Last week was an
intro to the Fringenow read part 1 of my diary from the world's biggest arts festival.

Sunday August 12

It seems every pub in the centre of Edinburgh has a dark historical story attached to it: mostly they involve death. Maggie Dickson's for example, is where the lady of the same name was hung for child murder in 1727, only for the bumpy ride to her burial to restart her heart and she lived for many more years. Then there's the Last Drop Tavern where they sell a mean Executioner cocktail of cider and strong Ale, a nod back to the days when the condemned would be brought for their final drink before being hung outside. Times have changed at the Barony, as 200 years ago if you were queuing here, it's most likely you'd be a witch about to meet your end. In the 21st century however, many a beverage selling establishment doubles up as a Fringe venue, or at least provides a much needed watering hole for the millions who flock to this city every August, and it was in one of these pubs where this diary begins, for Sunday afternoon football ahead of the first show of the week.

The poster outside the Pleasance proudly announced that the Sunday Times thought 'Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio Roadshow' was "one of the 100 things to see at Edinburgh 2007". When you consider you'd need to go to at least three things per day, and then a few more on top of that during one month and still not have room to leave things out to form your own list of "100 things to see at Edinburgh", that's not quite the impressive statement it seems at first look.

The other quote of note was from Chris Evans, who claims Ivan Brackenbury is "comedy genius". Given that at its peak 'TFI Friday' was exactly that, I know which of the two statements I'd be more proud of getting. Evans has also been at the enthusiastically ametre end of radio, which is where the character in this Tom Binns show is firmly situated.

You may well know Binns from his own radio life, with Kerrang and X FM London on his CV. This laugh a minute hour-long show takes you to the starting point for many of radio's biggest names, and will doubtless stir a few dark and painful memories from the learning while it's live stage that plenty of Radio presenters have confined to the box labeled character building.

For years Radio 1 had a touring roadshow, which visited the good, bad and ugly of Britain's seaside resorts every summer, and the Hospital Radio Roadshow starts on that theme. It then takes you on a journey through all that is comical about smalltime radio, jingles that sing what day it is, the much overdone idea of the cringe-worthy wacky wind up phone call and a DJ that thinks he's the muts nuts but is actually so lost in trying to emulate the likes of Tony Blackburn and Simon Bates, he becomes a tragic geeky character to watch.

The funniest part though is the backdrop of all the songs you could never play on hospital radio, even though many people in hospital would probably see the funny side. Inevitably Cutting Crew's 'I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight' is played, with other special moments including a mention of a news story about a collapsed scaffold being followed by 'It's Raining Men', and a dedication for the man in A and E with a superman toy stuck up his bum accompanied by M People's 'Search for the Hero Inside Yourself'.

Although at times some of the gags were pretty obvious, they were delivered in a way that still meant they were always laugh out loud funny. Sometimes jokes can be amusing to the point of raising a smile but not actually making you laugh long and hard, this though was simple, straight to the point, tasteless humour at it's best, summed up by the plug given part way through for the new Samaritans drop in centre for anyone feeling suicidal: "it's in the centre of Chesterfield on Bridge Street, in between the off license and Boots the chemists" ... oh and for the record this was followed by Van Halen 'Jump'!

Ivan Brackenbury's Hospital Radio Roadshow was a sell out for the duration of the festival. Find out how you can sample this character, as well as more on where you may have seen Binns by hitting up his Myspace pageand also check out the show's own Myspace page here.

Having laughed for an hour at gags about illnesses, disabilities and death, it was back to the scene of many a hanging for food, a few pints and Sunday night rugby league action on Sky Sports.

Monday August 13

The Edinburgh Festival can be an expensive experience, with accommodation prices often rocketing for the month of august. If you want to go to the Fringe 2008, the earlier you start thinking the better: seriously, start planning now!

For this reason free shows are always welcome, hence the rise of the Free Fringe side of the festival. On this occasion it was the Jekyll and Hyde, famous for it's swinging book cases, skeletons and potions, where we ventured in for a bit of mid afternoon, what in the music world would be described as "toilet circuit" action.

I couldn't tell you the name of the act that was on as we arrived. He probably wouldn't want me to either as our group of four just managed to drag the attendance number into double figures. Any regular watcher of pub backroom comedy will tell you there's a lot of one-dimensional crap about, where some idiot thinks the beginning and end of making people laugh is to talk about sex. This fella was describing the most embarrassing moment in life being catching your parents in the act ... I'd add standing up there in front of less than a dozen people making an arse of yourself as not too far behind.

Crudeness is fine, as long as it's clever. The first guy in the 'Christian, Jew, Muslin and the Geordie' show we'd actually gone to see talked about the finer details of a biscuit party, and was still clearly the funniest man in the room! This was because there were several different themes to Joe Bor's twenty-minute routine. Being from London and having to put up with chavvy "innit" type kids, anyone ripping it out of them scores bonus points in my book.

Christian Steel on the other hand, was a total opposite. Fast talking Geordie's can be brilliant, Ross Noble, no further questions your honour, case closed. On the flier was listed the awards these guys had won. Whereas the other three had picked up prizes at the likes of the Comedy Store and Comedy Café new act nights, Steel had only been an Amused Moose semi finalist.

What we got from the Geordie bit of the show was basically just same old same old sex and wank jokes. That said his gag about sleeping in a camp bed and every night you get in and it says "oooh hello cheeky" was nearly funny.

At the risk of sounding like somebody who's hard to please, Monday night's Jerry Sadowitz show was another mixed bag.

On the plus side, the card tricks and other assorted magic elements to this show were well done, and there's no disputing the man's ability as a showman. There were also a decent quantity of funny lines, like when he talked about the best way for him to get back on Channel 5 was to be kidnapped by Iraqis and use the hostage video to showcase his talent.

On the negative side, I spent the whole hour wondering what percentage of the audience were doing what twelve year olds do, laugh themselves silly because somebody said the word 'fuck'. If you took that word out of his act I'm certain he wouldn't have got half the number of laughs, for simple, everyday phrases suddenly became side splittingly hilarious just because some hairy Scotsman was inserting 'Fuck' in as often as chavvy kids say the word 'like'.

Inevitably politicians came in for a fair slagging, including David Blunket who I thought had been off the radar for a while, this must be a particular favourite routine for Sadowitz. As a partially sighted person myself, I would have liked him to come up with something more creative than the "how's he going to know what room he's in" sorry "fucking room" hahahahahaha! kind of lines. The reality is there's plenty of potential for poking fun at disabilities, most disabled people do it better than anyone else. Surely if he's as controversial as he's billed, and as funny as the Edinburgh Fringe fans seemed to think he was he could do a bit better than that?

Continues herewith Jimmy Carr, Andy Warhol, John Peel, The Rat Pack and more.

As a footnote, since this diary was written during the second week of the Fringe, Ivan Brackenbury was nominated for the If.comedy award, formerly the Perrier Award.

The eventual winner was Australian Brendon Burns, who walked away with the £8,000 for 'So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now', a show branded "edgy and dangerous" by award organizers.

The other nominated acts for the prize, in the past won by Frank Skinner, were Pappy's Fun Club, Andrew Lawrence and Andrew Maxwell.