writer, performer, musician, wine drinker
Andrew C Ferguson’s Virtual Free Fringe: 10 reasons to see performance poetry instead of stand up
August 10, 2015
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- Comedians have taken over Edinburgh’s Fringe. They’ve commandeered all the big venues, and use up all the advertising space with posters of their big old faces, gurning away like the glum game show hosts half of them actually are.
- Poets have been trying to plumb the depths of life’s mysteries with words for centuries. Ali Maloney’s Hydronomicon, for example, which I saw on Saturday night, explores flood myths, squid-based horror, and a looming watery world-end in an hour of fathoms-deep word play and performance. It’s also funny in bits, in a dark bouffon-ish way. In contrast, you could walk through most stand ups’ profoundest thoughts without getting your ankles wet.
- Stand up comedy shows cost a mint, leaving you less money for a decent rioja afterwards. Ali (and his stablemates in Shift/ A Best of Spoken Word) set you back a mere six quid.
- Poets have a greater verbal range. Here’s Ali’s pitch, for example: ‘Lovecraftian death burlesques, apocalypse rap; a bouffon mystery.’ Here’s what will likely be the opening line of most stand ups that have been on the telly: ‘Fucking Edinburgh! It’s fucking great to be here for the fucking Fringe. I fucking love it here. It’s fucking full of fucking Scots fuckers. So what about that fucking referendum then, eh?’
- At a stand up comedian’s show, you’ll either be sat beside someone who’s more lagered up than you are, and laughs like a baboon on helium every time the comedian says the word ‘fucking,’ or someone who’s less lagered up than you and is, frankly, a bit disappointed that the comedian, who seemed so funny on that panel show, has to say the word ‘fucking’ twice in every sentence.
- In case you’ve developed an allergy to poetry after forced overdosing on Philip Larkin at school, this isn’t like that. It isn’t like William McGonagall either, or that woman down the road who insists on reading a twelve page epic about the death of her golden retriever at every open mic night you’ve ever been at. Ali (and stablemates Bram Gieben, Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay) are the absolute cream of Scotland’s performance poetry scene, combining wordplay and performance in a way that actually can sometimes resemble stand up. Except the words are better put together. And the performance is ten times more dramatic. And they don’t rely on tired old gags about how it’s hard to work an iPhone properly.
- They’re local. Even if they weren’t local originally, they are now (well, Bram lives in Glasgow, but he is over here a lot). Most comedians aren’t. Doesn’t make them bad people. Just saying.
- You can go for a drink with the performer afterwards (okay, so I know Ali personally, so that helps, but even if you didn’t, he’s such a personable guy you totally could anyway). I was in a bar in the Cowgate once and Paul Merton shouldered me out of the way to get served first at the bar. He’s a big fucker, I’ll give him that.
- The comedians have taken over the biggest, most corporate venues to maximise income: so your night will be spent wedged at the back in a too-small bucket seat between the lagered up baboon on helium, and the unlagered one muttering about the excessive use of that word. On the other hand, Ali and the rest are performing in the atmospheric Cairns Lecture Theatre at Summerhall, which is so intimate you could practically reach out and touch the performer. Or, indeed, the performer could reach out and touch you, as Ali did to several audience members on a rampaging, preacher-stylee segment of his show (but only in a totally appropriate – in the circumstances – laying on of hands kind of way). You wouldn’t get Paul Merton touching you, not unless you were standing between him and his next pint of John Smith’s.
- The best of the comedy stuff will be on the telly anyway, so you can watch it from the comfort of your own couch, in easy reach of a reasonably priced rioja.