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Comedians' flights of fancy

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Ellen West - web producer | 13:37 UK time, Friday, 15 August 2008

All of the stand up shows that I've seen in Edinburgh have had one thing in common. Actually, as I seem to have confined myself to shows by men they've technically had two things in common. No matter how entertaining the performer or where in the UK or Ireland they hail from (I seem to also have discriminated against international comedians), they have all included something in their sets about the experience of flying with a budget airline.

The delightful David O'Doherty takes a characteristically sideways view by speculating that in a time of decreasing legroom the penguin is the perfect traveller - being able to perch on the seat or be stowed away in an overhead locker. The joke is typical in many ways of O'Doherty, who seems capable of transforming material that could be weak in the hands of a less engaging performer into something absolutely hilarious. Me, I was rolling in the aisles at his impersonation of the penguin requesting that it be lifted into its seat and ordering the fish meal, "Because chicken would be mutual flightless bird cannibalism". D'OD is fascinated by technology, talking about different stages in a texting relationship and meditating on the hype surrounding the latest mobile phone, but his preoccupations also include board games and Ireland's most dangerous wild animal (the badger).

During his section on budget travel, Andrew Maxwell refers to one airline's practice of serving spirits in small plastic bags, commenting that it must be difficult to maintain the illusion that you don't have an alcohol problem if you are being served spirits in a plastic bag on a one-hour flight. The joke is representative of Maxwell's cleverly observed and knowing comedy and also doesn't outstay its welcome - he has soon moved on.

The same cannot be said about Tom Allen, whose show A Voyage Round My Mother, has an extended section about a flight over to Ireland. Allen is a confident performer, and for the first 10 minutes of his show he is amusing, but the laziness of some of his observations become wearing. This is typified by a description of the cabin staff (complete with "comedy" voices) that stretches on and on, culminating in one of the characters losing her wig to a gust of wind.

Is it possible that my experience is unrepresentative? It would seem not. Last night I went to the Penny Dreadfuls' show Aeneas Faversham Forever, while my husband drew the short straw with a stand up show he described as "unfunny". I'll avoid naming the comedian as I didn't see the show myself, but I couldn't help asking whether or not budget air travel was mentioned. In this case the jokes featured budget passengers sitting on hay bales while in business class they all carried sceptres. If there is one positive consequence of the downturn in the global economy and the rise in the price of flights then it could be a decline in the number of jokes about travelling by plane - I for one have had enough of them.


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