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Monday, August 19

I Know What I Did This Summer

It’s time for my annual August blog post. I used to post far more regularly, but... you know... life and stuff.

I always believe I’ll come back from the Fringe fizzing with ideas and just, kind of, shit out a new show, or at least 20 minutes of zinger material. There’s something about the Edinburgh bubble that activates my comedy synapses and also the bit of me that imagines I’m funnier than I actually am.

I am quite funny...

... mainly because of dogged determination and practice. I’ve been a stand-up comedian for nearly 17 years FFS. If I hadn’t learned how to be funny, I’d probably have stopped.

So, as is customary, this is a blog post from a train to a blog I seldom update and nobody but me reads. Hello me from the future... turgid, isn’t it?

Anyhoo, the lady across from me on the train has just opened a banana the wrong way. But she hadn’t fathomed out how to open her coffee cup lid either, so I’m not too surprised. It was one of those cups where you have to tear off a flip up flap - a flip-flap - to open a mouth hole; the flap is then reflexively secured by plastic jaws to the lid. To be honest, it’s a pretty unfeasible system and hard to guess at. It’s also a real waste of ingenuity, given the fact that the cup and its lid won’t compost and will kill us all.

Anyway. The point is that this is the journey back from Fringe number 18.

That’s a number derived from last year’s. Let’s double check the maths.

I went to two Fringes in the nineties. 1994, and 1995. During these I saw the likes of Lee and Herring, Greg Proops, Mark Little, Mervyn Stutter... you know what, I can’t really remember. There was definitely Richard Thomas in the mix, with a character I can’t remember, but a song I can. Peter Baynham too... It’s been a while.

I resumed going in 2002. Performed for the first time in 2003. Did “The Musical!” In 2004, “The Great Big Comedy Picnic” from 2005 onwards. Hannah George and I did “The Seven Deadly Jokes” in 2009, year one of “The Seven Deadly Sings” was 2010, in 2011, I did a rework of the show and also got married (not at the Fringe). 2012 was my last year of doing shows with Discograffiti. I’d been to 11 consecutive Fringes, performing at 10 of them.

We started visiting the Fringe again in 2015 doing what is now an annual long-weekend - Friday afternoon to Sunday night (with a guilty slink back on Monday morning to our waiting children - we leave them with my parents, not just in the left luggage at the station). So that’s 2015, 16, 17, 18, 19 - 5 consecutive years.

So 2 + 11 + 5 = 18. My wife’s at 9 years of this.

It’s not really about keeping score.

I’m definitely keeping score.

This year we saw 18 shows. That’s a pretty respectable hit rate. I remember bygone years of doing 9 show days, but my memory may be faulty, and I didn’t stop to eat as much then as I might do now.

To have seen 7 shows yesterday was made all the more impressive by the fact that we crossed town a ridiculous number of times into the bargain. The Edinburgh North/South or New Town/Old Town divide was in full force this year. We wanted to see things which involved nipping from The Assembly Rooms to Bristo Square - the home of The Gilded Balloon Teviot site and The Pleasance Dome (among others).

These old legs can walk, apparently. Recent advances in my fitness (or reversals of my unfitness) have stood me in good stead. Edinburgh is a city in which I often feel I have boundless energy, and that’s not all caused by the Irn Bru.

It’s odd to be messing around in a city when the country is falling apart and the narrative around environment is much the same. This is a place where you can be both informed and distracted from the awful truth of the world. Maybe it was ever thus, maybe it’s the end of days...

I’ll answer that in next year’s post...


Sunday, August 11

Funny Old Week

It's been a funny old week. So much so that I'm onto my second post of the year on this blog.

If the truth were told, I'm clearly not blogging on here like the diarist I once was. I've gone from an almost religious zeal to tell each day as it happened, or at least blog about the major appointments in my diary (I'm pretty sure I wrote most of 2005 retrospectively like homework).

Last year: 4 posts.

This is post two of 2019.

Highlights of the week:

  • Did two gigs
  • Went to a circus (today)
  • Got rained on randomly a lot
  • Was offered money for the rights to my online training course
Whatta week!

If ever there was a moment's thought that my life is glamourous and going well, let's quickly establish that I was offered a mere $100 for the unlimited distribution rights to a training course that's supposed to sell on at $9.99 per student. I declined. Offers like that are as much insulting as they are ridiculous.

Similarly, the trip to the circus was interesting and fun, but somehow not quite the exciting thing it could have been. Call me a jaded old performer, but the crow work and structuring of a circus show seem thin and transparent and for me take away from the skill of the performers. That said, it's a matter of taste.

I for one, don't like it when the staff start applause breaks every 15 seconds or so, and I also really despise shows which run on the basis that the audience want to stand up at the end, sing along and dance... and especially I abhor shows which end with the audience on the stage.

If I'm going to go onto a stage, I'll do it because I'm the performer. Otherwise I'd prefer that I sat and enjoyed something inventive and entertaining which I can't see through.

Talking of paper-thin performances... I closed a new material night in Hereford this week and it was fun. Some of the new acts were exactly what you'd expect of new acts. There were a couple of brilliant older comedians from Cheltenham, who were a complete delight to watch and had me roaring with laughter. As a comedian, when you're cheek-achingly laughing at an act who is earlier on the bill than you, there's always a part of you thinking "how the hell can I follow that!?" but that's insecurity at best. 

Every comedian can follow the previous ones. Go out there and do your best!

Last night I opened at a gig I thought I was MCing. It's a regular show I do in Bristol. Last week I opened, the first time I'd done a set there. Warming up last week's crowd took more work than MCing them, but by the end I'd dissolved their resistance and dissolved my own sense of decorum. I found myself riffing on something or other which sort of worked, but was half formed.

On the way back to the car last week, I did a what I should have said in my head, and decided to incorporate that into the bit of the set where it had happened. I tried that out on Thursday and it worked (enough to try again, at least).

Where last night I was expecting to shoe-horn it into a non-set bit of my MCing, arriving at the venue it seemed there were two MCs and no opening act. Great... a quick rush back to the car (20 minutes of power walking - good for the weightloss) and I'm back as the opening act.

So a week after making it up on that stage, I'm doing the corrected version of a bit of silliness, and to be honest I felt both delighted and cheapened by the reaction it got. Delighted, because this is how stand-up works: perform, invent, refine, perform, perfect... but cheapened, because my Sodastream Knob bit is hardly going to go down as a bit of literature!

It's all daftness... and that's worth the driving, walking and getting drenched in the British flash monsoon season for.

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