Edinburgh Fringe 2012: comedy highlights

The world’s biggest arts festival is about to kick off. Ben Williams has some red hot comedy picks

It’s the mass exodus of the mirth-makers! The London comedy community is preparing to decamp to Scotland for a four-week glut of 24-hour merriment at the sixty-sixth Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Fringe is massive – the biggest arts festival on the planet – but it’s also the world’s largest comedy festival, with more comedians per square foot than London has rats. Whether you’re heading north of the border or not it’s well worth keeping an eye on Fringe news and reviews as the hit shows will make their way to London over the next 12 months. So, who should you look out for? Here are a few of this year’s highlights…

Next big things

Rachel Stubbings Rachel Stubbings

Edinburgh is all about discovering the ‘hot new talent’ and there are plenty of scorching comics making their Fringe debuts in 2012. We’re particularly looking forward to seeing self-deprecating Geordie Giant Luke Benson’s intriguing tale of being stalked by a taxi driver (Pleasance Courtyard, 8.45pm), and droll American David Mills (The Hive, 3.45pm) – the super-sharp co-host of Scott Capurro’s Position – performing his first solo hour. There’s much hype around David Trent (Pleasance Courtyard, 10.45pm), an oddball comedy force, mixing stand-up, music, animation, sneakily edited lo-fi video and a conceited persona. Equally mad is shambolic Canadian Pat Burtscher (Pleasance Courtyard, 8.30pm), who has a childlike innocence to his surreal material. Deadpan is alive and well too, with Rachel Stubbings (Underbelly Bristo Square, 3pm) playing agony aunt, helping to solve people’s problems whether they like it or not, and Mark Stephenson (The Royal Mile Tavern, 2.45pm) bringing his understated oblique wit to the Free Fringe. Our final newcomer tip is dry Norwegian comic Daniel Simonsen (Pleasance Courtyard, 7pm). Anti-social? You’ll feel better after hearing his tales of public awkwardness.

International visitors

Billy the Mime Billy the Mime

Simonsen has long been based in London, but international acts often get their Brit breakthroughs in Edinburgh. Among this year’s global crop is fellow Scandinavian Magnus Betner (The Assembly Rooms, 8.45pm). This hard-hitting liberal-minded Swede could easily develop a Doug Stanhope-style cult following. Slick German Michael Mittermeier (Pleasance Courtyard, 9.30pm), a superstar in his home country, is a must-see. He’s co-produced by Eddie Izzard, as is political South African Trevor Noah (Pleasance Courtyard, 7.15pm) – the first SA comic to appear on ‘The Tonight Show’ – so expectations are understandly high. From Australia, the relentlessly silly Sam Simmons (Gilded Balloon, 9.15pm) is back for a fourth consecutive year and feisty storyteller Felicity Ward’s (Underbelly Bristo Square, 10pm) ‘Hedgehog Dilemma’ show has already won practically every major comedy award Down Under. A lot of the US talent has been cornered by the Just the Tonic venue this year. It hosts, among others, adorable physical comedy duo The Chris and Paul Show’s (JTT at the Caves, 8.40pm) return to Edinburgh, whose vaudeville-inspired sketches are a true delight, and the outrageous Billy the Mime (JTT at the Caves, 6.15pm), who proves not every mime act is family-friendly, with routines including ‘The Navy Seal and Osama Bin Laden’ and ‘David Carradine’s Last Night’.

Top draws

Nick Helm Nick Helm - © Rob Greig

Of course, the Fringe isn’t lacking in homegrown talent either. A close eye will be kept on what whimsical left-winger Josie Long (Pleasance Courtyard, 6pm) and genuinely exhilarating Nick Helm (Pleasance Dome, 5.30pm) come up with this year after their stunning 2011 shows were nominated for the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award. Sketch is ripe this year too. Max & Ivan (Pleasance Courtyard, 3.30pm) switch between characters at lightning speed in their fast-paced narrative-driven shows. Sheeps (Pleasance Courtyard, 5.10pm) are more offbeat, with the laughs coming from the trio’s wonderfully awkward performances. And after tackling train heists in 2011, The Beta Males (Pleasance Courtyard, 5.45pm) present another sharply written comedy-mystery, this time about the British space programme.

Odd nights out

The Beta Males The Beta Males

But at the Fringe the fun doesn’t stop at midnight. You’ll find the most spontaneous, bizarre and hysterical happenings at the late-night shows. This year there are tons of new formats to choose from. The cast of Monkey Toast (Pleasance Dome, 11.05pm) interview Fringe stars about their lives and then turn those experiences into improvised sketches. There’s more improv at Voices in Your Head (Underbelly Bristo Square, 11.20pm) where the ‘voice of God’ (Deborah Frances-White) tells comics what to perform when they step on stage. Plus, those aforementioned Beta Males are hosting a Midnight Movie Theatre (Pleasance Courtyard, 00.20am), where classic horror films are enhanced by live special effects. It’s almost enough to make you forget about sport altogether and pack your bags for Scotland. We certainly are.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from Aug 3-27. For each show’s specific dates go to www.edfringe.com.

For our regular updates from the festival, follow @TimeOut_Comedy on Twitter.

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