Josie Long, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
Trevor Noah, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
Alan Davies, Venue 150 @ EICC, Edinburgh
Jessie Cave, Underbelly, Edinburgh
Back to School, Pleasance at Braidwood Centre, Edinburgh

Stand-up is getting a little bit political again. And we've the unlikely Ms Long to thank for it

To use a bit of Cowellian parlance, Josie Long has been on quite a journey in recent years. I mean, who knew that an act once marginally twee-er than a Bagpuss tea cosy would be the one to rescue political stand-up from its New Labour-era doldrums? However, her latest show, Romance and Adventure, begins with a less metaphorical, more muscle-exerting trip: a mountain climb in Kenya that left her troubled by her penchant for "super aristocratic" pursuits. It's the cue for a vexed life appraisal, fuelled by turning 30, in which feelings of political and personal inadequacy elide. Why, she wonders, does she continue to shop at her corporate bête noire, Tesco? And, as a bona fide leftie, is she destined to "be born, live, fight and die" on the losing team in any case?

Well, no, is the Long and short of it, as her familiar optimism returns via renegade touring, Alasdair Gray quotes, and naming her toilet "Michael Gove". Indeed, though the show may be predicated on insecurity, her smiley subversive shtick is more self-assured than ever. She's always been a wonderfully conversational performer, but here there are great set-pieces, too: you'd have to scour Edinburgh far and wide to find a single skit funnier than her transformation of Ed Miliband into a roughneck revolutionary. And where she's previously apologised for her principled fury, now she gives it gloriously free rein. "If you haven't done anything for charity by the time you're 29," she snaps, "then what you could do is jump off a building – and, by all means, get sponsorship." A slightly pat – and, yes, twee – sign-off leaves a few too many questions hanging. But the main one is: how long can the Foster's Comedy Award continue to escape her now?

As for the newcomers category, buzz would suggest that the South African Trevor Noah is a strong bet. The mixed-race comic's identity angst is the cornerstone of this Edinburgh debut: a substantial topic, given that he was "born as a crime" to an illegally partnered white Swiss father and black Xhosa mother during the apartheid era. The salve, though, is that it has afforded the boyish 28-year-old a privileged perspective on the absurdities of racial demarcations and assumptions in his home country and beyond. His show, The Racist, spins off from an eye-opening trip to the US, where, hoping to be embraced as black, he instead encounters whole new strains of prejudice – for example, the way mixed-race celebrities are recategorised as soon as they become successful. Similar observational jewels stud an hour that benefits from the quiet authority of Noah's deceptively soft-spoken delivery – and whether mimicking Obama or a casually bigoted Kentucky fan, he makes for a deft impressionist to boot.

The doomy title of Alan Davies's new show is Life is Pain, although "Life is a Pain" would better sum up its desultory disgruntlement. Back on stage for the first time in a decade, the fortysomething star uses his return to bore on about the developments of the intervening years. So we get wide-eyed bafflement at social networking, smartphones and internet porn, and misty-eyed nostalgia for student japes, dial phones and the lingerie section of the Freemans catalogue.

At one point, he even, bafflingly, makes a meal out of Facebook poking, an activity and comedic subject that one's maiden aunt would likely consider passé. Suffice to say, it's a plodding, superficial hour, with occasional lurches into crudeness that smack of showboating desperation. There's one good passage, in which Davies imagines the thoughts of his crying baby; it's just a shame that his own psyche remains elusive by comparison.

Allow me to regress a little. Representing Hollywood this year, albeit tangentially, is Jessie Cave, a 25-year-old actress who starred in the Harry Potter franchise. Riffing off her association with childhood fantasy, Bookworm sees Cave hosting the inaugural session of her new book club amid a Play School-style set complete with cardboard Wendy house. However, as she obsesses over The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and freaks out over Fifty Shades of Grey, it becomes clear that literature is providing unhealthy amounts of escapism for this mildly deranged woman-child. It's a curious, compelling fiction, with something of the warped whimsy of a Wes Anderson movie, and its scattily charismatic star is certainly one to watch – as is her teenage sister Bebe, playing the most delightfully gormless comic sidekick since Dame Edna's Madge.

Sillier still is Back to School, an immersive production that transforms a community centre, an outpost of the Pleasance, into the shambolic secondary St Dumbiedykes and provides us, its pupils, with a whistle-stop bad education. The press blurb's claim that the piece is a response to the "psychological experiments of Milgram and Zimbardo" seems a fanciful way to dress up an hour and a half of jolly nostalgia kicks. But, in that respect, it works admirably, with the committedly eccentric performances of the teaching staff provoking committed mischievousness from the student body in return. Though, split into different "forms" as we were, I was sad to have missed out on the sex education class.

Please, sir, can I have some more?

Jessie Cave and "Back to School" to 26 Aug, Josie Long and Trevor Noah to 27 Aug ( all 0131-226 000); Alan Davies begins a UK tour at Venue Cymru, Llandudno, on 5 Sep (0844 844 0444)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on