Comedy: Invasion of the Ocker mockers

Everywhere you look there are Australian comics, writes Steve Jelbert. They're going down a storm, too - and if some jokes don't get a laugh, they need only mention the cricket...
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Although the Fringe has long been considered by some locals to be an imposition on Scotland's capital involving gaggles of American tourists and despised English ex-public schoolboys, there's one nation which, after years of building up their forces, has mounted their most successful invasion yet. I don't know if it's because they're desperate to gloat at the Poms first hand as England's cricket team once again fail to regain, or even challenge for the Ashes, but Edinburgh is absolutely packed with Australians.

Although the Fringe has long been considered by some locals to be an imposition on Scotland's capital involving gaggles of American tourists and despised English ex-public schoolboys, there's one nation which, after years of building up their forces, has mounted their most successful invasion yet. I don't know if it's because they're desperate to gloat at the Poms first hand as England's cricket team once again fail to regain, or even challenge for the Ashes, but Edinburgh is absolutely packed with Australians.

Perhaps it's just the novelty of for once ordering drinks from the British that draws them. Maybe it's their ability to survive in crowded unsanitary conditions, worse than the scuzziest camper van. They might even be filling in time by training in front of the second-toughest audience in the world before taking up posts as teachers in London schools.

Whatever, they are everywhere. The programme for the three main comedy venues shows them second in numbers only to the native contingent. (A clue is a quote on their ads along the lines of "I laughed till I puked" – Darwin Dominator).

The Gilded Balloon alone boasts 12 Aussie acts, not to mention a brace of Kiwis (including "New Zealand's Brat Pack", memorably described by "The Press" (location unknown) as "four hot young comedians – they are funny, witty, intimate and know how to pleasure an audience." My word!). Not even the European-based crack American humour squad Boom Chicago can compete with the Ocker hordes.

We love many of them, too. Mark Little has been coming back forever, while Adam Hills, the much admired Big Daddy of the scene, can even silence a crowd at the notoriously rowdy Late and Live nights, the only Fringe events where heckling is considered compulsory (he did have to remove his artificial foot to shut them up the other night, though; traditionally a sign that mob rule has only narrowly been averted).

The respect is reciprocal. Although British comedians rarely travel well to the US, Australia has always been fertile ground. Billy Connolly has long been worshipped down under, while Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle achieved near-Clive James status there. The list of regular British and Irish visitors to Australia includes such Edinburgh staples as Andrew Maxwell, Ross Noble, Boosh (Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding) and John Moloney.

While the thought of visiting a distant country offering guaranteed good weather, no language barrier, a noticeable lack of Americans and possibly the chance to catch up with long-lost relatives is obviously appealing for British performers, just what is it that draws the hopefuls of the lucky country to Scotland, apart from the chance to experience horizontal rain?

The freelance publicist Michelle Buxton, who splits her time between Melbourne and Britain, says: "I come because it's the most exuberant arts environment in the world. You don't really make money but you do it for the love of it" – something quite a few of her compatriots understand on waking after another night's exuberance.

Also, the sense of humour gap isn't too wide. "I do think they're different, but complementary," she says. "Australia and Britain understand each other." She explains how those other ex-colonials, the Canadians (the only ones who don't beat us at cricket), similarly fit smoothly into the circuit in Oz, while Americans, save the likes of Rich Hall and Arj Barker, also favourites here, do less well.

The debutant double act The Indescribables, from Adelaide – 21-year-old Shane Warne look-alike (though he'd probably prefer Brett Lee) Mickey D and the more experienced, pensive-looking Justin Hamilton, 28 – seem to be having a good time in Edinburgh, despite the inevitable money worries. "The exchange rate is killing us," Mickey complains. "We're drinking real estate at these rates."

With Mickey temporarily based in Scotland (and doing very well playing league cricket for Drummond – he was in the South Australian state under-19 squad before comedy ruined, I mean tempted him), writing and rehearsing by e-mail presented some problems. They seem to have got away with it, though. Their show generously offers dissatisfied punters the unique opportunity to give them a kick up the backside. Only one person has so far taken up the offer and that was Mickey's dad. Anyone who remembers the classic episode of The Simpsons where Bart had to apologise to the Australian parliament before receiving a state-sanctioned "booting" ("disparaging the boot" apparently being "a bootable offence") will appreciate this touch.

Carrying around their lucky totem, a watermelon (don't ask), and bearing a good luck message from none other than Adam Hills, the pair are certainly enjoying themselves. While some comedy imports might die on stage when the differences in cultural references intervene, they know they can always cope. "If a joke's dying I know I've just got to go 'Cricket!' and Mickey goes 'Hurrah!'" Justin confides, thus giving away the duo's rescue strategy.

Yet the traumas of leaving home for long periods can be hard. I shouldn't really tell you this, I suppose, but one of this year's cast of Australia's answer to Riverdance – the hugely successful Puppetry of the Penis, which will soon have three shows touring simultaneously – confessed while in his cups that the months of endless public genital manipulation do interfere with the sexual function on occasion (although to be honest, the drink could be implicated too). Think on that while laughing at the latest shameless Australian import and raise a glass or several to these fearless heroes of comedy.

The Indescribables perform nightly at the Gilded Balloon Backstage III at 11pm; Adam Hills is at the Pleasance at 9.25pm; Mark Little is at the Assembly Rooms at 10.30pm

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