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Five must-see Edinburgh shows

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The flyers have been printed, the MDF stages have been hastily assembled and the Mars bar orders have been tripled in preparation for deep frying. That’s right, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe starts this weekend. But where do you begin with more than 2,000 shows (of widely varying quality) to choose from? Here’s our insider’s guide to the ones you should be catching.

STEWART LEE

The scabrous arthouse comedian (pictured main) will be transmitting the success of his latest BBC series into a full festival run of deconstructionist wit. Gracing the stage at off-piste venue The Stand, it’s essentially a trial run for his autumn theatre residency at London’s Leicester Square Theatre — but even a Stewart Lee work-in-progress puts most other comics to shame.

‘Stewart Lee: Flickwerk 2011’, Stand One, 5.15pm, 3-28 Aug; thestand.co.uk/fringe2011

RICKY GERVAIS

Reading’s newly-trim favourite son (although Keith Floyd was popular too) headlined Edinburgh Castle in 2007, but this time he’ll be in a more modest setting. He’s hosting a Q&A and clip show alongside actor Warwick Davis to promote their new mockumentary series Life’s Too Short about “the life of a showbiz dwarf”. Tickets are scarce, but extras are available via a bid system.

Ricky Gervais & Warwick Davis, BBC @ Potterrow, 3pm, 26 Aug; bbc.co.uk/showsandtours

JOHN MALKOVICH

There’s an A-lister on the Edinburgh cobbles this year in the shape of the gruff star of, um, Being John Malkovich. He’s directing former castmate and friend Julian Sands in an intimate tribute to playwright Harold Pinter. Expect poems, indiscreet personal anecdotes and half-interested autograph hunters scouring the crowd for Mr Malkovich (pictured inset).

‘A Celebration Of Harold Pinter’, Pleasance Courtyard, 3pm, 4-21 Aug; pleasance.co.uk

THE PAJAMA MEN

Accompanied by a constellation of five-star reviews, American sketch duo Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez return after a storming appearance last year. They may be incongruously clad in sensible cotton nightwear, but there’s nothing sluggish about their fluid brand of surreal, quick-fire comedy.

‘The Pajama Men: In the Middle Of No One’, Assembly Hall, 9pm, 4-29 Aug; assemblyfestival.co.uk

NAZ OSMANOGLU

One to file under ‘ones to watch’, this Anglo-Turkish comedian is vying to be a big name. He’s already won high-profile awards and critical praise but this blistering hour of ultra-confident comedy could finally see him break through.

‘Naz Osmanoglu: 1,000% Awesome’, Udderbelly Pasture, 9.15pm, 3-28 Aug; underbelly.co.uk

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