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Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Edinburgh 2011 arrow Set List: Standup Without a Net
Set List: Standup Without a Net
Published on Tuesday, 16 August 2011

4 stars

Just The Tonic at the Caves (venue website)
4-15, 17-18 Aug, 11:40pm-12:40am; 19-23, 25, 28 Aug, 11:50pm-1:00am; 24, 26-27 Aug, 1:15am-2:25am, 11:50pm-1:00am
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

This sort of late-night comedy showcases is an Edinburgh staple.  Comedians do their regular shows during the day or early evening and then, after a mild libation, pitch up at a small venue for a ten-minute turn as part of a lineup of Fringe talent.  What sets Set List apart is its creative provenance, and sense of spontaneity and innovation.

The format was devised in Los Angeles, by Paul Provenza (director of cult documentary The Artistocrats, about the taboo-busting backstage joke) and Troy Conrad.  Each comedian coming to the stage is handed a sheet of paper with a selection of random and ridiculous themes.  They have fifteen seconds to absorb that information, and then straight away start doing a set on those topics.  At points, they will have to dip into a hat of audience suggestions and begin talking about them straight away as well.  What could be simpler?

Regular panel member Matt Kirshen certainly made it look easy.  He's doing something of a Set List residency in addition to his own show, and for whatever reason his glassy-eyed otherworldliness seems to work in this format.  Avuncular guest Rick Overton also coped well, kicking off with 'agnostic feast' (“we all link hands and say, 'well, who knows?'”) and going from there.  Canadian comic Tom Stade did ok, but mainly blustered through it with rude language rather than comic free association.

Of the two female comedians on the bill, Janey Godley (who doesn’t have her own show this year) was ostensibly the best.  In all the time I've covered the Fringe, I've so far only seen her at parties, but she was good: rude and Glaswegian, which (excuse the cheap gag coming up) may be tautological.  But the format is most illuminating, I think, when somebody bombs – and that is sort-of what Caroline Mabey did.  She started tentatively with a William Wallace-related opening (“he... fighted the English... with blue-face?”) and it descended from there.  But the interesting thing is that, even while floundering desperately, she was still brilliantly funny.

I think what Set List achieves is to strip away the artifice of performance and reveal the essential core of a comic performer.  It's somewhat dependent on both the lineup and the audience, of course, but it worked very well the night I was there.  The whole thing is fast, too – the hour will absolutely fly by.

Set List has moved venue from the location listed in the printed programme, going from The Tron to a larger room in The Caves just round the corner (and all part of the Just The Tonic franchise); it also starts a little later than advertised, at 11.50, to accommodate the change.  Their hastily stickered-over flyers proclaim that it's sure to sell out, and I expect it will – especially with big name guest stars such as Brendan Burns and Greg Proops coming up in the last week or so.  Get on your marks and get along to Set List.

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