Recommendations not reviews. And no stars. Here’s why:

Nick Helm
Nick Helm

Words by Rosalind Romer

“It’s not for everyone”. Nick Helm is one of Punchline’s favourite comedians EVER and if you trust him and go with it you’ll have an amazing night of comedy. But the promise of an anonymous “five star show”, with whatever connotations that may bring, can be damaging because an audience may have unrealistic expectations of a show.

The star system flattens every type of comedy show into a scale of 1 to 5, and the shows we recommend are so different.

Will Adamsdale as Jackson
Will Adamsdale as Jackson

At the Edinburgh Fringe, the critics and judges want something new. A full hour of decent, different comedy is the minimum standard for them. Anything less will be discarded or given a damning review. I was a Perrier Judge in 2004, and by the end of my 44th show, became unforgiving of lazy or self-indulgent comedy. The 45th show and eventual 2004 Perrier Winner, Will Adamsdale’s magnificent creation “Jackson’s Way”, made it all worthwhile. But seeing so many (complimentary) shows can make you complacent and hungry for something different.

Adam Riches
Adam Riches

Adam Riches has created his own style of comedy, heavy on audience participation, and has lovingly built on it year on year until he mastered it and eventually won the big prize. But inevitably the follow-up show would have been damned because it “hadn’t moved on since last year”. An act like this appears once in a decade. It is impossible to be original every year. Is it even desirable, or just a means of getting a look in with the Industry?

A member of the public wants to be entertained. They may not have seen an act who has been around for several years before, and couldn’t care less who is the next big thing, as long as they’re funny.

Stars are a handy way of filtering the shows, because you can look down a list of 5 star shows across publications to narrow down the exhaustive list of thousands of comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Awards and reviews are essential navigation tools. Although taking a chance is a wonderful thing, time is limited and you want to make sure you catch the good stuff and avoid the crap.

Five stars is a great way to promote a show, but now posters are plastered with a galaxy of stars. Stars given by so many publications and websites have now diluted their significance. Glenn Wool said in an interview that he was affronted when a certain publication only gave him four stars.

Which is why this Fringe Punchline is doing recommendations, not reviews. Bad reviews break hearts of performers who have spent half the year crafting their hour. If we don’t see any merit in a show, we just won’t mention it again. It’s impossible to see every show on the Fringe so let’s spend our energy on finding the good ones and spreading the word.

Let’s be clear, there is a lot of lazy, self-indulgent or just downright terrible comedy on the fringe. There are two axes. One of quality, and one of taste. Every single show Punchline recommends is high quality, and might be your favourite show on the Fringe. The same show will offend or baffle someone else. But the recommendation is made up of more than a number of stars.

Let Punchline guide you through the Fringe, giving you a flavour of the best shows on offer and let you decide yourself if it’s your thing.


Published by Punchline

Your secret source of comedy knowledge at the Edinburgh Fringe

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