tue 16/07/2024

Best of 2023: Comedy | reviews, news & interviews

Best of 2023: Comedy

Best of 2023: Comedy

Comebacks, emotional journeys and assured debuts

Peter Kay made a welcome return to live performance with his mega tour

From Covid-delayed dates (yes, that's still a thing) to emotional comebacks and assured debuts, 2023 had much to offer.

Of the big TV names rediscovering the joys of live comedy were Dick and Dom on their Covid-delayed 20th-anniversary tour and shiny-floor-show specialist Michael McIntyre, but the most anticipated return was by Peter Kay, who had cancelled his mega tour in 2017 for undisclosed family reasons. The first half of his show was entertaining enough but not memorable, but he pulled it out of the bag with a second-half coup de theatre. He's touring throughout 2024 and 2025, so grab a ticket.

The personal may be political, but for stand-ups it's also material, and in the best hands can be formed into something special – funny, touching an informative. And it was with John Robins, who crafted a lovely – and laugh-laden – show about his recovery from alcoholism. But the stand-out example of this was from Ed Byrne (pictured right), performing a career-highlight show prompted by the death of his younger brother in 2022 after having battled a drink problem and cancer.

The Edinburgh Fringe was a mixed bag and, I'm sad to say, a disappointment in terms of the newcomers coming through. There was some (deserved) buzz about Lorna Rose Treen (pictured left), Darran Griffiths, Louise Atkinson and Mary O'Connell, and rather less meaningful chat about others who didn't match their undoubted performing talent with solid material. Not quite newcomers, but the first time I had seen them and found really impressive were the American Kristal Evans and Amos Gill from Australia.

Of the Edinburgh favourites returning, I greatly enjoyed Kieran Hodgson's account of his move to Scotland when he landed a role in the sitcom Two Doors Down and Olga Koch bringing us up to date with what has been an eventful time in her life.

The winners of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards were Urooj Ashfaq, who had done her homework about what makes a show "an Edinburgh show" by travelling from her native India in 2022 to sit in dozens of Fringe shows. Ahir Shah (pictured right), meanwhile, who had not intended to go to the Fringe this year because of the sudden death of his director, the greatly talented Adam Brace, ended up winning the best show award for his excellent Ends, which drew on his family's experience for a thought-provoking, wide-ranging hour about politics, grief and migration.

Temporary migrants to the UK included the South African Trevor Noah, fresh from a seven-year stint hosting The Daily Show in the United States, and American writer/performer Kate Berlant, whose Kate Berlant Is KATE was a delicious spoof of actory types.

Berlant's show was precision-made with words, but physical comedy can be just as finely wrought, as Bill O'Neill's madcap The Amazing Banana Brothers at Edinburgh attested. He's doing another run at Soho Theatre in London in January, and it's well worth catching.

The personal may be political, but for stand-ups it's also material

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