So, we're back then: after the Fringe had a quieter couple of years (don't remember why), Edinburgh has again been overwhelmed by performance art for the whole of August. Disorganised queuing systems funnel people into sweaty rooms where assorted extroverts talk at them for an hour. It's brilliant. All of this really hits home as I'm sat in my fifth show of the Fringe - which just so happens to also be the third to feature a male comedian stripping to his pants - and I reflect: Edinburgh is back and upholding its grand tradition of male comedians getting naked. In so many ways the Fringe hasn't changed at all. Maybe the old saying is, at long last, true. Maybe nature has, finally, entirely, healed.
You can also always rely on there being a few viral stars in town, hoping to persuade people who've enjoyed their 90 second clips to pay to see them perform for an hour. You'll know Troy Hawke from his ace Greeters Guild videos. There's a bit of a greatest hits vibe to the show: themes from his 2019 outing - Scrabble, mocking conspiracy theories - are mixed in with occasional greeter clips, and similar improvised magic is deployed during some exceptional audience-interaction sections. These do make up the high points of the show, but it's all very fun and daft. You can imagine parts might weird-out some of the new fans, but, with tweaking, there's an amazing opportunity here to make a huge live comedy star of a really interesting alternative comedy act. You could imagine a lot of this working on Live At The Apollo.
If you wondering what the running themes are of this year's Fringe, so far, they're pegging and scotch eggs (which was more of an English news story then a Scottish one, but oh well). Slightly surprisingly, Stephen Mulhern is coming up quite a bit. Less surprisingly, comedians are discussing what it's like to perform stand-up comedy on Zoom. Mark Watson has the strongest material on this well-worn subject, and a truncated version of it is in his Fringe show This Can't Be It. This is the same typically excellent show that's freely available on Amazon Prime but, as usual with Watson, the diversions when you see him live are half the fun.
If you are visiting Edinburgh in August, it's essential to see a sketch group. And if you're ever wondering which sketch group to see, you should choose Tarot. A consistently superb Fringe act, their shows are chaotic with amazing punchlines. If the quality this year does dip faintly towards the back end of the show, it's nitpicking. They're a great advert for why live comedy is such an exciting medium.
Also in the 'consistently superb' category, The Delightful Sausage are on their fourth consecutive excellent Fringe show and, as usual, it's a very silly, occasionally dark bit of storytelling. They're justifiably on the brink of stardom.
Elsewhere, Maisie Adam's show largely catches us up on her life since 2019 - she's a great, engaging storyteller and this is her best hour yet; Joz Norris's 2022 offering is very much its own burst of fun, original comic invention; and John-Luke Roberts continues his run of imaginative Fringe shows this year, with a constant stream of rapid-fire surreal comedic ideas.
If you're after late night fun Mat Ewins makes his own hilarious, darkly funny videos. He's frequently outstanding and this is some of his best work. Also late night and also spectacular is Ciarán Dowd: a show that's full of top-notch comic set pieces, it's the final part of a trilogy, but there's no need to have seen the previous shows. Everybody will have a fantastic time.
Lara Ricote is a very exciting newcomer: confident, supremely likable and naturally funny. Back in 2019, Sophie Duker's first hour was great. She's since found a much bigger fanbase due, in part, to her Taskmaster success. After that excellent debut this show maybe drops down a gear, but it's still a very solid storytelling hour.
There's one show so far though that has been inarguably five stars: the audience adores Josh Pugh and it's easy to see why. His lightly-surreal jokes are consistently superb, and never let up throughout a brilliant hour. He's destined for the big leagues.