Best comedy shows at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: reviews of 12 must see-comedians including Jonny Pelham, Lucy Porter and Sofie Hagen

Jonny Pelham
Jonny Pelham

The Telegraph's critics offer a star-rated guide to the best comedy shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

Jonny Pelham: Off Limits ★★★★☆

Where: Just the Tonic @ The Caves (0131 226 0000)

When: 3.20pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... Is it possible to wring an hour of breezy, beguiling stand-up from having been repeatedly raped at the age of eight? It sounds close to impossible, and yet that is exactly what Jonny Pelham does in his terribly moving but also very funny new show. What is so remarkable about Off Limits - quite apart from its pitch-black subject-matter and the sheer guts it must take to perform it daily for almost a month - is that rather than save that fundamental, shocking piece of information for a big, emotive payoff (the norm with personally cathartic comedy shows built on traumatic experiences), he gets it out of the way in the opening minute or so. Thereafter, calmly and briskly interweaving horror and humour, he tells the story of the actual, appalling abuse, how it affected him and how he came to terms with it, building to a plea for openness and tolerance that is not at all what you might expect. As for the jokes? Take his account of his freshers' week at university, when all his new friends started boasting about how young they were when they first had sex and it crossed his mind that he could trump them all. You wince, but Pelham is (clearly, miraculously) so happy in his own skin that you laugh merrily along with him too. Kind of extraordinary.

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Lucy Porter: Be Prepared

Lucy Porter
Lucy Porter

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, Cabaret Bar (0131 556 6550)

When: 6.40pm

Until: Aug 17

In a nutshell... Five minutes into Lucy Porter's show on August 7, disaster struck. After an effervescent, double-entendre-filled start hingeing on her her young daughter being a "Beaver" with the Girl Guides, the fire alarm in the Pleasance Cabaret bar pointlessly went off, and every last soul in the Courtyard had to file miserably outside into the Edinburgh drizzle. This ultimately meant that poor Porter had to sheer something like 20 minutes off her show, so it would be remiss to give it a star-rating, but she rallied like a champ, and what was there was typically super. One of the funniest and most relaxed storytellers and audience-interacters in the business, she expertly mines her family life and the virtues of forward-planning for laughs, and even hands out merit badges to the grateful crowd in what (dimwit electronics aside) is a perfect venue for her uniquely convivial brand of comedy. You always get the feeling that Porter's audiences are particularly loyal and adoring, and as well they might be. MM

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James McNicholas: The Boxer ★★★☆☆

James McNicholas
James McNicholas

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, Bunker Two (0131 556 6550)

When: 4.15pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... This charming and idiosyncratic Fringe solo debut (from a former member of the excellent sketch trio Beasts) tells two tales: that of James McNicholas himself, a mild-mannered fellow from the "mean streets" of rural Hertfordshire; and of his rather punchier grandfather Terry Downes, who from 1961 to 1962 was the world middleweight boxing champion of the world. And so, with the aid of footage of the so-called Paddington Express, and a handful of further films and props, the show flits between McNicholas engagingly sharing his life story and cheerfully bemoaning the existence of a largely out-of-work actor, and then bounding into character as his beloved, ducking-and-diving granddad. Just a few more heavyweight jokes, and this might well have been a four-star show. As it is, there is nevertheless plenty to enjoy in this polished, personal, even rather touching confection as McNicholas reconciles his forebear's triumphs with his own more modest achievements. All in all, it's the sort of Fringe offering you'll be glad you stumbled across and went the distance with. MM

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Brodi Snook: Handful ★★★☆☆

Brodi Snook
Brodi Snook

Where: Gilded Balloon Teviot, The Wee Room (0131 622 6552)

When: 8.15pm

Until: Aug 26

In a nutshell... Brodi Snook is a twentysomething Australian whose face wouldn't look out of place on the cover of Vogue. This, her Edinburgh debut, hinges not on that comedy staple of not getting enough romantic attention, but on getting the wrong kind: not only from one past boyfriend - a smug, chakra-obsessed drip who once condescendingly told her she was "a handful" (she's very funny on him) - but also of the more obsessive, manipulative and damaging kind, from someone she considered as a friend. Although the set is on the uneven side when it comes to laughs, which as good as stop for a bit during the Big Reveal, Snook's emotional candour and complete, unhurried command of the room are impressive, there's some good (and sometimes fruity) writing here too, and the device via which she shares her many regrets and insecurities works a treat. The show's ultimate message - that all women should be "handfuls", and that men should crave and celebrate that rather than fear and disparage it - is hard to disagree with, and Snook could well be going places. MM

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Sofie Hagen: The Bumswing ★★★★☆

Sofie Hagen
Sofie Hagen

Where: Pleasance Dome, QueenDome (0131 556 6550)

When: 7pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... The proudly Danish, blithely waspish 2015 Edinburgh Comedy Awards best newcomer returns to the Fringe with a feminism-inflected show inspired largely by her own atrocious memory - that, and the time she went on a sex holiday in, of all places, Swansea. In the hands of this pin-sharp but (it turns out) monumentally unreliable flesh-and-blood narrator, these two disparate threads gradually fuse into an unusual and superior hour of stand-up that shifts constantly and satisfyingly beneath your feet. Blending observation and storytelling, The Bumswing is largely about the mind's mechanisms for protecting itself from potentially harmful memories (and Hagen's main story does not end at all happily), but there's also lots of excellent peripheral material on such disparate matters as British over- (and faux-) politeness and the relative merits of the Danish and British Queens, even if the latter is a contest from which our own dear monarch sadly does not emerge victorious. MM

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John-Luke Roberts: After Me Comes the Flood (But in French) Drip Splosh Splash Drip Blubbp Blubbp BlubbpBlubbpBlubbp!! ★★★★☆

John-Luke Roberts - Credit: Natasha Pszenicki
'Python-esque absurdism': John-Luke Roberts Credit: Natasha Pszenicki

Where: Assembly George Square Studios, Studio Two (0131 623 3030)

When: 5.30pm

Until: Aug 26 (not 14 or 21)

In a nutshell: A hit-and-miss but still rip-roaring hour of philosophically inclined, Python-esque absurdism – with a sub-editor-vexing title – from a performer of tremendous energy and originality. The premise of this elaborately constructed, faintly bittersweet show is that Roberts hates surprises – cue a large screen behind him on which every punchline from the show is written from the start – but it is in fact teeming with them. And so versatile is Roberts with his accents and personae that each "joke" feels more like a miniature sketch anyway. Among a great many treats, there's mindful meditation with a centaur, in-depth musing on Haribo eggs and bears, and a long, particularly super routine based on (of all things) Nietzsche's abyss, which in this case doesn't just stare back at you, but tries to get off with you. You have been warned... MM

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Adam Riches: The Beakington Town Hall Murders ★★★★☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance Above (0131 556 6550)

When: 7.50pm

Until: Aug 25

Adam Riches - Credit: Matt Crockett
Adam Riches Credit: Matt Crockett

In a nutshell: Something appalling has befallen the respectable town of Beakington: last night a turtle tombola went horribly wrong, and all 10 Testudines were allowed to whizz out of the drum and splat to their doom on the town hall's walls and floors. Who committed this atrocity? That is exactly what we are going to find out. For this year's vortex of mayhem, Adam Riches returns to the character of self-proclaimed action hero, sleuth and mega-stud Victor Legit (first seen in 2014). With a frankly terrifying amount of audience interaction – as he says, no seat is safe – this riotously ridiculous, Yakult-swigging comic creation sets out to solve the crime. As so often with Riches, deranged creativity, priceless writing and cast-iron charisma fuse into an irresistibly silly and seductive whole, which is not to say that your friendly Telegraph reviewer didn't lose a pint of sweat every time Mr Legit pointedly referred to "the critic who's here tonight". MM

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Clive Anderson: Me, Macbeth and I ★★★★☆

Where: Assembly George Square Studios, Studio Three (0131 623 3030)

When: 9.30pm

Until: Aug 25 (not 12)

Clive Anderson - Credit: Steve Ullathorne
Clive Anderson Credit: Steve Ullathorne

In a nutshell: At 66, the nation's favourite television (and now radio) smart-alec host makes his solo debut on the Fringe. In this hour-long monologue, delivered with real brio, he explores his own Scottishness, rattles through his longstanding obsession with "the best play ever written" (and its long association with ill fortune) and, happy to say, winds up in the domain of the calamitous TV interview. His own famous, magnificent faux pas with both Cher and the Bee Gees make for particularly sparkling anecdotes. But Anderson also finds time to poke some well-judged fun at our current ruling political class. And, while the show  isn't – and makes no claims to be – anywhere near comedy's cutting edge, it is also a complete delight and whizzes by in a flash. MM

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Ronni Ancona and Lewis MacLeod: Just Checking In ★★★☆☆

Where: Gilded Balloon at the Museum, Auditorium (0131 622 6552)

When: 9pm

Until: Aug 17

Ronni Ancona and Lewis MacLeod - Credit: Steve Ullathorne
Ronni Ancona and Lewis MacLeod Credit: Steve Ullathorne

In a nutshell: The much admired Scottish front-woman of the too short-lived early Noughties BBC series The Big Impression joins forces with fellow arch impersonator (and compatriot) MacLeod. The show begins with a brilliant, simple conceit – a Scottish hotel once frequented by stars, now in a rescue-bid scenario by Donald Trump – and some superb mimickry (Boris Johnson, Ian McKellen, Julie Walters, Jennifer Saunders, Audrey Hepburn, Melania Trump and more) before losing its way in a convoluted, clever-clever twist that has the voices hijacking the show and running amok. DC

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Phil Wang: Philly Philly Wang Wang ★★★☆☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, Cabaret Bar (0131 556 6550)

When: 8pm (additional performances: 11pm on Aug 10, 17 and 14; 11.15pm on Aug 16)

Until: Aug 25 (not 12)

Phil Wang
Phil Wang

In a nutshell:  The silly-willy title of Phil Wang's new show is both apt and misleading. Misleading, because this (by his own, cherishable description) "half Chinese-Malaysian, half normal" young stand-up in fact applies his very considerable wit and intelligence to all manner of ultra-serious topics: male vs female contraception, virtue-signalling on social media, sexual predation, and so on. Apt, because all this is delivered in such a studiedly wry, dry, raised-eyebrow kind of manner that it's hard to tell just how seriously he's taking any of it. On one hand, this device allows him to make all manner of woke points without sounding too pious. On the other, it also makes for a set that, however polished and entertaining, bounces off the emotions and affections without ever fully engaging them. MM

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Tony Law: Identifies ★★★☆☆

Where: Monkey Barrel Comedy (0131 226 0000)

When: 12.15pm

Until: Aug 25 (not 13)

Tony Law
Tony Law

In a nutshell: Decked up like "Vercingetorix in Gangs of New York", the wily, wacky, mercurial Canadian returns to the Fringe with a show that (true to form) appears to career around like a loose, surreal cannon while also doing its best to deconstruct itself before your very eyes. This time round, alongside the (in stand-up terms) hardy perennials of getting older and newfound sobriety, time-travel is on the agenda – cue a boisterous, kind of brilliant but also insanely overlong passage in which Law pretends to be a Deep South entertainer on an 1840s steamer in Russia. Genealogy also looms large, with Law having great good fun with a wild variety of accents and observations. If past shows from this former Edinburgh Comedy Awards nominee have kept the laughter flowing more consistently, the high points here are super, and, as ever, the warm, anything-goes atmosphere Law generates is undeniable. MM

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The Brand-New, Full-Throated Adventures of Reginald D Hunter ★★★☆☆

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, The Grand (0131 556 6550)

When: 8pm

Until: Aug 25

Reginald D Hunter - Credit: Kash Seff
Reginald D Hunter Credit: Kash Seff

In a nutshell: At 50, Atlanta-born, London-based provocateur Reginald D Hunter may be celebrating 21 years on the Fringe, but he's still up to his old mischief. As ever, he treads a precarious tightrope between saying the unsayable (about race, the n-word, the sexual divide) and coming across as a decent cove, using his nationality and ethnicity to make observations that a white Briton couldn't and wouldn't. Sometimes – on Charlize Theron, his new Dutch girlfriend's accent, travelling through the Deep South with a white BBC film crew – his scorn for political correctness works a treat. But it occasionally touches on gratuitousness, and too many punchlines don't quite deliver, with Hunter (on the first Sunday night) completely fluffing one joke about Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott by muddling up their surnames, and several times seeming to pause for "beverage break" laughter that didn't always come. Although his comic "voice" (and marvellously musical, theatrical delivery) remain unique on the circuit, you may find yourself wondering if his heart's still in it quite as it once was. MM

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