Time to take stock then at the traditional interval of the Fringe season, and it seems like we've never been away: all the familiar sights, smells, defaced posters, cycle-danger, desperate dashes, flyer-avoiding, front row-swerving and exhausted mid-afternoon why-am-I-even-here existential dramas, back in full effect after a few years off. The sun is a bit weird though.
This is the point where the buzz around exciting new acts intensifies, although some established performers prefer their murky corners. Take Consignia, surging through the witching hour at Banshee Labyrinth with a purposefully ramshackle 90-odd minutes that tackles the enduring global class struggle via a poignant tale of intergalactic rich-people's muck-clearers, plus epic props. It's an absolute shitshow in all the best ways.
And on the other end of the supergroup spectrum there's Sheeps, back at the Fringe in the big Pleasance Forth for a long-awaited reunion, like Take That's big comeback if Robbie and Gary didn't turn up. I must admit it's been so long since I've seen Sheeps that I can't remember if any of these sketches are indeed classic oldies or newly-written retro stuff that fits with their still-arguing narrative. Either way, it's good to see the fall-out boys in fine fettle.
Attendances seem pretty healthy, after initial pre-Fringe worries (everyone buys tickets later, post-Covid), although I've also spotted acts like Harriet Dyer and Mark Grimshaw tweeting that good responses don't necessarily translate to good numbers. Still, Jake Farrell makes the best of it on a quiet Sunday. His well-crafted show Sky is about moving back to the wilds of Stevenage - where I began this Edinburgh trip, incidentally - and an engaging, inclusive hour ends on a question: "It's a good show isn't it?" He's not wrong.
It is interesting what does put bums on seats these days; YouTubers, for example. Waiting for a show in Bristo Square I watch a long queue form, which turns out to be for debutant Max Fosh, after his show, just for photos.
I was lining up for another debutant, meanwhile. Eme Essien's Flat Shoes in the Club is a lovely change of pace if you've a long day of stand-up elsewhere, and it's refreshing to see a different audience demographic for a change too. Despite the funky poster this is a pleasingly thoughtful theatrical piece about a young woman fending off outside expectations while trying to prep for a night out.
It also has the best soundtrack I've heard at the Fringe so far, even a slab of classic So Solid Crew, which takes me back (I played football with So Solid for a feature back in the noughties. Quite an afternoon that was. Anyway, moving on...)
Back to the weirdness and Luke Rollason is one of this year's breakout loony geniuses, fresh from a newsworthy stint at the Brighton Fringe: Bowerbird is a gloriously idea-packed tour de farce (Pow! Even the old reviewer clichés are making comebacks) and it's nice to see him in the limelight, having spotted his distinctive hair in the front row of so many other weird comics' shows, in the recent past.
Speaking of Weirdos, it's been a treat to see Joz Norris evolve, from a slapstick amoeba to a full-length homo-erectus who still enjoys getting down to the pants and teasing a tantalising bollock.
Blink is Norris fully embracing his new dark side, as a maniacal comic-turned-magician who'll do anything for an extra star; with help from extra star Ben Target. True, I was seated in a whole similar-looking row who appeared to have come directly from the Tattoo, smelt faintly of tuna and presumably thought this would be a regular magic show, but even they got on board eventually.
Taking his stuff in an even deeper direction (after dipping a big toe in with 2019's alcohol/garbage drama Bin Wondering), Ali Brice's I Tried to Be Funny But You Weren't Looking tackles the heaviest of subjects but all wrapped up in a lovely blanket of tomfoolery. Or Alifoolery; it really is a distinctive schtick Brice wields, and this show has the loveliest ending I've seen for years. And not just the last two years, obviously.
Also a good bet if you could use a change of pace: Rob Auton is famed for his almost Brian Cox-like unhurriedness, although he leaps into action during the show I attend, spotting a pad-wielding punter in the front row. Turns out Ben the student is drawing him - which makes you wonder if he's been drawing everyone he's seen? Do let us know, Ben, we'd love to see the other studies.
Other shows, and two from the Stamptown stable: Emily Wilson's true tale of being a teenage US X Factor contestant is absolutely bloody incredible. God knows how she'll follow it up but this one is a remarkable must-see. And clown king and surprisingly adept admin guru Zach Zucker is on brilliant form with his Jack Tucker follow-up, Spectacular Industry Showcase - as are his secret-weapon music and tech team. Separate Edinburgh awards for the tech guys? It's a thought.
And now for Best Miming at the 2022 Fringe: Frankie Thompson magnificently lip-synching to a bizarre host of audio stuff in the terrifically unhinged comedy-dance show Catts. And - even more surprisingly - Jack Docherty miming to Kanye West in his love-letter to the Fringe, Nothing But.
The latter show is a beautifully written piece of comic theatre from the Absolutely local legend, also featuring a timely mention of Hibernian FC's Scottish Cup victory over Rangers in 2016, a few days before the sides meet at Easter Road. Nice. Although even funnier is the spectacle I catch while awaiting that show in a Fringe venue pub: Cristiano Ronaldo's face after Manchester United lose 4-0 to Brentford, and the requisite gloomy-fans shots. Absolute gold. Five stars.
The worst audience member so far? You'd think the sweary drunk in Amy Gledhill's show would take some beating, however well Gledhill fended him off. Arguably even worse though (being seemingly sober) was the woman in Essen's front row on Saturday who ignored an interval-like bit where the comic was offstage, waited for her to come back on, then decided to walk straight across the front of the stage to walk out. But that wasn't enough: she then walked round, came back in via the back door, and dragged her friend out.
Honestly, the Fringe should take a leaf out of football's book and give them a ten-year ban from all venues. And no refunds.