Edinburgh Fringe Preview

Ruaidhrí Ward, Eleanor Tiernan and Michael Legge hone their skills at the Black Box

This evening ends with compere, Ruaidhrí Ward, and myself embracing in the toilets of the Duke of York pub, having both been surprised by a giant, aggressively friendly man. But even this fiercely erotic clench was not the high point of my evening, as I had by this point borne witness to a cornucopia of comic delights to dazzle the eye and delight the ear (but mainly delight the ear – the eye dazzling was kept to a minimum).

This is a warm-up gig for the Edinburgh Fringe festival, neatly put together by Graeme Watson’s newly minted Infinite Jest Promotions, and as such I anticipate ragged and detached performances as the comics refer back to notes, pause, stare blankly into the audience mid-sentence, or rush off in tears.

It’s testimony to the sheer class of the performers sharing the bill tonight that my schadenfreude doesn’t get an airing. Luckily, on the way home, I see a drunken man falling off his bike.

Ward clambers onto the stage with authority and style, and impeccable comic timing that sees him start the show at eight on the dot. He’s instantly engaging and works the room like a nervous politician, though he does lapse into lap-top comedy, something that’s become almost ubiquitous of late.

It’s my problem, I know, but I prefer my comedy to at least feign spontaneity, and getting the thumbs up from the A.V. club at the back of the room every time you waggle your pointer rather spoils the illusion.

Michael Legge, later in the show, will subvert this trend, using his finger and a post-it note to display a cramped and indistinguishable pie-chart detailing a list of his most embarrassing moments. Besides, Ward doesn’t need to do it: his storytelling, about his brother, 'the Olympian', or drunkenly waking up in the arms of his father, is told as a confidence, his control hairs-breadth precise.

Even a joke about the Dark Knight Rises massacre in Denvor, which he winces at all the way through, is far from the swan-dive into poor taste we had been led to anticipate, resolving, rather sweetly, into a bit about a friend with multiple allergies and his inability to stab her in the thigh.

As an M.C. he’s a reassuringly warm presence – and he must have been roasting: The Black Box was like a sauna and his trade-mark wool-cap stayed resolutely on throughout the evening.

Eleanor Tiernan’s Rogue show is all about her attempt to be 'bold'. Her set is predicated on two ideas: that her recent choice to become a comedian is a revolt against a childhood mired in her own goodness, and that her time spent in 1908s Athlone was a stygian pit of narrowness and backward thinking. All done for comic ends, of course.

She seems nervous, and there are repeated trips back to the notes to help her find her place. But, luckily Tiernan is also very funny, and when she hits her stride the materiel is strong; strong enough for the audience to give her the benefit of the doubt. These are the try-outs for the Fringe: by the time she gets there she’s going to be unstoppable.

Legge leaps onto the stage, hurls away the microphone and begins to berate Eleanor for being a liar: back-stage they had been confiding in each other about their lack of materiel and then she delivers a flustered master-class in comedy, while he has nothing at all!

Luckily, he’s being disingenuous – Legge has plenty of materiel for his It’s a Shame show, and most of it is based on the astonishing tonnage of embarrassing things that happen to him on a daily basis, and the perverse glee that he gets from sharing his shame to a room full of laughing strangers.

His life does indeed seem to be an endless litany of awkward moments – from being asked directions by a polite man urinating through railings, to a woman in the supermarket holding his hand as she thought he was her five year old son, to always, always being mistaken for Dave Gorman.

But with a set this lively, this furious, this squirm-enducingly embarrassing you could never mistake this man for 'TV’s drunken-bet-man' Gorman. The Northern Irish contingent at this year's Edinburgh Fringe will do us proud.