Amiable Weirdo Joz Norris (who is performing at The Hive at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe) gives us the run down of the eight types of show you always see at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
It’s July, and that means things are hotting up in the comedy world. For the last few weeks all anybody’s been able to talk about are Chris Evans not being very good at hosting Top Gear, and my brilliant webseries, but that’s about to change. The Edinburgh Fringe is bearing down upon us, and all eyes now turn to that month of monumental creativity and enormous fun. Nica Burns is applying the final coat of polish to the coveted lastminute.com award trophies; Peter Buckley Hill is putting a lovely lick of paint on Cowgatehead; and all those critics are sharpening their pencils!
There’s no two ways about it, the Edinburgh Fringe is an amazing place to see a whole load of inventive, imaginative and ground-breaking comedy, theatre, spoken word and performance art. But, of course, in an arts festival so enormous, not everything can break the mould. Some Edinburgh Fringe shows are inevitably going to fall into some sort of familiar formula, and it’s always a little disheartening as a punter when you go along to a show only to find it’s fairly similar to any number of other shows you could have seen.
So, with my Edinburgh Fringe Veteran’s hat on, here are eight types of comedy show you’ll probably see in some form or another this Fringe.
The Improvised Dead Dad Show
A perennial favourite, this. “I need you to suggest a name for my dad, any name will do,” the comedian will say. “Roger!” cries an audience member, keen to get involved. “Blueberry Muffin!” shouts another, keen to throw the improv comic a curve-ball. “Roger it is,” says the cowardly comedian. “And now I need you to suggest a cause of death.” “Sat on by a hippo!” says the audience member who suggested Blueberry Muffin. “Sat on by a hippo it is,” says the comedian, feeling bad for ignoring their Blueberry Muffin suggestion. Then the comic proceeds to act out a by-the-numbers dead dad narrative using the suggestions given to them by the audience. It’s a tired old format, but one that never goes out of fashion. Just make sure if you find yourself in one of these improvised dead dad shows that you give the comedian something challenging to really wrestle with, like being strangled in his sleep by an octopus or something.
Something About Bowie
Bowie was probably the most high-profile celebrity death to occur before the Edinburgh Fringe registration deadline. As such, expect plenty of references to him this year. Oh, sure, there’ll be plenty of more hastily cobbled together references to Prince and Victoria Wood, but considering Bowie had the forethought to shuffle off his mortal coil nice and early in the year, guaranteeing comedians had plenty of time to work him into their Edinburgh shows, he’s likely to be the most prevalent dead celebrity to actually feature in a show’s title, blurb or artwork.
The One-man Brexit Parody Show
There’ll be at least a dozen of these. It’ll be one comic actor showcasing their range by playing all the major figures in the whole Brexit saga via a cavalcade of wigs, hats and amusing accents. Expect fan favourite characters like Nigel Farage, Jean-Claude Juncker, Tyrion and Daenerys. There’ll also probably be jaunty musical numbers to ensure a truly fun time, like “Theresa, May I Have This Dance?” or “Gove F**k Yourself.”
Three Newer Comedians Splitting the Bill
It’s fairly usual for newer comedians to opt for this route rather than launching straight into a debut hour. Essentially, it involves watching the three newish comics enjoying a meal in a restaurant somewhere, and then at the end when the bill comes they discuss how best to pay it. “I thought we were just splitting the bill?” says one. “Yeah but I just had a tap-water and you two both had beers,” says another. “I think it’d be fairer if we paid for what we each had.” “You had a starter, though, and that’s pretty much equivalent to a beer, isn’t it?” And on and on forever. For some reason I’ve never quite fathomed, this is considered a good thing to do at the Edinburgh Fringe for a few years before doing a debut hour. I never bothered myself, because I usually eat alone.
A Hollywood Actor Doing An Ibsen
It’s not all comedy and variety shows at the Fringe, of course. There’s also a huge amount of brilliant theatre to see. Some of it will be inventive and exciting, and others will fall into more predictable moulds, like this one. Every year without fail, some Hollywood actor will head to the Fringe to do an Ibsen play, usually with some sort of modern twist. Last year Robert Downey Jr. won acclaim for his performance in a production of The Master Builder in which every character but him was played by a Jim Henson puppet. This year I believe Jim Carrey is playing Hedda Gabler at C Venues, but in this version Hedda runs her college Glee Club. Personally, I find it all a bit cynical and I invite you all to join me in sitting in the front row and shouting “When’s Mr Popper’s Penguins 2 coming out?”
The Character Comedy Mid-show Reveal
Everybody remembers how gut-punchingly brilliant the twist in The Sixth Sense was when they first saw it. But as the years go by, “Bruce Willis is Keyser Soze” sounds increasingly silly and obvious due to overexposure. It’s the same with the classic mid-show reveal that plagues most character comedy shows. You’ll have sat watching half an hour of conventional observational stand-up from a young white man, when suddenly he’ll stop and shake his head and stare at the floor and say “Guys, I have to come clean. I’m not really an observational stand-up comedian. I’m a character comedian.” And then he’ll tear off his featureless face and reveal a far more grotesque comic creation underneath, replete with a big bushy moustache and a huge pair of comedy glasses and a big ginger wig. Then he’ll remove his t-shirt and jeans to reveal a glittering, brightly coloured patchwork clown costume. We were all had!
For the second half of the show, the mask has been dropped and the character comedian can be himself, dancing a charleston while covered in yoghurt or juggling little frogs. It was a great reveal in the first two dozen shows to do this, but literally every character comedy show does it these days and it’s getting a bit predictable.
The 40-minute Mark Tonal Shift
Similar to the previous point, this one, in that it’s a predictable moment within the conventional structure of an Edinburgh show, but slightly different as this one’s to do with tone rather than with a character reveal or something like that. Pretty much every Edinburgh show now has to feature this tonal shift at the 40-minute mark in order to signify a kind of Pyrrhic anagnorisis for the show’s protagonist before transitioning into the final act. Traditionally this will usually take the form of a show which features 40 minutes of self-involved, solipsistic drama and cod-philosophising, only for the 40 minute mark to feature a hilarious joke that turns the whole thing on its head, but I’m hoping this year somebody might be bold enough to flip things round and have the courage to write a funny comedy show that dips into saccharine, manipulative drama at the 40-minute mark.
A Comedian With A Guitar
This one’s always very embarrassing to see. The comedian marches onstage, and immediately the audience starts to shift in their seats, realising what’s happened. The comedian grips the neck of their guitar, holding the body of it up to their mouth as if it’s a microphone. “Good evening Edinburgh, are we well?” he says, but nobody can hear him because he’s not holding a microphone! “Oh God,” the audience thinks, “he’s picked up a guitar instead of a microphone! The poor idiot! Now we can’t hear him, and also his face is completely hidden by the bulk of the guitar!” The audience spends the entire show staring at their shoes, shuffling awkwardly as the comedian struggles, unamplified, to get through their routine, all the while sweating and panicking over why the room seems so silent.
Eventually, 45 minutes into the show, the comedian taps the side of the guitar and says “Is this thing on?” and only when they hear the dull, hollow thud instead of the pop of feedback they were expecting do they realise what’s happened. “Oh shit!” says the comedian. “This isn’t a microphone at all, it’s a guitar! What a bloody idiot I’ve been!” They proceed to chuck the guitar down and bellow with all their might at the audience that it wasn’t their fault, they’re usually really good and they made a simple mistake, but the audience are already filing out of the door. “Please! Wait!” cries the comedian. But the last audience member just looks back apologetically, turns the lights out and leaves the room. There’s always a few people who make this mistake at the Fringe. Don’t let it be you.
And there we have it – eight tried and tested formulaic shows it’s likely you’ll end up seeing this Fringe. Hopefully you’ll also see loads of really inventive, imaginative stuff but don’t be surprised if a few of these little habits sneak into some of the shows you end up watching! I hope you all have an amazing Fringe!
Joz Norris: Hello, Goodbye
Heroes @ The Hive
4-14, 16-28 August, 6.40pm
PWYW / £5 adv