, and we’re tying on a bit more of the emotional range.
Boom. Before we (or before I did, at least) know it, it’s belly laughs and the “that was clever” thoughts.
Belly laughs but a risk because I thought Paul and I might not gel in humour at the start of his gig, but he might well have got the best laughs from me by the end, and thus I’m not sure whether the beginning or end of the short routine is representative of the show.
I probably wouldn’t see the first half of Paul’s show, and I’d definitely see the second half of Paul’s show.
Rosie Holt stepped through the curtains in a blue trouser suit, looking prim and proper. I immediately thought about how tough it is to be a woman on the comedy circuit.
A moment of empathy? That’s when Holt introduced herself as a Tory MP. Should there have been a trigger warning? Holt stayed in character all the time.
MP Rosie Holt loves nurses and has a working-class gran. She had feelings, too, once, anyway.
I laughed, but should I have? Some of these jokes, rooted in reality, might best be filed as “You have to laugh because what else can you do?”
I’ve seen sensible debates about the dangers of parody as it might help normalise what should not be normal. On the other hand, I felt the Rosie Holt character made some clever and sometimes complex points clearly and well. Sometimes humour is precisely the technique you need for a message to sneak past your defences and sink in.
I suspect this parody act gets better and more horrible the longer it lasts. Rosie may have had the most challenging time producing a condensed version of her show.
Would I offer myself up for a more prolonged exposure with an MP? A parody MP. I’m not sure, but I am glad I now tell friends I saw one at the Fringe Festival in 2023.
Darren began his gig by peering through the curtains, weird beard and all, even as Sian introduced him. That unusually styled face was a quirky start, followed by a towering body that loomed out from backstage like a bouncer coming over to check that your drunk friend wasn’t too drunk.
Darren Harriott was a bouncer, but today he was my favourite of all the Best of Edinburgh Showcase Show comedians. That’s a tough trophy to lift.
Why did Darren resonate with me so much? He’s funny and fascinating. Darren, from the Black Country, has led an interesting life that’s unlike mine, with lessons for us to learn. Not that Darren preaches; he recounts his experiences with wit and humility.
The world would be a better place with more Darrens; perhaps that’s his ultimate technique.
Would I go see Darren’s show? You betcha.
Buying my Best of Edinburgh Showcase Show tickets was a gamble and paid off. I recommend it, but sadly, you can’t know you’ll get the same excellent lineup as I did.
Should you take the risk? I think you should.