The last week of the Fringe traditionally sees burnt out acts and, worse yet, duller audiences. The ones who have waited until the results are in before booking their schedule. Such weak sisters are never gonna be as generous with their volume. We minimum wage kids have depleted our funds long ago, on a 15 pound burger and 7 quid pints. Unless we can sneak the tinnies in, you are gonna have to put up with the cautious sober laughter of those with savings accounts and investments. Even the techs are so disenchanted with the shows they have now seen two dozen times, they barely bother to hide the fact they spend their entire booth time scrolling through their phone screens. Must be hard to keep things fresh? How do you keep a spring in your step when the finish line is within gasping distance, people are already leaving the flatshare and your feet are bloody nubs?
Lindsey Santoro has the answer. She's invited her dad in. A bit of parental support during the dog days of August is sweet and, assuming I picked the right bloke in the crowd, he loved his daughter's comedy. But, lest we forget, Lindsey Santoro: Pink Tinge is absolute fifth. She makes no bones, this is gonna be nothing but vagina monologues. Only no trauma or grief, just funny. If it were a Rob Auton hour it'd be called The Flaps Show. And Santoro mines her area deeply and brutally. Oo-er.
Having daddy in just adds to the nuclear meltdown transgressive atmosphere. Bonus jeopardy. A tiger in the shark tank. That'll sharpen a comedian right up.
A smear test letter makes Santoro's genitals feel mouldy, rotten and rancid all in the same breath. Later in the same story the speculum is put under pressure. Santoro's vag has mythical powers! If we are to take her energetic tales as gospel, her sugar walls can drown a man and cling to plate glass like a limpet. It is almost a reprieve when she goes to see the DreamBoys and men's bits are thrown into her rapid machine gun firing line. She's a bruising mix of the hard hitting confessional style of a Jim Jefferies or a Brendon Burns in their prime while told in the warm, inclusive and cheekier voice of a Peter Kay or a Micky Flanagan. She's exactly the kind of comic you could see storming Live At The Apollo or The Graham Norton Show couch and your mum would somehow be talking about the next day... but I wouldn't want to be the content editor giving her notes on what words she can't say. Best of luck with that.
My favourite acts feel utterly in the moment. The set list is ultimately what we receive but they are loving the responses their material gets and intuitively moving in and out of it. Santoro's distinctive regular uncontrollable cackle whenever she crosses a line shows there is nothing dead eyed about this bedded in hour of bawdy winners. She clearly is loving her first solo Fringe and that lack of disenchantment is infectious. Her ECA nomination and NextUp win hark back to a time when the funniest act got the gold. My highlight was, once the material was done and dusted, she threw us out with all of the verbal force of a pub landlady who still has to clean the lines before she goes to bed. You've had your fill, the bell's rung twice, now fuck off home. Brilliant.
Gareth Waugh's Wouldni Be Me sees the safest pair of hands on the Scottish circuit take on a diptych of well-trodden subjects. The Now I'm A Dad show is almost as ubiquitous as the Dead Dad show. And the tale of drugs chaos on a stag-do is pretty shopworn too. Waugh, however, is way too canny an operator to just churn out a rote take on his two big life events of this past year, even if they do seem universal for male comics of a certain age. Like jazz, he finds his own notes to play on the old standards. His desperate need for a "slotty spoon" in the birthing pool had me in stitches. And he teasingly takes down some of the bigger names in British Comedy on the ill-advised Las Vegas boys' trip. Even if you know the eventual destination of both longform routines he races through them at a pace that'd make Keanu Reeves wait for the next bus. Thrilling stuff.
What unites the two generous slices of stand-up biography is a push back from Waugh's own toxic masculinity. Waugh accurately points out this is only bad behaviour for someone who works in the arts; plonk him on a building site and he's a nun by comparison. And not the perverted kind of toxic behaviour (though he does recommend another act if you are... keen... on that type of man). And he seems to take real delight in moving off script and playing Devil's Advocate against himself in little off-the-cuff breakouts. If these are genuinely improvised moments of self-doubt then Waugh deserves full praise, as when he is 'showing his workings' he is at the peak of his comedy powers.
Still keeping things mainstream, still with the focus on funny, Josh Jones' latest show Gobsmacked had me checking I had booked the right ticket. The lad on stage sounds like Jones, he looks like Jones (in lovely baby blue terry towelling polo shirt) but this guy is headbutting twats, being a top football commentator and fancying the female lead dancer from the Dirty Dancing musical?!
Gobsmacked seems to be a show centred around gay Jones exploring his own 'traditional' masculinity. The comedy often comes from a heavily camp individual leaning into activities and actions that are the realms of straight boys... and excelling in them. Only geese can stop him in a lovely anecdote of verbal slapstick. Yet there is much in Jones' background that is hard as fuck. His teen years training as a boxer, the unlikely schemes that Manchester Council put on to keep troubled teens out of gangs. He is probably one of the few acts who can casually tell a room about "his meaty cock" and not feel leery, predatory or that he is overcompensating and overselling the goods.
Jones' distinct tenor and flighty delivery probably garner the most attention, yet his writing is ruthlessly on point. Pretty much every laugh line is an immaculate switch-up and his hit rate is furious. The night I saw him, some coked up Lancaster lasses came in late and one very much wanted to make the show about her. Jones gently defused the situation with the weekend club chops of someone who didn't want go in so hard as to alienate his core audience ("gay men and drunk women") but re-centred the gig back on his material. Bruv got things back on track in double time. Masterful. Telly's gain is going to be the circuit's loss.
Leila Navabi's debut Composition is... a lot. In her own words, it's a "show about the dubious ethics of artistically exploiting marginalised identities for social gain." The explicit is what the white liberal media shamelessly does - offering opportunities to those who are different, but with the catch that they are expected to talk about race in a way that the caucasians are no longer 'allowed' to. But the implicit is that Navabi has played that game and now, older and wiser, is still playing that game in the awkward societal arts space of a very, very, very white arts festival. There is so much to unpack here, too much, and if Navabi didn't approach her mammoth task with such dictatorial control and dramatic flair you might forgive how abstract and sprawling it often feels.
The introspection of a multi-hyphenate Gen-Zer who told a (racist?) joke that started the whole world crying. Well, at least the Daily Mail comments section. This is a complex and ambitious multi-media show and Navabi is adroit at playing her liberal white arts festival audience against their own automatically accepting instincts. The mixture of self-awareness and precociousness will make some uncomfortable. Intentionally. Composition might prove a "love it or hate it" proposition for many. There are some massive swings here - brave, bold and more than a bit in debt to Bo Burnham.
In her finest moments, Navabi reminded me of anarchic debut hours of old. Where a newer act would be working out their style and testing their persona over August. Rather than arriving day one as the finished product. Maybe this is a little too slick and pre-planned to be truly experimental yet I appreciated Navabi's handmade punk look and Supermarket Sweep approach to form. She is an excellent pianist, often hitting a sweet spot that sparks serious flashbacks to Victoria Wood. Her jaunty ditties about hard crushing on the ear piercer at Claire's Accessories and her potatoes rap cleanse the palette between the crunchier, "eat your veg" courses. Navabi has the musical comedy chops to fill art centres one day. Now she needs fame rather than notoriety to sell those tickets.