Edinburgh New Act Night Special - Bobby Carroll's Live Comedy Diary

Red Raw at The Stand Edinburgh. Credit: Bobby Carroll

For a soft lad I have been in some dicey situations in my day.

Crossing the Bolivian border with three utter strangers, shoulder to shoulder in the back seat of a minicab, pretty certain I was the only person without any illicit weight strapped to my person. Being taken to a room without windows by two Russian gangsters who wanted to persuade me that the headliner I had booked for their club needed their agreed hundred quid fee far less than I needed to leave the room standing up. Blocking the doors from thirty rampaging teenagers keen on tearing their local library out a new indexing system. But, being someone who has seen hopefully everything and anything in the comedy industry, I learned to keep my cool a long time ago. The only negative outcome of the above three situations was I missed the last tube home and had to wait for a night bus with my headliner's cash safe in my breast pocket. My kneecaps still working.

Nothing is such a risky proposition, though, as a new act night. Not for the audience, mind. They pay their minimal cover and get what they are given. A competent MC, a headliner doing a favour for notes in hand and between a series of mitigated highs and babystep lows. First timers; 'broken clocks', who can only storm a gig one in twelve times; acts whose rare consistency in this setting will prove the very plateau of ambition that stops them from getting any further. Eternally the queen of the new act night until they 'retire'.

You see a lotta personality, keen writing, confidence and energy but a lottery as to how the aggregate of these talents are put together. A balance of innate skills is the ticket out. Some will outshine the grind, work on the muscles they do not naturally have.

No, the risk of new act nights is solely the gamble of the hopefuls and future stars who put a gargantuan amount of time, admin and petrol money into securing 5 minute spots anywhere and everywhere on the map. Nights can be well organised, well attended tryout shows at established clubs but in the main they are desolate, terribly organised cluster fucks. Two men and a dog, no tickets sold. Main bar gladiator arenas. Gong Show terrordomes. Not learning experiences but churning experiences. Paul McDaniel sums up travelling across the country for stagetime and progression in this lovely clip.

No such tragedy at The Stand in Edinburgh's weekly Red Raw night. Everything about the set-up is perfect. Making it difficult for even the rookie to flounder. Ross Leslie is a nimble compere, who kept the night on track with a gentle authority and, when he shifted into material, he got big around the room responses. The vibe was an open goal, always has been for as long as I can remember. Shame that the new names were a little pedestrian, not taking advantage of this rare soft play environment to let loose. There were no quirky diamonds breaking the mould or straight out of the gate wunderkinds. The first section of four quick five-minute sets felt very much like a comedy course graduation showcase.

Stand Comedy Club ticket, with a list of rules. Credit: Bobby Carroll

If there was a neophyte who has the potential to wow after more on-the-job training it would be Sophie Rose McCabe. A self-styled mumsy Millennial in a tracksuit jacket with a lot of cosy oomph. She took some sentence heavy ramp ups into her ideas but they found surefire laughs. She was never thrown by the variable nature of the crowd. Half the battle is never wobbling to a weird response and she evidenced enough grounding in over 300 seconds that she could win wars. Her sense of the theatrical undercuts her energy nicely. She clearly knows where the highs and lows of her comedy course prescribed set are and was smart enough to have toppers that swished over any silence. Her material covered her drama background and the horrors of childbirth... I reckon she's ready to expand on these foundations and rise away.

The night turned a genuine corner when Ralph Brown was brought on in the middle to try some new material. He had no obvious nerves, no babyteeth and no hack takes. This guy ain't new anymore. And new acts should see exactly what the target is. His assured voice and perfectly aged stage presence (not yet jaded but at home behind the mic) felt like a quantum leap.

Brown's new stuff about wedding guest photos next to big letter slogans took the unchallenged crowd off along a pleasingly morbid route. Then he closed up with a looser anecdote about his forthcoming vasectomy that found continual laughs. His entire slacker identity had a nice ding of truth. He even rewarded us with efficient act outs of his kebab shop's answerphone and his own corpse. Yeah... I liked him. A comedian of note whose next hour could be a highlight of this coming August.

Ralph Brown

If all new act nights were this easy to get laughs at, though, then we would all be comedians. Forever and ever. In terms of realigning one's expectations, Red Raw gave me a nice dose of shakubuku as to what the standard is among the newbies and how far even the most uninspired touring or weekend stand-up has come from this hobbyist starting line. And people who write about comedy should be required to constantly acknowledge just how many miles any comedian who makes it onto the Fringe radar has put in before they even apply to make their big 'debut'. We could all use such a sobering up every six months or so.

Maybe it is the luck of the draw but caricatures were looser at Monkey Barrel Edinburgh's Top Banana Night. In their classic exposed brick room with a workable wedge of tourists and locals, their weekly bill of fresh faces is so popular that they do an early show and a late show turnaround. The only fault in this well-oiled machine was an MC who kept forgetting the newcomers' names.

First spot Ayo Adenekan revved up the show. Black, bisexual, Edinburgh born & bred and already very skilled. Early into his set you could tell why he was entrusted with opening. He embodies the kind of youthful buzz the Monkey Barrel encourages. One can see him going gangbusters in a middle on a weekend bill.

Ayo Adenekan

I loved Adenekan's raspy delivery; his approach switches sweetly from playful to paranoid and back. His searching eyes interrogated the hairlines of the audience constantly, giving the sense he was somehow both lost in his own rhythms while also actively still addressing the crowd. The gentle push and pull of these modes reminds of Ardal O'Hanlon's wide eyed wisdom. Easy to get on board with and automatically endearing. Smarter than it first looks.

Material? Being black in Edinburgh was the first box ticked off with solid craft. You know where Adenekan is going when he shifts into his desire to be the next Doctor Who. The diversions he winded down to get to the obvious punch are gleaming. He had a clear statement-of-intent routine when recounting seeing someone doing their big shop in the "Wee shop". The abundance of poetic repetitions and identity conflicts softly filtered into the anecdote proved golden. He mock struggled to find the right terminology and relate the everyday to his room. The fake desperation stretched the tale into a delightfully weird shape. One to watch.

The torso of the night was a series of wet behind the ears acts who all have something memorable but reached a little too hard to generate regular laughs from the room. Were the crowd lacklustre? Or is it arrogant to expect a mixed ability room to vocally adore every moment from a formative roster of acts? The acquired tastes gave it some energy, the nervous fell back on neat writing. Headliner Stu Murphy berated the audience a while for not busting every single gut every single minute but he managed to get them doing that himself with an expert composure.

Seasoned and saucy, Murphy boomed out ornate grumbles. His tone is dismissive and declarative, a real tasty sweet and sour. A lengthy, bedded-in diatribe about Edinburgh's ridiculously costly tram system was a ballet of negativity. One it was hard not to be enthralled by. His party piece of endless comparisons as to who he resembles is a litany of well-rehearsed reads that he kept alive by gauging the audience's braying approval of each self-immolating insult.

With the hair of Anne Hathaway and baritone burr of a Richard Burton, Murphy seems to be enjoying a late bloom of critical popularity. His lovely turns of phrase and devilishly quick-witted responses closed a damp new act night to barnstorming response. He certainly led me to believe his recent burst of attention is thoroughly deserved.

Billy Connolly pictures at Waverly Bar. Credit: Bobby Carroll

What I really wanted... what I had a nostalgic yen for... I found at the Waverly Bar just off The Royal Mile. A room above a pub with a class register of dreamers taking the stage in an endurance test that was gleefully off key. Billy Connolly did one of his first gigs here. The Waverley are so proud of this fact that a recording of an early set of The Big Yin's plays on a loop in the gents while you wee. The pub was mysteriously boarded up for a few years when the owner died and nobody knew who should inherit it. When it hosted Fringe shows last year, a gunman held an audience and act hostage (see Ralph Brown above). It is fair to say it is a new act night with a bit more of a tangy air to it. Auld Cheeky Comedy on Wednesday is the current hermit crab living in the pub's sexy shabby shell.

Scruffy eternal dude Pete Carson opened the show with a near punchline-less seduction. His attractive quality is how naturally we latch on to his chilled persona. Cleary the most seasoned of all the comedians in his section, his topics of bad email handles and his feckless attitude towards grief were not killer, but he had the toolkit to make fuzzy material sing. He set the tone. The small room liked personality over script.

Mhairi Kinnaird regaled us with dating woes and Star Wars double entendres. It was sophomore stuff but there was a neatness to her set; it had impact. She could go the distance. Later, Northern Ireland's Kieron Power had two personalities. Random spraffing daftie and aggressive ticcer. He kept a keen audience on their toes and whetted my appetite. If he could move the material away from an autopsy of his own comedy he could be a true force to be reckoned with.

Mhairi Kinnaird. Credit: Bobby Carroll
Mhairi Kinnaird. Credit: Bobby Carroll

The newbie who really roused my curiosity was a grafter who turned up in his dusty work trousers. His name was Jamie McColl. The stand-ups dominated the room by the time he came on. When he surged into his chosen subject of dementia you heard them all scoff and chuckle. The rest of them approached taboo, 9/11, and addiction, as shock jolts. McColl had a bit more truth, exploration and grit about him. A mischievous integrity. He was present in the room and taking genuine risks in his story. The tale escalated beautifully. Larger audiences and stronger editing should convert what he has into something truly special. Either way he made my night with the least artifice. And the danger and glory of his five minute set gave me hope that the real magic is (still) happening, out there, at the free-for-all bucket shows.

I'd say six out of the seventeen amateurs showed true potential. An excellent ratio. Seventeen! An onslaught. A rinsing. A tsunami. The actual punters came on board with their own wave of enthusiasm; the MC did minimal stoking and rode the building energy. No deaths, no flops, even the dire were championed. Auld Cheeky at the Waverly Bar was the ropiest of the new act nights but the wobbliness of it, the organic fuck-it attitude, made me leave thinking "What am I up to next Wednesday night?". I might just be back there hiding between the notebooks and the nerves.


The Stand's Red Raw night has been every running every Monday in Edinburgh since 1998 and counts Kevin Bridges among it alumni.

Monkey Barrel's Top Banana night is on at 7pm and 9pm every Wednesday and cost a mere £3 to get in.

Auld Cheeky Comedy is every Wednesday night at The Waverly Bar on St Mary's Street, Edinburgh.

Ralph Brown - My First Hostage Situation is on at the Edinburgh Fringe 1st - 26th August at The Stand.

Stu Murphy - Little Earthquakes (WIP) is on at the Edinburgh Fringe 19th - 25th August also at The Stand.

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