Seven things you absolutely should not miss at the Edinburgh Fringe

Seven things you absolutely should not miss at the Edinburgh Fringe | Soho House

Man in the know Max Olesker reveals his insider’s guide to the most intoxicating arts festival in the world

Friday 5 August 2022    By Max Olesker

The Edinburgh Fringe. For those who know, no explanation is necessary. For those who’ve not yet been, no description can possibly suffice. It’s the headiest, most vibrant, most intoxicating arts festival in the world – a riotous, month-long explosion of creativity, in which one of the greatest cities has its every viable room (and plenty of non-viable ones) transformed into a stage. 

It absolutely shouldn’t work, but somehow it does – especially if you’re a fan of comedy, or a comedian. I happen to be both – with my comedy partner Ivan, I’ve launched all manner of performances at the Fringe. This year, I’m performing in Edinburgh for one night only (more on that later) after which, to my complete delight, I’m simply… free to go and see shows. 

Now, before we go any further, remember that there are thousands of shows on at the Fringe, and that no list of ‘top comedy shows’ will ever encapsulate the breadth and variety of what’s on offer. That said, if you book in for the below, you’ll have an incredible time. And, if that was your first Edinburgh Fringe, it categorically won’t be your last.
Seven things you absolutely should not miss at the Edinburgh Fringe | Soho House
1. Chloe Petts – Transience
Debut hours don’t come much more hotly anticipated than that of Petts, who has firmly established herself as one of the most reliably entertaining acts on the comedy circuit. Relaxed, thoughtful and uproariously funny, she’s just supported Ed Gamble on tour and is swiftly becoming a TV regular. Tickets to her run at the Upstairs, in the legendary Pleasance Courtyard, are likely to become sought-after items as the festival progresses.

Pleasance Courtyard 6pm, 5 to 28 August (not 15 August)

2. Liz Kingsman – One-Woman Show 
Kingsman’s Fleabag-skewering show seems set to launch her to Fleabag-esque heights – it’s enjoyed similarly successful Soho runs as the original live incarnation of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s global megahit, and is now coming to Edinburgh for a victory lap. In One-Woman Show, Kingsman identifies and annihilates the ‘messy woman’ tropes prevalent in much of today’s theatre and TV, and unpacks much of the discourse surrounding it, too, in a perfectly weighted show loaded with a non-stop stream of Airplane-grade one-liners. Possibly the cleverest, funniest thing you’ll see all year. It’s a short run, so book quickly.

Traverse Theatre, 10pm, 16 to 28 August (not 22 August)
Seven things you absolutely should not miss at the Edinburgh Fringe | Soho House
3. Olga Koch – Just Friends 
Slick, supremely impressive, and joyfully filthy – Koch is the real deal. In her eye-popping 2018 show Fight (which can be listened to on BBC Sounds), Koch told the extraordinary true story of how her father inadvertently became deputy Russian prime minister (yup), and her parents both became political exiles. This year, at the Monkey Barrel (which has rapidly become the connoisseur’s stand-up venue of choice), the prolific comedian is promising a rollercoaster rom-com. It’s going to be fun. 

Monkey Barrel, 7.35pm, 5 to 28 August 

4. Diane Chorley
‘The Duchess of Canvey Island’ isn’t a drag act, so much as a love letter to the strong working class women of Essex. She’s also – along with her silent musical accompanist, Milky, a fabulous (‘gawjus’, she’d say) cabaret act, comedian, and proprietress of The Flick, a mythical Canvey nightclub that Chorley ran before her prison sentence (long story), and which she has brought back to life. It’s a heart-warming, inclusive, triumphantly tacky place – and it’s the only place to be after 3am. See everything she does.

The Flick Assembly George Square Studios, various times/ dates
Seven things you absolutely should not miss at the Edinburgh Fringe | Soho House
5. Catherine Cohen – Work In Progress 
To watch Cat Cohen is to realise that you  – *foot pop* – j’adore her. Maybe you’ve already seen her Netflix special (The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous), and fallen for her unique flavour of confessional, digressive, unpredictable stand-up, lashings of fabulously world-weary Broadway theatricality, and made-up slang (which might not sound like it’s for you, but I suspect you’ll become ‘obsorrrsed’). Cohen’s bringing a work-in-progress show to the Fringe – so strap in for all-new songs and wild flights of improvisation. 

Pleasance Courtyard, 9.40pm, 8 to 11, 13, and 16 to 21 August

6. Tim Key
Key’s back. The acclaimed, dishevelled, poet and stand-up – who is also quietly becoming one of the UK’s most beloved comedy actors on the side – has turned his lockdown anxieties into a masterpiece. As with every Tim Key show, it’s easy to list the major elements, but impossible to describe the overall effect. This time there’s a fridge and a door, and… well, you really have to experience the rest. It’s compelling, magical stuff that almost made the lockdowns worth it.  

Pleasance Dome, 8.30pm, 5 to 17 August; Pleasance Courtyard, 10pm, 18 to 28 August (not 21 or 22 August)
Seven things you absolutely should not miss at the Edinburgh Fringe | Soho House
7. The Wrestling
Full disclosure – this is a show I created. Comedians stepping into an actual wrestling ring, with actual real-life professional wrestlers, and doing battle. It’s a gigantic, ludicrous, one-off event, and it continues to grow in scale at a frankly uncontrollable rate. Over the years, comedians donning the spandex have included Aisling Bea, Joe Lycett and James Acaster. This year, we’ve got a new, bigger venue, and the comedians stepping into the ring include Rosie Jones, Sophie Duker, and Ivo Graham. Oh – and me and Ivan. Comedians. Wrestlers. Blood. One night only. Book now. 

Assembly Main Hall, 11pm, 23 August

And finally…
The key piece of actionable advice for an Edinburgh excursion is: don’t overplan. Let a flyerer talk you into something. Go and see a show on a whim. Take a chance. It’s entirely possible you might see something that changes your life.
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