Beginning my reviews of this years Edinburgh Fringe performances in the order I saw them (read each review to decide whether a recommendation from me is a good reason for you to see the show, or to avoid it at all costs) is the suitably cheery, feel-good comedy of Josie Long. Like the majority of shows in the first week of the festival, the tickets are half-price (excellent) and the show effectively billed as a preview, giving all performers a license to be a bit less professional and to bend over occasionally to look at a script hidden in full view next to the mic stand. Still, theres a tendency for the very first shows, no matter how chaotic and under-rehearsed, to go down well as an endearing work-in-progress before the inexplicable immediate downturn of the second show. Fortunately I saw Josie Long on the first day of the festival when the performances were fresh and nicely cheap at only five Scottish pounds.
Josies shows over the last couple of years have divided critical response, at least those of people who enjoy her whimsical anecdotes and those who feel comedy should be angry and political to be in any way worthwhile, but a rapid learning curve and surprising rise to prominence in the last couple of years, championed by such stand-up legends as Stewart Lee (himself officially the 41st Best Stand-Up Ever) among others, sees her most recent material finally getting into its stride. The show is, as usual, about ninety percent happy hippie whimsy about the general enjoyment to be found in everyday life, whether that means the mysterious beaming of a passing stranger or driving to a bread factory in Australia on a quest to meet the angry-looking man who graces its packaging, with attempts to glean valuable life lessons from it all. Josies set mostly consists of such anecdotes in the style of Daniel Kitson, told honestly as a document of life with only a couple of forced punchlines that Josie seems genuinely pleased to have written, claiming to be a proper comedian at last, and even featuring some plot twists (what? In real life?) Its clear from her comments here and elsewhere that she has some idea of the bigoted hostility held for her approach from some people on the internet, but this new show is such an irresistibly enjoyable hour that those message board trolls now just seem like really miserable folks.
Many of the shows at this Fringe (and perhaps all of the previous ones) concern some kind of life crisis, the depressing reality of which is expertly mined for laughs by all the performers committing to put on a show every night for a month that will most likely leave them in debt. At 25, Josie Longs worries over her changing personality dont quite have the same overtones of depression as Richard Herrings mid-life regrets in his new show Oh F**k Im 40!, and her constantly chirpy demeanour reveals that shes still in a very happy place, especially when her primary concern is losing the integrity of her indie girl image by visiting the gym and embracing the Weight Watchers diet, with more enthusiasm than is strictly necessary. The real Josie Long thankfully overpowers any kind of false or exaggerated persona that would only serve to spoil things, as she thanks the arriving audience for coming to her first show with genuine delight and rewards audience members who show special enthusiasm or commitment by throwing them a satsuma. Self-appointed comedy experts who hated the feel-good atmosphere of her previous shows would melt in Josies peaceable kingdom, accompanied by felt-tip drawings and audio recordings of her eleven-year-old brother making the kind of jokes an eleven-year-old would make, and she even provides everyone present with a photocopied, hand-drawn show programme of various thoughts and images, with Masonic secrets for returning audience members such as a way to get some free sweets.
As a Fringe show this is a fairly perfect hour, but there are a couple of jarring elements that keep it from being the best Josie could offer, namely the occasional out-of-character dissections of her material and forced pauses, but theres no sense that this is an amateur at work. While Josie Long may be floating blissfully while other comedians are entrenched in despair, it would be fascinating and enjoyable, in a sort of morbid way, to see her handle a vicious heckle along the lines of youre rubbish, I cant believe this is the future of comedy, youre dangerous. Several minutes into the show, by which time Josie has effectively become your friend, such an insurgence would surely be put down immediately and the offenders brains bashed in, though perhaps its a confrontation that the performer needs. Its really surprising to hear in one part of the show how she hates performance poetry with all the hatred I have in my soul, reminding us that Josie Long is another human being, capable of all the same failings, but whose demeanour is by default in an enviably positive place. Shes really good at Minesweeper too.
Josie Long Trying is Good plays at the Pleasance Upstairs (the rear of the Pleasance Courtyard big yellow place near the city centre) from 1st to 27th August (not 13th or 20th) at 7.15pm, lasting one hour. Prices are £9.50 to £10.50 depending on the day (£8.00 to £9.00 concessions, and a special price of £5.00 for tonights show, which has most definitely sold out by now).
Next review: Mark Watson Can I Briefly Talk to You about the Point of Life?
The Pleasance Courtyard (located at 60 Pleasance) has over 300,000 visitors, fourteen venues, six bars, three cafes and every kind of entertainment under the sun. It's little wonder that for many people the Pleasance is the Fringe. 'The best of all possible worlds' The Observer.