Heroes @ The Criterion & Bob's Blundabus.
This man used to be a jockey: Bob Slayer
The Criterion pub on Millstone Lane this year becomes the third venue to be taken over for the festival by maverick promoter Bob Slayer's 'Heroes' outfit. Heroes was established a few years ago for the Edinburgh Fringe, as a sort of antidote to both the expensive, overproduced stand-up that was flooding the market, and the extortionate venue fees that were leaving many performers destitute for the rest of the year. Heroes aims to be a place where interesting or unusual acts can perform for the duration of the festival without running up huge debts: the acts don't pay to use the venue, the audience can reserve tickets for a fiver or pay what they want on the night.
Bob sells beer (from the front of his bus this year) in order to cover his costs, and the whole thing ends up feeling like a lovely dysfunctional family full of delightful oddballs, where audience and performers alike get drunk together at the end of the night until Bob falls over. It is this distinct atmosphere and 'mildly anarchic collective' feeling that led to Heroes being awarded the inaugural DLCF Liberty Award for 'encapsulating the spirit of the festival' in 2014. The bus itself is also a fully functioning venue, with many shows taking place on the top deck, and this will be parked outside the Criterion for most of the festival, until Bob decides to go for a drive somewhere.
|Top of many 'Best Of' lists in 2015: Spencer Jones|
The acts appearing at Heroes this year fall broadly into three categories:
1) Top drawer alternative acts - if you're looking for the weird and wonderful, it's here in droves - including sublime physical/prop comedy from the currently hugely-acclaimed Spencer Jones; another brand new show from the relentlessly creative Weirdos founder Adam Larter; winner of the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality Michael Brunström; masterful clown/puppet/prop-man Paul Currie; a deeply affecting personal story from Beth Vyse plus riotous character comedy from her creation 'Olive Hands'; tongue-in-cheek silliness from the overenthusiastic Joz Norris; Boosh-style nautical nonsense from LetLuce; good-natured absurdity from Ali Brice; wonderfully bizarre and occasionally disturbing character comedy from Cheekykita; and an intense ride with dangerously unhinged Candy Gigi. There are also showcases from some of the best alternative nights in the country, including London's 'Alternative Comedy Memorial Society', Newcastle's 'Silly Billies' and York's 'Burning Duck'.
|Edinburgh winner: Sofie Hagen|
2) Award-winning stand-ups you may not have heard of - including relentlessly cheerful hug-machine Pat Monahan; the young pretender to Tim Vine's 'King of the Puns' title Darren Walsh; last year's Edinburgh 'Best Newcomer' winner Sofie Hagen; the delightfully dark Tim Renkow; comedy's most excitable puppy Adam Hess; Red Dwarf veteran Norman Lovett; multimedia whizzkid David Trent; tales of the 80s alternative circuit from Charmian Hughes, and stand-up turned popular podcaster Stuart Goldsmith.
|Rising local stars Jason Neale & Lucy Thompson|
3) Local acts - some of the finest Leicestershire-based comics will be amongst this year's Heroes line-up, including likely lad and 'Proper Funny' host Jason Neale; stand-up and characters from rising star Lucy Thompson; family-friendly fun & games from 'Shirley' (aka Lindsey Warnes Carroll); veteran deadpan star Matt Hollins; and double-act daftness from 'The Two Syds' (alias previous festival award winners Ian Hall and Bruce Edhouse).
|Keep 'em peeled for this bus in February!|
I've had the pleasure of watching pretty much all of the acts named in this article over the past year or two, and I can tell you that I've enjoyed every one on its own terms, and each has something very unique to offer. So if you're the type of open-minded soul with a subversive glint in your eye, who embraces chaos and finds regular stand-up a bit boring or obvious, this is definitely the place to be during the festival! For it is this mix of unique acts - combined with the 'devil-may-care' spirit of Bob and friends, plus the whole 'renegade' ethos of Heroes where creativity is king and profit seems to be the least of anyone's worries - which makes for a wonderfully vibrant and unpredictable festival experience, a million miles away from the commercial, safe, glitzy and often rather bland version of comedy that graces our TV screens nightly.
Stay tuned for another LCS preview post soon, in which I'll be exploring another corner of this increasingly vast festival of ours.
See you soon, folks!