2022 Edinburgh Fringe

Bobby Carroll's Diary - Jacob Hawley / Mark Simmons / David Callaghan

Jacob Hawley

Jacob Hawley saunters onto stage in a big white t-shirt, soft cotton shorts and pulled up white athletic socks. If it wasn't for his builder's tan and multiple tats you'd think he has just escaped double PE. There's nothing casual about this born comedian though. Anyone who has listened to his considerate and open minded BBC Sounds documentary series knows, here is a man who explores the alternative opinion. The less established way of thinking.

You can feel the audience draw an audible sharp breath though when working class good kid Jacob Hawley declares he is becoming more right wing as he ages. It is a risky gambit to open a show at an arts festival with. The adept and increasingly fast paced comedian somehow manages to take in fatherhood, foot fetishism, vigilante justice, mental health and the blockbuster movie Grease in this impeccable hour of man-and-mic stand-up.

Hawley has certainly sped up over the last two years of restricted duty from the live stage. You can tell lockdown has felt more like a cage for him than most performers. For an act often thought of as the voice of his generation, he has double to say after being deprived of two Fringes. So he bangs out his material in a manner less cautious than shows past. His new found pace and boldness reminds me of Ian Stone or Adam Bloom back in their Comedy Store late show prime.

He tools around with the unami flavour of right wing leanings in a left wing brain. And you can kinda tell the audience is more used to being spoon-fed their own virtues and values rather than being challenged. Maybe Hawley's ultimate strength is he can openly admit none of his thinking is set in stone, in the long run he will probably find himself a far wider audience than those who work one easy but limited niche.

The first ten minutes saw younger elements of the crowd struggle with getting on board. The turning point was a routine about performing bespoke stand-up during the interval of Grease at a drive-in cinema. Suddenly everyone was on his side, listening to a tale of artistic and financial horror. The laughs build but it will be depressingly familiar to anyone for who the gig economy is a day to day reality.

Mental health is touched on with a pleasingly contrary attitude. No "poor me" here. Hawley, who has done radio documentary series on drugs and the sex industry, has a very pragmatic and nuanced view on the current vogue for men being encouraged to talk about their feelings. One wonders whether he might have another season on this fresh racket up his sleeve. His take is far more sophisticated than just a slogan saying "talk to someone" and after that you are on your own again.

Sounds like a lot of heavy chew (dated high school musicals aside), but Hawley, as ever, is an extremely funny and accessible stand-up. A natural at finding the laugh. Picking away at the ridiculousness of a fucked up situation is very much in his bones. And it is glorious to see a show that starts as a rant and ends in a whisper.

Now for some oneliners...

Mark Simmons

And, with Mark Simmons, every one is a winner, baby. Simmons does his greatest hits. Don't let his gentle, innocent style fool you though as every single wordplay hits the bullseye.

While most gag-meisters tend to relentlessly throw enough shit against the wall to see what sticks, here is an act with the patience and reliability to make every nugget golden. One liners which underplay the punch, he lets each curveball score with zero force or urgency. Often his bemused cadence reminds of Jerry Seinfeld in his live days. Mitch Hedberg in his undercranked charm. The writing here really is that dependable, the material tried and tested over thousands of gigs. His laconic tone and mischievous smile don't need to prop up weaker sections. There are no wobbly fillers. No chaff. No scrubs.

To prove his skill as a creator of jokes he goes into the audience. Improvising or recalling top quality lines inspired by the front row's hobbies, then their last holiday destinations and then their jobs. It is an impressive party piece. Evidence of a relaxed agile mind, and no doubt scores of back-up notebooks where he must have prepared material for any eventuality.

Obviously a one-liner act reciting teaser after teaser would in practice grow a little monotonous. Believe me, I've seen that hour and it ain't fun by the midway point. Simmons, though, deploys gimmicks, to help section out the hour. He has a childhood box of stuff, advice from famous acts and an easel of paintings to fall back on and mix up the format.

I'll confess I've been a fan of Simmons for over a decade now. I can remember when he was standing out in new act competitions and try out spots. This finished article he has become is just marvellous. The evolution is in his delivery and his certainty that he has the comedy gems. And he should have zero doubts in himself. The afternoon I saw Quip Off The Mark on the Free Fringe, he was suffering a bad back and struggled to hold a few props. And yet the audience never stopped laughing. That takes uncanny skill and long earned sea legs.

David Callaghan

Someone just off the mainstream live circuit radar, but of whom I have also become loyal repeat custom for, is David Callaghan. Over the years, he has done shows featuring a homemade planetarium and a projected Choose Your Own Adventure set around the finale of a forgotten Taggart episode that was shot in his childhood home. On exiting any of his ambitious genre breaking hours, it feels like your soul has been given a good clean bathe.

Billed as "an augmented reality comedy theatre show", Everything That's Me Is Falling Apart takes place in a Greenside theatre venue rather than on the main comedy drag. The reason for this I assume is not just to cannibalise a different, more broad minded audience but also to give him workable space and get-in time to set up his lo-fi but ornate device the show centres around.

Below a massive pull down projector screen sits a circle of boxes. Within each crate are unpopulated dioramas. Mini doll house sets of liminal Britain. A rainy street. A karaoke bar. A preserved railway station waiting room. All recreated in miniature. A toy train track surrounds these half dozen worlds. As it trundles from one to the next, a homemade device on the small locomotive's side illuminates and films each interior. On the screen above, animations appear and interact with these fake environs. Callaghan has a low key tale of human misadventures to tell within each.

Are you keeping up? It is a lot to digest written out longform but works on stage unfussily with no explanation. All that effort results in a wonderful backdrop to his heartfelt storytelling. Was I occasionally lost and distracted by one element of all these mechanics? Sure, sure. But you are guaranteed never to be lacking in awe for what he has created.

Poet. Philosopher. Motivational Speaker. Model maker. Animator. Is there any room for comedy, I hear you ask? Callaghan has enough of the old stand-up chops that he still can make a room laugh. Hidden among the intricate world building is a delivery system for accessible observational bits - obsolete donations to charity shops, the challenge of selling tat live on a shopping channel, how second chances are not at all like olives.

But the reason to come is not his latest stunning ramshackle invention or his funny bits. This is a man with true blue storytelling prowess. Callaghan is a whimsical Raymond Carver or a twee Alan Bennett. His tales of missed connections and lost chances are minor miracles. If you are a fan of Josie Long or early Bridget Christie, you'll find much to savour here.

This is a precious hour. I left thinking of Gary Lineker with new sense of ennui. I left feeling like I had seen a quiet revolution.

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