“Very Best of the Fest”

Assembly Rooms' show Very Best of the FestVery Best of the Fest
Assembly Rooms
2355 on 15-16 and 22-23 Aug
Reviewed 8th August
4 stars

When you’re billing a show with such an audacious title, you better be pretty damn confident that you’ve got the talent to back it up.

Fortunately, isiton have delivered with this one. A line-up of top-flight comedians produce a solid evening of standup. You’re not going to find anything groundbreaking here – the emphasis is on classic routines and techniques rather than the experimental – but you can bet on being entertained.

Compere Jo Caulfield is a safe pair of hands, entertaining in her own right but generous to her guests. Romesh Ranganathan was billed but replaced by Danny Bhoy, who made good work of his classic bit about a gecko in a hotel room. Rob Rouse and his scatological family bonding delivered everything you want out of a set about scatological family bonding. I was worried beforehand about Robin Ince and his shouty-man shtick, but he was a bit calmer tonight and I found him surprisingly agreeable. Incidentally, all of them have individual shows on as well.

Here’s some platitudes for the posters: If you’re wondering what the highest echelon of popular standup looks like in the year 2014, go and see Very Best of the Fest. If you only see one show at the Fringe this year, see Very Best of the Fest. For the very best of the fest, see Very Best of the Fest.

But these statements, while true, aren’t telling the whole story. If they were, this would be a five-star show.

I think the final act, Andrew Maxwell, exemplified the good and the bad of this show. Andrew had a heck of a job to get through; by the time he finished it was 1.45am, and several members of the previously-vocal hen’s party from Leeds had ceased cheering and fallen asleep. Yet he leapt about the stage with enormous energy. Whatever truculence he encountered in the audience, he absorbed and grinned off with admirable professionalism.

Ancient routines from Abbott and Costello, comedians.

“We’ll now that’s what I’m trying to tell you, see. Who’s on first.”

Thing is though, he didn’t really have anything in his arsenal. He obviously missed the earlier acts, because he couldn’t understand why his riffing on Australiana fell so flat. In fact, by the time he came on we’d already had two goes at Australia; two at Aberdeen; a few whacks at the tribulations of having young children; and several chats with the same couple of groups in the front row about being an engineer.

Some of his set bordered between outré and outdated. There was groaning over his ‘trannie’ bit, although whether due to boredom or disgust wasn’t clear. For my part, it just hammered home the juxtaposition between the supposedly shocking nature of the joke, and the conservatism of that tried-and-true style of standup that doesn’t do anything with it. There’s a difference between Lenny Bruce yelling nigger at his audience for five minutes, and Michael Richards yelling nigger once.

There’s nothing dangerous here. Whether a trannie joke or a old-but-good routine about a gecko in a motel, this is the kind of comedy night you could have seen at the Fringe twenty years ago. You’ll probably be able to see it twenty years from now as well – possibly even with the same comedians. It’s Bob Hope comedy, eternal and reliable and hilarious and ever so slightly boring.

If you only see one show at the Fringe this year, see Very Best of the Fest – sort of.

EU < Patrick

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