While most comedians are hoping to return from the Fringe clutching a BBC contract, Chris Neill got his over a decade ago. Recently he's been producing Radio 4 panel games, but he attained that lofty position only after paying his dues in the toilets department, the sheet music library and the complaints office.
His delightful, autobiographical show is a guided tour of the less glamorous corners of the BBC, all conducted in an unpretentious, camp and bitchy tone that evokes Kenneth Williams gossiping over a garden fence. In theory Neill is contrasting his own career at the Beeb with that of an old schoolmate, Andrew Gilligan, but the show is a maze of Ronnie-Corbettish non sequiturs and tangents, and it's stuffed with those little details that don't have any point except to make the audience laugh. An expert storyteller, Neill knows how irresistible the phrase "Una Stubbs on a pushbike" can be when it's spoken with split-second comic timing. If only his childhood friend had been so careful with his choice of every word.
Sticking with BBC employees, Four Poofs and a Piano are the house band on Jonathan Ross's chat show, which means they harmonise a snippet of a vaguely relevant pop song whenever a new guest walks in, and they license Ross to make homophobic gags. On TV the Poofs seem to be a one-trick prancing pony, so I was somewhat wary of their hour-long Edinburgh show, a wariness not dispelled during the Butlinsy first half: singing hits from the Sixties to the Nineties just isn't amusing, even if you're wearing sequins and Day-Glo wigs. But with the advent of a spot-on boy-band parody, the Poofs came into their own, as Ross might say. What the TV programme doesn't showcase is their satirical lyrics and their tightly choreographed, nimble footwork. The Poofs are far better when they're doing their own material, and, romping through doo-wop numbers and a country'n'western hoedown, they end up with the ideal late-night cabaret show. It's just a shame that it's been scheduled about seven hours too early.
There's more musical comedy from Gary Le Strange, winner of last year's Perrier Best Newcomer award. Beneath the PVC trousers and Adam Ant make-up, Le Strange is really Waen Shepherd, but in character he's a pitch-perfect pastiche of a New Romantic-era synth-pop star. No, it's not very topical, but Le Strange's apocalyptic pretensions and vocal affectations - baritone croon plus strangled yelps - are often very funny... almost as funny as actual New Romantic-era synth-pop. He's let down by the banter between songs, though. Gary should be as megalomaniacal as his music, whereas Shepherd plays him as a wet blanket who's all too aware of his own shortcomings.
They might have the same name, but if you tried to create someone as little as possible like the action hero of I, Robot, you might end up with Will Smith, the comedian: a geeky, floppy-fringed, self-confessed "posh boy", and a candidate for the title of the World's Uncoolest Man. What makes Smith's comedy so unique is that he isn't apologetic about his obsessive devotion to Bergerac, Dire Straits and Lord of the Rings. Instead, he splutters with righteous indignation that there are people who don't share his views. His new show, 10 Arguments I Should Have Won, is his revenge on all such benighted souls, not to mention insurance companies, his untidy flatmate, and the school bullies who nicknamed him "Girl's Bike". The degree to which Smith is exaggerating and parodying his own natural uptight dweebishness for comic effect is a matter for debate, but Smith's show is one of the funniest on the Fringe - no argument.
I don't suppose any comedian would welcome the faint praise of being called "reliable", but at a festival where you can shell out £10 to see a nervous newcomer having an off-day, there's a lot to be said for Jeff Green. True, he's not going to blow an audience away. Instead of building towards climactic belly laughs, he throws out punchline after punchline with the rhythm of a working men's club comic. And while he does take some original tacks - the "What a shame panic doesn't work" routine is particularly inspired - his stock-in-trade is observing that women like shopping and men can reach high shelves, stuff that was being done at least 10 years ago by comedians at least 10 years younger.
In his favour, though, Green is so genial that you're happy to spend an hour in his company, and even if his insights are blunt, he whets them with such well-chosen, specific examples that he cuts to the heart of some eternal truths, whether discussing picnic preparation - "I'll warm up some Fanta" - or the way his mother's over-catering walks "a fine line between hospitality and mental illness". It's this unsentimental precision applied to quotidian subject matter that make Green the closest thing we have to a British Jerry Seinfeld.
Chris Neill, Four Poofs and a Piano: Pleasance (0131 556 6550), to 30 Aug; Gary Le Strange, Will Smith: Pod Deco (08707 557 705), to 29 Aug; Jeff Green: Assembly Rooms (0131 226 2428), to 30 AugReuse content