Edinburgh Nights: Old hand finds comic pulse

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The Independent Online

Lynn Ferguson

Gilded Balloon

BEFORE HER show begins, Lynn Ferguson comes on stage and apologises for not being very good. She makes the audience practise degrees of laughter, then retreats promising: "This isn't the beginning, the beginning will be better than this."

As if she needs to worry. Radiating warmth and charisma, Ferguson is a natural, the kind of comic who could grab the microphone, recite the bus timetable and still have the audience eating out of her hands.

An old hand on the comedy circuit, Ferguson spends much of her year as a compere, artfully stringing together other people's acts, building audiences into a frenzy of anticipation or pacifying baying beer drinkers with some well-chosen gags. And her deceptively laconic opening spiel is less a display of false modesty than a warm-up act to her own show: a smartly self-referential showcase of mock, stock stand-ups hosted by Ferguson herself.

Among the exquisitely observed types are softly spoken Irish wit Michael O'Leary, stand-up virgin Jenny Park, ex-beauty consultant and airhead comedienne Anita Ross, student Rob McCuskell, Butlin boy Billy Murphy and American dyke Al Gore. The gentle parodies of her fellow comics are instantly recognisable: laddish confessional or whimsical observational, Ferguson has the formulas down pat.

But Frank isn't just a wicked slice of character comedy - Ferguson's fictional jokers get to tell good gags too. After delivering some desultory dispatches from the sex war, O'Leary tells his audience: "I want to die in my sleep like my father, not screaming like his passengers", while the dim-witted Anita Ross reflects on the valuable lessons learnt in her previous career as a beautician by noting that "fat people use more soap".

Ferguson glues these disparate acts together with her own banter. Reflecting on her career as a stand-up, she paints entertaining descriptions of the terror of her own first gig, the problems of explaining swear words to a sign-language representative at a Labour party conference and the boredom of coming from Cumbernauld - a place, she explains, whose clever tourist slogan reads: "What's it called? Cumbernauld."

If there is one criticism of Ferguson's show, it's that she is perhaps too good a stand-up. Her impressions of Anita, Al and the rest are funny enough but it's when she is on stage playing herself that she shines.