EDINBURGH FRINGE : WAS THERE AN OVERSATURATION OF TRUMP SHOWS IN 2017?

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has been a weird one this year. Perhaps it’s just my own inablility to see it, or other engagements that I’ve been distracted by – but there honestly didn’t seem to be much on the festival this year that was a must see. There are a fair share of repeat performers every year, and it’s up to them if they want to do a new show or the same old set, whatever works for them as a comedian. The one thing that I disliked about the fringe this year however is that everyone seems to be trying to do the same shit: rip on the POTUS, Donald Trump.

I know that you have to put in applications for a show a long time in advance, but surely there would be some foresight somewhere – If it’s a hot topic, won’t everyone be doing it? This year I don’t think I’ve seen one show that didn’t have a sly reference to him somewhere, no matter if the context is appropriate or not. Even if a show has no relation to him, the blurb or the copy advertising the show will mention it somewhere.  A quick search of the Fringe website had 71 shows that mentioned ‘Trump’ in the title or the blurb of the show – and 218 that mentioned ‘Politics and Trump’. Is that enough to suggest that it’s oversaturated with political satire shows that care more about the climate than comedy?

So many of these shows specifically talk about living in a world that ‘Post –Truth and Post –Brexit’ like it’s 9/11 all over again. There is has been a lot of exaggeration in the impact of politics recently, good and bad we’re all blaming each other for shit that might not be completely true or hasn’t even happened yet. It’s hard to say if many of these shows got some genuine insight that would impact your worldview, or if they are just capitalising on the culture of outrage that we can’t stop indulging in.

In my honest opinion, the comedy in Donald Trump’s position as president died a long time ago. It probably died the day he got inaugurated, and sealed the deal in becoming the ‘leader of the free world’. I don’t think it’s because he’s so dangerous that you can’t joke about it, but the comedy in it all just feels half assed. The week he got elected, everyone I did stand up with that week couldn’t shut up about it. Even then I felt like a little hack trying out my Trump joke, which really didn’t have much to do with him, it was about Keith Richards snorting his dad’s ashes. Doesn’t it bother any of these comedians that this Trump focus, while completely relevant and topical when dissecting the political climate feels quite uninspired?

I heard Brent Weinbach on the Poundcast comment that he didn’t really mind if Trump was elected, because the reign of the last Republican POTUS, George W. Bush was great for comedy. It was great for Brent specifically, I remember him saying that once Obama came in, there was a slump. It kind of was a good time, but I also felt back then that it was cheap. It was always like “Here’s this doofus, and he can’t ever get anything right” and the comedy was derived from that. But with the Trump situation, people have been shitting on him as a person and a businessman ever since he became well known in the early 1980s. He was always this douchey rich kid with some sort of narcissistic disorder, and because he has mostly unchanged in character, the comedy we derive from his situation seems like it’s been done before. The only thing that has changed is his political status. Of course whatever he’s done as a political figure has been questionable, but is it enough that you can make your own spin on it actually funny?

We have all these shows that attack the POTUS because they can either do a bad impression of him, or they genuinely feel politically charged to do a show that takes him on and really takes him to task. Alex Salmond said that he wanted to ‘Roast him’ in his show. But political humour is often bloated with self-importance and a weird strain of righteousness, it’s never all that funny. I am yet to see a stand-up comedy show that uses politics in a way that isn’t just a vehicle to base all the jokes on ‘something’, its never smart enough to use a political background to do what it should be – make the humour so good that it becomes apolitical.

Matt Forde hosts a politics show every year on the fringe, and while it appeals to some, I have always found him to be a grating, dull personality. At least his show always claims to be about politics, never focusing on the comedy. It’s all about current events, which basically only has some degree of comedy for a while before it dies. It feels like all these Trump shows were dead on arrival and the jokes seem lame because we heard it all before. The guy will always be parodied in popular culture from now on and perhaps he may be a regular staple at the fringe over the next few years, but we should at least have the decency to call it out when it’s lazy.

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EDINBURGH FRINGE – BEST OF SCOTTISH COMEDY @ THE STAND 08/08

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.