Designer jackets. Gold chains. Holiday burns. The from-just-outside-of-town couple is in town, "just for one day". They take up a whole Pleasance Courtyard picnic table, flicking through the brochure hoping to find something they've heard of. Promo teams try to flyer them. But they are here, "just for one day".
Now here's a turn of events, they've heard of Tim Vine. They keep powering through the pages though, hoping for someone even more famous than Tim Vine. Michael McIntyre? Eddie Izzard? Bruce Forsyth? They reach the end of the page count. Tim Vine it is! They are at the Fringe after all. Take a gamble on your just one day. The man stomps off, unhappy someone hasn't brought him a ticket on a silver platter now they've completed the arduous task of deciding what to do with their "just one day".
Left alone, vulnerable, the hovering flyerers try to pimp their shows to the wife again. She bats them away dismissively. "We are going to see Tim Vine." Quickly backed up by, "We are only here for just one day."
Her husband stomps back, snatches the corporate brochure from her. "TIM VINE IS SOLD OUT!" he barks. He glares at the listing for Tim Vine. Wondering why the catalogue, which was no doubt finalised for print sometime around May, did not bother to keep him up to date.
They work through the brochure again. They go about this in a fuming silence, interrupted only by the occasional flyer pusher who has not read the atmosphere at the picnic table. "Can you just give us a minute... we are here just for one day," they snap together, in perfect unison.
As I queue up for Will Duggan nearby they give up on the bright yellow advertising booklet. A sun reddened finger casually strokes the sold out pun master's printed face as it lays abandoned on the slats. As I descend into the Cellar room, the last thing I hear them say, about the only act they recognise at the entire Pleasance multi-offering, is, "How can Tim Vine be sold out?"
Would this unprepared couple have enjoyed Will Duggan? If their hearts and minds were a bit more open... then maybe... sure... But I wouldn't want to inflict them on him.
He talks gently but fast about relatable things. Though he speaks only a few settings higher than a whisper he rarely pauses for breath or a laugh. His style of comedy is like the calm lap of the ocean on a sunny day, polishing his audience like a pebble on the beach over his allotted time.
For the first twenty minutes I found it amusing but not forced. His topics are the everyday; nicknames, service stations, who is most likely to kill him. His takes are longform. Not exactly spiky but, at the very least, permanently ruffled. You get the feeling that over a decade on the circuit has built up in him a healthy suppression. His is now a quiet anger, a calm rage. He knows no-one has come to see him lose his shit over whatever irks him. Your appreciation of him builds and tips, the next half hour is ambrosia.
A near constant lullaby of monologue. A lovely combination of words when spoken out loud. There were definitely times when he could have added a bit of punctuation to a definite punchline. Given the laugh just a little extra moment to grow. Yet, in general, this is crowd pleasing stuff, that is, assuming most of the nodding heads in the room are on his comedy wavelength. And we are at the Fringe, so we should be.
Duggan has the vibe of a person who all of us (aside from Karen) like, in the workplace. He cracks on with the job, brings zero office drama, dodges the Christmas night out. But if you can get him in a one-on-one in the canteen or on the bus home he proves warm and funny. Likeable, great company, overly self-deprecating. He makes a joke about how he finds all body types potentially beautiful only to then undermine his own look for yucks. I saw a man before me with lovely arms, great taste in shirts and an immaculate beard. OK... so not exactly a poster quote there, I know, I know...
So back to the initial question? Would the indecisive couple outside have enjoyed Duggan? I'm still not sure. He is a pro act, well thought of on the circuit, he makes his living in a far harsher environment than an arts festival. Iceberg might be more for him than his paymasters. And if you only have, "just one day" to watch your comedy and are unwilling to venture away from the TV names, my instincts are you might need something a bit blunter and punchier.
Enter Liam Withnail... whose latest show, Hot Sauce, feels very much like an extended headliner set at a Friday night comedy club. Performing stand up at a drive-in / Deliveroo / grim marathon after effects / porn adverts / the fleshlight / rectal exam. It isn't exactly the most ground-breaking set list. His takes are personal but predictable. And I don't think Withnail would massively disagree with that assessment. He states on stage all the worthier themes he has tackled in previous years. "And The Guardian never came."
The club crowd has, though. And they love his shtick. If I were a booker watching, I'd fill his weekend diary based on this before he could hang up his mic in the stand. He is assured, capable and always searching for the next big laugh. His speaking style reminded me of Bobcat Goldthwait, his rhythm of Steve Hughes or Jeff Innocent. Hot Sauce may not win any awards but it made me know who to look out for when I wanna buy a ticket for a great night out on the Scottish circuit.
Jake Farrell's Sky is a debut show of note. The Stevenage working class boy has a present writing style - this mixture of biography and flights of fantasy would land in both arts centres and rooms above a pub.
You worry about newer acts making their big Fringe arrival this particular summer. They've lost 18 months without the circuit. A lot of their grand plans have been put on hold, their development time stunted. Yet Farrell is an act full of unbridled promise.
His show is ostentatiously well structured, though some of the links are rickety to the keener eye. His bits are varied but all feel authentic to his voice. How conscription would work with his generation wins the room around early. The horror of home delivered McDonald's actually feels like risky room splitting material post-Covid yet he plays his room with swagger. His sympathy for posh Rugger lads at uni cascades into laughs perfectly. He humanises a rescue dog with a wonderful extended allegory I shan't ruin here.
There's the occasional clunk of a concept that seemingly goes nowhere. These never outstay their welcome and nearly all hit later as deft callbacks at the closedown of the show. This is definitely a statement of intent debut from a performer who has studied the mechanics of a flashy Fringe hour. And all his gambits pay dividends by the end.
It might sound heavily scripted, but Farrell is constantly in the room. Two big stretches see him bounce off us daringly. He repeats a loaded phrase ad nauseam, right into certain punters' faces, and manages to somehow keep that plate spinning joyfully. Sky later shuts down on a sweetly unifying moment that I was surprised everyone in on my night embraced wholeheartedly. When he does move off script it always feels worthwhile. And this is probably the only comedian to reference Phil "The Power" Taylor and Marxist novel Sister Carrie in the same hour. Catch him while you can.