Colin Geddis / Leith Comedy Festival / Joe McTernan - Bobby Carroll's Comedy Diary

Colin Geddis

Colin Geddis is a Northern Irish comedian who has built up his loyal audience through social media and running his own gigs. And fair play to him, that empire made from his own muscle and determination can fill Edinburgh's Monkey Barrel on a Tuesday night on a week traditionally seen as the no comedy tour hangover period so soon after the Fringe.

He is an impressive figure - as broad as a Mack Truck, serial killer glasses and trademark baseball headgear. And while not every man in his audience matches the power lifter dimensions, they are pretty uniform. If I were sitting in a Guess Who board and you asked "Are they wearing a cap?" "Is their facial hair overly finessed?" then only the few women and maybe me would still be in play after two questions.

White. That is the overwhelming feeling when critically trying to read the room at Overkill. This is an uncommonly white space for a show in a capital city. Geddis' warm up man had a couple of routines that while not explicitly about race had a few implicit suggestions about it in the characters they focused on. He certainly wasn't tip toeing with his language: women constantly referred to by the colloquial term 'doll'; their looks his only ready reckoner for relating them to us. Big lipped ladies in New York, then Arlene Foster's skin tone, and then her immigration policies, and then his dad is a bit racist actually... If I've misread the intentions of the newer guy it is possibly down to his muffling a lot of his punchlines.

Geddis, himself, when he gets on stage instantly makes an aside to someone at the front of the wings that this wasn't going to be for them. I couldn't place whether it was the lone girl of Asian descent or the older person near her. One fan who kept catching my eye as he wandered about during the build-up and break looked so pale and featureless he might as well have come from some unexplored trench at the bottom of the sea. So so white. Whiter than a room full of British comedy reviewers. And as a Caucasian myself, I'm not going to lie, it had my PC guard up. My sensitivities heightened.

Unofficially, Overkill is a show about where the line is. Geddis' self-sourced crowd clearly hunger for an hour of man-and-mic that mainstream comedy isn't pushing at them anymore. The prejudices of Red Light District sex workers. Chokeholds in rough fucking. Anti-Semitic celebrities. The approach is very Dane Cook circa 2009 in terms of subject matter and attitude, only on fast forward. And back in 2009 I was about the median age of this crowd and would have lapped up this form of comedy also. The sensibilities of the comedy gatekeepers may have moved on, but that doesn't mean every single millennial has to fit the model and the statistics. When Geddis announces he is going to tackle trans women in sport, the skulls vibrate and bray more at the very concept than any further suggestion the comedian conjures up. There's clearly a demographic who crave a different take and Geddis has tapped them expertly.

Given my own comedy tastes I'd be a hypocrite to clutch at my pearls and say Geddis or any comedian shouldn't feel free to have a good explore as to where the line is. Fair to say, rather than dance along the border, he pretty much stomps back and forth across it a few times. Punching up happens rarely and then there's a punchline about Koreans eating dogs. He tries his best to mask it with a playful device. He pretends a front row punter has finished his joke for him in the most offensive way. A fine trick, an old one even, yet it isn't particularly well foreshadowed or ever revisited during this show. It is like Geddis has borrowed one Uno reverse card from the pack so he can extricate himself swiftly from an icky situation of his own making. And with much of his darker, stankier topics, there's nothing particularly insightful. He's not a head taker. The quick in-and-out pattern of his routines becomes blatant the more he retreads them. He goes for the high impact, high shock swiftness of an open mic act who has figured out Overkill gets an undeniable response. And, because he is a more developed stage presence than a new act playing to three tourists and the pub cat, his barrage and brevity feels almost mercenary.

Those in vogue, right on, intersectional feminist, asexual acts don't have anywhere near this hit rate. And in the last stretch Geddis proves himself a stand-up superior to the naughty naughty bad taste huckster he has cultivated himself as. His storytelling piece of a visit to a whale show displays the chops to write sustained material. I was fully immersed in a routine where his baffled child watches him peeing with amazement. And his culchie mate trying his own version of the phonetic alphabet got me right in the funnies. That routine needs a little more room to breathe but I fear Geddis' smell-what's-selling-and-move-on-at-a-fast-pace instincts have cut a true winner short. If he'd have me again I'd give him another chance...

Leith Comedy Festival

The Leith Comedy Festival is a new kid on the block in the Scottish scene. The opening gala gave a decent cross section of what stand-up varieties are available north of the border. Live wire MC Billy Kirkwood had command of the room, Shetland based headliner Marjolein Robertson drew her growing fanbase in and newer act Mark Cooper won us over with his patient, unpredictable short spot. The set-up of the night had a few teething problems; a box office beside the stage, no off-stage mic for announcements, poor sightlines for the back rows. Yet it was inspiring to see a promoter pack out the Leith Arches performance space on one of the wettest weekends on record. The audience was a mixture of comedy aficionados, people showing their support for a local enterprise and a fair few big post-work groups, readied in their sparkly glad rags for the DJ karaoke after show party. A mixed ability room and the tech quibbles gave the whole affair the slight sniff of a corporate gig. And this is where opener Joe McTernan excelled.

McTernan chose the more populist cuts from his set list; stuck fast to high energy material. He became a necessary fixed point, an immovable navigation beacon for all the disparate elements to get their fix and focus towards. Utterly professional approach to the show. A low ball warm up bit about clown horns and line dancing interruptions during his Fringe show to get them listening. The message was clear, you lot can be better than the rabble of the Grassmarket. Then the punches came a little more blatant and steadier when he covered his partner's surreptitious farting. His continued relationship material united the room as he recounted his terror at not being able to find the spatula. And then from Covid war stories to inspirational messages he kept things on a relatable but tight bent right up until the break. The wheel wasn't reinvented but he got the gala event on track and up to speed with Formula 1 precision. Admirable hard work, made to seem effortless; generous choices made in the moment that made the gig. McTernan proves himself time and time again to be an eminently bookable comedian.

Leith Comedy Festival. Joe McTernan

What catches the eye most about the Leith Comedy Festival is it seems utterly unbeholden to the August Fringe of its neighbouring city. It is hard to think of another British comedy festival that isn't either a collection of touring shows graduating from the Fringe or warm-ups and works-in-progress building up to August or a Frankenstein's armpit of all of the above. The LCF, away from its galas, is defined by walking tours, laughter yoga sessions and comedy quizzes. It is everything except what you'd expect to see at the Pleasance. A real curated exploration of the nooks and crannies of the live laughter experience. The one event that really turned my neck was a Storytelling Session at the vibrant and authentic working man's club: the Leith Dockers. The bingo was on, the band setting up, the bar full of working class couples enjoying time travel priced pints (there was even a laminated sign apologising for a 10p price increase on a £3.80 pint of Guinness). Tucked away in its own separate annex, a mix of members, tourists and spotlight seekers gathered to regale us.

Expressive Giulia Galastro was our warm and convivial MC for the night. Discovering by quirk of fate that half the ticket buyers worked for some branch of Edinburgh council was taken in her cheery stride and became a running joke. She opened the floor up for a few who had come with prepared anecdotes and invited anyone and everyone else to tell their tale, long or short, tall or truthful. And in these relaxed, intimate, informal environs everyone found laughs. Tim, a former docks chaplain, had a clipped, well-rehearsed memory of a mass on a ship. First time public speaker Isabella recounted the time a baby elephant got a round in at the local pub - an adorable piece of local oral history brought to life. Seasoned talker April Wendy enthralled us with autobiographical highlights of her hands-on career educating the area's sex workers in the naughty Nineties.

Professional storyteller and Leither, Fiona Herbert, closed up the session with two fantastic fantastical anecdotes. Cromwell's soldiers dealing with the port's shellycoat in the 17th century was conjured with quick, studied characterisations and an alluring authority. A more contemporary piece of urban cryptozoology à la Neil Gaiman or Angela Carter sees a lady troll dug up and displaced during the seemingly endless development of the Leith Walk tram system. Both well performed stories had a satirical undertone to them with nationalism and local government mismanagement being the engines of the quirky narratives. Yet it was Herbert's assured and animated style that set her above all others as a master yarn spinner.

If Leith Comedy Festival's IP is to bring everything and anything you cannot readily find up the Walk during August to venues with a true sense of local community then mission very much accomplished. And even if you are an outsider who has no idea of what "the council" or Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting are, you'll find here a crowd open and united enough to explain both concepts to you enthusiastically. LCF resulted in a far more liberated audience experience overall than what has become the prescribed norm at other annual festivals. Roll on next year.

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