Rhod Gilbert, Pleasance, Edinburgh
Shappi Khorsandi, Pleasance, Edinburgh
Daniel Rigby, Pleasance, Edinburgh
Pappy's Fun Club, Pleasance, Edinburgh
Marcus Brigstocke, Assembly, Edinburgh

Rhod Gilbert tells one shaggy dog story too many, but Pappy's Fun Club prefer their gags at 200 sketches an hour

Professional misery-guts Rhod Gilbert has vaulted to a new level of popularity since his tour de force at last year's Fringe.

Despite specialising in glowering exasperation mixed with surreal flights of fancy, he was a hit at the 2008 Royal Variety Performance, and is now in the unlikely position of being the face of the Welsh Tourist Board. Luckily for us, none of this success has cheered him up. He even tramples over his new ambassadorship by lamenting how ineffective it's been, and informing one Welshman in the crowd that his home town is a "desperate shithole, devoid of any hope".

His new show doesn't quite match last year's, though. Gilbert is on barnstorming form when he's spluttering at the pointless range of controls on washing machines and vacuum cleaners: why, he asks, would you ever use your Hoover's minimum setting unless you wanted to suck up the top layer of dust and leave the rest for later? But when he veers off on to a shaggy dog story about how his life is falling apart, it's neither credible enough to be resonant nor strange enough to entertain as a fantasy. All the same, the sheer coronary-threatening fury of Gilbert's performance guarantees that he's still one of the best comedians around.

Shappi Khorsandi has also become a lot more famous in the past year, but with all due respect for her Victoria Wood-like jauntiness, and the obvious affection in which she's held by the sell-out crowd, it's a bitty, underwhelming show for someone with a profile as high as hers. She isn't helped by the venue's boiling heat, which keeps distracting her, nor by her habit of shouting at us as if she doesn't know the microphone's working, but in general her anecdotes are meandering, short of punchlines, and often unconvincing. (You thought a spanner was a lesbian sex toy, Shappi? Really?) There are some well-turned phrases that would pass muster in a memoir, a newspaper column, or a Radio 4 panel game, but on stage Khorsandi tends to laugh at her own jokes more than the audience does.

Daniel Rigby deserves to rise up the comedy rankings in the next year or two. He's a young Ewan McGregor lookalike who runs through an hour of sketches and songs with his sidekick, Julian Stolzenberg, in one of Edinburgh's smallest, sweatiest venues. Early on, there are some weak concepts: a parody of a Jack Daniel's advert is, well, a parody of a Jack Daniel's advert, and one skit is almost identical to Baddiel & Newman's "History Today". But as the show progresses it mutates into something much more promising and unique. A Rada graduate, Rigby has a gift for balletic physical comedy and bizarre voices that marks him out from his peers, and his weird, abrupt comic timing lights up even the most conventional sketch with a flicker of genius. Besides, unlike Khorsandi, he turns his horror at the venue's sauna-like conditions into some of the funniest lines in the show.

The concept of the latest Pappy's Fun Club show is that the team is attempting to break a world record by ticking off 200 sketches in an hour. It's an attempt that's doomed to failure, but if there were a record for Most Enjoyment Had By Men Performing Comedy, they'd definitely be in with a shout. Four pals who bound around the stage, brandishing cardboard props and sporting joke-shop costumes, the Clubbers grin at each other's ad-libs and scoff at each other's wonky accents as if they're rehearsing in front of a few of their closest friends. The end-of-term high jinks would be irritating if the Fun Club didn't have the material to underpin them, but beneath the larking about there's a painstakingly constructed hour of quickfire gags, recurring characters, and snappy songs. By the end of it, the crowd is as elated as the performers, and that's saying something.

This year's show is by far the Fun Club's best. Like Reeves & Mortimer without the dark undercurrents, they trade in old-fashioned music-hall japery with an absurdist twist. There are sketches about a fork and a knife on a crime spree, a dinosaur's pathetic failure to juggle, and a trip back in time to an era when people believed that they heard through their mouths and not their ears. A special mention should be made of the mnemonic for determining whether or not to mock a religion: "If they're brown and they shout,/Turn it down, leave it out./If they're white and they're quiet/It's all right, you should try it."

It's a rhyme that's ignored by Marcus Brigstocke in his stand-up show about being a reluctant atheist. Most British comics hide behind the excuse that they don't know enough about Muslim culture to satirise it, so Brigstocke's willingness to lay into Islam as heartily as he slags off every other religion is commendably brave, and potentially dangerous (or at least it would be if his audience wasn't made up of white middle-class fans of The Now Show).

Not all of his arguments are so bold or acute, mind you. I always appreciate a bit of Bible-basher-bashing, and Brigstocke makes plenty of salient points which I've found myself quoting ever since I heard them, so it's disappointing when he lazily equates religion with compassion and atheism with cold, comfortless intellectualism. And, bearing in mind his own manner, he's probably the last comedian who should be chastising Richard Dawkins for being snootily sure of himself.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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