The Best of the Edinburgh Fest seemed like the perfect opportunity to get bang for your buck – 3 comedians hailed as the ‘best’ at one of the world most prestigious comedy festivals… The bill consisted of Geordie lad Kai Humphries opening the show, followed by Londoner Carl Donnelly, with the Canadian Tom Slade winding things up.
I have never been to a show at the capitol Theatre before, and the architecture as we entered was quite dramatic, with art deco-ish constructions extruding from the walls and ceiling like something reminiscent of a science fiction movie. I assume it was intended to have something to do with improved acoustics? Other than the eye-catching architecture, there was nothing noteworthy about the setting. A very traditional stand up environment – a velvet curtain faced the audience at the back of a narrow stage, with a microphone stand waiting for the first act.
Humphries opened the show with boundless energy and good natured banter. He kept the laughs coming thick and fast with stories of his talent for getting himself into trouble with everything ranging from turtles to towels, and an explanation of why he seems to be getting less ‘ginger’ as he gets older. He approached subject matter that could have been quite uncomfortable or confronting in a cheeky, irreverent way, which made the audience see the funny side without feeling the discomfort. Humphries set was an excellent start to the night and got the audience thoroughly warmed up and ready to laugh.
As Humphries left to enthusiastic applause, Carl Donnelly took his place. Donnelly entertained the audience with tales of his mid-life crisis, including dealing with his divorce. He used difficult personal experiences as fodder for his comedy, without stooping to attacking his spouse – in fact, his self-deprecation formed the basis for many of his laughs. Donnelly also educated us about the dangers of not being able to say no after a few drinks, and the misadventures that can lead to – such as the most bizarre party-crashing experience I’ve ever heard about! In his own words, Donnelly’s approach was a bit more ‘fabulous’ than one might expect from a self-professed ‘very straight man’, and his frequent slightly camp flourishes seemed to surprise even himself. Donnelly has the audience laughing with gusto and had me reaching for my asthma inhaler.
Last, and most definitely least, Tom Stade took to the stage. His loud, aggressive entrance took me aback and put me offside from the beginning. His approach was abrasive – he seemed to be of the school of comedy that thinks that yelling at the audience and using copious expletives is funny, with no wit required. Where other comedians are able to discuss non-PC topics and get away with it, due to clever delivery and building a rapport with the audience, I found his seriously delivered suggestion that people should ‘consolidate all their personal problems into one big drug problem’ inappropriate and offensive. I felt that perhaps I was too old for his style of humour – a few in the audience seemed to find him amusing (but the laughter was clearly restrained and from a fraction of the audience compared to the earlier sets), but ironically, I am exactly the same age as Stade. I could have empathised with his Groupon addiction, a line that had real potential, if his humour showed more intelligence and less volume. I also found the way he insulted his wife for cheap laughs distinctly lacking in humour or good taste. If I had to describe Stade’s comedy approach, I would liken him to that one man at a party who has had too much to drink, and thinks he is hilarious. The one who traps you in conversation and is too inebriated to pick up on your social cue’s that you are desperately uncomfortable. My companion and I were uncomfortable and unamused for his entire set, and if I had been a regular paying customer, I would have left the venue (and I never leave before the show is over!).
While it was unfortunate the show ended on such a low note, as the song says “2 out of 3 ain’t bad”. Humphries and Donnelly were well worth the price of the ticket – it’s up to you whether you would choose to sit through 20 min of Stade’s obnoxious ‘humour’ and mimed encouragement of non-existent accolades.