Postcard from the Fringe

Metro reviews the best, biggest and most bonkers names at this year’s Edinburgh Festival

Kwame Asante — Living In Sin

Pleasance Courtyard, Bunker One ★★★★☆

It seems to be a running joke among the medically trained comedians at this year’s Fringe that the quickest way of seeing a doctor is to book tickets to their show – but, should you do so, it’ll reassure you that the NHS is in safe hands.

And gentle giant Kwame Asante (above), who works part-time in the A&E department of a Birmingham hospital, must surely be the most patient of them all. Kindness, thoughtfulness and nuance permeate every issue he tackles, whether it’s elderly waterworks and Covid deniers - or, more delicately still, social media and its knee-jerk demands for diversity (regardless of context).

But not everything is set in the emergency room. Asante is not a doctor-turned-comedian, he’s a doctor AND comedian… the latter skill flourishing while he was studying as the former. Which is why he has plenty of other well-worked routines: for instance, his obsession with online reviewer Lionel, whose intriguing digital footprint hints at an unhappy marriage and a love affair with cameras; or how horny environmentalists can square safe sex with single-use plastics.

The sick and wounded of Birmingham better get well soon, because with sets like this his pager will be bleeping off the hook.

Chloe Petts — Transience

Pleasance Courtyard ★★★★☆

Chloe Petts is the ‘man she always wanted to be’ — essentially, a geezer in a lesbian’s body who wants to take advantage of the male privilege that should afford her, particularly amid the banter in the stands of Crystal Palace.

Unfortunately, she frequently gets bitten when she tries. The absurdity of gender norms is a topic much-discussed at this year’s Fringe, but it’ll be tough to match this astonishingly assured debut from Petts, who despite, or perhaps because of, the lockdown, has arrived at this year’s Fringe fully formed, with material that’s both smart and silly (yes, toilets are mentioned — as are disastrous childhood attempts at femininity).

Her self-deprecation is as high as her preaching is low. You’ll learn things, but you’ll laugh even more.

Moni Zhang — Child From Wuhan

Laughing Horse at The Three Sisters ★★★★☆

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Moni Zhang’s show is extraordinary. For a start, she performs it in a karaoke booth far too small for the number of punters she should be attracting.

Don’t expect any social distancing here. Moreover prepare to be absolutely wrong-footed: Zhang’s show starts with a jolly, slurpy description of the wonder of Wuhan noodles, ends with diarrhoea and contains an absolute gut punch in-between.

That’s because it’s actually a journey through her traumatic life story: Zhang grew up in a sweatshop ghetto and wound up against all odds settling in Berlin wrestling with her complex relationship with her selfless yet self-esteem-crushing mother, and her anger at the Chinese patriarchy.

She’s since become a mental health activist in Berlin, having left her soulless job as a tech analyst behind. To her satisfaction and for her audience, some peace is found at the end of the rollercoaster — but this is a tragicomedy that will stay with you.

Bilal Zafar — Care

Underbelly, Bristo Square ★★★★☆

Bilal Zafar’s first act when he walks out on stage is to reassure everyone in the front row that they aren’t about to be picked on. It’s not that kind of act. ‘I have material,’ smiles the 2016 Edinburgh Comedy Award Best Newcomer nominee. He’s also keen to make sure everyone knows, though, that he doesn’t do ‘gentle’ comedy, as one past review apparently described it.

If Zafar’s manner is calm and reassuring, that only gives his undoubted store of good material extra bite. Care is about his experiences in his first major job after leaving university; he was studying a media studies degree, which gets its own joke, although his rising career to date suggests it’s been put to good use. Back then, though, the only gig going was assistant in an exclusive private care home for the elderly.

Zafar points out he was a boy earning £6.50 an hour keeping people who had paid up to £10,000 a month to be there alive. Where any sense of gentleness comes into the show is in his respect for the people he cared for, including the dementia sufferer who caused a panic when she wandered out of the home to buy cigarettes and the man who insisted Zafar is a Jewish guy called Al.

Yet the material has a real kick in its description of being loaded down with responsibility and expectation by a company that preaches the right values but pays peanuts and cares only about the bottom line. Staff are incentivised to convince short-term residents to take out a long-term plan, while Zafar is subject to a disciplinary for eating a sandwich. It’s a personal and very funny story, but his experience will be familiar to many. DAVID POLLOCK

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