Fringe Comedy Reviews: International Acts

As performers come from far and wide to be seen in Edinburgh, we saw a selection of some of the more notable comedians from overseas currently attempting to make the local population laugh

Feature by Tony Makos | 11 Aug 2015

“Oh so you're smart? Well, that explains why you're looking at me that way...” 

Michael Che [★★★★☆] is much smarter than you would gather from Six Stars, a free-flowing exercise in crowd work and an overt testing of the Edinburgh audience for a show that may or may not take more coherent form as the Fringe progresses. He’s no slouch when it comes to material on race relations and US politics, but Che freely admits that there’s no theme to this 2015 show – instead it’s “some funny shit I like talking about.” A confident and seasoned performer, Che makes this work, and a mostly North American front row unexpectedly gives him plenty of material to play with.

This deliberately unfocused show stretches to 90 minutes, and a lesser comic might challenge the patience of a crowd. While Che might sometimes be nonchalant about delivering joke after joke, he seems genuinely interested in whatever subjects he stumbles into. An absorbing evening spent with an admirable comedy mind. 

"This isn't a skill. It's a personality trait I'm exploiting."

Kyle Kinane [★★★★☆] declares the dance music bleeding through from the venue next door an unimportant distraction, and confidently carries on regardless. Behind his rough and ready delivery style hides an impressive and charming storyteller, finding nuggets of optimism in the depths of pessimism, while developing some of his most exotic flights of fancy from real life angst and paranoia. Sure, he’s a cynic, but that doesn’t stop him taking that cynicism to the kind of ridiculous logical conclusions other comedians struggle to reach. A routine on cults brings the house down, while an extended section about how and why we eat crabs winds up being both ridiculous and painfully funny as he continues to double down on the insanity of the premise. While Kinane refuses to acknowledge how good he is, make no mistake, there’s real craft at work here, even though the material thankfully never feels polished or overdone. 

If we're dishing out accolades for personality, it's likely that South African comedian Tats Nikonzo [★★☆☆☆] must be one the most charismatic comedians at the Fringe. He makes a point of welcoming almost everyone in the sauna-like Pleasance Attic individually, and even the steeliest of faces cracks a beaming smile. With audience goodwill at its height, Nkonzo discusses the power of music and language to deliver conflicting messages, and delights in messing with the N-word out of context. As the show continues the tone begins to change as Nikonzo attempts to use the goodwill he’s generated to encourage a change in our attitudes to Africa as well as stirring up greater global political awareness. An overlong imaginary award show for diseases outstays its welcome, while some well-meaning race relations material falls a bit flat as a finale. The intention is admirable and there’s certainly nothing to actively dislike, but the hour needs more focus and a more consistent tone if Nikonzo wants to use his obvious charms to their greatest potential. 

Ronny Chieng [★★★☆☆] builds up a level of momentum that takes a good half an hour before he shows signs of flagging. This is a high velocity intense set with attitude, and Chieng strides meaningfully around the space, repeatedly punching the ground to punctuate his feelings about those subjects that aggravate him. Technology haters, Valentine’s Day, anyone under 25 – the usual comic hyperbole is in there but there’s an authenticity to his ranting that lifts him a notch above those comics who shout at the skies for the sake of cheap laughs. A routine on airport customs leans on his Malaysian-Chinese heritage (and his parents in particular) to maximum effect, and an extended story about his run-in with the mighty Apple leads to a satisfying conclusion. His enthusiasm can sometimes cause him to run just that little bit too fast for the audience to follow, but Ronny Chieng is a dynamic performer with real potential. 

Australian Sam Simmons [★★★★☆] returns to Edinburgh on the back of a Comedy Award nomination last year, but in Spaghetti for Breakfast he’s feeling uncertain about his position in the broader comedy 'spectrum'. Should he be tailoring his deranged routines to be more relatable to an audience? He certainly takes greater relish in those gags that don’t get the kind of rapturous response he thinks they deserve.

This year, Simmons takes his irreverent long-form prop comedy to extremes while simultaneously attempting to comment on why these things amuse him and whether they should amuse us. He’s wacky, jovial and energetic as usual, striding about a stage packed with the potential for visual nonsense, and he exploits all of it – breakfast cereal, telephones, lettuce, jeans, even the huge extension cord running from the ceiling to the floor pays off in the last few minutes of the show. Behind this is an attempt to justify why this is all so funny in the context of his own life, and while this thread doesn’t quite have the impact it perhaps should, this doesn’t detract from the fact that an hour with Sam Simmons is still funnier and more joyful than most hours of your boring, miserable life.

Michael Che: Six Stars, The Stand III, until 20 Aug, 7.40pm, £10-12

Ronny Chieng: Chieng Reaction, Underbelly Cowgate, until 30 Aug (various dates), 7.20pm, £10-12

Kyle Kinane: Ghost Pizza Party, Underbelly Cowgate until 30 Aug (various dates), 10.10pm, £9-12

Tats Nkonzo: The African with Wifi, Pleasance Courtyard, until 31 Aug (various dates), 9.30pm, £8-10

Sam Simmons: Spaghetti for Breakfast, Underbelly Potterow, until 30 Aug (various dates), 9pm, £12.50-14