Festival Flow Leads To Burns
The magnetic pull of the festival always brings old Edinburgh friends together. Yesterday, an out-of-town, musician friend of mine came visiting from Galloway, and although there's piles of shows to see, sometimes you just want to chew the fat.
We arranged to meet in the afternoon. The sun was out - something of a blessing so far this festival - so we decided to go where the festival flow took us. Swimming against the crowds on Princes street we headed up to the Pleasance Courtyard, the tables now bathed in early evening sunshine.
Two beers later, the Pleasance effect was beginning to take hold and comedy was now on the agenda.
We were too late to follow up on our barman's hot tip of Fat Tongue (a sketch show), so we headed up to the Pleasance Dome to get tickets from the press office.
Let's go crazy, we thought, and do three shows in a row.
Unfortunately, it's not like the old days of covering the Fringe where you wave your press pass and in you go to the show. There's forms to be signed and PRs to be notified...
So we had to quickly adjust our plans and ended up lining up just the one show - Brendon Burns, whose show is provocatively called "So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now" with the following line in his publicity material promising "Yes it is. It most definitely is very offensive. That's the point." For once, the publicity material seemed right. But more on that later.
With all the walking, talking, drinking, ticket-arranging, we'd worked up an appetite. Iain suggested the Edinburgh Mosque cafe. "Edinburgh's best kept secret." Our man Bruce also recommends the Mosque Cafe for healthy, cheap nosh. Once I'd dispelled my initial reluctance to enter into the religious compound, it didn't disappoint. It's not a soup kitchen. You don't need to pray. You do need to pay - it's just like any other cafe, with a quiet, outdoor dining area, and a simple kitchen with men ladelling out chicken and lamb curry, dahl, brown rice, naan bread and such like.
Having supp'd well we meandered back to the venue, pausing brieftly at a crowded Pear Tree, just beside the Mosque Cafe, to listen to a folk-rock band in one of the Free Fringe gigs. We detoured to C Soco which finally appears to have its complete structure set up. Good it looks too with the bars raised up above the tented performance spaces and rubble of the former Gilded Balloon building below. So many bars at Fringe time.
Back at Pleasance it was time for Aussie comic Brendon Burns. Watching Brendon Burns I was reminded of the documentary The Aristocrats where a slew of comedians tell the same joke over and over again in their own distinctive style. The point was not so much the joke, as the telling of it, and the telling of it seemed to be about being as offensive as you can. You are frequently sitting there laughing and cringing and thinking I shouldn't be laughing but I can't help myself. The film was mostly no-holds barred, except it seemed to dodge racist humour.
Well, nothing's off-limits, especially race, where Burns is concerned. The man is an animal.
He's not quiet or subtle. He's brash, filthy-mouthed, and in yer face. He's also very funny. Even in his contemplative moments, such as the moral dilemma of the hijab (do you take the feminist line that women shouldnt be forced to wear it? Or the religious tolerance line that women should be allowed to follow the religious teachings?), it's not long before he's jumping up and down, and around the stage like a madman, screaming into the microphone. Whether it's the Glagow suicide bombers, the decline of masculinity, or quizzing a gay man in the audience about how his sexual practices affect certain parts of his anatomy, he loves teasing and pushing the audience, creating that horrible sense that he's gone too far.
He's also a total pro at audience manipulation (in more ways than are immediately obvious). Just when you think that somebody is going to leap up and wring his neck, he draws back, smooths things over by playing the cute and friendly card, and reassuring us that it's okay to laugh at these things. Add scantily clad babes doing song-and-dance interludes, his "slutty dancers," and you have a truly memorable, comedy show.
He's the polar opposite to the late Bernard Manning, yet as Burns admits in his show, some people still mistake his schtick as a rascist rant. Worrying...
Having had our heads whacked around by Burns, we were ready for a change of pace - live music was next. We tried the Forest Cafe, but the music hall was hosting a silent film night. Not quite the change of pace we had in mind. A theatre workshop was taking place in the cafe downstairs. At least, we think that's why people were shouting at each other across tables.
Lacking inspiration, we tried Whistlebinkies, where over the duration of a beer or two, we competed with the loud indie rock band music to be heard, before it eventually drove us - now quite exhausted - homeward.