They have millions of followers for their TikTok sketches. But how will four hugely successful creators fare in a live stand-up show at Britain’s biggest comedy festival, the Edinburgh Fringe?
This is “one great big Edinburgh experiment”, says Coco Sarel as an introduction and possibly a caveat in case things go wrong.
Sarel (900,000 followers) is one of four TikTok comedians who, she says, want to find out if they’re any good at stand-up.
“Which is better than four LinkedIn comedians, so you’re going to have a decent hour.”
A good gag. A good start.
The poster for their joint Fringe show, titled Knock Knock, boasts that the quartet have “7+ million followers”.
It’s gone up since that was printed. According to their TikTok profiles, they have 8.6 million followers between them, and 365 million likes.
There are a couple of hundred people in this bar. It’s a tiny audience compared with their online numbers, but being able to hear the laughter (or not) of a crowd is very different from filming something on your phone at home.
As host, Sarel gets stuck straight in with some “crowd work”. In other words, asking people in the front row what they do for a living and trying to come up with an amusing response.
But Sarel struggles to find good banter with the first victims and awkwardly moves on. It’s not long before we know the professions of most of the people in the first two rows.
Sarel does pluck out some good quips, but when she picks on an audience member who works in marketing, the comedian admits defeat. “I think crowd work is done!”
She has natural energy and charisma, and has more success with a relatable routine re-enacting a group chat between the typical members of a female friendship group.
As MC, Sarel returns in between the other acts. She grows more comfortable and assured, and proves her crowd work can work when she plays matchmaker in the audience. It’s all good-natured and this time the awkwardness is intentional.
Steven McKell (3.8 million) is – how to put this? – larger-than-life and flamboyant, with a flair for physical comedy that’s attracted attention online.
His sashay onto the stage could form a TikTok video on its own, but here it only fills five seconds out of his 15-minute slot.
After a high-kick and a questionable claim to be a “one-man entertainment machine – like Beyonce if she was from Fife”, the rest of his set focuses on his family life.
As he tells it, they were poor, they fought, they put one of his eight siblings in a tumble dryer and dangled another out of the bedroom window – but they looked out for each other.
When the police broke down the front door in a raid one day, his diminutive but fearsome Scottish mother headbutted one of the officers, he says, “right in the shins”.
He has learned the stand-up trick of starting with a grain of truth and embellishing for comic effect.
He’s a big personality, and manages to hold the crowd by doing more than just goofing around.
Ayame Ponder (2.7 million) seems to have built her huge following largely by commentating on videos of things like bottles being rolled down stone steps and watching them smash. Yes, that’s a thing on TikTok.
She starts her set with tongue-in-cheek brags about being “a TikTok star” and “incredibly famous”, before moving on to everyday topics like dating and the nicknames she’s given boyfriends based on their, er, physical attributes.
She’s as likeable and engaging on stage as she is online, and gets the audience on side without setting them alight.
Still, she tells them as she exits: “I’ve been amazing, you’ve been so-so.”
Finally, Henry Rowley (1.2 million) made his name with videos parodying pompous posh people.
On stage, his history teacher and his dad both sound uncannily like Richard E Grant, and when he says he wants to branch out it turns out that means parodying posh people at music festivals.
He puts his whole body into fully acting out his ridiculous characters, and earns extra laughs by being more blunt and risque than his co-stars.
Of the four, he has the most fully-formed act, is the most convincing storyteller, and seems to have the self-possession required for stand-up.
So did the experiment work?
There were mixed results but overall, yes, these TikTok comedians can cut it on stage.
They aren’t the only online creators in Edinburgh – Serena Terry aka Mammy Banter (2.2 million) and Abi Clarke (906,000) are among the biggest TikTok names to have brought their own shows.
Stand-up is a competitive sport, though. There are 1,535 comedy acts listed at this year’s Fringe, and while the social media stars held their own, they’ll have to do more than that to stand out on the circuit.
At least they have their millions of followers to fall back on if they fail.