The Comedy Zone is a showcase night that comes with more than it's fair share of prestige, and no little amount of pressure. A strong history of turning out performers like Frankie Boyle, Al Murray, Russell Howard and Dave Gorman lends the night a credibility that many showcases lack, but it also places an incredible burden on the shoulders of performers who are just being introduced to the comedy scene - the true purpose of the night being to launch new faces into the limelight. The expectation is palpable in the room, as before the acts have even come on stage, a recorded announcement boasts famous names that have previously performed. It's hard to see how any young comic wouldn't be shaking in their boots.
All the acts tailored their sets to include recent stories of Edinburgh, giving the impression of a constantly evolving show and cutting through any feeling of staleness at a late point in the run.
The four young men featured stepped up to the challenge and each proved their worth admirably - although it was clear from repeated half joking pleas to lower expectations, or gags about fading into obscurity that the ghosts of former acts still haunt the stage.
The show was compéred by Steve Bugeja, a young man with the mannerisms of a young James Acaster whose warm and engaging manner immediately got the audience on side. He certainly knows how to work a room - including a gag about his brother wearing a blouse that appeared fairly childish at first telling, but was repeated to the point of a hilarious absurdity - dragging the joke out to the point where he just had to say "blouse" to have the audience in stitches.
Jack Barry’s spaced out, cheerful stage persona juxtaposed wonderfully with his dark material, transforming stories about cancer and suicide from the macabre to the quirky. A few fart jokes failed to impress on a critical level, but the majority of the set was clever and neatly original, with material about American gang culture that was consistently laugh out loud. The set was upbeat enough to engage without being gratingly high energy. Barry’s act is a little rough around the edges, but the material is strong, and his voice is unique - definitely one to watch.
Next on the bill came Alex Smith, who performed a mixture of musical comedy and stand up. A savage garden parody and a song about the middle class shopping at Waitrose aren’t exactly ground breaking, but a confident stage presence and a healthy dose of stories about sex proved entertaining enough for a late night audience.
Adam Hess finished the bill, with an intensely high energy set. Hess is a man who appears to teeter on the edge of a breakdown, manically happy about his recent breakup in a way that lifts the audience with him and you can’t help but cackle along. Reading a list of totally true things about him forced you to engage with him as a performer, and you become immensely invested in the story unfolding on stage. However, I would question the wisdom of highlighted a segment as “true”, as you become hyper aware of any artifice in the jokes of later sections.
All the acts tailored their sets to include recent stories of Edinburgh, giving the impression of a constantly evolving show and cutting through any feeling of staleness at a late point in the run. The show as a whole struck a happy balance between catering for a late night drinking audience and providing comedy with creative flair and an original edge.