John Bishop, Underbelly
Kevin Eldon, The Stand
Paul Foot, Underbelly
Loretta Maine, The Caves
It could be a lot worse, John – you could have a dipsomaniac angst rocker on your case
Sunday 15 August 2010
If performers are often lambasted for "phoning it in", then John Bishop might be the first to draw it in.
As the show begins, we're greeted not by Bishop himself, but a cartoon deputy. Most comedians who "get a bit of telly" just come for Edinburgh's final weeks, he tells us; "I wanted to do the whole month ... but something better turned up, so I sent this avatar instead."
It's a witty entreé to an hour delineating "the maddest year of [his] life", which has seen Bishop enter comedy's premier league. Since time immemorial, comics have struggled with the onrush of celebrity: how to maintain your everyman appeal when all around you are fawning? Bishop's answer is to cast himself as a naïf adrift in this funny old showbiz world, whether wondering if he should pick up some ale before heading to Robbie Williams' Brits party or flunking Celebrity Mastermind. Equally, he reminds us of his ignominious beginnings with anecdotes about advert auditions and gigs performed "to my mates about my mates".
Though initially charming, this self-deprecating shtick is determinedly over-egged, while non-career related digressions involving mens' downstairs grooming and Rampant Rabbits veer into Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps territory. Bishop remains exceptionally likeable, but 12 months in the titular sunshine has resulted in a severe case of inspiration fatigue.
You may not recognise the name of Kevin Eldon, but you'll know his malleable face from turns in Nighty Night and I'm Alan Partridge. Aged 49, Eldon is making his Fringe solo debut in an unassuming lunchtime slot with Titting About. Titting About it is, albeit in the most artful sense: a celebration of comedy at its purest, foregrounding his quicksilver performance skills without recourse to fancy formats or tenuous themes. One moment, he's lurching from a surreal ditty about workplace bullying into a crucifixion of Michael McIntyre-esque observational comedy; the next, imagining Hitler speaking like Sir George Martin or transforming into a rapping pension salesman. The result feels gleefully scatty and fantastically self-assured; when he notes "anyone can do a rehearsed, tight, polished set ... YAAAWWN", you're inclined to concur.
Further scattiness comes from Paul Foot, the gauche surrealist who evokes Russell Brand after some electro-shock therapy. This year, his show comes directed by his mate Noel Fielding, though whether this starry association will boost his popularity is a moot point. Proceedings begin with a circuitous preamble that suggests he's auditioning for Waiting for Godot; elsewhere, a professed attempt to get "topical" turns into a disquisition on shire horses, and a skit involving an imaginary telephone threatens to run into 2011. To my mind, there's perverse brilliance in Foot's upending of the comedy rulebook. But one man's maverick is another man's maniac, as they say.
Finally, cue the music ... Loretta Maine (pictured, right) is a dipsomaniac angst rocker channelling Courtney Love, Alanis Morisette and Misery's Annie Wilkes with her blend of emotional incontinence and psychotic fury. But if that makes Maine sound like a garish caricature, the reality of Pippa Evans's creation is far more engaging, full of insidious warmth, delectable mal mots, and great songs. I'd take the stalker anthem "I'm Fine" – sample lyric: "Don't worry I won't let him rot/ I've pickled him in brine" – over "Jagged Little Pill" any day of the week.
Meanwhile at The Pleasance, the engaging Irish duo Abandoman deal in improvised raps inspired by punters' personal info, be it the contents of their pockets or their weirdest job. Theirs is an act of spirit over sophistication but what spirit that is: come a climactic number about getting together for a house-party, you'd need a heart of granite not to be moved by the love in the room. Meanwhile their audience interaction allows for some less heralded comedians to shine: take Christy, an HR student who declares "I like firing people". A candidate for the Culture department, perhaps?
John Bishop to 30 Aug, Paul Foot to 29 Aug (0844 545 8252); Kevin Eldon (0131 558 7272) to 30 Aug; Loretta Maine (0131 556 5375) to 29 Aug; Abandoman at The Pleasance (0131 556 6550), to 29 Aug
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