Best comedy shows at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: reviews of 20 must see-comedians including Zoë Coombs Marr, Spencer Jones and Jayde Adams

Mark Monahan
Zoë Coombs Marr - Christa Holka, 2017

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

Zoë Coombs Marr: Bossy Bottom ★★★★☆

Where: Monkey Barrel Comedy (Free Fringe)

When: 7.30pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... For the past six years, Zoë Coombs Marr has hidden behind a character – a neckbeard-wearing, chauvinistic idiot called Dave. It was a wildly successful comic creation, but I’m glad the Australian has set Dave aside: her return to performing as herself is a comic triumph. This year’s show will be a gimmick-free hour of “dumb jokes about genitals and things”, she promises at the outset. There are dumb genital jokes aplenty – and an excellent bit of observational stand-up on the quirks of “straight culture” from this bemused lesbian observer – but it’s far from gimmick-free. Bossy Bottom uses a host of ingenious high-tech tricks, meta-jokes and coups de theatre which it would be wrong to spoil here; the surprises are part of the fun. If there’s a fault, it’s that this show is perhaps aimed too much at comedy geeks; her insider’s perspective on how comedians responded to the Louis CK scandal is fascinating, but an anecdote about being heckled while performing as Dave felt more like footnotes to the previous show than part of this one. But this is a minor quibble: Bossy Bottom is one of the funniest shows at the Fringe. TFS

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Tom Taylor: Is the Indie Feel-Good hit of the summer ★★★☆☆
Tom Taylor Credit: Steve Ullathorne

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, Cellar (0131 556 6550)

When: 6pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... With a bracing number of comedy shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe built on genuinely appalling personal experiences, if you fancy something at the opposite end of the frivolity spectrum then Tom Taylor could well be your man. He kicks off his debut Edinburgh hour in the tiny Pleasance Cellar with the proud declaration that his show is about nothing more than having a good time, and in this, he delivers. Nerdily unassuming and very likeable, and with a ropy old electronic keyboard perched on his lap, he rattles cheerfully through a set packed to the gunwales with (sometimes musical) one-liners. Some are pretty good - "I have been described as one to watch - by the Metropolitan Police" - others head-in-hands groansome - "My dad's a foster parent, whereas my mother has always preferred Carlsberg". But if you don't like one joke then fear not - another is just seconds away. And, variable as those gags are, Taylor - as promised - nevertheless sends you out into the Edinburgh evening with a spring in your step. MM

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Spencer Jones: The Things We Leave Behind ★★★★☆
Spencer Jones

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, Beneath (0131 556 6550)

When: 5.45pm

Until: Aug 25​​

In a nutshell... Spencer Jones is the king of clutter. He finds bits of rubbish abandoned at the side of the road and turns them into puppets, Heath-Robinson contraptions and joyous visual gags, while creating ingenious funk songs from his own looped vocals. Musing on parenthood and the passing of time in his most personal show yet, Jones invites the audience to share his child’s-eye view of the world in an utterly charming hour of escapism. TFS Read the full review

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Jayde Adams: The Ballad of Kylie Jenner’s Old Face ★★★★☆
Jayde Adams

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

When: 9.30pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... Jayde Adams has one of the best singing voices in comedy – it’s usually the highlight of her campy, glitzy cabaret shows. But this year she doesn’t sing a note. Instead, donning a “serious black jumper”, the earthy Bristolian offers a highly entertaining crash course in feminism. Specifically, she turns a critical eye to the fourth-wave variety commercialised by certain celebrities – Beyonce, the Kardashians. Adams is hardly the only act in town tackling the topic, as she acknowledges, but few match her rate of laughs per minute, or her winning combination of common sense and raw heart. The points she’s making aren’t subtle, but one can’t help rooting for her (the show I saw was met with a full standing ovation). Ironically, by taking year off singing Adams has really found her voice. TFS

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Stand Up With Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated) ★★★★☆
Janine Harouni

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

When: 5.45pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... Janine Harouni sails through her Edinburgh set like a gleaming ocean-going yacht in a steady breeze. This is remarkable not only because this subtly complex show is the Fringe debut of this fresh-faced, amazingly relaxed, London-based New Yorker, but also because a great deal of her subject matter is not "easy" at all. Much of it draws (very effectively) upon being the liberal-minded daughter of two Catholics of Middle Eastern descent in the Republican stronghold of Staten Island (can she ever forgive her father for voting for Trump?), and she also finds plenty of mirth in the US/UK divide and a hopeless encounter with Keira Knightley. But its centrepiece is an account, as entertaining as it is shocking, of a horrific car crash a week after Harouni's 21st birthday in which she was a blameless victim. As one of her desperate parents told her afterwards: "All we want you to do is stand up." "That," she observes, "I took a bit literally," and it's just as well she did. Very few Fringe debutant(e)s come to Edinburgh as fully formed as Harouni, and her show - stricken hospital visits and all - is a constantly surprising treat. MM 

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Ciarán Dowd: Padre Rodolfo ★★★★☆
Ciarán Dowd as Padre Rodolfo Credit: Idil Sukan

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, Upstairs (0131 556 6550)

When: 9.45pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... Having descended upon the Edinburgh Fringe last year like some sort of macho maelstrom - and garnered the award for Best Newcomer for his efforts - Ciarán Dowd (late of the sketch trio Beasts) is back this year with another barrage of high-octane silliness as what you might now call his his altar ego, the newly ordained Padre Rodolfo. It's tricky to work out exactly how good much of the writing is here, which is not in fact an insult: Dowd is so marvellously funny in character as the ludicrous, libidinous, narcissistic swordsman-turned-priest that he could probably read out his weekly shopping list and the results would be genuinely hilarious. This barnstorming hour launches with Rodolfo, now post personal and spiritual crise, repeatedly dunking a plastic baby headfirst in a baptismal fount as if pounding a butter-churn (to a rave version of Mozart's Requiem), features a lot of frantically funny talking to a plastic owl - a dash of Clash of the Titans there? - and winds up with a showdown with someone very evil indeed. For anyone out there seeking salvation (of sorts) through laughter, this padre is unquestionably the cleric of choice. MM

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Ivo Graham: The Game of Life ★★★★☆
Ivo Graham

Where: Pleasance Courtyard, Upstairs (0131 556 6550)

When: 7pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... Having previously impressed as an extremely confident and competent stand-up but not yet, quite, an exciting one, Ivo Graham seems to have found an entirely new gear for the 2019 Fringe. As ever, this Old (but still twentysomething) Etonian - resembling a young Tommy Lee Jones fresh from a brawl with a hairdryer - delivers his material in a kind of disparaging, upper-middle-class bark. But there is also a rollicking energy and momentum to this set that feels quite new, and the whole thing fairly barrels along. Having the large Pleasance Forth stage to prowl about while talking really suits Graham and I suspect has rather liberated him (he is excellent with the audience), but most important of all is the consistently high quality of his material. Graham's recent, inevitably life-changing foray into fatherhood - which fills a great deal of the show - has here inspired some some stronger-than-ever routines and jokes, and he is also very good on one or two other OEs that you may have been reading about recently. In short, this is an irresistibly funny hour of anecdotes and aperçus, at once high-status and confessional, from a fellow who suddenly has "star in the making" coming off him like steam. MM

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Titania McGrath: Mxnifesto ★★★☆☆
Alice Marshall as Titania McGrath Credit: David Windmill

Where:Pleasance Courtyard

When: 9.10pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... Twitter’s high priestess of woke – a censorious, militant feminist monster revealed as the handiwork of satirist Andrew Doyle – has secured a platform at the fringe, with the actress Alice Marshall gamely allowing herself to put her name to Titania’s severe face and deliver Doyle’s script. Away from the Twittersphere - this production is needlessly "unplugged" - the pithiness of Doyle’s creation is too little apparent. Obviously signalled as a privileged brat, McGrath’s lecture to the already (anti-woke) converted contains some entertainingly atrocious radical intersectionist poetry, some sharp lines (“If men are so much stronger at sports, how come Rachel Mckinnon only started winning gold medals after she transitioned to female?”) but too much obvious "baity" talk of the “patriarchy is so gross” variety. More McGraft needed. DC

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Jonny Pelham: Off Limits ★★★★☆
Jonny Pelham

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

When: 3.20pm

Until: Aug 25

In a nutshell... Is it possible to wring a n 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 

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

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

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

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!! ★★★★☆

'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

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 Read the full review

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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

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 Read the full review

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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

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

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

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

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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