A four-way race between poet, actor, video artist and sound engineer: Edinburgh Festival’s Burn reviewed

In a new hour-long monologue, Burn, Alan Cumming examines the life and work of Robert Burns. The biographical material is drawn from Burns’s letters, and the poems are read out in snatches. You won’t learn much except that Burns was a poor farmer who later worked as a taxman. To represent his many flings with women, a few high-heeled shoes are dangled on strings above the stage but this looks strangely cheap given that huge sums have been lavished on graphic imagery projected onto a big screen at the rear. Flashing lights and surges of music add to the sense of distraction. Cumming’s performance centres on dance, which looks like

Why Harry Hill’s little green aliens are popping up all over London

Sitting in a posh office overlooking the Royal Academy, the comedian Harry Hill is deploying one of his lesser known modes: introspection. ‘I suppose I’m one of a growing number of celebrities who do art,’ he says, one hand fiddling with his trademark oversized shirt-cuff. His point – which he returns to several times – is one of definition: as much as he enjoys making art, and as much art as he makes, he can never quite see himself as an artist. In his defence, he isn’t alone. After more than a decade as the face of one of the most-loved comedy shows this century, Hill can probably count himself

Has the Edinburgh Fringe lost its edge?

Every August, thousands of comedians make the pilgrimage to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. By the end of the month, those who manage to stand out in this crowded field (and it is a very crowded field) might have Live at the Apollo or Netflix calling, or maybe even a sitcom commission. But this year, with performers facing hefty registration fees, rent more expensive than a luxury foreign holiday and exorbitant marketing campaigns, all in the midst of a cost of living crisis, more and more are asking: has the Fringe lost its edge? As the festival kicks off for its 75th year, comedian Vittorio Angelone says its culture seems

Who are these pathologically liberal rozzers? Channel 4’s Night Coppers reviewed

Grizzled police officers of the old school should probably avoid Channel 4’s Night Coppers for reasons of blood pressure. Like most documentary series with close access to the police, this one paints them in a light so favourable as to be almost comically sycophantic. The trouble for those grizzled types is that – the times being as they are – what’s now considered favourable is to make the rozzers who patrol Brighton after dark all seem like that pathologically liberal Dutch cop played by Paul Whitehouse in the late 1990s. Not that this is a reference which most of the officers featured in Wednesday’s opening episode would get – largely

Why TikTok reels are reshaping comedy

Bella Hull started standup six years ago. Back then, she lived in fear of a bad set being uploaded to YouTube, where a shaky camera and lacklustre crowd might stain any Google search of her forever. Now, due to the rise of video ‘reels’, popularised by TikTok, Instagram and YouTube during the pandemic, for Bella and other digital savvy comedians, creating online video is a necessity for reaching fresh, young, and more global audiences. Bella has been publishing funny short-form videos in portrait (AKA TikTok reels) for one year and has amassed over 888k likes on the platform. For a lot of circuit comedians, lockdown forced them to put down

How I prepare for the Edinburgh Fringe

I am going to the Edinburgh Festival this August. That declaration could be said in a number of ways. Celebratory (unlikely). Showing off (possibly). Self-promotion (in there somewhere). However, I’ve been in comedy a while and have reached what my wife recently called ‘solid middle-age’, so announcing I’m going to the Fringe is more of an incantation: a chant designed to steel myself for a taxing endeavour. Not that there will be much tax owing afterwards, I’m not likely to make much money. No-one in Edinburgh does as well out of the Fringe as some bloke called ‘Josh’ who rents you his airing cupboard for six grand. I’m assured this

Ricky Gervais is an achingly conventional Millennial posing as a naughty maverick

Just how edgy and dangerous is Ricky Gervais? There is no one more edgy and dangerous, we learn from no less an authority than one R. Gervais. He keeps reminding you of this at intervals in his latest stand-up special, for which he was reputedly paid $20 million (to go with the other $20 million Netflix paid him for its predecessor). Every few sketches, he’ll announce to his live audience that this one was so offensive there’s just no way Netflix is going to broadcast it. But Netflix has done just that – and yet, quite incredibly, neither it nor Gervais has been cancelled. Funny that. What this suggests to

Ricky Gervais is guilty of blasphemy

I have long thought that if Life of Brian came out today, it wouldn’t be Christians kicking up a fuss about it — it would be trans activists. When Monty Python’s classic tale of a man mistaken for a Messiah came to cinemas in 1979, people of faith weren’t happy. They saw it as taking the mick out of Christ and they aired their displeasure noisily. Nuns in New York picketed cinemas. In Ireland the film was banned for eight years. In 2022 I reckon it would be a very different story. It wouldn’t be Monty Python’s ribbing of the gospels that would outrage the chattering classes — it would

Boldly and brilliantly unoriginal: Kermode and Mayo’s Take reviewed

Last April Fools’ Day, Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo wound up their award-winning film review show on BBC Radio 5 Live after 21 years on air. A little more than a month later they are back with Kermode and Mayo’s Take, a podcast so similar in flavour and format that you could call it an up-yours to their critics. While Mayo stressed that it was their decision to go their own way – ‘we have decided, and to be clear: that’s no one else has decided’ – he was slightly more candid about his experience in an interview with the Radio Times a few weeks ago. People of my generation

Dave Chappelle and the high stakes of modern stand-up

‘Was that Will Smith?’  This was Chris Rock’s characteristically quick and hilarious reaction when his friend, comedian Dave Chappelle, was tackled by an audience member on Tuesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. Comedy venues need to be a sacred space, free from the threat of violence We don’t yet know the motive, we don’t yet know the man’s name, but this is the second high-profile attack on a comedian in two months. Luckily for Dave, he has great security, including Django himself, Jamie Foxx, who helped subdue the attacker, who some reported as being armed with a gun and a knife.  Video footage of the man being loaded into an ambulance

The chief characteristic so far has been nervousness: Chivalry reviewed

Chivalry – written by and starring Sarah Solemani and Steve Coogan – is a comedy drama about post-#MeToo Hollywood life. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the show’s chief characteristic so far has been nervousness. Somewhere inside it, you feel, lurks an impulse to really let rip. But if so, Thursday’s first two episodes successfully resisted it. Now and again, we did get some jokes that might just frighten the admittedly neurotic horses of the new Moral Majority. The overall effect, though, was of a game of How Far Can You Go? in which the contestants’ answer was a firm ‘not very’. Still, even this level of unorthodoxy seemed unlikely

Mismatched from the start: One Day I Shall Astonish the World, by Nina Stibbe, reviewed

First the bad news: Nina Stibbe’s new novel does not feature Lizzie Vogel, the engaging narrator of the trilogy that made her name as a comic novelist after she’d first published some extremely funny letters written during her stint as a nanny in a north London household in the 1980s. Man at the Helm (2015) is the novel Dickens lacked the generosity to write, in which tribute is paid to the creative value of a chaotic childhood presided over by what the conventional world calls an unfit parent. The two which followed covered just a year of Lizzie’s teens and early twenties. The fact that our beady-eyed chronicler remains on

Fun, good-natured and schmaltzy: Phantom of the Open reviewed

Phantom of the Open is a comedy-drama telling a true story that would have to be true as no one would believe it. The subject is Maurice Flitcroft, a crane operator who took up golf at 46 after seeing it on the telly and entered the British Open in 1976, achieving the highest score ever. (‘Does that mean he’s won?’, asked his wife.) Dubbed ‘the world’s worst golfer’, he then hoaxed his way into further Opens, much to the incandescent rage of the snobbish authorities, and you’ll be rooting for him, of course. This is a British underdog film like The Duke – but with some Eddie the Eagle mixed

Perfection: The Duke reviewed

The Duke is an old-fashioned British comedy caper that is plainly lovely and a joy. Based on a true story, it’s an account of the 1961 theft of a Goya painting from the National Gallery, stars Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, and is directed by Roger Michell (of Notting Hill fame). Many films have all their ducks in a row yet are somehow disappointing, but this is perfect, capturing the spirit and joie de vivre of the old Ealing comedies. I could probably watch it all day every day for the rest of my life. Broadbent plays Kempton Bunton, a 57-year-old, working-class Newcastle taxi driver — although he has trouble

All a bit Blackadder: Hamlet, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, reviewed

Never Not Once has a cold and forbidding title but it starts as an amusing tale set in an LA apartment. We meet Allison, a happily married lesbian, whose grown-up daughter, Eleanor, arrives with a hunky new boyfriend to show off. This set-up has the makings of a flatshare sitcom. You combine a straight younger couple with an older pair of lesbians and you throw in the mother/daughter relationship for extra instability. It could be a laugh. But a new wrinkle appears. Eleanor learns that she was conceived during a one-night stand and she decides to track down her absentee father. But he’s extremely reluctant to discuss what happened that

Sick jokes: why medics need gallows humour

Most jobs have their own joke books. If you’re outside the job, you don’t get the joke — and if you do get the joke, you’re on the inside; which is what the jokes are for. (It’s the same with all comedy: some, if not most, of the appeal of Stewart Lee is in being the sort of person who finds Stewart Lee funny.) But some jobs have joke books which, from the outside, are not just unfunny but actually offensive. Usually the most stressful jobs, those that involve the rawest emotions, have a gallows humour that is thought to relieve that stress. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. Or

May put you off Chaplin for ever: The Real Charlie Chaplin reviewed

Charlie Chaplin is one of the most famous movie stars ever and is certainly the most famous movie star with a little toothbrush moustache. He was around when I was growing up as his films were often on television, particularly, if I recall rightly, on Saturday mornings. My sisters and I resented that as we wanted to watch The Partridge Family (or The Brady Bunch) on the other side but my father loved him, and I do remember being struck by his childlike innocence, as well as all the falling over. (Chaplin’s, not my father’s.) I now regret watching this documentary. Not because it’s bad (it isn’t) but because I

The medical equivalent of The Responder: BBC1’s This is Going to Hurt reviewed

According to the makers, This is Going to Hurt is intended as ‘a love letter to the national health service’. If so, however, it’s certainly not a soppy one. Few non-British people who watch it will, I suspect, find themselves wishing they had an NHS of their own — where the mission statement could easily read: ‘We Aim to Muddle Through Somehow, Despite Everything.’ Adapted by Adam Kay from his own phenomenally successful memoir of life as a junior doctor, the programme opened with Adam (Ben Whishaw) realising he’d slept in. On the plus side, his journey to work wouldn’t take long, given that he’d woken up in his car

Douglas Murray

In defence of bad jokes

I was once at a terrific Shabbat dinner where late in the evening one of the other guests suddenly said: ‘OK, who’s got the best Holocaust joke?’ Even people who know something about Jewish humour might be surprised by this. I said that one Holocaust-related joke I knew was the story from the 1970s of the Monty Python crew being invited to Germany to film a television series there. The Germans had called the Pythons to say that of course they had no humour of their own in Germany and would like to import some. The Pythons agreed, arrived in Munich and were promptly taken to Dachau. In retrospect, this

The truth about Jimmy Carr’s ‘offensive’ joke

Jimmy Carr is known as the hardest-working man in comedy. He loves making people laugh and most of all he likes making people laugh at the things they know they shouldn’t. He also loves making money and knows full well that audiences have become a lot more sensitive in recent years. That’s why he opens his Netflix show by saying: ‘Before we start, a quick trigger warning. Tonight’s show contains jokes about terrible things. Things that may have affected you and the people you love. But these are just jokes. They’re not the terrible things.’ If you continued watching after that and were offended, I’m sorry you were upset but