When it comes to the festival, I don’t get excited to see Scottish comics or most British ones. My eye usually wanders to the fresh stream of American comedians who are trying out their new hour before realising how unprofitable the fringe can really be. But as this year came around, I started to think this is a dangerous mindset to have. This year I’m trying to confront my own prejudices and snobbery towards comedians who perform in Scotland year round, by seeing as much home grown talent as I can.
The first place I could think to get a decent show that has good Scottish acts was at The Stand on York Place, which as Edinburgh’s most prominent comedy club has probably more integrity and common sense than most of the pop-up places at the festival. Being a variety show of sorts, ‘The Best of Scottish Comedy’ is an energising comedy show that works well because it emulates the comedy club circuit these comics have worked in for so many years. Unlike a lot of shows on the fringe which focus on a personality, a gimmick or promise of celebrity guests, BOSC is able to harness what is good about seeing Scottish comedy in a club without taking anything away from it.
The show is held in one of the stand’s festival venues, a full house that got right into it as soon as compere Ray Bradshaw hit the stage. He has an affable quality to him, something essential for a great compere. He was able to rip into the Americans, the loud drunk English and the reluctant Scots in his crowd work, without it sounding hammy or played out. When he even ripped on me, a reluctant ginger kid in the front row, he did it in such a good nature that I was surprised I liked him after it, considering how much self-loathing I feel after being chosen while working the crowd at a comedy gig. Ray was great and I’d like to see him again outside of the host role.
After Ray warmed up the audience, on came Fern Brady, a sharp tongued comedian who opened with a dig at braindead cabbies in Northern Ireland. Fern has the spark – she’s a talented performer who can take on darker material without sounding too cynical or losing laughs to offended gasps. Her jokes felt warm and kind of life affirming, even though they focused on the pros and cons of crushing her tiny boyfriend to death, or cooking eggs for a halfway house full of paedophiles. The levity of Fern’s act was definitely the highlight of the night, she never faltered to what was quite a mixed bag of an audience. She bit through the tuts and groans of the older audience members, telling them she wished she could cancel her fringe show because the 12pm slot is full of old cunts who can’t deal with the word labiaplasty. To be fair, I cringe just thinking about it.
Next up was Robin Grainger, who had a hard act to follow after Fern, but he still had a solid set. Whereas Fern saunters around the stage with the grace of a drunk stepmother, Robin has the manic energy of a kid that’s just done speed for the first time. His main bit deconstructed the pitfalls of releasing mental patients for a weekend, otherwise known as T in the Park. The glorious shamble of a festival, where he tried to perform comedy for a tent full of muddy people chewing their faces off and requesting ‘Wonderwall’. Robin’s strength was telling these weird, abstract stories and I got distracted because his jokes were so similar to my own stand-up material, forcing me to confront myself about why what I wrote wasn’t as good as his material.
The headliner for the night was Mark Nelson, who is best known from this year for making a video with his daughter about the 2017 general election. I had seen Mark before, maybe a year and half ago at the stand. He killed then, and he killed here too. His opening line about the anti-terrorism barriers on the royal mile set the irreverent tone for the rest of his set “As everyone knows, the nemesis of the terrorist is the street performer.” As he slowly sips on a pint he lays down his take on family life, where you don’t like your kids equally and you wish you could die in your sleep. His grumbles about getting on, your ballsack growing bigger and bigger don’t get tired quickly like it would for some comics, it was those down to earth observations about life that completely slayed the audience. I was sat at the front with my girlfriend who was crying with laughter at the start, and then proceed to not be able to breathe.
‘The Best of Scottish Comedy’ exceeded my expectations for Scottish comedians at the fringe this year and left me leaving with a strange, twanging feeling in my heart which I later realised was patriotic pride. As I left the gig and went home, I kept thinking about how damn good it was and how blinded I’ve been due to these insecurities about my own identity. Maybe one day I’ll be able to channel that self-loathing into something worthwhile, even comedy. I was a fool to look down on the broad spectrum of Scottish comedy, because there really is some true greatness in there.