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2023 Edinburgh Fringe

Monkey Barrel All Dayer - Bobby Carroll's Fringe Diary

Monkey Barrel 2

August 6th, 10:57am

So... I'm about to begin my full day at Monkey Barrel Comedy for British Comedy Guide. I'm going to see all 9 shows in Monkey Barrel 2 to test the oft quoted Edinburgh Fringe theory that "you can spend a whole day in the same room in Monkey Barrel and see nothing but bangers"... I'm wearing clean pants, have had a Matey bath and the cat has licked my bald spot. So I smell pretty fresh. Plenty of snacks to keep me going but looking forward to buying a burrito later at the venue and hopefully will risk a pint during the last few shows.

11:29am

Monkey Barrel 2 line-up 2023

Liam Withnail drops me a tweet reminding me lots of comedians follow me and some don't like to know reviewers are in. It is an absolutely valid point... ultimately by observing something you create a new variable and I certainly don't do all THIS to add any undue pressure onto the artists.

Thinking about it further... I wouldn't define myself as a reviewer... though it is a fine line. More of a writer about comedy, if the distinction isn't overtly pretentious? Like a sportswriter, I care about how the match went, the technique, the intents, the victories, the environment, the crowd and the psychology. I'm truly trying my best to write about the craft beyond an "I rate this" and "I didn't like that", even though I am keen to praise.

The main point of these diaries is to share my enthusiasm; elevate the best acts out there rather than the most competently marketed acts from London. And my words do come from the heart of someone who has spent at least 5 distant years grinding it out on stage. I'm in the slightly rarified position of once being a stand-up... so I absolutely understand the parasitic, toxic relationship between reviewers and performers. I'd love to believe I am separate from that... at least in my head. If I were being self-aggrandising: I do long form reportage with more than an outsider's rudimentary knowledge of the art. What a wanker! Liam, quite rightly, has brought me back down to Earth... And the following ain't no "long form reportage".

12:04pm

At the Monkey Barrel 2 now and Blair Street is buzzing. So much so that I cannot get a signal or a wi-fi connection. For the next four hours it looks like live tweeting the day as planned is going to be a bust...

1:10pm

Sam Lake

Sam Lake: Aspiring DILF - Kicked the day off right. Voice and material chimes perfectly. Hilarious shit about office huns, big DADDY energy and spicy personal confessions. Blast off joke about first aid! I have seen Lake only as MC before and it is fair to say he delivered top value with this calling card show.

2:34pm

Stephen Buchanan

Stephen Buchanan: Charicature - blends sketch, stand-up and a sneaky narrative reveal into a crowd pleasing hour. Feels TikTok subversive and TV ready. A winner with something for everyone. A full house for Buchanan and I got crammed at the front next to a massive guy who kept his jacket on, still managed to laugh plenty but I'm not going to lie... felt smothered at this one.

Phone has absolutely banjaxed itself trying to connect to any data source so have shut it down completely for an hour giving it a chance for a hard reboot.

4:03pm

Laura Davis

Laura Davis: Well Don't Just Stand There Dancing - One word: Wow!

More words: Swirling unpredictable Australian storytelling that feels both world building and world skewing. Grief, denial and spiders. Jokes embedded like coins in an Xmas pud. A must see.

Davis is probably the first act this Fringe that took me out of my comfort zone and blew me away. And this is what I get up every morning in August hoping to see. The show starts with much admin but done while fully resisting stepping on the stage... more like an announcement / rambling conversation where you are never going to get a chance to get a word in edgeways. She quite slyly sets up an 'us and them' dynamic by the time she crosses the threshold and the main starts without ceremony. We in the room, with her, must be superior to those out there. Superior to the sombrero wearing stag-dos, to the comfortable party goers, to the norms. But the fears and hopes and memories and flights of fantasy Davis tools around with produce deep emotional responses; now we are aligned and conspiratorial.

It does feel like poetry, literature, silly shaggy dog shenanigans, a rant and a plea. Yet the plotting is ingenious. Davis pulls off the prestige - telling us early doors definite things will happen before the close. A hat will be significant, there'll be a political rallying speech and she'll devote the show to a dead friend. So, when all pieces we've been forewarned of fall into place, it feels that from engineered chaos she has performed a coup de grace. Two very different performers, but the main ideas of this show share a lot of DNA with Micky Overman's The Precipice. Both hours would make a fine unofficial double bill.

I'm now running three blocks over to Chambers Street to get a few bars on my phone. I'll continue doing this between each show. Using the twenty minute turnover between acts to keep on top of my admin. At least this way the day doesn't feel like a writing waste.

5:30pm

Priya Hall

Priya Hall: Grandmother's Daughter - Clean cut and precise comedy from a BBC Radio friendly comedian. Ancestry, coming out and fertility clinics are covered in this gentle, accessible matinee show.

There's definitely a lingering whiff of meat from someone in the audience for this show. Really paranoid after 3 hours in the slow cooker that it is me. I hope Hall didn't catch me heat-checking my armpits and husk as she walked on?

6:54pm

Stuart McPherson

Stuart McPherson: Love That For Me - Had very very high hopes for this and the finished product massively over delivered. Punch, punch, punch, punch, punch. Clipboard highlights. Break-up shows are rarely this self-reflective or hilarious. My kinda stand-up.

Over half way there now. The "Monkey Barrel Theory" more than holding water. Smell has dissipated so either it wasn't me or I've already grown accustomed to my own baked stench. John Hastings is prepping for his show in the bar and greets me fondly... as he always does. He's such a decent dude. He tells me, it is unavoidable, and just to get stinky. We agree to compare sweats after his show later.

Not that I'm moaning as it has been an awesome day for comedy so far and I'm showing no sign of flagging. Monkey Barrel 2 staff have been so helpful and welcoming. Three hardcore ultras in a row coming up. These guys aren't taking any break days all August. Phew!

8:21pm

Liam Withnail. Credit: Rebecca Need-Menear

Liam Withnail: Chronic Boom - A belter. Liam has a "tale to tell" this year. His club friendly writing and constantly grafting stagecraft means that you are fully involved in the emotional and political rollercoaster. A strong mix of laughs and heavy content told by one of the coolest blokes on the scene. Faultlessly structured. Very raw and open.

The main crux of the hour is that Withnail had a major health scare that hospitalised him, one that constantly threatened to leave him with an "invisible disability". The most powerful moment of the show is where our acerbic and macho male comedian talks about his valid fears and newfound limitations. It isn't just in the footage of him breaking down into tears, which open the show, where he wears his heart on his sleeve. Yet he uses his own journey as a delivery system to talk about what many people silently endure on a day-to-day basis when they get a disability that isn't immediately apparent to strangers.

His support for the striking workers, especially the nurses, who he flies the flag for with some toughened whimsy is sincere and admirable. Any comedic branch he heads off on from the main trunk still feels a whole with the piece. And Chronic Boom remains big laugh funny throughout. Insomnia, Dark Souls, being an airport legend (Recognise!) get robust interrogations. An outstanding hour, pieced together under continued duress to an impressively high comedic standard, this deserves awards panel attention.

9:37pm

John Hastings

John Hastings: The Times They Are A John Hastings - Pure entertainment. A bit of crowdwork, a bit of filth and some glorious anecdotes. John is always in the room and in the moment. He made this hour fly by and reenergised me for the final stretch.

And now I get to have my first pint of the day...

11:09pm

Dan Tiernan. Credit: Drew Forsyth

Dan Tiernan: Going Under - Gay, dyspraxic, Baked Bean lover goes in hard for his debut. Dark, aggressive and self-eviscerating... while somehow maintaining status like early Johnny Vegas. You can see why he's been so heavily praised before this first hour...

The final stretch now. The bar staff give me the performers' discount by accident. I wonder if they've been curious as to who this guy, who has been malingering about for their whole shift, is?

1am

Paul F Taylor

Paul F Taylor: Head In The Clouds - An old favourite leaning more into physicality and zen. Brimming with silly ideas and touching sweetness. And a conclusion that really takes you places you don't expect.

That's my whole day in Monkey Barrel 2 done and dusted. Theory proven, no duffers. 13 hours of comedy, feel like I've done the most chill sponsored swim ever.

A few notes and small print:

- Recurring motifs between shows: Margaret Thatcher, Furbies

- No burrito (sad face)

- 6 out of 9 times I was seated on the left hand side of room, once at front, once in second row, both near fans... so tops!

- Two shows probably weren't my speed despite my varied tastes but their own audiences loved them...

When I first moved back up to Edinburgh, I'm not going to lie, I found the Scottish scene a bit stale, yet 7 years down the line it feels really vibrant. There's a generation of acts who truly support each other and raise each other up in a positive way. But you couldn't dispute that Monkey Barrel Comedy are a massive factor in shaking things up both on Fringe and championing up-and-coming local voices all year round. Thanks to David at the venue for helping to organise today and taking a gamble.

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