Live Review: 99 Club Female & Non-Binary Comedians’ Bursary Showcase, 99 Club, WC2

 99 club showcase

It is a truth universally acknowledged that taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe costs a packet, so 99 Club's bursary helps. Two acts making their Edinburgh full-length debut receive £500 and this year, because the standard was so consistently high, the other three acts in the showcase also received £150 each. I was a judge and while our conversation must remain private, let's just say resolving this one makes Brexit seem like a doddle.

First up was a performer who has already made a splash in other competitions and on the UK circuit. In fact Yuriko Kotani is so well-established I was surprised to hear that she is making her full-length Fringe debut in 2019. As a UK-based Japanese woman she certainly has a distinctive take on British life. And also a very funny one. She paints a very rich picture of vague, dopey Brits and industrious Japanese workers. A cliché perhaps, but that doesn't stop it from being very sharp. It certainly got the evening, hosted by Sarah Keyworth, off to a great start and set a high bar.

Next up was a comic who is very new to me. In fact I've never seen Sophie Duker in a club, but did see her on Frankie Boyle's New World Order on BBC2 last week, so she is clearly getting some traction among programme makers. It was easy to see why, even in this very short set onstage. Duker is tackling zeitgeisty subjects such as race, gender and diversity box-ticking and tackling them very well. This is comedy with brains at the forefront, but comedy that doesn't forget to be funny either. She has bags of charisma too. Even though she wasn't one of the big winners tonight Duker clearly has a big future.

Third on the bill was Janine Harouni, a New Yorker who came to London to study drama and is now making waves as a comedian, both as a solo act and in award-winning sketch trio Muriel. She is an extremely entertaining slick, American comic. Whether by instinct or craft she knows how to fill the room with laughs, sending up her Sopranos-lite Italian-US family, doing a posh English accent or reflecting on circumcision v non-circumcision. Easily the best act of the night for me, and a worthy recipient of £500.

By a quirk of billing the next act, Emily Woods, also kicked off by talking about how she had come to London to study drama. In Woods' case it was from Canada, and after this coincidence this is where she and Harouni diverged. Woods has a more quirky, nervy style, but an engaging one too, as she talked about living in Leytonstone, which did not turn out to be the twee vilage she dreamt of moving to. For Woods East London life is a slightly scary place, full of housemates bitching about her or foxes having sex in the street. She certainly has a striking take and a gift for finding the funny side of everything, including taking anti-depressants. Memo to self, don't mix them with MDMA. 

The final act was Helen Bauer. Interstingly none of the stand-ups tonight fell back on the old opening trope of saying who they slightly look like, otherwise Bauer might have gone for a variant on Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones. Although at six foot one Bauer is slightly shorter. Instead she plunged straight into her full-on routines, messing with the front row and coming across as somewhat unhinged, but in a Good Way. One of her excellent stories was about her German grandparents who moved to England before WW2. We won't spoil the pay-off.

Elsewhere she talked bluntly about drinking, her cheese addiction and her regular – too regular – clothes shopping trips. There is a hint of Miranda Hart in Bauer's gawkiness, but she is very much a one-off and also picked up £500. But it was a close run thing. All of the acts tonight are clearly destined to make their names in comedy.

Pictured left to right: Yuriko Kotani, Helen Bauer, Sophie Duker, Emily Woods, Janine Harouni.

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