I recently returned from a week of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. As usual, it was a mix of tiring flyering, endless walking (somehow, always uphill), watching brilliant shows, and performing to a huge mixture of audiences. I came back exhausted, but inspired.
I have been going up to the festival for a number of years, and feel that I was better prepared this year than ever before. Health wise at least.
Usually when travelling to the Fringe I tend to treat it like it’s a surprise that hasn’t in fact been in my diary for many months. So with a day to go I suddenly realise I need to arrange transport to get there, pack enough clothes, etc. Refugees fleeing a war zone tend to take more practical things with them than I do.
But this time I reflected back on previous years, and worked out a coping mechanism so I could look after myself. I packed sensible boots, waterproofs, toiletries I would need without taking huge bottles of things with me. I also exchanged my man-bag for a back pack. You can easily forget how much stuff you need in a day in Edinburgh, and how much walking you are doing, so the need for a bag that had comfort over fashion was essential.
And you do need a lot of stuff – hoodie, waterproof, sunglasses, sun cream. Basically, you have to carry munitions for literally any weather event because in Edinburgh, the four seasons are all represented each day.
I also went shopping and bought some healthy food in. My digs had a kitchen, so I could prepare some wholesome meals This is important, because otherwise you can end up eating chips and pies every single day, as well as drinking booze like everyday’s a Saturday. But every day is not a Saturday, not in any way that your body can cope with at least.
I’m very lucky in that every time I go up to the Fringe I’m with ComedySportz, my improv troupe. We share accommodation, so that’s something I don’t have to arrange for myself, and you have a group of people you can depend on to help get you through the experience.
Whilst I will discuss the shows I went to see (see below), if I had one recommendation to take away this year, it’s this – if you need to share a bed with someone to sleep, do it with my friend Sam! He is the best bed buddy ever! Seriously. He goes to sleep in seconds, doesn’t move, doesn’t snore or even breath loudly. Most importantly of all, he is practically impossible to wake. This means that my various sleeping habits, which I have been told vary from light chewing noises to reenacting the battle of the Somme, will not cause any problems. 5 stars!
With ComedySportz we only tend to do one week out of the run, and this time it was the first week. This is because that while we love it, there is nothing to “sell” of what we do. Also, most of the troupe have normal jobs, so taking 3 weeks off is not an option. This means that I usually only go up when they are there, because it makes arrangements so much simpler for me.
It can feel a little strange only doing one week when everyone is in it for the full run. A couple of years ago when I was doing my own solo show alongside Comedysportz, I bumped into comic Mick Ferry on the last night I was there. On telling him I was going home tomorrow he said it was like in a Vietnam war movie where I’ve got injured and am being airlifted home, where-as he and all the others were left to fight the Vietcong in the jungle.
The last solo show I did was at 1am on the top deck of a bus. Sounds ridiculous, but as Fringe venues go, it wasn’t bad! I threw myself in to it, and learnt a lot from the experience. I was able to fill it every single night, which showed I had a concept that was attractive, and I knew how to promote it.
The downside was noise bleed from outside, the heat, and needless to say, the time. The time meant that my audiences were exclusively younger (no bad thing, but you like to get a varied audience). They were rarely rowdy, which was nice, but they could be tired, and all those hours of drinking did mean that bladders could not last the entire hour.
From all that I learnt from this, needless to say I wasn’t going to let myself perform in such a difficult slot again. But the difficulty now is that in some ways free entry shows in Edinburgh reflect the wider comedy circuit – Whilst the number of slots available has stayed static, there are more acts than ever before who want to perform and, also, the pro acts who would normally do paid entry shows only are now stepping down to the free model as it means they can walk away without being thousands of pounds in debt.
This means it is very hard to get a decent venue and time now. I’m not jealous of those who can get those slots, good luck to them, but I’m just stating a fact. With that in mind you don’t want to push yourself to write a 1 hour solo show, and do a bunch of previews, if at the end of the day you’re in a slot that just isn’t worth your time doing.
This year I did a show with a couple of friends which was straight stand up, which meant I could just perform my set each night. I invited industry folks along so they could see me with a view to future work, and that mostly turned into nothing.
Pissing in the wind comes to mind, when you consider the competition. The lesson is that to put myself in the shop window I shouldn’t just do a show and invite people to it, I should be more proactive and perform on as many other people’s shows as possible. lesson learnt.
I’m still inspired to do another solo show though. With that in mind I’ve decided to look at doing the various regional festivals around the country instead, and even have an idea for a show called Unique Selling Point (more to follow). At the end of the day you want to have everything in place for a creative endeavour to be perfect, but if every factor is not available is the other option to just do nothing? Nah, you’ve got to dare to fail!
Before I go, here is a list of the shows I went to see, in case you are thinking of going up to watch:
Comedy Tandem (French Quarter, the Voodoo Rooms – 23:45)
This is the show that I was part of for a week, but is still running for the whole festival. Tom Short and Steph Laing will be performing each night, along with a guest act each night. Tom and Steph are both very good acts, and I can testify to that after seeing them perform 7 nights in a row!
Dani Frankenstein Returns (French Quarter, The Voodoo Rooms – 12:20)
This is Danielle Ward doing a mix of old and new stuff. A mixture of songs, rap, and frankly, filth. What’s not to like? A family with older teen daughters did walk out with the Dad apologising saying “sorry, too early for this”. On Danielle asking if she should have put a warning on the flyer one middle aged Scottish bloke piped up in her defence “nah, it’s the fucking fringe!” Quite right.
Danielle has also got another show, which has been her main show this year, and has been getting rave reviews – Seventeen
John Robertson: Arena Spectacular (Stand 2, 3:34)
John Robertson exploded on to the stage at the very beginning, and that level of energy did not drop for the whole hour. Full on, very funny, in your face humour. A mixture of personal stories of being into kinky sex, alongside audience banter. He told me I had a penis the size of an airplane. Yep, I think that sums up what you could expect.
Johnny Pelham: Fool’s paradise (Pleasance Courtyard, 20:30)
I’ve not seen Johnny for years, so it was good to get the chance to see him perform again. I’ve heard good things, and I saw here that his reputation is well deserved. An unfortunate bit of banter with a 14 year old being a highlight. I know that’s vague, but if you want to see it for yourself, maybe take a 14 year old with you?
Pippa Evans: Same Same but Different (Bannermans, 13:45)
Pippa can be seen as part of the improvised musical show ‘Showstopper’, as well as in various TV shows and Radio 4 comedy. As expected, the show is full of musical numbers, and plenty of improv. Her very sharp and aggressive audience banter wasn’t as expected, but very well done. Talking of her upbringing, I never realised how much the middle classes suffer!
Hibernian CF (Easter Road Stadium, various dates)
I went to see the football troupe ‘Hibs’ play a round 1 League cup game against Queen of the South. As you can probably tell from that sentence, it was exhilarating. They lost 3-1. In a plus though, the Scotch Pie I had at half time was excellent. 2 stars.
Russell Hicks: Deadliner (The Free Sisters, 16:30)
American comic Russell Hicks performed a very strong show, mostly improvised around crowd work. Cutting, but strangely easy to warm too, he also has quite a knack of keeping all the various strands of the show together to bring it all together by the end.
An Act of Godley: Janey Godley (The Free Sisters, 19:30)
For many years Janey has been one of Scotland’s leading comics. To say she’s had a hard life that is ripe for comic reflection is an understatement. She also reveals some of the back story of when she went viral protesting at a visit to Scotland by Donald Trump with her own homemade sign that read simply “Trump is a cunt”. Sometimes, simplicity is best.
Stuart Goldsmith: Compared to what (Liquid Room Annexe, 15:45)
Creator and presenter of the excellent ‘Comedian’s Comedian Podcast‘, I saw Stu perform for the first time at last years fringe, and he was excellent. A very strong comic, he talks of his last year, which includes the birth of his first child. It feels like a well constructed set rather than a standard Edinburgh show, with no drag at all. Perhaps more like an American comics hour of just doing fresh, strong material rather than a vague concept?
Kate Smurthwaite: Smurthwaite on Masculinity (The Banshee Labyrinth, 19:15)
Kate appears as a privileged Oxbridge educated male comedian to highlight some of the issues that women face in comedy, and also the levels of sexism on display in comedy clubs all around the country each week. At times challenging, but what else would you expect? Certainly the most overtly political show I saw this year. As such, not everything talked about works for comedy, but it still needs to be said, and Kate does remarkably well to ring out the laughs from the subject matter that she can.
Laurence Clark: Independence (Assembly George Square Theatre, 19:00)
Laurence lives with Cerebral Palsy, and speaks about his experience and what it is like for him day to day to maintain as much Independence as he can. A very interesting show, Laurence provides a good funny spin on his experiences. As part of his condition his speech is slower than normal, which brings the pace down, but is lifted by a number of graphics and videos he presents throughout his show.
Mat Ewins: Mat Ewins will make you a star (Heroes @ The Hive, 21:00)
Simply put, this show was hilarious. Mat doesn’t do stand up here so much as curates a dizzying collection of cleverly edited films and animations of his own creation. Very clever but, oh my, talk about a high laughter rate.
I saw a number of great shows this year, and have positives to take from every one. But if forced to pick my favourite it would be Mat Ewins – just so, so funny. Last year the show I announced as my favourite was Sam Simmons, and he won the the main comedy award, so, you know… Tavner knows…