Tonight I was at Bar One in Derby for the evening section of the Funhouse Edinburgh preview all dayer. I got there at half 7 to find a decent sized crowd that included Brent, Nick Mellors and Rob Mulholland, a man with a loud laugh that he could successfully rent out to provide atmosphere up at the fringe.
Brennan Reece – Everlong
The theme of this show is Reece’s gran, his close relationship with her and how people are not forgotten as long as they are still talked about. There are a lot of shows about relatives in Edinburgh, possibly because writing them is cathartic, or perhaps because when the person involved is genuinely remarkable it almost writes itself. However, what separates this show from the rest is Reece’s skill in bringing the story out. His rapport with the room is superb, being lively, engaging and razor sharp to the mood of the audience.
He began with a spot of audience work, where he dropped in lucky speaking to Doug, a popular character on the Derby comedy scene. Doug is 73 and has not long since gotten engaged. This prompted Reece to muse about the cost of weddings and enquire if it would really be worth it. This brought the house down, with Spiky Mike laughing the most I’ve seen him laugh since a lady in Ashby suggested using cladding for a statue of May. From here Reece did a short bit on heckles received, which went down well as these always do and then we were into the main story, with some delightful asides along the way. Reece’s gran was a character and the sort of person who probably made a vivid impression on everyone she met and so the story passed an hour buoyantly, never feeling as if we had heard too much of her. There were a lot of great lines in this show, a lovely running gag about Quality Street and some phenomenal callbacks.
As much as I enjoyed the material, it was even better when Reece went off script and just played the room with his ad-libbing skill and creativity very much in evidence. His ability to work in a callback to Doug’s tale of bullet holes was as impressive as it was funny. Doug’s presence was a real asset to Reece, who used him to just the right degree to get the funny from him, although he did risk being upstaged when Doug received an applause break for getting up and walking to the door, saying ‘fucking beer’, evidently being caught short. Reece is very talented at sensing the mood of the room and being able to summon up the correct line to get the best result when chatting away. This was a happy and enjoyable hour.
Josh Pugh – A boy named Pugh
I can see Pugh having his breakthrough year if he has a good Edinburgh, although one can reasonably argue that he’s pretty much broken through already and that everything else is just a matter of time considering how far he’s come in 4 years. Pugh is one of those acts whom an audience has confidence in even before he’s spoken. It’s nice how people settle back and relax when he’s on stage, almost as if they can sense that they are in good hands and as always, he didn’t disappoint.
The theme of his show is that it is a film of his life, with various incidents of his time to date being mined for routines. As narratives go, this is pretty loose and is something to hang some very good routines on, rather than a story arc as such. However, I like that. There are too many shows that deal with ‘issues’ and as long as it avoids feeling disjointed, I’m damned if I can see why an Edinburgh show has to have a narrative when being funny and individual are the most important attributes.
Pugh easily satisfies both of these criteria with his well thought out routines and unexpected quirky reveals. There is a remarkably good laughter rate to this show, with no long gaps between laughs as this show flows rapidly along. My personal favourite was celebs for events, which is a fantastic idea. Although the inclusion of one did result in a brief discussion of their fate when Pugh seemed a little bit unsure himself of whether they were dead, alive or kidnapped, but that is easily remedied. Rocky was a rare miss, being more of an idea than a joke, but the rest was top notch. Pugh did say before a few jokes that they’d not worked previously, something that I personally don’t like to see comedians say more than once or twice in a set, as I think it can work against them or lose potency as a set up if said too often. Naturally, though, these jokes did well, as this is a man whom I wouldn’t be surprised to hear is a perfectionist. There is room for a few more callbacks in this show and the ending was a bit unusual in that the room wasn’t sure if he had finished or not at first before he did just a few more lines, but this didn’t alter the fact that everyone had really enjoyed the performance. This is a great show and it is everything you would expect from a comedian with Josh Pugh’s reputation quality.