Laidback Irishman David O'Doherty was the winner of last year's if.comedy award (that is, the prize which used to be the Perrier, and which has since changed it's name to the Edinburgh Comedy Award, or Eddie for short – try to keep up). As with so many of his predecessors, he has since become reliant on the fallback topics of any stand-up who's been to the Melbourne Comedy Festival: flights, hotels, Australia, and previous gigs. He really should get out more.
That said, it's easy to be disarmed by his big-hearted whimsy, and by the excellent songs which he accompanies on a Yamaha keyboard. These are reminiscent of his erstwhile Fringe flatmates (he informs us), Flight of the Conchords, but otherwise O'Doherty is so similar to some of his countrymen that he makes you worry about the shallowness of the Irish comedy gene pool: if you crossed Jason Byrne, Dara O'Briain and Chris O'Dowd from The It Crowd, he's what you'd get.
Another Perrier/ if.com/Eddie winner, Laura Solon took home the prize in 2005 with her first solo show. Since then, she has cropped up on TV and radio, most prominently as the Polish barista who hands Harry Enfield his cappuccinos and shattered hopes on Harry and Paul. But her first Edinburgh show since she won the Perrier proves that she's capable of a great deal more.
It's a character comedy anthology disguised as a one-woman play. Demonstrating a rare command of accents and body language, Solon morphs into a put-upon publisher's assistant and all of her colleagues, including various wannabe authors, a literary agent from hell (via New York), and a former eastern European dictator who reminisces chirpily about the fun to be had from feeding peasants to crocodiles.
Faultless performance aside, Solon has written a script that's been polished until it flashes and gleams, and which evinces an Iannucci-like gift for steering a sentence off the main road and into a cul de sac of surrealism. She is frighteningly talented.
Andrew Lawrence, an if.com nominee in 2007, is one of the only comedians who doesn't make a point of trying to gain the audience's affections. Quite the opposite. In the high, wheedling voice of a malevolent Frank Spencer, he pours out cascades of bile with the speed and fluency of a cattle auctioneer. He even excoriates such innocent and altruistic creatures as newspaper critics, which seems a bit rich considering his haul of rave reviews. But to be fair, it's life in general that really turns his stomach: "I wake up every morning and say, 'Oh fucking hell, not this again.'"
There are worried faces in the front row when Lawrence gets going, but the sheer proficiency and intensity of his misanthropic beat poetry eventually whip the audience into a delirium. It may even qualify as a feelgood show, because there's no doubting Lawrence's love of language (bad language, admittedly) and his devotion to comedy, even if he despises everything else in the world.
Alun Cochrane is the best, as well as the most natural stand-up I've seen at the Fringe this year. A down-to-earth, 34-year-old Northerner, he's the kind of life-affirming comic, like Frank Skinner and Michael McIntyre, who seems as if he's being funny just by being himself.
Given that he admits to having a favourite gas ring on his cooker, and that he hypothesises about the origins of the abbreviation "spag bol", it's hard to see how he could have been anything except a comedian.
As frivolous as his musings on parenthood, pub etiquette, and holidays abroad might appear, Cochrane can be cutting when he wants to be. In particular, he has contempt for the materialism that has spawned the magazine phrase, "this season's must-have bag". Surely, he argues, only a colostomy bag would qualify. By the end of the show, some people in the audience literally can't stop laughing. Expect Alun Cochrane to be filling arenas soon.
Paul Sinha performs just before Cochrane in the same venue, but he isn't the same born comedian. With Sinha, what you're getting is the solid delivery of a script that's been sweated over for countless hours. Still, whatever his methods, the result is a triumph. His show, 39 Years of Solitude, is a masterful, seamless compilation of self-deprecating anecdotes concerning Sinha's addiction to quizzes and his failure to find a partner. With its explosive punchlines and laser-guided political asides, it's a show that could make him a star, or might even get him a boyfriend.
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