The Dublin Fringe Festival is often overlooked in favor of the more well-known Edinburgh Fringe, but its smaller scale may be its greatest strength.
While the entire city of Edinburgh transforms for the Fringe, you could easily miss the festival in the Irish capital if you’re not seeking it out. However, this means that most of the acts at the Dublin Fringe are homegrown, unlike at Edinburgh, where many smaller performers have found themselves priced out of an increasingly expensive (not to mention exhausting) month. Dublin Fringe operates for 16 days, compared to the over three weeks of Edinburgh Fringe, which is much more doable, especially for artists who may be strapped for cash.
Since this is the comedy section after all, I tried to see as many stand-up shows as possible, with some cabaret and drama thrown in. The Dublin Fringe Festival ended yesterday, but hopefully there’s more to come from these artists, both emerging and established.
At only 23, Emily Ashmore is a self-assured and undeniably funny comedian. Her show at the Dublin Fringe Festival, Ashes to Ashmore, ostensibly took place in a doctor’s waiting room, where she’s practicing her stand-up before getting help for her dislocated kneecaps. Ashmore’s performance centered around how her life has changed since she was 15 and her kneecaps dislocated while she was on the bus. At only 45 minutes long, the set was incredibly tight, consistently hilarious, and insightful to boot. Her ease onstage meant she could roll with a verbal gaffe about fingering and her audience interactions felt genuine and earned. Doubtless Ashmore is a comedian to watch.
When I arrived at the lunchtime show for The Mothership, Brandi Carlile’s “The Mother” was playing over the speakers, setting the tone for a performance that was as much about appreciating mothers as it was about making the audience laugh. Sharon Mannion and Anne Gill hosted, playing off their differences (Mannion’s Irish and had a C-section, Gill is American and gave birth the old fashioned way) and finding the funny in the nitty gritty of motherhood. The show focused on the science behind how having a kid changes people, with birth and postpartum doula Tara Durkin and radio broadcaster Alison Curtis making appearances. Special shoutout to their labia sock puppets.
Comedian Colm O’Regan’s set dug into the pervasive dread and feeling of powerlessness in the face of climate change, and combatted these overwhelming emotions with his knack for connection. He broke the fourth wall right off the bat, ready to engage the audience with his affable nature. While O’Regan may have been overly reliant on Irish-isms, he also made an express effort to include audience members from abroad (him getting an Italian tourist to say “Sorry in me hole” was especially hilarious). Besides being funny, one walked away from O’Regan’s show with a renewed sense of hope. Keep an eye out for his book of the same name, Climate Warrior, out next month.
It’s hard sometimes not to get caught up in the what ifs of life, those sliding doors moments that seem like they could have changed everything. Comedian Aidan Greene uses this conceit to look back through his life and see how it would be different if he was cured of the stammer he developed at four years old. Greene’s funny on his own, but he accentuated his set with a gut-busting slideshow, full of strangely photoshopped pictures and video shorts referencing Stuart Little (it makes sense, trust me). He knows how to control a room, even when a joke doesn’t quite land, and it’s a joy to behold.
Comedian Anna Clifford came in with guns blazing in I See Dead(ly) People, and it took a moment for the crowd to catch up with her high energy level. Once we did, though, there was no stopping Clifford, whose performance followed her decision to go on an ayahuasca retreat—in March of 2020. Life was simply not the same after she returned from the retreat, and Clifford explored this especially dark time with a radiant, ruthless sense of humor on stage. Her physicality made every joke funnier, whether she was talking about “breadcrumbing,” straddling the mic stand like she was a witch on a broom, or pulling hilarious faces.
Lie Low was one of the few non-comedy shows I went to, but the play, written by Ciara Elizabeth Smyth, wasn’t devoid of laughs. In fact, there were an awful lot considering that the show followed a woman named Faye (Charlotte McCurry) who’s struggling to sleep after a traumatic break-in. Add in a duck mask, Rice Krispies, a few dance breaks, and a visit from her brother Naoise (Michael Patrick), and you’ve got a play that has kept this writer thinking since the actors took their final bow. The comedy-inflected drama twists its way into your gray matter, exploring how trauma and healing are by no means linear journeys. It’s no wonder that McCurry won the festival’s Best Performer Award.
“How well do you know your neighbors / 800 years, 800 years / How well do you know your failures?” sang the cast of Oliver Cromwell Is Really Very Sorry (written by and starring Anthony Keigher, aka XNTHONY) in the opening number, setting the scene for the cabaret/musical following a fictionalized version of the titular Lord Protector’s life. The play was more Six than Hamilton, amping up the camp with the supermodel army for the Sexy Civil War, Cromwell’s numerous kids being strung together like sausages, and songs like “Put Your Hands Up for Puritanism” (still stuck in my head). The cast most certainly deserved their Best Ensemble Award, gyrating and belting out songs like nobody’s business. There’s a catharsis to making Cromwell—a villainous figure in Irish history for his bloody invasion of the island—into a wannabe actor who becomes a wannabe sort-of-king; there’s even more to the audience passing around a biscuit tin meant to hold his head.
Oops! This Is Toxic may have been my favorite show—which is all the more impressive considering I was desperately hungover watching it. Comedian Julie Jay may be a secret hangover cure, though, because her set—which wove together her adolescence, Britney Spears’ life, and 1990s and 2000s pop culture moments seamlessly—was a hilarious, genuinely moving tonic for the soul. Jay is a natural onstage, no doubt partly due to her teaching career. She strutted about in a red vinyl catsuit à la Britney, breaking down how the patriarchy has wronged us all but also keeping the bits coming. Make getting to know Jay’s work your prerogative.
Smiling isn’t just a way we express joy; it’s also a way to hide our hurt from others. Tom Moran Is a Big Fat Filthy Disgusting Liar broke down the titular Moran’s defenses—lying, smiling, people pleasing, drinking, and so on—to get to the core of how intergenerational trauma can manifest in unusual ways. Moran’s one-man show could flip from funny to heart wrenching in an instant, and these juxtaposed moments only served to further his performance. Who hasn’t been laughing, only to be blindsided by a sudden, piercing feeling of isolation? Moran’s deeply personal and vulnerable storytelling tapped into universal experiences in an unforgettable way.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.