Edinburgh Festival 2017: comedy shows to book now

Al Porter, Sara Pascoe and Adam Riches are among the comedians to catch at this year’s Fringe

Fin Taylor was one of the break-through stand-ups of Edinburgh 2016 with his powerful, spiky attack on white middle-class privilege, in what was possibly the smallest, sweatiest rooms in the city. It was a show he’s since taken to the US, Australia and Europe. This year, with Lefty Tighty Righty Loosey, he turns his attentions to the British left, its factions and immorality, and those who describe themselves as ‘too leftwing to vote for centrists’. The ‘politically homeless’ Taylor is likely to make a few enemies along the way, not least because in the show he will attempt to defend the Iraq war. A potential feather-ruffler. The Tron, at Just the Tonic, 10.20pm

Winner of the 2014 Best Comedy Show award, John Kearns returns to the Fringe for the first time since that triumph. He’s a comic unlike any other right now, a curious slow burner, but with a super-quick comic brain in the moment. If you look past the trademark monk’s wig, out-sized false teeth and high-pitched voice, there’s an old-fashioned comic in there, who draws on Tony Hancock and Alan Bennett. This show looks set to be another slow-go-easy monologue, adapted from his Christmas show last year, which was an affectionate take on the Kearns Christmas dinner, including sound recordings he’d taken at the table. Monkey Barrel @ Heroes, 5pm

Al Porter

It’s refreshing for a stand-up to actually make the most of their intellect onstage, rather than flaunt it or dumb it down, and Sara Pascoe is one such comic. A regular on TV panel programmes, her live shows are terrific: simultaneously interesting and funny (a harder feat than you might imagine), and they feel like they ought to come with an accompanying bibliography. Her previous touring show and book, Animal, was her finest yet, deploying evolutionary history to examine what has made modern woman what it is. Since then, her relationship with fellow comic John Robins (a similarly smart-and-funny stand-up) has ended, and this split forms the starting point for LadsLadsLads. The aftermath of the relationship, she says, largely involved being drunk and lonely in a variety of places: spiritual retreats, city breaks, life-drawing classes and football matches. Expect this take on the ‘break-up show’ to be a cut above the rest. Pleasance Courtyard, 7pm

Sharp-suited Al Porter is a rare beast in that he appears to have arrived on the comedy stage pretty much the finished article. It’s assumed that the 24-year-old will be a household name before long, indeed I’m surprised he is returning to Edinburgh without having been fast-tracked into primetime telly since last August. His old-school camp schtick recalls the likes of Frankie Howerd and Larry Grayson, though it’s his Michael Barrymore-ish common touch with the audience that make his shows so uproarious. This anarchic side of him sits hand in hand with the fact that he’s an unashamedly mainstream comedian in the vein of Michael McIntyre (with extra rude bits), and it’s a combination that simply works. His material can edge towards the banal, but he’s at his best when talking about his own experiences growing up on a council estate in Dublin and his sex life. Few can resist this steamroller of a comedian. Campus Maximus, Underbelly Med Quad, 6.45pm

From Los Angeles comes Sara Schaefer, one of a healthy batch of American stand-ups coming to Edinburgh this year. Her TV works includes appearances alongside John Oliver, Amy Schumer and Jimmy Fallon, so she arrives with some pedigree, and her debut show Chrysalis is definitely worth tracking down online. Her main comic weapon is her droll delivery, which has deceptive power in her routines about female body image and post-divorce sex. Her Edinburgh debut, however, is focused on politics, and America in the age of Trump. It’s a fair bet that the president will be the go-to easy laugh for many a lazy comedian this year, so why not get your Trump-bashing fix from a quality comedian who actually comes from that side of the pond. Little White Box, Pleasance Courtyard, 7pm

Sara Pascoe

The Gilded Balloon has a history of picking up top international acts, and this year they’ve pulled off something of a coup by bagging former TV host Craig Ferguson, who presented The Late Late Show in the US for nearly 10 years. With three Emmy awards and two Grammy nominations to his name he’s by far the most decorated comic appearing this year, but the Glasgow boy is swapping the American high life for the Edinburgh Fringe to broadcast stage versions of his radio show, which only began in February this year. In his pre-fame days he performed at the Fringe as a stand-up and as a character called ‘Bing Hitler’, which was, as he put it, ‘a parody of all the uber-patriotic native folk singers who seemed to infect every public performance in Scotland’. His 2017 show will include celebrity guests, and who would bet against a reunion with his former band-mate Peter Capaldi (band name: Dreamboys)? Gilded Balloon at the Rose Theatre, 10.45pm

Live comedy’s best-kept secret, Adam Riches won Best Comedy Show in 2011 but hasn’t had the chance to show TV audiences what he can do (his role in The Detectorists provides no clues). In a way, you can see why the discrepancy has occurred, as Riches’ shows rely on him breaking through the fourth wall to haul audience members onstage to help with his various sketches. At their best, his shows have an intoxicating fervour that few comics can reach – audience members almost seem to want to join him on stage. His characters are often spoofs of celebrity alpha males, from Sean Bean to Ryan Gosling, and it’s all done with mischievous smirk. Details on his 2017 offering, The Inane Chicanery of a Certain Adam GC Riches, are scant so far, but you are promised ‘sharks, snipers, and Gerard Butler aplenty’. Pleasance Dome, 9.45pm

Fin Taylor

Outside Scotland, the Melbourne International Festival is the closest thing to the Edinburgh Fringe – certainly for comedy fans – and each year the winner of its Barry Award for best show is usually a good tip. This year the winner was Hannah Gadsby, who has stood out in previous Fringes with her low-octane, self-deprecating humour. This year, the Tasmanian stand-up is performing her swansong, called Nanette, before she quits comedy. On the one hand it describes what happened when she spent a year indulging her eccentric side after a lifetime trying to fit in, on the other it’s a lament at the debate surrounding same-sex marriage that has been occurring in Australia, and the corrosive effect it can have on individuals. By all accounts, Gadby’s farewell show is a hard-hitting show that leaves its mark on audiences more than most. 5.30pm, Assembly George Square

For some, going to the Edinburgh Fringe is less about imbibing its cultural offerings as drinking heavily – especially those visiting from outside, who can take full advantage of the generous licensing hours. For the multi-taskers out there, Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham have come up with a handy bundle that combines comedy with booze: The Thinking Drinkers: History of Alcohol. Primarily drink experts, McFarland and Sandham view the entirety of human civilisation via the prism of alcohol, and posit the theory that it has influenced everything that has ever happened. The show has become an Edinburgh staple in recent years, selling out its run since 2011. 8.35pm, Underbelly Med Squad


Close