|THE ARTS DESK|
Best of 2017: Comedy
The shows that have stayed with me
by Veronica LeeThursday, 28 December 2017
The Edinburgh Fringe is usually the high point of the year for comedy, but in truth it wasn't a solid five-star year – although there were some stand-out performers. And if the test of good comedy is the shows that stay with you, and which you want to see again, then a few are definitely up there.
Chief among that group was Hannah Gadsby's Nanette, an astonishing piece of work that she says is her valedictory show. That's because making comedy for other people from her life and experiences as a gay woman growing up in a deeply conservative and homophobic Tasmania – many of them painful or humiliating – has taken too great a toll on her mental health, and she is tired of trying to make it as a woman in a man's world where misogyny still rules.
I have had many emotions sitting in comedy shows, but feeling shellacked by someone's anger – righteous and authentic – is not something I'll easily forget. Incidentally, Gadsby is doing some more performances in London in 2018, post-Harvey Weinstein and other developments on the misogyny and sexual misbehaviour front, so it will be interesting to see what impact those have had on the show.
Another memorable hour in Edinburgh was Laid by Natalie Palamides, who played a neat trick on those who, like me, have an aversion to mime and clowning. The first five minutes of Laid is just that, and had me checking where the nearest exit was. But I'm glad I stayed as it was a funny, touching and fantastically original show about motherhood.
Also in Edinburgh was The Elvis Dead: performed late at night in a scruffy basement by a comic who is a schools examinations officer by day. A word-of-mouth-hit, it was the quintessential Fringe show but one feared its shelf-life was just for August, and it would be one of those “you had to be there” moments of the festival. But no, this retelling of schlock horror Evil Dead 2 through the medium of Elvis songs by Rob Kemp (pictured above) has proved to have legs beyond the Fringe, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.
In 2017 I saw some young comics for the first time whose work was of really memorable quality – chief among them Lauren Pattison and Kiri Pritchard-McLean – and also some performers who have been plying their trade for some while but really found their voice this year.
Tom Allen, Suzi Ruffell, Mae Martin, Kerry Godliman and Tiff Stevenson (pictured right by Steve Ullathorne) have always been talented comics, but there was an extra something in their shows, whether a deeper rapport with their audience, greater on-stage confidence or mining material that is both personal and political. The first two qualities may come with time and practice, but the last is a much more difficult trick to pull off, and one that shows a comic who really works at his or her craft.
I've enjoyed some big-venue gigs (John Bishop, Russell Brandand Ricky Gervais among them), but one fantastic show was anything but – US comic Margaret Cho in a room above a pub. She was witty, filthy and fantastic, and her hour-long set went in a flash. But then, always leave them wanting more, PT Barnumsaid...
Lastly, I have very fond memories of an evening spent at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry for Peter Kay's Dance for Life, a sort of school disco for grown-ups. It was daft, full of laughs and good, honest fun – much like the man himself. I'm sad to hear that Peter has had to cancel his 2018 stand-up tour and Dance for Life dates because of family illness, and I wish him well – and sincerely hope he'll be rearing to go in 2019.