For those that have got a stomach for it, a rare but strangely recommendable experience is finding yourself in an audience of just one or two people for a Fringe show. Maybe it's 1:30pm on a Wednesday. Maybe the performance space is a terrible room in a worse location. More often than not, the show you get will be below average. Sometimes so far below average that you're actually looking forward to telling friends about it afterwards. One time, a show started with the performer stripping to a flimsy dress and dancing whilst he sang Wuthering Heights, maintaining eye contact with me throughout. I can confirm it sadly wasn't a five-star highlight of that Fringe. Pleasingly memorable, though.
Sometimes, however, you find actual magic. Two such occasions for me were Sunil Patel in 2016 and Paul Williams the following year. Having both gained decent fanbases since, I was keen to check back and see how they were getting on.
Sunil Patel's potential was pretty obvious in 2016 - he already had an assured, well-crafted hour in him. This year his show occasionally feels underwritten, but large sections are great, such as when he's recounting his various phone app ideas, or telling the story of when he was 21 and he and his friends were given their own pub to run.
In 2017, Paul Williams dazzled with a skittish show clearly aiming to 'show his range' - with film, dancing, singing and audience participation elements all sitting alongside actual joke-telling. He's since found cult fame in the 'Little Alex Horne' role on the (excellent) New Zealand version of Taskmaster, and as a result, this year appears to be selling out his 60-seater venue every day. Maybe don't expect a never-ending stream of jokes from his 2022 hour - Williams is happy to occasionally drop punchlines entirely in order to perform straightforwardly sentimental songs - but these sections do add to, rather than subtract, from the show. Elsewhere, plenty of the humour here genuinely delights.
Seemingly having no issue filling his 285-seater room, Ivo Graham continues to get better as he gets older and accumulates some surprising new life experiences. The stories here are routinely excellent, and Graham remains able to respond to just about any moment with a linguistically wonderful turn of phrase. It's also worth noting the fact that, whilst an earlier edition of this column claimed Mark Watson has the best of the many Zoom-gig stories at the Fringe, unfortunately Ivo trumps it here with his tale of being booked to play an online comedy night at St. Andrews University Fresher's Week.
"I'm ADHD LGBT, so I identify as an eye exam" - Larry Dean, meanwhile, has another strong, well-structured show this year. His gift for impersonation is as strong as ever, too.
Eryn Tett divides a room and appears to take pleasure in toying with those not enjoying themselves. With a comic persona that remains distanced from proceedings, only in one central section of the show do her off-kilter observations and surreal ideas falter a little. Otherwise they tend to be brilliant.
Quite early in her show, Erika Ehler starts to hint at having had maybe a more difficult upbringing than average. She then cuts herself off however: "it's not one of those shows. God, I'm not British. Sorry if you're British, but I don't respect your art". It earns her a big laugh. She appears to be successfully finding the right audience for her dark brand of humour.
If not hitting the heights of his previous couple of Fringe hours, Rob Auton proves himself ever-reliable, with typically thoughtful (and funny!) musings on the nature of people gathering together.
On the strength of this year's 35-minute introduction, Paddy Young is one to watch for the future.
Finally, Kiri Pritchard-McLean mixes social politics with more knockabout material dispensing dating tips and sex stories. It's occasionally comedy as edutainment - Kiri clearly has a deep passion for the more serious topics she brings to her stand-up - but it still works as a show - the straightforwardly comic sections successfully balancing the hour. The previous entry in this diary series also discussed concerns about how it's becoming harder for working class/lower-income performers to bring shows to the Fringe. Good on Pritchard-McLean, then, for collecting money at the end of her show to fund support for future working-class representation at the Fringe. It's probably an issue that needs systematic change - but, in the meantime - this is an encouraging step.