EDINBURGH – Todd Barry knows his food. He has a whole “food chunk” in his act. His quest for food has created awkward exchanges on Twitter with the Kansas City Airport and followers from Los Angeles. Yet, when I ask him what’s good to eat here in Edinburgh, he recommends “great Thai and Indian food. Nothing local that I know of.” Here we are, two comedians from America, eating food from some other countries. In fact, I have even bought pizza from a falafel stand owned by Australians right here in the heart of Scotland. Going native!
The wonderfully-dry Mr. Barry even reluctantly named his show “American Hot” after the name of pizza he likes over here. This is his return to the Fringe after coming here for the first time seven years ago. “It was painful. I got booked late, didn’t get included in the original program. When I was finally advertised, the times were wrong and the ticketing got all screwed up. Plus, it’s Scotland so I wasn’t really expecting to pack it in.” For his second go-round, the Fringe is running much smoother.
Every day starting August 16 through August 29, Todd hits the stage at 3 pm at the most prominent year-round comedy club in Edinburgh, The Stand. Actually, Todd doesn’t hit the stage at 3 pm. A video featuring Todd and comedian Tom Shillue on a fake chat-show called “American comedians visiting Scotland” starts rolling on a video-screen with Todd explaining that the video counts as part of his hour.
The video perfectly sets the tone for Todd, as he is a comedy craftsman who is more focused on developing consistently strong material rather than a new hour. “I don’t write a new hour every minute like these British guys. Some critics over here have called me out for doing material that they Googled and said I’m repeating things. But I haven’t been to Scotland in seven years. They haven’t heard 99 percent of my material and I’m not going to stop doing a joke because some idiot recorded part of it somewhere else.” Todd prefers quality over quantity, unlike the droves of hit-or-miss UK comedians performing at the Fringe. UK comedians have the luxury of audience that is willing to indulge them, affirmed by plenty of audience members who say “some years are good, some years are crap. But it’s Fringe.”
Ex-pats and American tourists are well-represented at every show. After his Wednesday show, a South-Carolinian sheepishly approaches Todd to get his autograph and confesses “my brother is your biggest fan and he is so jealous I get to see you here.” Todd is also drawing a decent international crowd as well who all “seem to be really enjoying the show.” As I have experienced in my own shows here, Todd is finding the crowds are “respectful and not too drunk for a 3 pm show. Then again, it’s Edinburgh, so you never know.” He is only noticing that more story-based jokes with multiple punch lines are only getting big laughs at the end and not throughout as they do in America. “Jokes are working here that don’t work back home.” Sitting in the showroom, it seems they hold their laughter out of respect for the story.
American comedians aren’t the only performers bringing American sensibilities to the Fringe festival this year. Joe Bone (best name ever) who hails from the Isle of Wight (England) is performing a mesmerizing one-man show called Bane, a three-part film-noir comedy. Each part is it’s own one-hour show that draws upon “the graveyard of American fiction – action, horror, science-fiction, suspense – pinned in noir.” It follows detective Bruce Bane, a classic American archetype, in his adventures against drug lords and maniacal villains. The entire show is delivered with amazing physical precision by Bone with perfect mood-setting guitar accompaniment from Ben Roe.
“We’ve always teetered on the brink of comedy and theater, more commonly programmed as theater. I like it that way so I don’t have that pressure of ‘I’m going to make you laugh.’ That way, if they don’t laugh, they can just follow the story and not be disappointed.” I’m relieved that Bone feels that way because I watched thinking “well, it’s not laugh-a-minute” but it is thoroughly entertaining with strong comedy from plot, dialogue and Bone’s vivid mime.
While at University in Brighton, Bone developed detective Bruce Bane in five and 10-minute chunks at a University comedy night. All the while, he was writing a thesis on film noir and the two collided into Bane. Since formally debuting at the Brighton International Fringe in 2009, Bane has developed an impressive draw for every part of the saga as it rolls out one a year. He is deservedly beloved over here and will soon seek the attendance of the American audience. “It’s a dangerous proposition, but I aim to bring the show to an off-Broadway run…I grew up watching America from across the Atlantic and have a preconception of how wonderful it is. Am I setting myself up to be disappointed?” I did my best to assure him he will not.
I assure America will not be disappointed when he arrives either. Bane is an American wet dream for anyone who loves well-crafted film satire and/or went through high school and college loving Humorous Interpretation at Speech & Debate tournaments. Thank God, when you see Bane you won’t have to deal with sweaty suit-wearing teenagers and their unique brew of body odor. Just solid Bone.
UPDATE ON FRINGE AWARDS: Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD was nominated for Best Newcomer in the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards. Did my love in Part 7 have something to do with it? You bet your sweet ass it did! Shout out to Hannibal Burress for his nomination in the same category. Glenn Wool, however, is the biggest snub this year. Sorry, Assembly staffer, you lost the bet. Now to hunt down the rest of the nominees – check out the full-list here.
photos: Idil Sukan/Draw HQ