No two days in Edinburgh are the same. Sure, they are all made up of twenty-four hours, and each day will typically present the same challenges of navigating the beautiful, frustrating cobbled streets, but otherwise no two days are the same. On Tuesday, buoyed by a pair of bright blue sky days, I took the decision to venture out into the Fringe coatless – as I had done since arriving in the city. I almost immediately regretted my decision upon stepping out of the Staysafe hostel onto Blackfriars Street and feeling the familiar chill of a grey Edinburgh morning. It wasn’t too late to retreat and seek the insurance of a coat, but I had committed to my decision and didn’t want to add another five minutes to my wait for breakfast. The afternoon rainstorm at George Square would easily render this amongst the most foolish decisions made by me at the 2016 Fringe.
The previous frontrunner in that category was, of course, the election to see Monkey Poet at Banshee Labyrinth and it was with no lack of trepidation that I returned to Scotland’s Most Haunted Pub for my first show that afternoon. A Deuchars IPA goes a long way to easing most fears, however, and it took mere minutes of Peter Brush’s set to banish them completely. He has a very disarming self-deprecating style which is quite clearly modelled on Woody Allen, as he later confirms when he talks about being inspired by Woody’s early standup, screenwriting, directing, acting and prose writing…everything but his sex life, basically. His material focusses a lot on the dreams of youth – both literally and figuratively – and relies heavily on wordplay and the audience doing a bit of work to reach the punchline in their mind. It was my favourite free show of the Fringe.
Proving that no two days at the Fringe are the same – or that it is easier to find your way around the city when sober as opposed to heavily drunk – I had no difficulty locating Bristo Square as I moved to spend the bulk of my third day at another of the festival’s largest collection of venues: Gilded Balloon and Assembly George Square. Here at the Gilded Garden I enjoyed a couple of Festival Ales prior to taking a chance on a show which I had been leafleted on yesterday – Notflix, an improvised musical based on audience suggestions of films they have recently watched. This was a fun hour with a talented cast – one of whom had featured in yesterday’s Impromptu Shakespeare – though again, as happens with an hour long improv, the story began to fall apart the longer it went on,
The heavy late afternoon rain led to me seeking refuge under a canopy with a Deuchars IPA at Assembly George Square as I awaited three shows at the studios. Thrones! The Musical Parody was sold out and hugely entertaining, though as a lapsed fan of the hit fantasy show I dare say much of it was lost on me. Sarah Kendall, on the other hand, provided an hour of immersive and hilarious storytelling as she recounted telling her therapist – who was growing tired of her frequent lies and attempts at using him for material – of the time at school where her desperation to be noticed and liked led to her inventing a story in which she was the victim of an attempted abduction. The story quickly spiralled out of control with the school headmaster and the police becoming involved, but she shouldn’t backtrack because she had become the centre of attention at school. The “punchline” to the story – which I had been dreading after being selected by her at the beginning of the show to read aloud a Google search result – was provocative and quite gut wrenching. From the front row you could see the emotion welling in her eyes. This was easily a Fringe highlight.
Mary Lynn Rajskub offered a different style of comedy, though equally as personal, in her show which detailed 24 hours in which the former ‘24’ star had a troubling experience at a show in Peoria, Illinois, considered cheating on her husband with a yoga teacher, bought a miniature horse, saw her young son rushed to A&E and ended up finding a new level of intimacy with her husband. The set didn’t flow quite as smoothly as all that, but the content was enough to hold the audience, and as a fan of ‘24’ it was a treat to have ‘Chloe O’Brien’ before me questioning whether it is cheating if only the tip goes on.
With the Pleasance Dome closeby and so not even nearly as awkward to locate as on Sunday night I chose to end the night with one of my favourite experiences from the 2015 Fringe, where I watched Colt Cabana and Brendan Burns do commentary and comedy on bad wrestling matches. At the Blue Moon bar prior to the show I did my own bad comedy having remembered from my first visit there that the barmaid would likely ask me if I would like a slice of orange in my drink. I told her that sounded “a-peel-ing.” It garnered just the right amount of sympathy laugh. Upstairs Daniel Sloss joined Cabana and Burns on stage for an hour of bad wrestling. I can’t think of anything better to do when super drunk on a Tuesday night in Edinburgh than watch bad wrestling matches. These were suitably terrible, and the hosts suitably funny to make it all enjoyable. I wasn’t even worried about the fact I hadn’t brought a coat anymore.
But of course, no two days in Edinburgh are the same, and when I decided that I would play the mid-safe option of adding a second layer to my attire on Wednesday morning – a white t-shirt beneath my shirt, rather than a coat – I walked onto a Royal Mile which was basking in late August sunshine, I had committed to the additional layer, though, and I would just have to suffer for my foolishness. Perhaps adopting a more aggressive rehydration strategy would help, I thought, so after breakfast I went directly to The Advocate for a refreshing Innis & Gunn IPA before continuing down onto Blair Street to Cabaret Voltaire for the only five star show on my Fringe schedule. I should note that over two Fringe’s this was my third time in Cabaret Voltaire and the third time in which almost all of the draught beers were off. In the busiest month of the year. At a venue running all day free shows. It’s the only bar I have witnessed suffer this phenomenon in the city. Ahir Shah, though, was superb. A great dissection of the confused and terrifying world in which we live. He is smart, articulate and witty and did a fine job of painting the absurdity of the post-Brexit landscape.
After continuing my aggressive rehydration strategy at The Rowantree on the Cowgate, which became one of my favourite Edinburgh bars this Fringe with its relatively modestly priced Williams Bros offerings (£4.50 for a Caesar Augustus is pretty good by Edinburgh standards,) it was a short saunter to the Mash House to see Cakes by Bilal Zafar, which had received a three star review in Monday’s Times – though I mistakenly told the comic that the reason I was there was because I read a four star review from The Times; he assured me it was three stars and I responded that the review was a good read anyway. He had earlier that day learned that he had been nominated for the Best Newcomer award at this year’s festival and so this was a show of celebration. His show is a remarkable one in which he recounts the tale of his brother using the #banmuslimbusinesses Twitter trend to make a joke that @zafarcakes – Bilal’s Twitter handle – is a cake shop in Bristol which refuses to serve non Muslim customers. Not wanting to be upstaged by his brother, Bilal, who at the time was quite clearly a standup comedian, changed his Twitter profile to substitute the picture of him performing on stage for one of a gingerbread man, the location switched from Manchester to Bristol and the bio which once read “comedian” now read “Halal”. He played along with his brother’s joke. And then he began receiving abuse from various Twitter accounts which believed @zafarcakes (a Twitter handle which came from the common mispronunciation of the letter ‘z’ as ‘j’) to be a Muslim only cake shop. He began to purposefully mis-spell his Tweets after the born and bred Londoner was accused of being a refugee; this only added to the ire. One lady suggested he was on benefits (despite believing him to be the owner of a business selling cakes only to Muslims) and so he responded that he had saved up all his benefits to start a business. Another man was seemingly angry that, as a white man, he was banned from a bakery in which he didn’t want to eat anyway. Others weren’t happy that he presumably didn’t use bacon. In his cakes. It was patently absurd. The EDL became involved and some of these Twitter users were increasingly frustrated that they couldn’t locate this Muslim only cake shop in Bristol, not thinking for a moment that they couldn’t find it because it simply didn’t exist. The punchline came when one of Bilal’s primary antagonists was revealed to be a season ticket holder at Manchester City – a football club owned by one of the richest Muslim businessmen in the world, if not the richest. Cakes was definitely worth the four stars The Times didn’t give it.
A couple of rehydration pit stops at Brewdog and The Advocate followed prior to the Absolute Improv! show on Niddry Street, which was alright but merely a starter for my main course – not only of the day but the entire Fringe. I’ve seen David O’Doherty every year that I’ve been coming to Edinburgh, and this year he had been promoted to the festival’s largest venue at Assembly Hall on The Mound. His Casio keyboard act follows the same formula every year, and every year it is charming and delightful. His jokes always feel off the cuff and irreverent. You know that if you’re ending your Fringe experience with David O’Doherty you’re ending it on a high note. Edinburgh may change from day-to-day, but year-on-year this is a supremely fun show.