This is the third time at the Fringe where I’m going to take the liberty to yak at you about context. Objectivity? Eh, it’s for losers…
AAA Stand Up isn’t a bad show. There are countless triple-bill stand-up showcases in the city this month and, as far as they go, this one’s pretty good. John Long plays dual roles as introducer and act, beginning with a warm, unchallenging 20mins of millennial-focused comedy that’s a little weak, but not compromised to the level of awkwardness. People laugh where they’re supposed to laugh, clap where they’re supposed to clap, sing along where they’re supposed to sing along. All good.
Colin Chadwick then takes over for an odd session delivered casually, as if recounting genuine personal stories. I assume he’s playing a character, because these tales are clearly (hopefully) false – revolving around broken, abusive relationships – and several of the jokes are excessively creepy/ bordering on the misogynistic. It’s not as if these comments are Jimmy Carr-esque offensive, they’re just casually immoral in a way that doesn’t elicit shocked laughter but discomfort. Still, the gentle delivery and lack of any truly incendiary content keep the audience good natured, laughing along to an incredibly long joke about internet search history that’s amusing if not really hilarious.
Peter Bazely ends the show with the funniest segment of the night. Playing the tried and tested trick of pretend awkwardness, the set is framed around the idea that he’s just trying to engage us for 15 minutes so that he can get paid. That allows for some fantastically funny moments, especially those involving very short, often brutal, comedic songs played on his guitar – climaxing in one including the repeated refrain of ‘bye bye bi bi-polar polar bear’ which causes some laughs. If there’s a real issue here, it’s that the comic routines complement each other too well – all three acts rely on slow, quiet routines that feign nervousness or amateur stress. The latter two acts, as well, both use this masking to conceal some pretty savage, nasty jokes that otherwise (particularly in Chadwick’s case) would come off wrong.
However, ladies and gentlemen, context. The Fringe is, you may or may not know, a many-faced beast: really an amalgamation of quite a few different festivals into one (the Assembly, the Pleasance, the Underbelly etc.). And, one of the most popular (not to mention the most important) is the free fringe. As much as I thought AAA was a perfectly fun way to spend an hour, the fact remains that you could see something just like it for nothing. I reckon that over a quarter of the shows on the free fringe are exactly like this: a comedic master of ceremonies introduces two or three up-and-coming stand-ups who present 20 minutes of their material to the audience. I’ve seen it done worse than this, sure, but I’ve seen it done the same (and better, for that matter) a hundred times over at this festival. AAA is a piece of work that costs £11.50 and, compared to other offerings at the festival, does not deliver £11.50 worth of value.
And that’s about it. AAA Stand-up gets a lot of exposure at this festival. It’s cheekily designed name means that it appears right at the top of brochures and bills; and its fantastic movie-poster inspired flyering gives the event a commercial, well-thought veneer. It is, if nothing else, a demonstration of how to sell a totally unremarkable show to a massive audience at the Edinburgh Fringe. And it’s working for them – this year, there are four of these shows every day. I applaud AAA for that; their commercial ingenuity; and, let’s not forget, for also being pretty funny. But if you walk into Espionage or the Free Sisters at about 10pm, I can almost guarantee you’ll have a better time for nothing.