Edinburgh Fringe comedy highlights 2013: top ten free shows

Our pick of the best free comedy shows at the world’s biggest arts festival

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Since the various free festivals (yes, there are many different free fests all competing in Edinburgh) were set up in the mid-’90s, the number of shows has swelled to unfeasible proportions. It’s now overwhelmingly big and, if we’re totally honest, there’s a lot of shit to sift through to find the gold.

So, here are ten shows we recommend and, of course, donations are strongly encouraged at all. In fact, the ‘Heroes of Fringe’ strand have come up with a new scheme: either turn up and pay what you think the show was worth or, to guarantee entry, you can buy a ticket for a fiver in advance. Sounds fair to us.

  • Tom Binns Does Ivan Brackenbury and Others

    Since his Edinburgh debut in 2007 – which was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award – Ivan Brackenbury has become a Fringe institution. He’s a sweet, innocent, and deeply inappropriate hospital radio DJ and the character creation of Tom Binns (who’s also performing as his other character, Sunderland psychic Ian D Montford over at the Pleasance Courtyard). An Ivan Brackenbury show is essentially a relentless stream of puns, medical and otherwise, and will make you laugh till you hurt.

    See Tom Binns in Edinburgh at Heroes @ The Hive, Aug 1-25, 9pm

  • John Kearns – Sight Gags for Perverts

    Armed with a pair of false teeth, a monk wig and, well, other unpredictable props, John Kearns will either reduce you to fits of laughter, or totally weird you out. We’re firmly on the former side. His strange songs, screechy, high-pitched delivery, and heady mix of relentless enthusiasm and self-loathing make him a thrilling, truly bizarre personality to spend an hour with. We can’t wait.

    See John Kearns in Edinburgh at The Voodoo Rooms, Aug 3-25 (not 14), 5.05pm

  • Nathaniel Metcalfe – Enthusiast

    Quirky, upbeat gag man Nathaniel Metcalfe has been on the circuit since 2007, and he’s a regular on Radio 4’s ‘James Acaster’s Findings’. About time, then, for him to debut his solo stand-up show. His material about an old live-action Disney film’s theme song is an absolute gem, and he’s a proper charmer.

    See Nathaniel Metcalfe in Edinburgh at The Cabaret Voltaire, Aug 3-24 (not 14), 2.35pm

  • Darren Walsh – I am a Giant

    He’s not lying. At 6'8" Darren Walsh is officially a giant. A very funny (and punny) giant too. Walsh – who was runner-up in both the Hackney Empire and Laughing Horse New Act of the Year competitions – fires off silly jokes at a rapid pace, and uses a loop-pedal to create nonsensical soundscapes. The daft comic’s performing just a 30-minute slot, presumably as a tester for an hour-long show next year.

    See Darren Walsh in Edinburgh at Heroes @ The Hive, Aug 1-25, 4.45pm

    See our 'One to watch' feature on Darren Walsh

  • © Will Read

    Rhys James – Prepares

    At 22-years-old, Rhys James is a sickeningly talented young stand-up. He’s a super-sharp writer, with a ton of smart, intricately-written jokes and stories where you’re never more than a few seconds away from another punchline. James is performing a 45-minute long show. Cunningly, that’s five minutes under the required time to be eligible for Best Newcomer at the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards, so he has an extra year to prepare his official ‘debut’ show. Sneaky.

    See Rhys James in Edinburgh at Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, Aug 2-26 (not 13), 5.25pm

  • Adam Larter and Ali Brice – Plumpy’nut

    Chief Weirdo (as in, head of Weirdos Comedy Club) Adam Larter and daft stand-up Ali Brice join forces for an hour of, well, god knows what. They’re keeping quiet. All they’ve said is ‘it won’t be a traditional two-hander’. But knowing this pair, we trust that it’ll be an hour of epic, ludicrous fun. It’ll be strange too, oh lordy it will be very strange. Go with an open mind and a pocket full of change.

    See Adam Larter and Ali Brice in Edinburgh at Heroes @ The Hive, Aug 3-25, 2.44pm

  • Karl Schultz – Start the Karl

    Speaking of weirdos, Karl Schultz is definitely one of the stranger acts on the circuit, and another regular at Weirdos Comedy Club. Schultz always adds an unpredictable, creative and somewhat unnerving edge to his act, whether he’s performing as himself, as his beehive-donning character creation Matthew Kelly, his other subtlely different character Matty Kelly, or as Matthew Kelly playing Captain Hook (yes, really). He’s gloriously silly.

    See Karl Schultz in Edinburgh at Heroes @ The Hive, Aug 1-25 (not 14), 4pm

  • The Hill and Weedon Fan Club

    This trendily-dressed young duo triumphed at this year’s Musical Comedy Awards, beating tough competition, including the very experienced Jonny & The Baptists and mad mash-up act Tina Tea Lady. Theo Weedon (guitar-strummer) and Robin Hill (rubbery limbs) are still learning – and some of their songs are very Conchords – but they’re improving all the time and have some cracking, slightly surreal songs and a good dose of enthusiastically delivered groan-worthy gags.

    See Hill and Weedon in Edinburgh at Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, Aug 1-14, 1.30pm

  • Joz Norris Has Gone Missing

    Stand-up and character comic Joz Norris is uber-confident, but he has the material to back up his tenacity. Of course, Norris won’t be appearing at all during his show, as he’s gone AWOL. But, luckily, he’ll be replaced by three acts: Mr Gumbo, a failing superhero, Rosco, a hyperactive spider, and egomaniac screenwriter Matt Fisher. (Shh, don’t tell anyone, but we reckon they’re all really Joz! We’re smart, we are.)

    See Joz Norris in Edinburgh at Laughing Horse @ The Blind Poet, Aug 1-25 (not 13), 2.45pm

  • The Peculiar Case of Kemsley and Todd

    Ahh, a good old classic two-hander, with two ace rising stars joining forces to perform half an hour of stand-up each. Harriet Kemsley won the 2011 Funny’s Funny competition, and deservedly so: she’s a smart writer, and performs with a charmingly confused and self-conscious delivery. Massive-haired Richard Todd is another award-winner – he won the Amused Moose Laugh Off last year – and he’s an energetic ball of surrealist nonsense. They have a wonderfully leftfield view of the world, and we predict big things for them both.

    See Harriet Kemsley and Richard Todd in Edinburgh at The Banshee Labyrinth, Aug 3-24 (not 19), 2.20pm

Tom Binns Does Ivan Brackenbury and Others

Since his Edinburgh debut in 2007 – which was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award – Ivan Brackenbury has become a Fringe institution. He’s a sweet, innocent, and deeply inappropriate hospital radio DJ and the character creation of Tom Binns (who’s also performing as his other character, Sunderland psychic Ian D Montford over at the Pleasance Courtyard). An Ivan Brackenbury show is essentially a relentless stream of puns, medical and otherwise, and will make you laugh till you hurt.

See Tom Binns in Edinburgh at Heroes @ The Hive, Aug 1-25, 9pm

More Edinburgh Fringe recommendations

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Our pick of the best debut comedy shows at the world’s biggest arts festival

Edinburgh Fringe: top ten international visitors

Our pick of the best visiting comics from America, Australia and more

Edinburgh Fringe: top ten big names and festival favourites

Our pick of the TV regulars and reliable Fringe favourites

Edinburgh Fringe: top ten late shows and odd nights out

Late night and weirdo comedy shows, from live wrestling to jazz in a cow

See more Edinburgh recommendations

Users say

2 comments
Colm Hayden
Colm Hayden

Adam Larter and Ali Brice’s Plumpy’nut deserves to be seen by everyone searching exceptional comedy at the Edindurgh Fringe 2013. Having crammed as many comedy shows from the free and not so free Fringe into a packed four days in Edinburgh, I felt compelled to write a review on what was undoubtedly the funniest performance my wife and I have ever seen. Adam Larter and Ali Brice should be applauded, and indeed were applauded (and whooped) by the early afternoon crowd at the Hive, for their work of impeccable comedy genius “Plumpy’nut”. Respecting their apparent desire not to reveal the premise of the show, I can safely say that this one hour performance contains everything I look for in comedy – jokes (believe me, I did see other acts who clearly did not read the comedy rule book), puns, lampoons, and every kind of humour I don’t know the name of. The act was both original, ingenious and definitely out there. Most importantly the show was massively entertaining – entirely driven by the infectious enthusiasm of two comedians who have undeniably ‘funny bones’ and clearly put their all into both preparing and performing the show. From before the show started, when Adam’s cheeky smile popped out from behind a makeshift stage prop to greet the audience, my wife and I knowingly looked at each other with the sense that the show would at least be upbeat if not funny. We, like the rest of the audience, spent the first few minutes of the performance wondering what we let ourselves in for as Adam teasingly set the scene, before it became apparent that we would watch an hour of absurd comedy unfold at a frenetic pace. Within minutes the crowd was chanting and we were rolling around laughing in our seats, entirely bought into the weirdly, yet cleverly structured, plot. By half way through my head was throbbing and sides sore from laughing so much. The show proved to be in no way whatsoever a damp squib with the remainder of the show increasingly adding laugh after laugh, some clearly scripted, others wittingly improvised. In testament to the comedians’ evident skill and quick wit even accidental slipups (literally) and prop malfunctions were as funny as the scripted material. By the end of the show the entire audience were so in tune with the humour that a cacophony of voices completed the ultimate punchline of the act. We left the show with a warm fuzzy feeling in the knowledge that we had just seen the funniest thing on four legs. The show was so good that we immediately looked round to tell complete strangers of the comedy gold to be found at the bottom of the Hive rainbow (i.e. down the stairs). This review is a digital extension of that desire. To repeat my statement at the start of this review, the show was so good that I was compelled to write a review. Having read some critic reviews of other Fringe shows, and being left disappointed that some acts (who will go unnamed) didn’t live up to their overly generous appraisal, I am sceptical of subjective opinion and wonder if there is some old-boys club with a secret handshake to get five stars. Trust me if you want, this is not such a case. If I was on twitter I’d tweet about it - but I’m not. If I was on Facebook I’d post about it - but I’m not. If I was a TimeOut comedy critic I’d write a better review – but in lieu of that I’ve written this review. There are so many gags, comedic characters, punchlines and plotlines in Plumpy’nut that it takes every bit of my restraint not to list them here – but every single one of them remain with me and bring a smile to my wife and I’s faces as we remember the comedy show that keeps on giving. If hope people read this and trust the genuine, albeit admittedly subjective opinion, and it inspires people go to see Adam Larter and Ali Brice before the Fringe ends. Quite simply you will not be disappointed.

Colm Hayden
Colm Hayden

Adam Larter and Ali Brice’s Plumpy’nut deserves to be seen by everyone searching exceptional comedy at the Edindurgh Fringe 2013. Having crammed as many comedy shows from the free and not so free Fringe into a packed four days in Edinburgh, I felt compelled to write a review on what was undoubtedly the funniest performance my wife and I have ever seen. Adam Larter and Ali Brice should be applauded, and indeed were applauded (and whooped) by the early afternoon crowd at the Hive, for their work of impeccable comedy genius “Plumpy’nut”. Respecting their apparent desire not to reveal the premise of the show, I can safely say that this one hour performance contains everything I look for in comedy – jokes (believe me, I did see other acts who clearly did not read the comedy rule book), puns, lampoons, and every kind of humour I don’t know the name of. The act was both original, ingenious and definitely out there. Most importantly the show was massively entertaining – entirely driven by the infectious enthusiasm of two comedians who have undeniably ‘funny bones’ and clearly put their all into both preparing and performing the show. From before the show started, when Adam’s cheeky smile popped out from behind a makeshift stage prop to greet the audience, my wife and I knowingly looked at each other with the sense that the show would at least be upbeat if not funny. We, like the rest of the audience, spent the first few minutes of the performance wondering what we let ourselves in for as Adam teasingly set the scene, before it became apparent that we would watch an hour of absurd comedy unfold at a frenetic pace. Within minutes the crowd was chanting and we were rolling around laughing in our seats, entirely bought into the weirdly, yet cleverly structured, plot. By half way through my head was throbbing and sides sore from laughing so much. The show proved to be in no way whatsoever a damp squib with the remainder of the show increasingly adding laugh after laugh, some clearly scripted, others wittingly improvised. In testament to the comedians’ evident skill and quick wit even accidental slipups (literally) and prop malfunctions were as funny as the scripted material. By the end of the show the entire audience were so in tune with the humour that a cacophony of voices completed the ultimate punchline of the act. We left the show with a warm fuzzy feeling in the knowledge that we had just seen the funniest thing on four legs. The show was so good that we immediately looked round to tell complete strangers of the comedy gold to be found at the bottom of the Hive rainbow (i.e. down the stairs). This review is a digital extension of that desire. To repeat my statement at the start of this review, the show was so good that I was compelled to write a review. Having read some critic reviews of other Fringe shows, and being left disappointed that some acts (who will go unnamed) didn’t live up to their overly generous appraisal, I am sceptical of subjective opinion and wonder if there is some old-boys club with a secret handshake to get five stars. Trust me if you want, this is not such a case. If I was on twitter I’d tweet about it - but I’m not. If I was on Facebook I’d post about it - but I’m not. If I was a TimeOut comedy critic I’d write a better review – but in lieu of that I’ve written this review. There are so many gags, comedic characters, punchlines and plotlines in Plumpy’nut that it takes every bit of my restraint not to list them here – but every single one of them remain with me and bring a smile to my wife and I’s faces as we remember the comedy show that keeps on giving. I hope people read this and trust the genuine, albeit admittedly subjective opinion, and it inspires people go to see Adam Larter and Ali Brice before the Fringe ends. Quite simply you will not be disappointed.