Edinburgh Fringe

Ahir Shah, Julia Masli, Stuart Goldsmith, Matt Forde - Mark Muldoon's Fringe Diary

Ahir Shah

Well, congratulations to Ahir Shah. It's certainly not every year that my personal favourite hour at the fringe also wins the coveted Best Show award, but that's pleasingly true of 2023. His show about multiculturalism could not be better suited to Radio 4, but don't let that put you off: it's a dense, intelligent, thoughtful, and richly nuanced look at British Asian life. It's also beautifully funny. He reflects on how "politically, I'm furious," but "racially, thrilled" that Rishi Sunak is prime minister, comparing it to the Britain that his grandfather would have been greeted by when he arrived in 1964 - concluding that what's remarkable about Sunak becoming PM is "how unremarkable it is".

If there was a show challenging it as my favourite of the festival, it was Mat Ewins. Now on his 11th fringe, he's every bit an Edinburgh staple - always bringing an amazing hour of slightly morally questionable technical wizardry to the city. This year was a five star show - still a little ramshackle, but somehow another step up in terms of taking full advantage of everything that's achievable when you're able to use technology to mess about with the possibilities of live comedy. This year that's perhaps accentuated thanks to impressive live support from his tech, who pitches in extra gags on screen throughout the show. You can understand why he's remained a cult comedian rather than one that's achieved mainstream success - It's the kind of comedy that relies on the magic of being in the room - which therefore doesn't translate fantastically onto TV. Which just, I suppose, means you'll need to buy a ticket to see him.

Comedians' Choice Awards 2023. Julia Masli. Credit: Andrew Max Levy

The final five star show of the fringe was Julia Masli, who was responsible for probably the most hyped show in town, and justifiably so. An ethereal clown on stage, she spent the majority of her hour slinking around the audience, simply asking them "problem?" - if they were forthcoming with a problem, Masli would set about attempting to resolve it, usually in a slightly sideways - but also heartwarming - manner. So on the night we attended one audience member's sore back meant she was given a duvet and pillow and invited to spend the rest of the show on stage, whilst a different audience member gave her back rubs using a mannequin's leg. In a somewhat more emotionally-charged encounter, another audience member disclosed that she hadn't told her two best friends from her university days that she's gay. A video message was sent to them both, with a jubilant audience forming the backdrop. For big stuff like this, Masli often follows up with updates via social media.

The performance we saw seemed to be cut off early, after just 45 minutes, a factor which seemed to slightly irk Masli. We weren't nearly ready to say goodbye. But as no two shows will presumably be the same, there's every reason to go again.

Elsewhere in town, Shelf followed up last year's exciting debut with another cracking, upbeat, inclusive hour. I'm absolutely convinced they're going to be stars.

Image shows from L to R: Rachel Watkeys Dowie, Ruby Clyde, Shelf. Copyright: Corrine Cumming

Stuart Goldsmith had a gem of a show focusing on the climate crisis, balancing anxiety at the state of the world with his own guilt for all the times he fails to do his bit. He also makes room for climate confessions from the audience - shout out to the one guy who admitted to having just got a new gas boiler installed, in case they ban all installations soon.

Adam Riches' live shows are always a unique pleasure - his skillset for extremely immersive live comedy tends to guarantee that - but his show The Guys Who felt underwritten and underdeveloped - a little shorter on scripted brilliance and a little more padded out (grape throwing contest, anyone?). Still a fun show, then, but you've seen him do much better.

Matt Forde, meanwhile, still feels oddly unusual as a comedian who focuses his material almost entirely on politics. He's reliably good at it. You occasionally glimpse that he appears to have a real skill for political analysis, which leaves you wondering if his shows could ever drop the gag rate ever so slightly and see if there's any brilliant, unique insights he could detail for his audience. Although obviously a punchline immediately afterwards would still be appreciated.

Amy Matthews

What a thrill it was to stumble across Amy Matthews, and her pleasingly downbeat world view. She touches on mental health but has fun with it - arguing that young people are talking about the subject too much nowadays. Elsewhere there's room to ask searching questions about Henry VIII and a dental quarterly newsletter. She's fantastic.

If Vittorio Angelone's 2023 show didn't quite have the magic alchemy of his five-star debut last year, it still showcased a talent whose star is definitely on the rise. Our particular performance ran to 70 minutes - at that length there's definitely sections he can cut, possibly starting with the middling segment where he theorises that other comedians don't like him.

Stamptown confirmed their status as live comedy's best night out. The free-wheeling variety show has much improved its guest-booking policy (the one gripe I had last year), meaning it's just an unending, raucous pleasure now.

Emmanuel Sonubi

Emmanuel Sonubi, meanwhile, was a good, respectable newcomer last year. This year felt like a substantial step up. Nearly everything in the show would storm at Live At The Apollo. Stardom beckons.

Occasionally the punchlines with Krystal Evans feel a little lacking. More often, though, they're satisfying, and nicely counterbalance the wild, engaging trauma stories she details elsewhere in her hour.

In the same room earlier in the day, you felt as though Phil Ellis had a skill for keeping a mad energy in his room. It means his show was super fun and certainly had its moments, if it maybe wasn't quite nomination-worthy.

Finally - "you will not learn anything in this show and you will not feel anything in this show" - Heidi Regan was probably going for the same overall ethos as Ellis this year, but the resulting show was better crafted. This slightly geeky, fairly wholesome show continued her run of form. It's another hour that'd go down fantastically on Radio 4, but again, you mustn't let that put you off.

Read previous editions of this column

Mark Muldoon is also available on Instagram and Twitter, if you wish to follow someone else balancing his anxiety at the state of the world with his own guilt for all the times he's failed to do his bit.

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