Last night’s Edinborolympics was a beautiful, glorious shambles. It overran by more than half an hour, leaving the stage soaked in beer and strewn with frozen veg. One member of the audience sat behind me spent the whole show whispering ‘this is mental, this is completely mental’ to her partner in tones of hushed and incredulous awe. Even if Seb Coe doesn’t ban this show (as Watson fears he might), it’s quite possible that the Pleasance staff will.
The premise is simple: three comparatively famous comedians compete in tests of their mental and physical prowess, while Watson provides a running commentary. Wednesday’s Olympians were David O’Doherty (Ireland), Richard Herring (GB), and Al Pitcher (New Zealand). With patriotic pride swelling their bosoms, these men maintained the international reputation of their homelands by proving their skill at admin, bucket-wearing and ‘having a good name,’ amongst other equally important activities. Oh, and there’s a violinist underscoring it all with emotive music. Watson claimed to have hired a three-piece band, and that two of them phoned in sick. I still don’t know whether this is the truth or a joke. What I do know is that the sight of David O’Doherty Usain-Bolting his way through the backwards 100 metres, accompanied by solo violin, is beautiful, majestic, inspirational and eye-wateringly funny.
What’s odd about the show, besides everything mentioned above, is the seriousness of the competitors. The Edinborolympics have far more in common with The Crystal Maze or Takeshi’s Castle than with QI or Mock The Week. Though they’re not averse to the occasional mid-round quip, the competing comedians generally leave most of the joking to Watson, as they focus on really wearing those buckets, and stuck in with categorising that veg. It would perhaps have been nice to have a little more verbal wit from the contestants - much of the show is essentially spontaneous physical comedy - but that would have ruined the visual treat of watching people doing deeply silly things in a deeply committed way. Besides, Watson does an excellent job as sports commentator; he explains the freshly made up rules and offers human-interest stories for the contestants (Pitcher’s leg injury earned real audience sympathy), all the while keeping a handle on proceedings and an eye on O’Doherty’s cheating ways. The show is a bit disorganised and baggy (it over-ran by half an hour, after all) but that’s part of the charm. And the admin pentathlon is the funniest thing I have seen this year. The Edinborolympics are worth the ticket price for that alone. Go. Watch. Do your country proud.