I’m in Edinburgh! The largest assembly of comedy and culture ever and, well, I’m sat in my bedroom because…. fuck off, I hate you. Bleurgh Uffff. Meh. Bah. and fukkit.
It’ s hard to really describe the mood I’m in but it could be summed up as ‘bad’. I’ve been in Edinburgh for a week now, about halfway through our run now, and I would just really like to go home. It’s funny, this is a feeling I haven’t felt since childhood. I used to feel it on school trips and at Gang Show rehearsals, that thing where you just go ‘yep, I’m somewhere different and exciting and, yep, my friends are here too, but christ almighty, I’m ready to go home’.
We arrived here last week. We being….
Alex at the front, Paul behind him, Tom third (he only just arrived) and me – looking far happier than I feel now – at the back there. It was a long drive but we threw ourselves into the festival immediately. Paul and I went straight out for a long walk (all walks in Edinburgh are long because they are inevitably uphill) followed by our first festival show – Hans Tweehun, a kind of dutch surrealist comedian who is very highly regarded but I found a little over-rehearsed and slow. He ended with a song called ‘I like your cunt’.
The next day, lots more festival exploring and our first gig. We’ve all been doing open spots at other gigs throughout the festival to publicise the show and just for fun. I booked a warm-up spot an hour before our first show started and found it quite enjoyable. It was a good taster for how most of the festival would be in that it was a ramshackle affair, compered by a DEEPLY unfunny woman whose comedy was based entirely on long drawn out ‘yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay’s (‘I live in London – yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy, in Hackney oooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhh, with flatmates eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee and rats booooooooooooooooooooooooo’ – that transcription actually makes her sound funnier than she was) I was first on and my set went down really well, all of the comedians who followed me ranged from unfunny to fucking-HELL-unfunny. Gave me some confidence, though.
Our own venue is strange but great. It’s a cinema in the back of a goth club. There’s a constant background of annoying rubbish music echoing up from the cellar but the room itself is a perfect space, a good size and not afflicted as man small venues are by having a bar, encouraging people to walk around and talk. Our first show was OK, a bunch of my Scottish friends came along which was great but also a bit uncomfortable for me. They had a good time anyway and it was great to spend a night out with them after the show.
The second night was weird. Alex couldn’t make it and sent a proxy who, despite being very nice, was strangely unfunny. The audience all smiled but no laughs were really raised. Paul and I did marginally better but the atmosphere wasn’t really there. This is what I’m starting to detest about comedy – the audiences. You can be rehearsed, you can have great material, you can be completely up for it, it doesn’t matter – none of that ends up influencing the gig itself. It’s all about the audience. Which isn’t a quantifiable factor!!! It’s not like this bunch of strangers all meet half an hour beforehand, toss a coin and declare ‘Tonight we shall be po-faced fuckers!’ I left in a bad mood but then Matt arrived.
Matt Richardson, the gangly puppy dog with caffeinated blood. Matt is probably the best known, best loved character on the Oxford comedy scene. He’s 19, endlessly energetic and enthusiastic and one of the sweetest guys you could ever meet. He’d agreed to replace Tom for the first half of the run as Tom had been unwell. It’s impossible to be a miseryguts when Matt is around, he’s like a little puppy dog doing backflips and licking your face until you smile.
I was in a bad mood, though. I took Matt out for a drink when he arrived around midnight and told him how I have just absolutely decided that I despise audiences. He nodded along and told me how awesome this experience was going to be. He got me believing it. I had two gigs booked for the next day other than our own, one of them a panel show guest spot with him.
The first gig was in a room several floors above a pub in the grassmarket. There were 3 members of the audience – two of them being an older couple who were killing time before their train home. This means that 5 comedians were vying for the attention of one man to publicise their shows. I didn’t even like the look of the man. The promoter had made no effort to promote the show and she didn’t even supply a working mic. I was seething as the other acts – unfunny to a man – actually got up, with no mic, to compete for the approval of a single grinning buffoon and a time-killing provincial couple who had come up only to see the military display at the castle. One comedian opened with three jokes about the Titanic (punchlines: ‘that was my icebreaker’ ‘a one-liner in two parts’ and ‘that one sank – like the Titanic!’) It was a wretched display and I refused to make a significant effort. When the compere announced me, I told her if there was no mic and no audience, I saw no reason to leave my chair and just ad-libbed 5 minutes from my seat at the back. I berated our single audience member for not turning around to face me. He pretended I wasn’t there. I got belligerent and sweary and told him that he wasn’t the fucking king, commanding us to perform. I was also very rude to the couple. They also ignored me. I was like the nutter on the bus. Matt spent the whole gig rolled into a ball of silent laughter on his chair.
The panel show went much better. Kind of. Matt had told me to get on it a couple of weeks earlier and the organiser was happy to have me on the same show as him. We got to the venue and met her and some other bloke who were the team captains and another girl who was the quizmaster. They seemed humourless. The show was called ‘Quiz in my pants’. Pants are a great postmarker for awful comedy. Anybody who thinks that underpants are, in themselves, conceptually hilarious is deeply, deeply unfunny and – worse – considers themselves to be the opposite. Matt and I were each handed a pair of hilarious pants to wear outside our trousers. Matt goodnaturedly put them on, I hid mine backstage.
The three of them went out to introduce the show. I decided to pour a bottle of water over Matt’s crotch to make his introduction funnier for me. He was smart to it and fought me. We were shouted at. Not in a funny way. We were being too unprofessional for the fucking pants quiz. We were introduced to the stage. Matt was on the girl’s team, I was on the bloke’s team. He had a guitar. A musical comedian. The worst kind of comedian. The two teams were asked to select a buzzer sound – any song by Sting – which we were to shout out if we wanted to answer a question. I told guitarry bloke that he could sing and I’d just punch his leg when I wanted to buzz in. He agreed. I punched his leg hard to test it.
I wasn’t just testing the buzzer. I had reverted to being a toddler and was testing my boundaries. No boundaries were presented so I spent the next hour working towards a comedy ASBO. I remember only highlights – we were all given 5 minutes to do a bit of our own act. Guitarry bloke did a bit of an unintentionally creepy song about his girlfriend needing plastic surgery. Then the host asked the room ‘what do you think of that????’ I replied on their behalf that he had clearly made it an uncomfortable experience for most of the girls in the room. When it was my turn, I did my slowest, darkest 15 minute set. Yes, I did 15. People in the crowd who got it loved it (a bunch of them came to our show that night) – it went down well but not just because of the material but because it was so inappropriately dark and nihilistic for a panel show about pants. Matt was crying with laughter and I count it as my greatest moment in all of my comedy adventures. They didn’t stop me! Alex, who was watching from the audience, later described it as ‘taking a huge unapologetic comedy turd on somebody else’s show’. The show finished with a quickfire round that I really didn’t understand. One of the questions was ‘GRIEF?’ too which Matt’s captain answered ‘is the word’ and was right. I asked the host ‘GRIEF???’ she shouted back ‘GREASSSSSSSSSE’ only it still sounded like ‘GRIEF’. ‘GRIEF?????’ I aked again ‘GREASE!’ she shouted back. For over a minute we just shouted those two words at each other whilst the organiser held her head in her hands. Turned out the host had a speech impediment – I thought she was just being weird. Anyway, the audience watched in stunned, shocked silence.
Half an hour later, the organiser blanked me in the street. That’s the quickest I’ve ever gone between meeting someone and being publically blanked by them. I consider it my greatest success.
Our own show that night went well and then we all toddled off to the Gilded Balloon – one of the BIG venues to see Matt and Alex compete in the semi-finals of ‘So You Think You’re Funny’ – the biggest competition on the Fringe for comedy which has been the launch for comedians such as Dylan Moran and Lee Mack. There were 8 contestants, an up-for-it crowd and ALEX WON!!! He’s now in the final! Just being a SYTYF finalist immediately ups your profile and has a good impact on your career. He was great – as was Matt.
Our subsequent gigs have been a mixed bag – Tom arrived and we felt like a little comedy family, all shortening our sets to keep Matt in the show rather than replace him with Tom. We’ve had great gigs, with all of us being very well received and we’ve had shitty gigs. Last night was our first sell-out – to get over 40 people to see a show they’ve never heard of is no small acheivement. The telegraph ran a piece on Tom yesterday and we think that might have had something to do with it, although it didn’t actually name the show. Despite being a full room, the crowd was tepid. There’s no way of predicting it. And that is hard work. I guess some people thrive on it but when I know my material went down incredibly the night before yet died on it’s arse last night, that bugs the shit out of me.
Yesterday I had three gigs booked besides our own and I blew them all out and went to see The A-Team at the cinema instead. I was so exhausted after a week of late nights, flyering, endless uphill walking, show adrenaline and bad sleep that I couldn’t actually follow the plot. The fucking A-Team film was too complex for my brain. So, I’ve scaled back. Cancelled all of my gigs other than our own show and am trying to spend my days sedately, conserving my energy for the nights of flyering, performing and drinking (not that kind of drinking, mine’s a cranberry juice and soda, thanks. Fuck you.)
The evenings are becoming a Groundhog Day like experience, hearing my fellow comics present the same acts I’ve heard so many times before, being ignored by the public who don’t want our flyers, having the odd poet bloke who has the venue after us hassling us to fuck off the second our show finishes even though there’s a 15 minute break between shows.
This morning I went off for a drive, I drove across the beautiful Forth Road Bridge and down to Dalgety Bay where I sat on a rock for a couple of hours watching the water in the gorgeous Firth of Forth, spent a while finding a good shell for my missus and enjoyed the change of scene. This is what I love about being here. The festival is a swirl of cold, ambitious crappiness. It’s all business with companies like Avalon and Off The Kerb controlling it as a promotional exercise rather than the consortium it could be.
I ‘m thinking about retiring from stand-up at the end of this run.