August 04, 2008

Edinburgh Late Show Round–Up

You know the feeling, it’s Edinburgh, 11pm and after a day of watching comedy, you quite fancy watching some more comedy, but in a slightly more laid-back fashion. A strange tradition has been established at the Fringe, and that is while most individual stand-up shows are done by midnight it’s these late hours when the traditional club-style comedy nights start up. You pay your £12, you get 3-5 acts doing 10-20 minutes each with an MC and it’s all a bit Jongleurs but later in the evening.

And there are loads of them. While in years past there were only two or three, these days there are 5 or 6 every night and closer to 10 or 12 at weekends. They serve numerous purposes. For the comics it’s a reminder of the day job, a tap on the shoulder telling you not to get too complacent in playing to tiny attentive audiences. Your main function remains, for better or worse, to make large rooms of drunk people laugh. Also much like said day job and unlike most solo shows, the late shows actually pay money, helping off-set the horrendous losses most comics make in bring their own shows to the Fringe. They’re also a good way for a comic to promote their solo show to the paying punters. Likewise it gives the audience a chance to check out a whole bunch of acts in one night, so they can note down the good ones and go and see them do a full length performance. Most comics are aware of this and do mainly material from their previous shows at the late-night showcases so you won’t be paying for the same jokes twice.

But with so many to choose from, which one do you go for? Well generally, the one with the best line-up that night. But unless you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the comedy scene, you won’t know half of the acts. Fortunately there are other things you can base the choice on: each night has it’s own style, atmosphere and approach. But since the reviewers don’t cover the late shows it’s something previously only picked up on by experience. Until now, as FringeBlogs presents the ultimate guide to Edinburgh late shows.

Late ‘n’ Live Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4th-25th, 1am-5am
Late ‘n’ Live is the daddy, the big one, one of the Fringe’s first late shows and known by it’s reputation as one of the greatest. Past compères include the likes of Daniel Kitson and Russell Howard. The event runs from 1am-5am but the comedy is normally done by 3am after which there’s live music.
The problem with Late ‘n’ Live is it’s trading on a reputation. It used to be the best for a reason, I remember it being my first introduction to a late night comedy club when I was first at the Fringe in 2002 where it featured a man whose act appeared to be downing 5 pints of Guinness and a headline set from a not-yet-famous Jimmy Carr. It was wonderful and brilliant. But then the venue it was held in on Cowgate burned down a few years back. The Gilded Balloon relocated it to their other venue but there’s no room there that’s really suitable for this sort of show. The old venue was this ornate ballroom and it had cabaret style seating, people sat around tables with drinks and it was great fun. Now it’s in the big room at the Teviot and it just doesn’t work. If you queue early, get one of the 10 or so tables near the front and never turn around it can be great. But behind that people are squeezed into rows of seats theatre-style with little leg room and the whole thing falls apart. Not to mention that if you’re at the back you can barely see the stage. It’s hard to create an ‘anything could happen’ and ‘go ahead and heckle us’ vibe in that sort of room. It’s a shame. And for a gig that used to pride itself on regular comperes doing the job nearly every night, it appears to have 6 or 7 different ones this year.
It’s a shame, it’s not the gig it used to be but it can sell out every night on the Late ‘n’ Live name alone so there’s no incentive there to improve it. Like the website says, it truly is “one of the hottest tickets in town”. It just shouldn’t be.

Spank! – Underbelly, 4th-24th, Midnight-4am
Spank! is pretty much what Late ‘n’ Live used to be. And not just in it’s use of strange punctuation marks which make it awkward to type. The acts on slant slightly less mainstream than Late ‘n’ Live with a tendency to pick weird acts while maintaining the traditional bear-pit atmosphere. It’s in a lovely wide room with cabaret seating and rows with actual leg room at the sides. While both gigs go for the high energy, loud music, plenty of intervals for drinks approach to late-night gigs, Spank’s room is just more conductive to creating that. Neither are gigs you go to to see a specific act, more they form a fun part of a night out. Nor are most particularly tolerable sober!
But anyone that’s a fan of comedy but mainly sticks to the more arty end of the spectrum with theatre gigs and such really owes it to themselves to check out a gig such as this at least once. The highly charged combative acts vs audience atmosphere is at once unpleasant but still strangely alluring. It’s comedy in a very raw and primal form, where seeing an act die miserably while failing to win over the vicious crowd is often as entertaining as seeing one do brilliantly. Seeing such shows at Edinburgh offers a slightly different experience to your regular Friday night at Jongleurs, as the audience are generally more comedy literate (if also more drunk), the acts a cut above, and there are less stag and hen parties. So if you’ve ever wanted to see such a gig, Spank is your best opportunity. You probably shouldn’t sit at the front though. Like Late ‘n’ Live, it’s scheduled till 4am, but the comedy finishes about 2.30-3am, after which there is some sort of club night.
Also there’s always at least one naked person on stage at some point. 98% of the time it is a man.

Late Show – Underbelly, Thu-Sun 3rd-24th, 00:40-03:10
The Late Show is The Underbelly’s other late night comedy showcase. It’s in a smaller room so the whole thing is more intimate, and less Rock ‘n’ Roll than Spank, aimed slightly more at people that want to enjoy the comedy rather than get drunk. Not that there isn’t heckling and audience interaction but it’s a little more restrained. Nice if you’re finding it too early to go to bed but would rather wind down a little than be fired-up.

Political Animal – Underbelly, Wed-Sun 6th-24th, 22:30 – 23:50
Another Underbelly show, this one isn’t so late but is worth including. It mostly features political acts or acts doing political material and as such is a little bit more intellectual than the other late shows (though there’s not that much you’d really term ‘cutting satire’). Ably MC’d by Andy Zaltzmann it’s a great show that often showcases comics doing material they don’t normally do to an appreciative audience. Well worth checking out.

Honourable Men of Art – Sun-Thu 3rd-24th, 00:00 – 03:00
So at some point Daniel Kitson got bored of MCing Late ‘n’ Live and adopted a far less aggressive style of comedy. But he also missed having somewhere for him and his friends to hang out of an evening, and so Honourable Men of Art was born.
Up at The Stand away from the hustle and bustle of the more southerly venues and purposefully not running on Friday or Saturday evenings to avoid ‘that sort’ of crowd, Honourable Men of Art is a million miles away from your traditional late show. It features Kitson and some of Andy Zaltzman, David O’Doherty, John Oliver (via webcam) and Alun Cochrane.
It’s all quite laid back and silly and certainly the comedy connoisseurs choice of late show, even though Kitson would probably argue such a description made it sound far to elaborate.

We Need Answers – Pleasance Dome, 10th-16th, 00:15 – 01:25
Another rather different late show, this features Mark Watson, Tim Key and Alex Horne presiding over two other comics in a quiz format, as the comics compete to win. The catch? All the questions have previously been asked of AQA, a text message answering service that isn’t as good as Texperts (66000). You can text them any question and they’ll send you an answer for a pound. Quiz contestants have to guess exactly what answers AQA sent back.
It’s not at all serious, there may be cheating involved and it’s done in a brilliantly over the top gameshow fashion. Hopefully Tim Key’s sliding chair will make a return this year. If you want something totally off-beat and bizarre at midnight, this is the thing to go for.

Storytellers’ Club – C Central, Saturdays, 2nd-23rd, 23:45 – 01:15
This aberration of logic is a friendly, relaxed late night gig on a Saturday night in Edinburgh. Presided over by Sarah Bennetto the point of the gig is to offer a different sort of comedy gig. Interesting and amusing stories are valued over punchlines and traditional jokes making the whole thing the ideal tonic to the rest of Edinburgh on a Saturday. Come along, sit, relax and be taken on a funny journey by some brilliant comics. Especially on August 16th when they have an amazing line-up…

Everything Else
Those of course, are only a fraction of the options available. Off the top of my head there’s also Afterhours and The Bad Film Club at the Pleasance, The Stand’s weekend late shows, about 5 different Free Fringe and Free Festival Late shows, a Late Show at the Tron and probably a bunch of others too. But since I’ve never been to them, I can’t really write them up. But should I make it there this year I’ll be sure to write some addendums.


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