Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The best comedy acts to see from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

The most interesting game each year is predicting which lesser-known names will have that magical August that propels them into the big leagues

The big names

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by Edinburgh, so it’s always good to book for a few reliable names in advance. May we suggest Bridget Christie, who returns after winning the ultimate Edinburgh crown last year – the Foster’s Comedy Award – with An Ungrateful Woman (2-25 Aug, The Stand).

Other previous award-winners to catch include stand-ups-cum-actors-cum-writers Will Adamsdale (31 July to 24 Aug, Underbelly, Cowgate), and Adam Riches (30 July to 24 Aug, Pleasance Dome), both making a welcome return to the Fringe after absent years.

Endearing purveyor of outrage, Josie Long, is also back (1-24 Aug, The Stand) – this time, swapping politics for luuurve …. We’re not sure what Susan Calman (31 July to 24 Aug, Underbelly, Bristo Square) will talking about, but given her show is called Lady Like, gender satire might just be on the cards? Mark Watson’s Flaws promises to be his most personal show yet (30 July to 24 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard), while grumpy old Jack Dee invites you to share your own problems with his panel of “experts” in Help Desk (18-24 Aug, Assembly George Square Studios).

The rising stars

The most interesting game each year is predicting which lesser-known names will have that magical August that propels them into the big leagues. Two strong bets, to judge by the gathering buzz, are festival first-timer Lucy Beaumont (30 July to 24 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard), whose wide-eyed persona and northern humour have inspired inevitable Victoria Wood comparisons, and second-timer Phil Wang (30 July to 24 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard), a former Cambridge Footlights prez whose dry, wry take on sexual and racial politics earnt him some raves last year.

On the free Fringe, look out for the buoyant Luisa Omielan (1-24 Aug, Laughing Horse@ The Counting House) following up her high-energy hit What Would Beyoncé Do? and character comic Ellie White (2-23 Aug, Viva Mexico) the latest talent from the prestigious Invisible Dot stable.

And, as for more experienced comedians on the cusp of a breakthrough, we’d keep an eye on policeman turned stand-up Alfie Moore (30 July to 25 Aug, Assembly George Square Studios), debonair dandy Tom Allen (31 July to  24 Aug, the Stand) returning with his first show in three years, and John Robins (31 July to 24 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard) a self-deprecating charmer with primetime TV appeal.

The imports

Edinburgh is a melting pot of international comic talent, but Russian stand-ups have never featured at the festival before, so big news this year is the debut of St Petersburg-born Igor Meerson (30 July to 25 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard).

On the other hand, this year’s programme is rather lacking in high-profile US names, though one to book for is B J Novak (19 to 24 Aug, Assembly George Square Gardens), writer and star of the US version of The Office, who will be presenting dramatic readings from his story collection One More Thing.

An as-ever strong Australian contingent as includes 2011 Comedy Award nominee and surrealist genius Sam Simmons (30 July to 24 Aug, Underbelly); Hannah Gadsby (30 July to 24 Aug, Assembly George Square Gardens), back after enjoying a breakthrough last year; and Tasmanian newbie Luke McGregor (1 to 25 Aug, Assembly George Square Gardens), whose winning, gawky neuroticism is encapsulated by his show’s title I Worry That I Worry to Much.

And then from Europe, the act that most caught our eye is German Lucie Pohl (30 July to 25 Aug, Gilded Balloon), thanks to both her genealogy – she is Bertolt Brecht’s great-niece – and material – her show will explore her predicament as a German-Jew with a lifelong obsession with Hitler.

The duos and troupes

For the first time in 15 years, Whose Line is it Anyway? is back at the Fringe … except they don’t have the title rights, so best call it Whose Live Show Is it Anyway? (6-19 Aug, Underbelly, Bristo Square).

Clive Anderson is joined by old regulars Greg Proops, Josie Lawrence, Stephen Frost and Colin Mochrie. Another cult TV series is resurrected in Knightmare Live, a returning stage recreation of the much-loved Eighties kids show (30 July to 24 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard) – and if that isn’t silly enough, try 50 Shades! The Musical (31 July to 25 Aug, Assembly Hall), an acclaimed US parody of the erotic-lit phenomenon.

Genre-mashing in a more subtle fashion are three of the UK’s hottest young playwrights – Nick Payne, Ella Hickson and Tom Wells – who splice comedy, live music and raucous storytelling in Symphony (31 July to 25 Aug, Assembly George Square Gardens). It’s not in your trusty programme, but don’t miss Fuckstorm 3001: Daniel Kitson, Andy Zaltzman and Alun Cochrane causing midnight mayhem (13-24 Aug, The Stand) – nor Jessie Cave + Emer Kenny, two feted young comic actresses bringing double the fun (31 July to 25 Aug, Laughing Horse @ Espionage).

The mavericks

It wouldn’t be the fringe without renegade celebrities bidding to amuse: this year, pick from Jeremy Paxman, celebrating post-Newsnight freedom with musings on facial hair and underpants (18 to 25 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard), and Nancy Dell’Olio on “surviving with glamour” (14 to 24 Aug, Gilded Balloon) in a show, propitiously, co-written by excellent stand-up Diane Spencer.

And, if that doesn’t scare you, there’s Christeene, a macabre Deep South drag queen whose show is an, ahem, “fluid” mix of punk, camp and pure filth (31 July to 23 Aug, Underbelly, Cowgate). Or enjoy a date with Red Bastard, where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction (30 July to 24 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard).

Controversial stand-up cum performance artist, Kim Noble, may also try to get close to you – his latest provocation, You’re Not Alone, explores modern loneliness (19-24 Aug, Traverse).

Others putting themselves on the line include Jess Thom, who has Tourette’s and literally doesn’t know what she’ll say in her Backstage in Biscuitland – though it’s likely the word “biscuit” will come up a lot (1 to 16 Aug, Pleasance Courtyard), and Rachael Clerke who will put her Scottish identity under the microscope – and dare to “go there” with the referendum – in How to Achieve Redemption as a Scot Through the Medium of Braveheart (31 July to 24 Aug; Underbelly, Cowgate).

READ MORE: Edinburgh Festival 2014: Best theatre shows to see
Edinburgh Festival 2014: Best dance and music
Edinburgh Festival 2014: Weirdest shows to see
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