Well, here I am on my last day of our run on the Edinburgh Fringe. I wanted to go home days ago but there is some satisfaction to having not bailed, seeing it through to the end.
For some reason on days like this, my mind slams over to Kiefer Sutherland in the film ‘Young Guns 2: Blaze of Glory’ who, having previously told some story I’ve longforgotten about a card game as some kind of Aesoppish fable to his fellow ‘guns’, refers back to it’s closing line at the end of the film ‘I shall finish the game’ he says, ‘I shall finish the game’. Then he gets shot and killed, I think. Maybe some games aren’t worth finishing. Maybe this was one of them. Maybe I’ve been reading Paul Fung’s blog too recently and am beginning to become irreverant by osmosis.
I am glad I made it, though. Mainly for last night’s show which I will detail in a bit.
First the grumpy, then the optimism, OK? Here’s the downside of the Edinburgh experience: I really wasn’t prepared for it. In my mind, this was going to be a holiday for 2 weeks in a great city punctuated by performing a show every night, seeing lots of stand-up and hanging with my pals. That was quite naive of me, it turns out – and on a number of levels. To say you’re going to perform an Edinburgh show for fun as a holiday is kind of like saying you’re going to enter an iron man event for shits n’ giggles.
The first thing I hadn’t taken into account was that something that might be silly fun for me is deadly serious for everyone else. Even within my show; Matt and Alex are working towards careers – both of them finallists in Edinburgh’s two most prestigous newcomer award competitions. I don’t think I’d really thought that through. It means that if I fuck up my set or take the show as a whole lightly, I might be negatively impacting on their careers. I only realised this a couple of days ago and have felt like a bit of a prize cunt ever since. Two nights ago, as a prank (which we all play on each other to varying degrees and in varying ways), I performed one of Alex’s gags in my set – before he went on. He then went on and had a pretty disastrous set. I don’t know if that was my fault per se, but I hugely regret having done it.
One of the big things I’ve disliked about Edinburgh is how cold, focussed and ambitious everybody seems to be. It doesn’t seem like fun. But then this is business and careers and this is where such things get made or destroyed. Driving a clown car on to the track at Brands Hatch on race day might be funny but will also fuck up what a lot of people have dedicated a lot of time to. In some ways this makes me re-contextualise the ‘Quiz in my pants’ episode and potentially feel a glimmer of regret but that is outweighed by the fact that they were a bunch of po-faced unfunny losers who, rather than put any effort in to creating a quality show for their audience and having some kind of vision, just winged it and coasted on the goodwill of their audience to accept hacky unoriginal material on an ‘isnt’ this fun?’ basis. Sod them.
But this does lead in nicely to the main thing I’ve hated about the experience – namely myself. I don’t like the side of myself it has brought out, a side that I’m not unfamiliar with but most of my adult friends are. One of my darker arts is a cutting wit. I don’t use the word ‘cutting’ as an adjective so much as a verb. I’m not using it to promote so much as describe. Left unrestrained, my wit can be viscous and mean. This was bred in the playground with friends who enjoyed busting each others balls and it was really only when I got to uni that I realised that even when used in the presence of people who know I love and respect them, it’s just… too much. Over the years, I’ve successfully channelled it into my writing where, as hopefully the grumptimism blog is testimony to, it works ok.
It turns out that all you have to do is take me away from my home for a week, let me get tired, grumpy and girlfriend-missing and Dark Jon finds his way back to the real world and holds court. I don’t always notice this happening but finally realised yesterday after piecing together the expressions, comments and actions of people around me, that I’ve basically just been acting horribly for the last week. Part of this is down to banter – when you sit a bunch of comedians around a table – especially if they don’t know each other – and it becomes a bit of a cockfight. Everyone wants to be the alpha male, the wittiest. I’m guilty of this, but my wittiest can also be my cruellest and two nights running, I’ve managed to make comments to Tom in which rather than match his wit, I’ve bruised his ego. Not good. So I’m looking forward to putting that side of me away once more.
What’s been good about the experience? Well, it’s been an experience! One of those increasingly rare things as you get older where you feel like you really learn something about yourself.
Last night’s gig was my favourite one ever. Out of all the gigs I’ve done. It felt like everything I wanted to do and be with comedy kind of finally coalesced. I’ve never been nervous as a performer but I have been insecure – focussed on the crowd’s reaction rather than my performance, worried about what theother comedians would make of it, how good it felt to me. Last night was the first time I felt professional. It’s not exactly not caring what the audience thinks so much as being confident in the value of your material and your ability to perform it. For the first time, I felt I had that. My opening bit is a fake diary I pretend to have kept of my festival experience – starting with optimism and wonder about the whole thing and, within 4 days turning to disillusionment, anger and confusion as to whetherthe subject of rape is funny or not. It, of course, isn’t and one of my main points of that material is to skewer the shocking volume of comedians who really think it is. I wanted to satirise the festival as being essentially either one-woman shows about loving men or one-man shows about hating women. My second bit is a now-well-honed bit about dangerous cyclists. It lingers on descriptions of what I’d like to see happen to cyclists who cycle without lights, on the pavement or without their hands on the handlebars.
My material is not gags, it’s not good-natured. All of these gigs where I’ve worried about getting a good laugh or round of applause were misguided anxiety. Last night’s crowd gave me what I should have been getting – a steady base of nervous laughter with several audience members gently vibrating to themselves and others covering their mouths. It was brilliant. After the last two shows, an audience member has found me after the gig to tell me specifically that they loved my set whilst another to specifically tell me they hated it. I think that kind of polarisation is all I ever would have wanted in any artistic endeavour. To know that in any one audience, a few people will LOVE my set, a few will DESPISE it and the rest will go along for the ride without actually getting bored or distracted is more than good enough for me.
So, I feel like I’ve done OK. Stand-up has been a really fun and rewarding part of my life but I’m glad that tonight marks the end of it.