SET-UP, punchline, pause for laughter. It’s the standard comic equation. Yet, each year in Edinburgh, we see plenty of brave pioneers who dare to be different, hardy souls who don’t need jokes, or indeed, laughs.
While good comedy doesn’t always necessarily need follow this prescription slavishly, even the most surreal, absurd and downright daft acts still adhere to its general principle; mess up the first two, and that short wait could be an agonising one.
It’s a formula that Benny Boot (Underbelly Bristo Square, 5.30pm, until August 26, ****) is mindful of. So much so, he’s got it tattooed on his arm as a reminder. And while his first two Fringe appearances drew mixed reviews, this year the sinewy Aussie performer has created a show that, although rough round the edges, has some brilliant moments.
He displays a talent for subverting the mundane, charting the battle with his own demons (the loneliness song is a delight) as he sets about filming his first live DVD, and rescuing it when it all goes wrong.
Flamboyance doesn’t cover for lack of funnies
Shirley & Shirley (Underbelly Bristo Square, 2.50pm, until August 26, ** )however, would do well to remember the comic formula when writing their sketches. Stupid accents and outlandish characters don’t cover for a lack of actual funnies (it’s a wonder BBC Three commissioners aren’t beating a path to their door).
A depressingly bleak range of Calvin Klein fragrances is one of the saving graces, but skits reimagining Kate and Pippa as ghetto girls or two flamboyant Italians who shout abuse consisting of native foodstuffs just feel lazily underdeveloped.
Clever wordplay with well polished characters
One female double act who have clearly been paying attention in comedy class however are Croft and Pearce (Gilded Balloon, 5.30pm, until August 26, ****).
They’ve put together a sketch show featuring plenty of good writing, clever wordplay and some deliciously-crafted characters, each turned through just the right degree of oddness.
Whether it’s the Brownie troop from hell, their bitchy local TV presenters or suicidal sixty-somethings June and Jean – who always somehow find the strength to carry on despite their incredibly trying circumstances – there’s real evidence of continual honing and polishing and a sense of purpose, as protagonists and scenarios slowly start to overlap and interact.