Magazine article The Spectator

Gags to Go

Magazine article The Spectator

Gags to Go

Article excerpt


Around the corner from Edinburgh's new Harvey Nichols a small crowd watches two men with metal pails on their heads play harmonica in the rain. It's August. It can only be the Fringe. In his orange bucket and velvet robes, Simon Munnery (with his support act Andrew Bailey) might look like a Ned Kelly brainwashed by the Bhagwan Rajneesh, but his one-liners - `If a million monkeys were given a million typewriters, that would be the Internet, surely?' - punch through his 21st-century Dadaist flummery.

A few minutes' walk away at the Assembly Rooms, Jimeoin, an Irishman living in Australia, entertains under the same Fringe umbrella with an assured act that could have come from Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Nothing too local, nothing rude, nothing nasty. He has the audience eating out of his hand. With Fringe tickets hitting the 110 an hour mark at the main venues, it's easy to understand the attraction of such a reliable comedy product. Maybe the same impulse explains the success of the exceptionally good Men in Coats - see page 37.

But surely the Fringe should be about edge? Take risks after 11 September? Former Perrier winner Rich Hall begins by apologising - `I'm American and I'm sorry for everything' - and then tries to demonstrate, often just by quoting a president who's capable of saying, `The number three priority of my campaign is putting education first', what his country is about. Hall and his partner Dave Wilmot are far from slick but their show has moments of cleverness and wit. And they allow for the unexpected. On the night I saw them, Boothby Graffoe, a comedian who like Hall is prepared to teeter hilariously on the edge of failure, dashed on as an uninvited character. Was he a sheikh incompetently turbaned with a cricket sweater? Or Osama bin Laden in the last place anyone would look for him? None of us, including Hall, knew but it worked: we laughed.

Beside this, America's Will Durst, though polished, sounds tired and cynical. Costumed in Kabul, Kit and the Widow naughtily bill themselves as al Qa'eda's answer to Dame Vera Lynn and are as effervescent and topical as always. Ben Willbond, of last year's faux French rappers Priorite A Gauche, makes a bid for the 6.30 p.m. Radio Four 'comedy' slot with his very funny play Spooks, featuring singing suicide bombers, and deserves to succeed. Sequinned cowgirl drag act Tina C's excellent country music response to 11 September has fun at the expense of American absurdities such as `patriotic bathroom stationery' patterned with the stars and stripes.

This year's big surprise has been the metamorphosis of Omid Djalili. …

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