This is the show that started the Free Fringe, hosted by the man who started it. Some comedians – normally performers from other Free Fringe shows – do some comedy while Hill himself comperes in between. There’s an ever-changing line-up and the quality of the acts is variable, but the first two stand-ups on Tuesday night were really rather good: Aidan Goatley gave us an impressive snippet of material from his solo show, Ten Films With My Dad, followed by Gerry Howell. Goatley has the charm of the born loser – he explains that all his friends went on to exciting careers after university, while he now works in a pet shop. Gerry Howell is an original and idiosyncratic performer whose oddly paced delivery often edges towards anti-comedy. Howell was up second, having originally third on the bill, but bumped up after the second comedian failed to turn up. Claiming that he was doing the set of “the second guy, word for word”, Howell had the audience in stitches as he began to criticise “that third guy” (himself) for being weird, overly complicated and not having enough punchlines. Confusing, hilarious stuff.
Buckley Hill is a brilliantly shambolic performer. The possibility of his set falling apart or grinding to a halt is one of the things which makes him so watchable and he plays up to this. When one joke failed to go down well he excused himself, explaining that ‘sometimes I come onstage and say the right thing, and sometimes I don’t.’ Subsequently when one running joke began to drag, he turned to the audience for an opinion – “Is that as far as we can take that one?” – and was answered in the affirmative with a resounding cheer. Seldom does a comedy audience acknowledged a joke’s waning funnyness with so much enthusiasm and charm. Speaking of which, it’s worth mentioning that this gig had the best crowd atmosphere of any show I have seen at the Fringe. Audience members whooped and hollered with a fervour that might puzzle the uninitiated. A single rhetorical question about piracy led to a hilarious impromptu debate between two punters about whether a piratical social structures are democracies or oligarchies. The high-brow tone for the evening well established, Buckley Hill maintained the energy by singing a self-penned ditty about Fermat’s last theorem. His songs are, in their own small way, brilliant. Under The Aardvaark proved a favourite with Tuesday’s crowd.
The show is two hour-long halves, separated by an interval. Sadly, the quality of the second half was far worse. Due to the absence of a pre-booked act, Hill asked Sam Brassington, a young comic who happened to be sat in the audience that night, to fill in. Brassington deserves sympathy for being asked to perform at short notice, but his set was underwhelming. His race-related material met with an icy reception and although his ‘honky rap’ section was intelligently written I have seen the concept executed better elsewhere. Headliner Dave Williams also failed to impress. A regular at ...Some Comedians for the last 16 years, it seems Williams was booked out of habit, rather than on the strength of his material. Williams floundered while trying out new edgy material, followed with some audience-baiting: “Question yourselves a bit”, he said, ”you’re laughing at rape jokes.” Not all of them were. His off-the-cuff riffing about clothes fared better, which suggests that William must either put a lot more work into the rest of his new material, or ditch it completely.