Esther Manito sustains a near hour long uninterrupted rant. And seeing as it is eventually revealed that her latest solo show Hell Has No Fury explores the double standard that what in women is seen as anger yet in men is defined as passion, she has plenty to be querulous over. And here's the rub, when the world makes Manito angry... you'll like her when she's angry.
A tale of overbearing West Ham fans on the tube takes a twisty exit into unpredictable laughter. A personal calamity on a Tough Mudder course edges towards mortification as Manito inflicts on herself an unexpected handicap in the gusset area. A casting for an idealised mum in a car advert throws a young director into questioning his limited stereotypes after witnessing the comedian's realistic interpretation of the role. Her heartfelt recounting of a GP's knee jerk reactions to her ailments now she's a woman who has hit forty had bonus topicality when told on the very day that newscaster Naga Munchetty gave public evidence of a similar form of gaslighting by her health professional. All told with great vengeance and furious... well... passion.
A maximalist performer, it is hopefully fair to say Manito's discombobulating stage presence owes a nod or three to Jessica Fostekew. There's the full use of the space; from leaning intrusively into the front rows to tactile stroking of the backdrop. The symphony of noises shift from cutesy baby talk to near incoherent gasping and snorting within sentences. If you are going to match another current performer in terms of stage use and modulation of voice I can think of no better comedian than Fostekew to echo in terms of craft. The comparison is praise and a like-for-like recommendation.
Three or so full length shows in and Manito has evolved unpredictably. Her debut, Crusade, was punchier yet her more overtly theatrical current settings are anarchic, self-possessed and crowd pleasing. Her Lebanese dad's malapropism show she can still write tight. Yet her new form relies more on the audience riding her high voltage energy. She rightly calls the weeknight Edinburgh Stand audience out a little for being tame and orderly. Her assessment was on the money. The back tables where I was sat loved her. My wife and I have divergent stand-up tastes. Natalie prefers lo-fi surrealism. I tend toward self-aware machismo. Esther Manito bridges us elegantly. We often laughed and chuckled and nodded at each other in unison. She has universal appeal for the comedy aficionados in the room.
Then I'm at "Edinburgh's Most Haunted Pub", The Banshee Labyrinth, for some Halloween improv. Now, I have always been reliably informed that Bannerman's next door was the site of most documented paranormal activity, but which poltergeist would quibble about a mere brick wall? If there is an undead regular in the vicinity I doubt it has a loyalty card for either establishment. Banshees certainly has plenty of unnatural atmosphere for The Edinburgh Horror Festival, an annual event that has always housed a prominent scary comedy strand.
Alex Staniforth's regular show Stand Up Horror is an improvised one-man tale of a zombie apocalypse. Fielding suggestions from the audience at regular intervals should conjure up a unique experience every night. We got a Friday night talk of the quite patient undead hordes slowly taking over the Royal Mile. Most of the laughter came from the gobbiest members in the room excited just to be pointed at. Their suggestions to move the story forward though rarely did.
It was hard to tell if Staniforth was mired by a slightly uninspired bunch of individual responses that kept things stuck in the mud a little too often on this particular night. Or was this it? Probably fair to say his eventual tricks to shake things up (a choice of silly prop weapons and a Vincent Price inspired overlord taking over proceedings) probably should have been utilised a lot more frequently. The laughs that did occur were very much on a one-to-one basis. Staniforth had a good line in offering a withering assessment on the suggestions that really didn't understand zombie lore but maybe he could have pre-planned even wilder devices to push the tale away from reactive stalemates. A better night might have seen him produce something a tad more silly and spooky à la The Evil Dead or Braindead. What we got felt meme churning rather than blood curdling.
Have you ever seen a tour support set such a high bar for the main act?
Liverpudlian Simon Wozniak was Jamie Hutchinson's warm up guy for the latter's big sold out tour Waterslide and he got The Stand roasty toasty. Unassuming as he walked on stage, in a crumpled Oxford shirt and a haircut a few weeks wild past its best before date, turns out man had mad skills. Underdog misery was the order of the day and he served it with understated expertise.
Wozniak's opener about the realities of drink driving soft sold the audience with a dangerous calm; the cheeky punches were powerful but never overplayed. Then he kept making business riskier and riskier with eruptive rewards.
A self-confessed pervert, his daytime fantasies in the swimming pool and a closer routine about bleak sex with his long-term missus had a truthful grubby poetry to them. It felt like they pushed the audience in all the wrong directions the right way. His savage takedowns of people who identify as animals and your good old Catholic priests continued standing as authority figures were well honed slices of club comedy short work. He really shone in his depressive assessments of both McDonald's and Greggs, gloopy bits which had the unmistakable bite of lived-in reality.
Wozniak was something else in the usually thankless opening slot and through shabby, fuzzy rope-a-dopes he lacerated himself and us with all the chops of a seasoned headliner. Really turned my head. Another stranger at the urinals was rating him enthusiastically to me unsolicited as we stood shoulder to shoulder, dicks out, during the interval.
Dicks shook and away, house lights back down, Jamie Hutchinson gallops on stage. Hugging a terrifyingly massive bald punter's head like it is a new born baby on his way to the mic. And, without a breath for the next hour, We. Are. In...
At least a third of Hutchinson's tour-de-force hour is taken up with a squalid prologue about a non-stop half week on the lash at the start of the World Cup. We join our mucky hero midway through the prolonged bender about to do a line off the back of a prostitute. And then the tale loops around and around with no beginning and no end but each swirl including bets on yellow cards, Sergiño Dest, colonial beefs and Destiny. It is a grubby odyssey worthy of a Wetherspoons Hunter S Thompson... yet not so detached from reality that every working class man who has gone past the weekend and lived too large on the overdraft won't recognise each and every depraved pit he plummets us down next. Regularly he revisits his laundry list of laddish timestamps, his voice growing more cracked, sleep deprived and detached. The increasing weight of all that "beak" and gambling crushes his soul. A masterclass in self-caricature, tied off with no apologies, regrets or sermonising.
If this were a modern arthouse movie, at this point, the title card of the show would appear deliberately late in bright pink font. WATERSLIDE! We feel like we've seen a full show yet we're not even halfway there and our hearts are frazzled and burnt out. That celebratory walk-on is a distant memory. Hutchinson keeps his fuckwit, fuck up storytelling pumping throughout. This is a Royal Shakespeare Company tier performance of piss poor choices and animated monologues. I don't know his background but I'm guessing the closest he got to drama school was bunking off a GCSE option he took as a doss. His recreation of his dad ravenously gurning at the chip shop menu, and what that actually is his visual comparison for, is next level. His badgering of a recurring stooge in the front row is grotesque and terrifying. I've seen a few other, lesser acts try to replicate the Johnny Vegas / Nick Helm power moves recently to one note, hectoring redundancy. Hutchinson revives the trick with in-the-moment hazard and pathos. Poor front row Colin is really leant into and leant on for full comedy reaping. Just be glad it isn't you.
I could waste my word count praising Hutchinson's later longform bits about the tragedy of two gingers on a date or a near pornographic account of his conception. I reckon you can tell from the last few paragraphs just how much I laughed throughout Waterslide and how ardently I am going to champion him from this day forward. And I shan't presume to spoil anything as one of his writing strengths is his ability to surprise during his retelling of the grim mundane.
Hutchinson is a true stand-up outlier. As far as I can tell he's only showcased himself at the Fringe years ago as part of a mixed bill and none of the agents and tastemakers have given him much of a sniff since. Let's not even mention telly or streaming. He is not part of the London-centric establishment nor has he taken the traditional route of a comic on the ascension to fame. Yet here he is on a mammoth sell out national tour with a busy merch stall. What are his followers going to do with a Barbie-coloured glossy A3 of him declaring he's spaffed the money up the wall? No idea. But it is fair to say he is deservedly rocketing along at an increasingly different trajectory than the mainstream trad acts doing their fifth Edinburgh and daydreaming of posting a Live At The Apollo dressing room door name on Insta.
All this is thanks to podcast appearances. He's an occupier of that 'Have A Some Laff Men Talking In The Green Room' cabal of homegrown blokish banter content makers. The younger circuit acts and their weirder mates have embraced the format offering a 'Saturday Is For The Boys' alternative to the 'latest Taskmaster breakout rips off Off Menu' polished release. Hutchinson might be the first voice to emerge fully formed and authentically alternative from this new-ish phenomenon.
His unexpected success certainly heralds a shift going on in the Northern and Scottish scenes that suggests acts that are the genuine article can pretty much abandon the establishment and find their tribe without the anointment of Chortle, The Guardian, telly and award bodies. Why the disconnect? Why can the public reach these acts without the gatekeepers keeping a pace? Why has such a quirky voice chimed with such large grassroots numbers? My guesses: talent, and he's the Real McCoy. There ain't much faked here, though I hope some of the details are at least a little heightened.
When he begrudgingly accepts a begrudging invite to his best mate's wife's BBQ and reverts to his natural settings as the "sesh dog". It ain't just funny because he sets the scene so well, or his act out is wild, sad savagery, so unhinged...it is because we've all been that black sheep, over stimulated loner expected to make nice with partners, citizens and their small talk. Maybe not you, but I have, these ticket buyers have.
Ultimately we close on an extended metaphor. The show's title Waterslide comes to the fore. Hutchinson recreates his on-a-budget life of booze, drugs, bets, boxrooms and misery as the greatest ride ever... while he is in motion. Is there more to punching up, punching yourself comedy than this? He's the squidgy skin between Bukowski and Jack Grealish, both in kitchen sink depravity and sleazy likeability. Jamie Hutchinson might just be my new favourite act.