Brexit Is Happening. You May as Well Laugh About It.

Brexit Is Happening. You May as Well Laugh About It.

EDINBURGH — As Britain stands on the cusp of major change, an unfamiliar mood of introspection has taken hold at its biggest comedy and arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

For two years, Britain has been preoccupied with its imminent departure from the European Union, set for March 2019. Brexit, as the process is known, is everywhere in the press, on television and on social media.

But the precise details of how it will take place have remained maddeningly elusive, and are the subject of acrimonious political debate. “It’s hard to make comedy out of situational paralysis,” said Nish Kumar, a comedian whose show at the Fringe is called “It’s In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves.”

Brexit is, nonetheless, a hot topic at the last edition of the Fringe before Britain is due to withdraw from the bloc. A lot of shows are sending up the tortured process of Britain’s departure, including lighthearted theater pieces like “Jonny Woo’s All Star Brexit Cabaret” and a big, silly comedy called, simply, “Brexit.”

“It’s hard to make comedy out of situational paralysis,” the comedian Nish Kumar said.CreditMatt Stronge

But, many comedians on both sides are trying to understand and explain, rather than merely mock. Mr. Kumar said that 2016 was the year for angry Brexit-themed shows, hastily rewritten in the months between the vote that set the withdrawal in motion and the opening of the Fringe. In 2018, the festival seems to reflect a nation that is finally coming to terms with the fact that Brexit is happening.

Several acts this year have forsworn the traditional structure of a stand-up performance in favor of something explicitly educational. In Kieran Hodgson’s brilliant “ ‘75,” the comedian abandons the autobiographical tone of his previous shows, and instead takes a historical view of Britain’s troubled historical relationship with the European Union’s predecessor, the European Economic Community. It is essentially a lecture, albeit an entertaining one.

“Oh, the show is way out of date,” said Mr. Hodgson in an interview. “But if I’d made it in 2014 nobody would have come to see it.”

Luisa Omielan’s “Politics for Bitches” sees the English comic attempting to understand a world of Brexit and President Trump. It begins with a lengthy, town hall-like segment in which Ms. Omielan earnestly engages her audience in dialogue on the mechanics of the British state. It’s a topic she said had not previously concerned her.

“I don’t want political people coming to my show,” she said. “Political nerds are not going to learn anything: I want people who’d say, ‘Politics is boring.’ ”

With “Traditionalism,” Geoff Norcott is one of the small but growing number of right-wing comedians plying their trade at the Fringe. He voted to leave the European Union and said he was pleased by the signs of a more accepting atmosphere at the event this year.

Mr. Norcott said he believed that being pro-Brexit made his job at the Fringe easier: His takes stood out as original in the liberal-leaning world of British comedy. A working-class comedian who supports the Conservative Party, he said he was “a strange proposition” at the festival.

“I voted in line with the majority of the country — but somehow here I’m exotic,” he said. “On most social issues, I represent the broad sweep of the public’s opinion. But you put me on stage, and it makes it weird.”

Leo Kearse said he saw a hunger for alternative voices at this year’s festival.CreditSuzi Corker

Mr. Hodgson’s “ ‘75” also explores how social class intersects with the Brexit debate. It is framed by the story of how he, a middle-class man who voted to stay in the European Union, fell out with his mother, a working-class woman who voted to leave. There is a similar scene in the “All Star Brexit Cabaret,” in which the London-dwelling, remain-voting host Jonny Woo sings an obscene song to his parents after he returns home and they tell him they voted for Brexit. Both are playing with the idea of a nation divided by class, age and geography.

Mr. Norcott said that the Fringe’s audiences skew heavily toward those who disagree with the 2016 referendum result. He asks the crowd to raise their hands and share their political affiliations, as does Leo Kearse, a Scotsman whose stand-up show is called “Right Wing Comedian.” Mr. Kearse voted remain but said he felt exasperated by people still complaining about the electorate’s decision. There was now a hunger for alternative voices, he added.

“There’s a cloying liberal attitude at the moment,” he said, “a culture of trying to shame people. I think in private people are really sick of it.” He added that he was frequently heckled throughout last year’s Fringe, but less so this year.

Mr. Norcott said that his audiences overwhelmingly supported Britain staying in the European Union, but that he believed they were beginning to accept the decision to leave. “There are still people on Twitter arguing against the referendum,” he said. “But I think, in the broader country, people have moved on.”

Ironically, he said, the British government’s poor handling of Brexit had been a unifying force — something that people of all political persuasions were able to laugh at.

“In a weird way,” Mr. Norcott said, “the sense of farce is something that brings us together.”

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