Hot ticket: James Acaster's tricksy comedy Recognise
Critics tip Acaster's 'superbly controlled' new show for the Edinburgh Comedy Award
What you need to know
Since his Edinburgh Fringe Festival debut in 2011, James Acaster has steadily been building a name for himself as a top flight comic, picking up two Comedy Award nominations in three years and impressing critics with his impeccably crafted stand-up shows.
This year he returns to the festival with a startling admission: that he is not in fact a comedian at all, but an undercover cop who has been sent to infiltrate the industry and bust up a ring of drug dealers who supply Class-As to stand-up performers. Until 24 August at the Pleasance Theatre.
What the critics like
Is Acaster "a cop pretending to be a comic, or a comic pretending to be a cop pretending to be a comic," asks The Guardian's Brian Logan. "Such are the pleasing twists in the questions raised by this new hour-long show".
Acaster "has the 'now listen up' air of someone who thinks he has important stuff to teach us," he adds. "The joke – which he would never admit – is that the content of his lessons is absurdly petty."
"Part stoner student, part wannabe QI panellist," Acaster is a complicated and nebulous character, says The Independent's Hugh Montgomery. He is a comedian "who eschews big issues for absurd disquisitions on the tiniest points of modern life".
Those discussions include a "standout" opening sequence ruminating on loopholes, a dialogue in how to extract oneself from a conga line, and a seminar on how to schmooze effectively.
Critics are united in their praise for Acaster's structure: "In all my gig-going days I don't think I've seen a stand-up show as immaculately crafted as James Acaster's Recognise," says the Evening Standard's Bruce Dessau.
What they don't like
Since he burst onto the scene three years ago, Acaster has been routinely tipped to win the Edinburgh Comedy Award. So is 2014 his year? Dessau thinks the comedian "may be just a little over-mannered" and his show, Recognise, a tad "too quirky" to take the top prize.
If he is a cop, though, Logan concludes, "this is the best undercover operation since Serpico".