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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Global laughs at Edinburgh
By Rebecca Jones
BBC arts correspondent

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has always been a magnet for artists and performers from around the world.

Edinburgh festival parade
The Fringe festival began at the weekend
American, Australian and Canadian comedians in particular have enjoyed huge success.

But what is unusual this year is the large number of comedians from non-English speaking countries - there have never been so many.

Among them is a stand-up triple bill from Denmark and Taking the Peace from Bahrain, which apparently provides all you wanted to know about Arabs but were afraid to ask.

Howard Read was the only British comedian shortlisted for the famous comedy competition the Perrier Award last year. He believes foreign comedians are often funnier than home-grown talent.

"I think it's easier for them to surprise us," he says.

'Comic potential'

People will go along to see non-English speaking comedy, at its best as a curiosity or as a gimmick
Kate Copstick
Perrier judge
"A lot of comedy comes from having a different take on a subject. If someone's lived next to me for my entire life they are probably not going to say something that will make my eyebrows go up.

"Whereas when you've got a Japanese person talking about something we find familiar, that's got loads of comic potential because they're Japanese and our cultures are so different, the language is so different and the way Japanese people look at the world is so completely different."

But Kate Copstick, the chief comedy critic for The Scotsman newspaper and a Perrier Award Judge this year, is not so sure.

"People will go along to see non-English speaking comedy, at its best as a curiosity and to put it at its least charitable, as a freak show or a gimmick," she says.

The Kakashu comedy spectacular from Japan is delighting and perplexing audiences in equal measure. Described as sit-down comedy rather than stand-up it features puppetry, ventriloquism and origami.

"Japanese jokes are not like English jokes," says Ayako, the only female member of the cast.

"Sometimes English jokes hurt people, they are sarcastic. Japanese jokes are not like that. We are more likely to poke fun at ourselves."

'Tailoring jokes'

I ask Cheekeng from Kakushow to tell me a Japanese joke.

Jenny Eclair
Jenny Eclair is unimpressed with the foreign comedians
"One day the father tells his boy, 'If anyone comes to look for me, say I'm on a business trip.' So he went upstairs to take a nap. Just then a debtor came to collect a debt.

"'Where's your father?' he asked the boy. 'He's on a business trip,' said the boy. 'And where did he go on his business trip?' 'Oh he's just upstairs taking a nap.' "

Carl-Einer Hackner is Sweden's best-known comedian, and is making his UK debut at the Fringe this year.

His show combines magic, mime and music and features a canine Houdini and a violin from Ikea. It is proving a popular mix. But he admits he has had to tailor his performance for a British audience.

"In Sweden I talk much more because I write a lot of text and monologues," he says. "I don't talk that much here. My sentences are much shorter, just three words of five words perhaps."

But it is still not enough though to tempt British comedian Jenny Eclair to sample some foreign comedy.

"There are quite a lot of foreign performers and I think it's great," she says.

"But it's not going to be top of my list to go and see. I'm not that interested. And next door to my dressing room there are four of the most miserable Russian clowns that you've ever had the misfortune to try to say hello to."

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