DID you hear the one about stand-up making a big comeback at the 2018 Edinburgh Comedy Awards? Director Nica Burns dedicated this year's awards to the late, great Sean Hughes and it seems fitting that six of the seven main prize nominees in the slimmed down list are offering stand-up sets with strong narratives and bucket-loads of laughs.

It's not really that surprising either. Previous research has shown that in times of political unrest, the general public seek out escapist entertainment. They're more likely to flock to the cinemas for rom-coms and action movies, for example.

This year, Fringe comedians seem to have tapped into this zeitgeist. I lost count of the number of times I heard sets open with, 'this show has absolutely no agenda, no hidden meaning' or 'this is going to be just a straightforward hour of laughs.'

Stories told has been as varied as the Edinburgh weather. The shortlist includes everything from Felicity Ward's tales of everyday domestic life living with her in-laws and counting the toilet rolls through to Alex Edelman's gripping encounter with his online neo-Nazi trolls in New York. Along the way are stories of family, relationship break-ups, pop culture and signing up for the first manned space mission to Mars. What binds them all are the belly laughs.

Brexit didn't prove as popular a source of set material as many predicted though twice-previously nominated character comedian, Kieran Hodgson is back on the short-list for his Thatcher and Heath channelling story of why Britain voted to stay in Europe back in 1975.

For the first time in the awards history, women dominate the Best Newcomer shortlist. Five of the six nominees are female. They include Russian-American Olga Koch with epic tales of her homeland's transition to capitalism and the role her deputy PM dad played in it and Sarah Keyworth discussing language and gender and self-acceptance. The only male on the list, Ciarán Dowd offers up the frills and thrills spoof swashbuckler, Don Rudolfo.

It's a truly international line-up. Australia, New Zealand, India, Russia, America Ireland, England are all represented and Scotland's in the mix too with Glasgow's patter-merchant, Larry Dean.

My lasting impression is how incredibly polished and well-prepared the majority of shows have been this year. The bar's set high and everyone's tried to bring their A game. Sets have been carefully rehearsed and painstakingly previewed prior to Edinburgh. Some comics have gone as far as recording each of their shows, analysing them afterwards then making minor tweaks and adjustments throughout the run. Winging it on a prayer and pile of Post-It notes seems to be a thing of the past.

The level of audience participation at many shows has been a bit of a personal bugbear. After pre-gig drinks, many audience members are only too ready and willing for their moment in the spotlight. Keen to jump up on stage to perform spontaneous press-ups, wear a set of oversized mechanical lips or just be generally humiliated for a few minutes. It can all get a bit too Tiswas for my liking and there's also a real danger of the 'straight man' being funnier than the comic. I watched audience members steal the show and get the best laughs on at least three occasions this year.

Looking out for running themes or phrases has been fun. I'm definitely suffering from Power Point fatigue. Lots of comedians are going down the nostalgia route this year and I've seen more slides of them in their school uniforms or sporting embarrassing mullets than I can shake a stick at. Harry Potter, avocados, the tampon tax, Instagram and the patriarchy were all referenced heavily. As were the annoying phrases, 'strap yourselves in' and 'that was my best joke'.

I've attended 80+ comedy shows this year in the usual rag-tag assortment of sweaty, improvised venues. I've been in more storage containers than Dexter, hung around nocturnally in more damp caves than a bat. Have I enjoyed it? Every second of it! It's magical and exciting and uplifting and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. This is the place to spot the next generation of comedy talent and to see some of the top names hold an audience in the palm of their hands for a full hour. Will I be back next year? Do the pints come in plastic tumblers?