As reported in last week's Independent on Sunday, one effect of the recession is that Fringe-goers are plumping for famous comics' shows – investments that guarantee a high rate of humour return – rather than gambling on less established acts.
It's understandable, but it's hardly in the Spirit of the Fringe, so I've started my Edinburgh sojourn this year by trying out some comedians I've never seen before. So far, it's a strategy that's paid off.
My top tip would be Brian Gittins, a comedy character with an endorsement from Ricky Gervais on his poster. You can spot the connection. Brian, the alter ego of David Earl, has a dollop of David Brent in his DNA, not to mention some Alan Partridge, and every other caricature of the provincial British male at his most inadequate and self-deluded. By day, Brian runs a greasy spoon. "Probably the best roadside café in a 12-mile radius of Pyecombe," he croaks. "And those aren't my words." By night, he's an aspiring comedian, here to showcase an almost-but-not-quite chaotic compendium of games, drawings, singalongs, and bizarrely bad non-jokes.
Earl overdoes the visual aspects of the Brian character's oddity. A hunched, limping goblin with his tuxedo jacket tucked into his unzipped trousers, he'd seem weird even on the opening rounds of Britain's Got Talent. But the show itself stays just on the right side of the fine line between very funny and horrifically distressing. He also has more warmth and softness than Messrs Brent and Partridge. No one in the audience is actually picked on, although they might be invited to dance the hokey cokey while wearing a penguin mask.
Britain's Best Mates are two more promising characters, a pair of rugger buggers named Phil and Phill (sic) who won their title in a magazine competition by downing 86 shots and vomiting a perfect Union Jack on their carpet. It's a concept that's bursting with potential, but its creators haven't quite worked out where to take it beyond the obvious joke that the Phil(l)s would both rather be more than just mates. Besides, these two chaps seem too fey and soft-spoken to do anything as laddish as synchronised chundering. Amiable fun, all the same.
Kiosk of Champions are an excellent comedy duo who zip through a cheery hour of quickfire sketches – some only two or three lines long – without the aid of props, costumes, lighting or music cues. Buoyed by a breezy chemistry that's apparent in their self-deprecating banter, Richard Sandling and Stuart Goldsmith are "the Gurkhas of comedy ... in that our contribution goes largely unrecognised".
It's a deceptively cunning show. The sketches tend to be built on conventional concepts (as they repeatedly acknowledge), but Kiosk of Champions refresh them with nimble performances, gimlet-eyed quality control and piercing intelligence, often introducing comedy clichés only to subvert them a second later. Highlights include a Somalian pirate who thought the job would have a bit more "fun and rough-housing and carousing round the seven seas", and an exposé of the Illuminati's links to regional theatre in the East Midlands. All they need is Joanna Lumley's support, and they'll go far.
All acts: Pleasance (0131-556 6550) to 31 AugReuse content