It was the most outrageous night the Pleasance Grand has ever seen. 20 comedians, 8 wrestlers, a sold-out audience of 770 people, and one broken ankle (Max’s). Astonishingly, not only did no-one die, it won the Edinburgh Comedy Awards Panel Prize.
Only in Edinburgh.
Max Olesker, of sketch duo Max and Ivan, decided he wanted to stage a real night of wrestling, in which genuine hardmen, built like brick shithouses, would share the ring with comedians, built like Wendy houses. And, in his words, ‘Somehow this has been allowed to happen.’
It was an audacious plan with every possibility of being a chaotic disaster – both metaphorically and physically – with 15 comedy acts joining wrestlers with names like Dan ‘The Hammer’ Head and Johnny Moss ‘245lbs of invincible muscle’, despite having little time to prepare. Never has the Fringe’s ‘let’s do this thing’ spirit been so sorely tested – and come up so triumphantly.
Most of the comics were, sensibly, used as managers, valets, ring announcers and the like in this battle of good versus evil – but that didn’t mean they escaped being in harm’s way.
On the side of the good, led by Bible-bashing Russell Kane, we had Mark Watson, Patrick Monahan dressed like Freddie Mercury, Abandoman rapping the entrance for wrestler Mark Haskins and Colin Hoult as The Mighty Thwor, God Of Thunder – or was it just a nutter from Leeds?
On the side of evil, led by Adam Riches, was Humphrey Ker, a Nazi bruiser nicknamed the Vinyl Solution; Tom ‘Explosenthal’ Rosenthal, dressed as a gimp; Jessica Ransom as a brilliantly deranged Russian mother, and a rather underused Rich Fulcher, boasting he had ‘more money than Jesus’s cock’.
Nick Helm was the perfect choice as the rasping, brusque MC; Matthew Crosby the roving reporter, bringing witty pre-match excitement from the lengthy queues outside as well as in the room itself; and Frisky & Mannish providing first-rate halftime entertainment, with a stirring version of Eye Of The Tiger given their own genre-bending twist.
Key to getting the atmosphere going were Andrew Maxwell and Brendon Burns commentating ringside on the side of good and evil respectively. If there’s a rabble to be roused, you couldn’t do much better than these two. Being a comedy crowd, the instinct was to go with the heels, but Maxwell, spouting delightfully pious aphorisms, rallied the sold-out 770-strong crowd with the unlikely chant: ‘Fair play and decency!’ and we swung on to the righteous path.
To a person, the mob brought into the idea; and for a shade under two hours yelled their support, booed the bad guys and aaa-hed every bone-crunching move. It’s impossible to describe the pumped-up atmosphere, but there’s not been a febrile, feral blood lust like this since the old Late And Live – but this time the threat of death was less metaphorical.
The wrestlers didn’t hold back, and the comics threw themselves into it as much as their puny frames would let them. The sight of Rosenthal in tight all-over rubber, gnawing away like a gerbil at his opponent is one that will haunt my dreams for weeks.
Attention-whore Monahan, who couldn’t bear not being the centre of attention, seemed to genuinely annoy one of the men-mountain, who started throwing chairs with apparently real disregard for audience safety, and chased the Geordie comic through the crowd. If the comedy doesn’t work out, Monahan will always have a career as a rodeo clown waiting for him. And his grandstanding antics thoroughly earned him that piledriver. Oh yes, this shit got very real.
Star of the show, though, was Max himself. He was once the youngest professional wrestler in the UK, and although now retired, he proved he’s still got the skills, taking a good old beating, only to make a remarkable comeback in a later bout with a jaw-dropping display of acrobatic talent. He won the day for the side of good (what are the odds?) but not without sacrifice. He ended up in A&E with what’s thought to be a fractured ankle.
But it wasn’t just wrestling, the comedy element lived up to the anticipation, too. With so many competitive, quick-witted performers in the room, the banter sparkled, with ad-libbed hilarious lines being thrown about like… well, like a wimpy comedian in a wrestling ring.
The result was a unforgettable night of guffaws, drama and a genuine fear for the safety of others. Edinburgh has not seen its like before – and when you consider what has happened in this city over the years, that’s quite an achievement. A truly awesome event.
Date of live review: Tuesday 16th Aug, ’11
Review by Steve Bennett
THE LIST -
“One of the best events on the Fringe.”
FRINGE REVIEW -
“The Wrestling is destined to become a Fringe institution – it was undoubtedly the ticket to have this year.”