Who desires a lockdown one-liner? How comics are overlaying Covid at Edinburgh fringe | Edinburgh pageant 2022

Comedian Sam Nicoresti begins his present with an elaborate sanitising ritual. Alex MacKeith kicks off with a quantity about lockdown along with his dad: “One complete 12 months,” he sings, appalled, “with one complete man.” Jacob Hawley apologises prematurely for his in-yer-face opening gambit: “What number of of you pussies have been vaccinated?” There’s no avoiding Covid-19 on the perimeter this 12 months – at the same time as, at time of writing, the pageant runs easily and largely infection-free. Covid cancellations are at a minimal, and everybody hopes – if we tiptoe – we’d get to the top with out the virus, that sworn foe of festivals all over the place, breaking out once more.

This is identical virus that confronted us, in any case, with what simply two years in the past appeared unthinkable: a fringe-free summer time. When the next 12 months solely a radically slimmed-down occasion was potential amid ongoing Covid nervousness, many people questioned whether or not the uncontainable spotlight of our 12 months, the world’s largest arts pageant and the occasion round which the UK’s reside comedy calendar is constructed, would ever rise once more. That’s the context through which many people this 12 months are experiencing a pinch-yourself fringe. Are we allowed to do that once more? Are the crowds right here in ample quantity to make it worthwhile? And – did someone simply cough?

In opposition to that backdrop, not many artists have chosen to make exhibits about the pandemic. And but – what else, after two years of on-off lockdowns and international plague nervousness, are they supposed to speak about? Uncommon is the comedy present that appears Covid within the face. Rarer nonetheless the one through which it doesn’t floor in any respect – as an ice-breaker, a relatable gag, or a looming presence in opposition to which comics outline their personalities. For Sikisa, it cramped her social-butterfly model and impressed an entire present about partying. For Australian act Laura Davis, who lived within the woods below lockdown, a refugee from her mother-in-law’s too-small home, Covid flipped a swap: she couldn’t be a whimsical comedian any extra. Now she desires to place the world to rights.

Sanitising standup … Sam Nicoresti.
Sanitising standup … Sam Nicoresti. {Photograph}: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

For Gen Z monster Leo Reich, who by no means anticipated to spend his early 20s “Googling the phrases ‘dying toll’”, it’s simply one other of the slings and arrows with which at this time’s younger are besieged. Similar goes for TikTok big-hitter Finlay Christie, reflecting in his fringe comedy debut on the expertise (which sounds actually terrible) of getting one’s college profession poleaxed by the pandemic. Strive doing all your French trade in your mum and pop’s home. It’s not the identical.

For self-deprecating Rachel Parris, coronavirus mocked her hubris when she deliberate a set about her new fame: “this was meant to be a present about me going viral!” Tim Key’s present Mulberry, too, is about being displaced from the centre of his personal starry life. A London hit earlier this 12 months, it dramatises in verse and standup the Alan Partridge sidekick’s seclusion below lockdown – a “story of a celeb sealed away … my fame falling off me like slow-cooked lamb dribbling from a shin”. Key and fellow comedian Nick Helm additionally look again in distaste on their months of performing comedy on Zoom, a completely alienating expertise after which – as an alternative of repairing to the bar to take in the adulation – they’d shut the lid of their laptops and stew in their very own solitude and self-loathing. (Elsewhere on the perimeter, at Hawley’s gig amongst others, comics solid shellshocked eyes again to a different unloved pandemic phenomenon: drive-in comedy.)

Tony Law with his son Atticus.
Tony Legislation along with his son Atticus. {Photograph}: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Helm is an previous fringe hand and recognisable sitcom face – he was the star of BBC Three’s Uncle – and is among the many few acts to centre their 2022 present on their Covid expertise. It started with a super-spreading Supergrass gig in early 2020, which contaminated the 41-year-old with (possible) coronavirus. He recovered simply as the federal government introduced a nationwide lockdown – his expertise of which is traced in What Have We Turn out to be? Like a lot of his newer work, it sounds the depths of his poor psychological well being. This can be a set about being separated from and reunited with your loved ones on both aspect of a protracted darkish night time of the soul. It’s additionally about Whats up Contemporary meal-kit deliveries and preventing for the final pasta in Sainsbury’s, for which Helm devises a very macabre metaphor.

You’ve received to do not forget that many of those exhibits are being carried out in poorly ventilated rooms – typically dank underground catacombs or hermetically sealed Portakabins, unhealthily full of fringe-goers. Are they wiping tears of laughter from their eyes, or cascading sweat from their forehead? This was why, when in 2021 we started to grasp Covid may by no means disappear, many people feared the perimeter may battle ever to bounce again. It’s an almighty carnival of exchanged respiratory droplets and close-quarters social gathering. In its optimum type, it’s a world aside, thank God, from these peak-Covid experiences we had of sitting glumly in little remoted islands of auditorium, hazmat-sealed from our fellow theatre-goers by scientific perspex screens.

An entire present about partying … Sikisa. {Photograph}: Adrian Tauss

Julia Masli is an Estonian clown-comic whose beautiful present Choosh! traces an jap European migrant’s journey to the US. To recommend its oceangoing phases, she spits water from her mouth in playful little arcs in the direction of her viewers. You couldn’t do that on Zoom – and Chris Whitty most likely nonetheless doesn’t advocate it. Masli’s drawing huge crowds, although. Whereas expectations are that fringe audiences throughout the board can be 10% or so down on pre-pandemic figures – not least as a result of worldwide tourism has but totally to get well – the pageant feels, to this point, fairly densely populated. I’ve but to take a seat in an empty, and even half-empty, room. You’ll be able to’t get a seat within the Pleasance Courtyard, nor rapidly navigate the Royal Mile: folks, in huge numbers, are again on the fringe.

There have been just a few cancelled performances – together with for comic Nic Sampson who received Covid and for the play The Final Return on the Traverse, the place a performer within the Fringe First-winner Glad Meal additionally needed to drop out. However to this point, the virus is being stored at bay – and spoken about, onstage, primarily up to now tense. And there’s one thing cathartic in that. Right here was the plague that laid waste to the performing arts, that stored comics, dancers, theatre-makers off the stage, typically driving them to new careers fully. Comedian Lauren Pattison’s present It Is What It Is recounts her expertise engaged on the freezer aisle at Morrison’s to maintain herself afloat when reside efficiency was verboten.

“Guys, what have all of us been via?!” as Canadian goofball Tony Legislation would have it. To look at Legislation crack two supremely daft visible gags about lockdown (throughout which he forgot how you can costume and took up falconry), or to look at Parris joke about “the single-use masks that you just used all 12 months”, or Josie Lengthy styling out lockdown in disguise as a mafia boss below home arrest, is in some small solution to slay the Covid demon. We had been bowed, Edinburgh comedy is right here to inform us, however we weren’t overwhelmed!

That’s actually the vibe at Aussie cabaret comedian Reuben Kaye’s fabulous late-night present The Butch Is Again. Greater than some other I’ve seen to this point, Kaye’s set is about celebrating that the nightmare is (nevertheless briefly) over, that we’re again in a room collectively and, crucially, giving Reuben Kaye our consideration. For Helm’s Zoom gigs or Hawley’s drive-in comedy, learn Kaye’s tour of (he virtually vomits the phrase) “regional rural Australia”, the place his model of excessive camp, gender-twisting comedy reasonably struggles to seek out its pure viewers.

Such was the destiny of Aussie comics forbidden from leaving their nation. It occurred to Rhys Nicholson in reverse: his present recounts being marooned in New Zealand because the Covid curtain fell. However it’s their destiny no extra! And in Reuben Kaye’s hour, fairly the exploding glitter-cannon of pent-up leisure, and cheered to the rafters by its closing-time crowd, you simply must savour this contingent second of freedom-from-Covid: laughing with strangers in a claustrophobic room, as if it had been – because it was once – probably the most pure factor on the earth.

Reveals to take your thoughts off Covid-19

Clown on the town … Frankie Thompson: Catts.
Clown in town … Frankie Thompson: Catts. {Photograph}: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

Frankie Thompson: Catts
This talk-of-the-town clown-comedy, a lip-sync, found-footage oddity about our feline mates, could also be about nervousness – however at the very least it’s not Covid nervousness.
Pleasance Courtyard, till 28 August.

Freddie Hayes: Potatohead
Freddie Hayes’ solo present, directed by Sh!t Theatre, a couple of humble spud who goals of turning into a standup.
Pleasance Courtyard, till 29 August.

Mat Ewins: Hazard Cash
Reliably in your handful of purely funniest exhibits at any fringe, Ewins’ out-there, tech-heavy comedy may banish anybody’s blues.
Simply the Tonic @ The Caves, till 28 August.

Alistair Beckett-King: Nevermore
Dotty and cerebral standup concerning the North Sea, cave work {and professional} bubble-blowers, from a comic book with no agency grounding in the actual world in any respect.
Pleasance Dome, till 29 August.

Crizards: Cowboys
Skippy-aye-ay! Neglect all about 2022 as musical duo Crizards stage an artfully garbage western about two outlaws blowing up a railroad.
Meeting George Sq. Studios, till 28 August.

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