Garth Marenghi / Jessica Fostekew / Josh Pugh - Bobby Carroll's Live Comedy Diary

Garth Marenghi Incarcerat. Matthew Holness

How can such a specific edition of man have so many variations? Quiffs. Spikes. Topknots. Curtains. Mullets. Perms. Combovers. Mohicans. I spotted pretty much every unfashionable and once fashionable haircut a middle-aged man might try, or have never relinquished, in the Usher Hall the night Garth Marenghi performed readings from his latest book. The author attracted a very specific brand of Generation X nerds plus a smattering of cooler Americans who no doubt discovered Garth Marenghi's Darkplace on late night Adult Swim airings. A cult crowd that could easily fill one of the biggest comedy friendly theatres in Scotland.

Marenghi strides on with his latest masterwork secure in a beaten B&M bag for life. Trusty bottle of mid-range mineral water within constant reach. He thanks us for coming and follows it with a pedantic, arrogant lesson in manners. Straight out of the gate, proof that there's life in the ageless dreamweaver yet. Clad entirely in black, with a spider medallion protecting him from psychic evil, he performs gloriously naff passages from Incarcerat, his latest terror tome. Both overwritten and under researched, much of the joy comes from the purple prosaic prose being undercut by the mundane pretentions of a Romford Clive Barker. For example, every tale of cosmic horror and deadly portents includes the narrator's opinions on the local parking situation.

Marenghi promises us a big onstage transformation to rival Lon Chaney and, when it happens, the results are stupid yet smooth. He hungrily demands louder reverb from his tech booth to emphasise truly mind-bending moments. The first half is a well-rehearsed precision spoof of an author appearance. Only the author is self-important, hackneyed and cheap. Fans of the 2002 Channel 4 TV show will find much to nod and chuckle at here.

After the interval, Marenghi starts to change gears and mines the bigger laughs. The puerile yet terrifying Randyman makes an appearance with word count fulfilling repetition. A daft highlight. Matthew Holness seems to relish taking his alter ego's scripted safety net away. The show concludes with a one-two punch. A diptych of set pieces that work the horror-meister's improv skills. Two audience members get to audition for the directorial dictator's next movie project live on stage. The poor souls. Then an audience Q&A ends the show on much acidic repartee. Predictably the Edinburgh crowd wanted to get to the bottom of that racist episode of his classic TV show - Scotch Mist. Holness knows his creation back to front and his dismissive arrogance thrives when putting an aggrieved nation back in their place succinctly. He knows his self-involved persona so well that everyone takes his dismissive shrugging in good humour.

Jessica Fostekew

It would be hard to count the multitudinous strings to Jessica Fostekew's utterly impressive bow. Exemplary stand-up. Weightlifter. Mother. Podcast host and guest du jour. Accessible feminist. Self-declared "bisexual pan sexual". Director of some of the most acclaimed Fringe debuts of the last decade. And now her own support act.

Opener Jess promises banter and new ideas in the first half of Mettle and she delivers above and beyond. The obligatory chit chat finds new routes away from the rote with people rating the peaks of their Tuesday so far and surveying Cadbury Creme Egg eating methods. A loaded question that is gently nudged into winky filth by a delectably playful Fostekew. Her currently sprouting topics are on which of the new Gladiators give her the horn and whom of the Beaver Scouts' mums, who she now finds herself interacting with, give her the boke? Answer: All of them. There is dynamite in every sentence.

If the still finding-its-feet stuff is this robust, then how strong is Mettle the actual show? Answer: Perfection. Every comedy muscle has been toned and honed over her years on the circuit. As comfortable with whimsy as observation. Her timing is nimble, her voice coursing through every writing choice. Her personality is defined, ripped even, yet feels unforced. There's enthusiasm for stand-up, and for the audience she has built up, that echoes back and forth between stage and seats.

Not that Fostekew isn't playing with a handicap in 2024. Her son was a rich seam of material for years as the accidental misogynist in her life. Now he's reached an ancient eight years-old, he proves no longer fit for purpose, having been raised into a frustratingly decent human being. Luckily her partner's complete inability to wink means at least someone in the household is pulling their inspirational weight this go-around. Jess knows she has physical gold dust here and treats us to a generous ration of "the wink". Beavers aren't the only socially acceptable cult in her life, so CrossFit culture also finds her crosshairs. There's a penultimate routine we can't even talk about due to a comedy embargo. It certainly plunges us all right into a terrifying experience with storytelling aplomb.

Finally, the government's sloppy reaction to ULEZ fires her up with warped political passion. A little preachy, for sure, but she's on safe ground suggesting we can all do our bit to make our immediate world just a little less shit. Interesting that many cusping early millennials are choosing to set their fanbases homework. Fuck the Tories and do the positive stuff within your reach. Even if you need a litter picker!

Josh Pugh. Credit: Sam Frank Wood

Josh Pugh's Existin' La Vida Loca is an hour so bustling with walloping gags that the sixty minutes seems to fly by in half the allotted time. His flow is slick and purposeful. His topics a brand of kitchen sink whimsy that only stray into puerile with a wonderfully gross bit of flim flam about a dog's "lipstick".

Pugh cuts about in the guise of a beta male navigating a world his dad and granddad's cosseted generations could never even imagine. He is a self-deprecator with a keen intelligence. Subjects as far ranging but invitingly humdrum as taxi ordering pitfalls and aftersun application hit loudly with a constantly engaged room. His cadence is a clip faster than the standard giving the impression of confession spilling out, betraying an active mind full of ideas. The fifth gear rhythm negates any need for crowd work or lulls, allowing his scripted material to shine on its own merits.

It is probably not controversial to say Pugh is a bit of a house favourite amongst everyone at British Comedy Guide. There's a purity in his brand of stand-up that harks back to the greats of the post Eighties alternative boom. A subtle quirk and self-awareness that elevates him from the circuit journeymen. Everyone at the pints happy The Stand, Edinburgh, was laughing and chiming with his evolved shtick. The multitude of scruffy wonderments he offers up as he performs an inquest on his own eroding masculinity worked with a multi aged crowd of differing comedy abilities. He could easily go full mainstream; he could wow an arts centre effortlessly and on this rare form I hope he goes all the way to the giddiest heights in his comedy career.

Garth Marenghi's Incarcerat is available from all good bookshops.

Jessica Fostekew: Mettle is touring the UK & Ireland until June 2024.

Josh Pugh: Existin' La Vida Loca is touring the UK until June 2024.

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