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Laughs go global as Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran bring international comedians to the Edinburgh Fringe

Edinburgh Festival 2014 hosts performers from 47 different countries
  • @alicevjones

There are performers from 47 different countries at the Edinburgh Fringe, but you won’t find so many non-English speakers in the comedy section, for obvious reasons.

Stand-up is a risky business at the best of times; to do it in one’s non-native tongue borders on insanity. And yet, as comedy becomes ever more of a global superpower, more and more stand-ups are opting to perform in their second, or even third language.

This year Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran, in association with their promoter, Mick Perrin, have brought a clutch of international comedians to the Fringe to make their English-language debuts.

They are Yacine Belhousse, a French surrealist who jokes about conjugating verbs and why there are no Gallic superheroes; Igor Meerson, St Petersburg’s answer to Michael McIntyre; and Francesco De Carlo, who brings with him from Rome an arsenal of gags about Berlusconi and the Italian mindset: “What do we want?” “Change!” “When do we want it?” “After dinner!” Also back for a second year is Michael Mittermeier of Germany.

Izzard came across Belhousse and Mittermeier in the course of his own sanity-testing linguistic project which has seen him performing stand-up in fluent French and German. Spanish, Arabic and Russian are next. He works with his brother Michael, a translator, on getting his scripts and intonations just so. “I’m 105% fluent in English. I can even make up words. I don’t have that ability in French, but my show hits about 80% of what the English show does. All you’re losing is a fluency of language, a twist in the tone.”

In any case, he and his charges are relying on the Esperanto of comedy. None of the visiting stand-ups has perfect English but all have an eye for what's funny. "My theory is that it's the bad things that unite us," says De Carlo.  "Insomnia, hypochondria, drugs, alcohol..."

Belhousse, who began performing in English after watching Seinfeld and Monty Python, makes a virtue of his broken English. “It’s impossible to translate word for word. If the idea is funny, it’s funny. And when it’s not funny, that’s because it was the words in French were funny, not the idea.”


Like Izzard, Moran has been globe-trotting, performing - in English - in Kiev and Kazakhstan, Moscow and St Petersburg, where he met Meerson. “Igor is a highly intelligent, sensitive guy who has interesting things to say about western perceptions of Russians and his culture. As we speak to one another we find that we have our own battery of assumptions. It’s a conversation, basically. It's also the cheapest way to travel.”

International comedy could even be a force for change. “It’s against BNP, Front National and UKIP. All that tribal stuff," says Izzard. "It’s about saying 'no, we’re exactly the bloody same'. People talk about the French or German sense of humour. No. There’s a mainstream and an alternative sense of humour in every country."

This week the quartet performed together, with Izzard and Moran, in Comedy Sans Frontieres. Faced with a 750-strong audience, the acts mainly retreated to the safe ground of cultural differences, and while it was all a little naive and rough around the edges, it provided a tantalising glimpse of a potential worldwide scene, where an unusual accent is the norm, not a novelty.  “You are the future”, Izzard told the crowd. "Humour is human - and it’s not national."

There's also the matter of growing one's audience on a global scale. "People want to expand their careers", says Izzard. "It's showbusiness."

Globe-trotting comedian Dylan Moran is working with Izzard

It's surprising to hear that James Corden is slated to take over as the host of The Late Late Show in America. His US profile - limited to Broadway transfers of The History Boys and One Man, Two Guvnors - would not seem automatically to qualify him to become the next Jimmy Kimmel. And while Gavin & Stacey and The Wrong Mans are evidence of his brilliant talents, his hosting, whether of the Brit or Glamour Awards, has tended to be a low point.

Crucially, fronting a daily show will leave Corden little time for doing what he does best: writing and acting. Another loss for the British comedy scene, then - for as long as he lasts over there.

Ones to Watch

Alan Carr

The livewire comedian performs a two-hour work in progress show in preparation for his tour.

Monday 11 August, Soho Theatre, London

Conan O'Brien

It's not one-way traffic, chatshow-wise. The American's punchy topical show is now showing on Freeview channel truTV at 11pm during the week. In the absence of any British takes on the format, it's worth a look.

James Veitch

Sick of receiving so much spam, Veitch took matters into his own hands and decided to reply to every junk mail he received. An ingenious, enjoyable tale of scamming the scammers.

To 25 August, Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh