Stand up and be counted: The best of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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On the eve of the release of the nominations for the coveted Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards, our critic Julian Hall chooses his favourites

Adam Riches

Who: The writer and performer's Fringe career didn't get off to an auspicious start, with a two-hander called Plat du Nuit. However, since 2007 Riches has brought up a series of character shows that have impressed the critics. A former playwright with designs on producing sitcoms and films, Riches is an energetic actor and his shows are some of the most hectic on the Fringe.

Show: Bring Me The Head of Adam Riches (Pleasance Courtyard) presents a high-octane mix of dysfunctional characters. It also involves a fair amount of audience participation. Manipulative, perhaps, but extremely rewarding, Riches' world is populated by a Mexican swingball champion, an agent who will sign everybody and everything, including the floors and the walls of the theatre, and the crazed inventor of the guessing-game Mastermind.

Gag: In character, as Daniel Day-Lewis: "I'm the most successful actor ever to appear in nobody's favourite film."

Andrew Maxwell

Who: Nominated for the if.comedy award (now the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award) in 2007, the Irishman has a fabulous Fringe pedigree, consistently earning high praise. He rarely tours the UK but he has had made a number of appearances on shows such as Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You.

Show: The Lights Are On (Assembly George Square) is a brisk tour around the UK and the rest of the world, picking up on tragic and comic news stories and events. One of a few comedians to offer a protracted take on the recent UK riots, Maxwell ranges over subjects from Cobra-owners to the Pope in an equal opportunities offensive.

Gag: On the riots: "Black kids in London, asian kids in Birmingham, white kids in Manchester – a scumbag rainbow."

Josie Long

Who: Long won the BBC New Comedy Award at 16, was best newcomer at the Fringe in 2006 and was nominated for the main award last year. The 29-year-old has recently been heard on BBC 6 Music, co-hosting with Andrew Collins, and has had her own Radio 4 show. She has also written for the E4 television series Skins.

Show: The Future Is Another Place (Pleasance Dome) charts Long's political awakening, following a car accident. The comedian decides she will gen up on the government, in order to criticise them more effectively, and then pulls off the tricky feat of balancing policy points with punchlines.

Gag: "Friends asked me how I knew so much about Jeremy Hunt. I follow a lot of people on Twitter and I don't have a job!"

Kerry Godliman

Who: An actress and comedian who made her first impact as a finalist in 2003's Funny Women competition. Two years later she was cast in a Channel 4 sketch show, Spoons. Since then she has starred in Home Time on BBC2 and Doctors and Miranda on BBC1 – she will also be appearing in the new sitcom from Ricky Gervais, Life's Too Short, in the autumn. This is her second Edinburgh show.

Show: Wonder Woman (Pleasance Courtyard) uses the superhero to measure Godliman's achievements in life and to illustrate just how much you have to run to stand still as a career woman. Godliman never sounds sorry for herself and the analogies she makes to her childhood idol are subtle, without the need for any glib shoehorning.

Gag: "I stopped going to the gym because I developed an allergy. To RnB."

The Pajama Men

Who: Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen met at High School in New Mexico and formed a sketch-theatre outfit called Sabotage. Under that guise, they were nominated for a Perrier newcomer award in 2004. As The Pajama Men they have had deserved critical praise heaped upon them wherever they have toured.

Show: In The Middle Of No One (Assembly George Square) is the latest in a line of highly-skilled, zany but never stupid collections of sketches within a loopy narrative. Here, a yarn about aliens and time travel utilises the pair's dexterous faces and voices as they inhabit weird creatures, such as the sexed up "Give-it-to-me" bird.

Gag: A life-support machine is made to sound like an alarm clock. When it is stopped, Chavez yells: "That man just hit snooze on death!"

WitTank

Who: Despite strong shows from other sketch troupes, such as Idiots of Ants and Kieran and the Joes, this trio, who formed out of the Durham Revue, have provided one of the Fringe's more joyous efforts. WitTank are comprised of Kieran Boyd, Mark Cooper-Jones and Naz Osmanoglu, who is also performing a solo show.

Show: WitTank (Just the Tonic at The Caves) is a nifty collection of short, sharp sketches that employ some fun recurring characters including a kleptomaniac archbishop and a gammon-obsessed headteacher.

Gag: A Donnie Darko-inspired scene in which a reprobate rabbit is conjured up every time a man eats sugar, pushing him further and further into hilarious debauchery.

Brett Goldstein

Who: An actor and writer who turned to stand up in 2006 and two years later was identified by the website Chortle as "one to watch". Since then he has clocked up hundreds of appearances at comedy clubs.

Show: Brett Goldstein Grew Up In A Strip Club (Pleasance Dome) is a skilful telling of how the comic spent a year in his early twenties managing a strip club in Marbella, as a result of an impulsive decision by his father. Gangsters and hitmen were among his colourful clientele but the tale is no homage to Guy Ritchie. Nor is it a stand-up version of an RnB video – rather, it is a tender portrait of mishap and human folly.

Gag: "If you enjoyed the show please don't tell your friends. We need a circle of trust, otherwise someone could get whacked."

DeAnne Smith

Who: The 32-year-old Canadian has enjoyed a defining year. She arrived in Edinburgh after a successful stint at Montreal's Just for Laughs and before that she was nominated for the Barry Award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. She will no doubt be hoping the Fringe brings her a grand slam of recognition.

Show: The Best DeAnne Smith DeAnne Smith Can Be is a collection of pleasing routines and sharp gags, ranging from wariness of toddlers to attitudes to lesbian sex and intelligent design. Smith plays well with deconstruction of her own act, though her improv with the audience can be hit and miss.

Gag: On the reason Hollywood stars adopt African babies: "Black goes with everything."

Holly Walsh

Who: After graduating from Cambridge with a degree in art history, Walsh worked in galleries until turning to comedy full-time in 2006. Since then she has appeared on CBBC as a presenter and on 8 Out Of Ten Cats, Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Mock the Week.

Show: Hollycopter (Pleasance Courtyard) recounts how Walsh broke her arm after jumping off the end of Worthing pier, while participating in the annual Worthing Birdman event. Using the event as her thread, the 30-year-old takes in a light examination of her phobias and weaves in gentle anecdotes from less risky ventures.

Gag: "I have no concept of when the right time to start drinking is, but then I only ever drink in Wetherspoon's pubs."

Humphrey Ker

Who: A member of Fringe favourites The Penny Dreadfuls, a theatre-sketch troupe who have split into three solo ventures this year. Ker recently appeared on the BBC2 improvised sketch show Fast and Loose, hosted by Hugh Dennis. Though this year is his debut, he could jump to the main list.

Show: Humphrey Ker is Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher! (Pleasance Courtyard) is a thigh-slapping WWII romp, with knowing nods to the modern day, about a hapless navy spy who has six days to save the world from an atomic demise at the hands of the Nazis. Numerous characters populate the piece, including a crazed Geordie training officer and a clever dog called Uncle Trevor.

Gag: "I picked up my kit, which was heavy, like an Ibsen play."

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