EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER SEVEN
Friday 27th August – Sunday 29th August
OK, last blog for a bit. I’ve written this as much to note down the experience for myself as with any expectation people may read it. I do find the whole blog culture somewhat narcissistic, so I’m a reluctant addition to its ranks. I will be doing so again after Edinburgh only on rare occasions when I feel I have something interesting to say (or plug…)
I type this on the train taking me away from Edinburgh. If you’ve never done the full stint it is difficult to appreciate quite how intense it can be. OK, not momentous, soul searching introspection, no epiphanies, but it is curiously mind bending. I’ve spent about a year leading up to this show, planning it, rejecting ideas, getting buoyed by the prospect one minute then overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead the next. Then there’s all the anticipation – will people like it, will I get any press in, if I do, will they like it? Will I sell tickets, will I enjoy performing the same material for 20 odd days on the trot, will I win any accolades (I’d like to pretend I’m too cool to worry about the latter. I’m not)?? And yet this morning I had to bung everything in a bag, leave the place that a month ago I’d never set foot in but has been my home since the beginning of August, and jump on a train. Not to go to my home though. Not to relax after an intense and pressured month, oh no. To do my old show in Newcastle, in the afternoon, in front of a load of teenagers. Who probably have no idea that Doctor Who once wore a scarf. Your train departs from The Frying Pan at 1100 and arrives at The Fire at 1230. Then it’s on another train to Manchester for XS Malarkey tomorrow. Then home…
I always knew my final days would have an extra element to push me through to the finishing line. My friends Michael McManus (an illustrious politico and author … I only know him through Doctor Who though) and Simon Harries (an illustrious TV producer … I only know him through – oh, go on, guess) had planned to spend the weekend here. Michael is up for work, and Simon has come to see how my BBC show has fared since he witnessed its very first incarnation, in a sweaty comedy club in Hartlrepool many moons ago. That was a funny one, which lasted an hour and a half, and had about sod all to do with the BBC. From small acorns grow shows with jokes about The Onedin Line and Bugpuss thrust into them. Simon wasn’t due till Saturday though, so I dunno why I’ve just typed all that. Oh well, wibbly wobbly, bloggy woggy etc etc …
Busy day Friday – the Fringe showcase for Joss Jones (a nice woman I have e-mailed often over the years, and even worked for, but never met till this fringe). A well run and heftily attended gig, this one had a line up to match the previous outing (which by coincidence had featured two of those destined to become Best Newcomer Nominees, Asher Treleaven and Gareth Richards). I opened, and had fun, especially with an American family who proved to be great sports. Then James Dowdeswell was on charming, witty form, doing a load of material I’d not seen from him (especially impressive as he’d done the show yesterday and was a last minute replacement, thrust onstage with scant notice). Edward Aczel has been rightly feted for his “anti”- comedy, and his deadpan, deliberately boring delivery and subject matter absolutely captured the crowd. Adam Vincent by his own admission had a tough one: his bleak, edgy material was superb I thought, but just didn’t quite sit with the crowd (though he gave himself a harder time than they did). His four star review on Chortle the next day hopefully raised his spirits. A personal favourite of mine, Paul Sinha, went on at the end and did a blisteringly funny closing routine. A good show, great value for that crowd, and hopefully a good advertisement for our wares. I went for a cuppa and a sandwich with Paul where we discussed the ins and outs of the fringe, the awards: all that comedian stuff that resides best behind closed doors (that may or may not have a star upon them). I like Paul a lot, so felt a bit bad when I noticed Sophie, one of the long suffering team who tries to get me publicity, had tried calling me seven times. I rang her and discovered I needed to be somewhere in 10 minutes. Paul mouthed a silent “Cheerio” and let me scoot off. A shame, as I didn’t see him again for the rest of the fringe and feel I left our chat somewhat promptly and impolitely.
But why, you ask, did I have to be somewhere? Well, having spent the week moaning about the BBC not being able to show an interest in a show about them, those canny folk at Newsnight had decided to have a word with me regarding Mark Thompson’s keynote speech at the television festival. So up the Royal Mile I went and journalist Steve Smith and I chatted as the camera set up to capture the beauty and bustle behind us as I mentally prepared to be relevant, funny and accurate all within non-rambly soundbites. I said my piece and got edgy as the time ticked by, and was released with about six minutes to get to the Pleasance Dome for Adam Riches Rides. I ran there and arrived almost dead. Adam took it in his stride as usual, and Tiger got rather a good laugh.
Quite a small audience for Now I Know My BBC, but perfectly formed. It was another treat of a show where they were clearly comfortable with the material and attitude of the piece. Indeed, since quiet, quiet Tuesday the audiences have been very responsive from the off and really helped me along. Makes a big difference that.
Gareth from The Comedy Store was in – to call him the resident technical bod there is to damn him with faint praise: like all the staff at that venue he’s knowledgeable about comedy and very good at making acts of all shapes and sizes feel welcome. Anyway, he said some very kind things and I was flattered that he’d come along to lend his support. He can’t have had time to see everyone, yet he came to see me (and he must get his fill of my nonsense, seeing it, as he does, at least twice a month).
Toby On Newsnight
Then to the station to meet my friend Michael, and after we dropped off his bag and had a peek to see if I’d made the final cut of Newsnight (I had!) I introduced him to the dubious pleasures of FFF. A good one for a final one, with Gordon Southern, who I had missed a couple of days ago, being superb and silly at the top. Then The Boy With Tape On His Face, fresh from a deserved Best Newcomer Nomination and probably zonked after all the attention and extra gigs that entails, nonetheless fulfilled his obligation and did a great show. What a trouper – of all the commitments he could have dropped to give himself a break, this one was the easiest. But he did it anyway. Star (or, indeed, Five).
A young act I’d not seen before, Ivo Graham, was impressive and someone I’d like to see again, and my FFF run closed watching the wonderful Sam Gore close the night with aplomb. I may have resented the gigs in advance, but I enjoyed all of them (apart from being cross with myself for antics in the second half of the first show, but hey-ho, it’s Edinburgh).
Moment of the night this time was when I discovered a lad in the front row studied Chinese, so I addressed him using the lines of dialogue purporting to be in that language from episode one of The Talons Of Weng- Chiang – and they worked, much to my, his and the audience’s surprise and delight.
A lie in after protracted wine and witticisms with Michael the night before, was interrupted by a text from Simon. He’d arrived! By plane! Being a producer, he was so organised that he knew where we were and how to get there. So I roused myself and he arrived with my Newsnight appearance on disc, because that’s the sort of all round good chap that he is.
Lunch with Simon and Michael in a lovely French bistro, and I regretted my self imposed No Drink Before Work policy as the boys augmented their repast with aperitifs and a lovely looking Burgundy. They then, without prompting, mooched off and gave me space to collect my thoughts and wits before the Now I Know My BBC gig (an unspoken gesture I massively appreciated).
Oh it was a busy one, and went really well except … There was a couple at the front and to the left. They were chortling away (him especially) at the nostalgic, personal stuff that makes up the first forty minutes of the show. However, I would be selling the material short if all of that was there simply to exude a cosy haze of nostalgia: I conjure those hits of yesteryear and then tie them all back in at the end to make my heartfelt point about the sanctity of the BBC and it being our last bastion of decency, rigour and quality as the forces of Fox, and Dacre and downright cruelty march ever onward with increasing impunity, met only by toothlessness from politicians of all sides. I make the point reasonably I think – indeed, I’m quite blatant in the show about not attacking people who have different views from mine, about calling for understanding, and about not swearing or having any punchline which belittles anyone. Not an easy path to tread comedically. I even mention a pet hate (or worry) of mine, The Daily Mail, in less disparaging terms than one might ordinarily do on a stand-up stage (Daily Mail baiting has become more preponderant on comedy club stages than observations that men and women have different attitudes to sex ‘n’ stuff) but I do bring it up and try to understand where its rage comes from. Well at this juncture, Mr At-The-Front stiffened, his wife clutched his arm, and the smile dropped from his face, and try as I might to put it back there, I’d clearly offended him to the point of no return. A shame, as the way to promote debate and encourage people to think about stuff is not to turn them off – and with this gentleman I clearly did, despite him loving what I’d served up for the previous two thirds of the show. Now thicker skinned friends of mine would say not to worry, offending people is good, especially if they deserve to be offended. I’m not so sure. I certainly don’t think it’s especially clever to get someone into a comedy night and set out to upset them. They’ve paid good money for me to entertain them – if I can provoke them to muse about mores, attitudes and ideas afterwards then great, but I’m principally there to make them laugh. I can only write what I am passionate about (amusing things that happen on the way to the shops aren’t amusing when I tell them), but by the same token, there’s a lot of noise around the comedy circuit that gets mistaken for profundity. I’ve seen rounds of applause for lines as fatty and ill thought out as “All politicians are c****” . Really? Che Guevara and Bill Hicks would have been kicked out of the room for something so facile. And anyone who talks of “sticking it to the man” should bear in mind he doesn’t know what it is he is sticking, nor the name of the person into whom it will be stuck : and so should desist immediately.
Ay friend Adam, who was in, told me later that as soon as I left the stage, husband stood up and stormed out, and wifey had to gather up the bags to follow. Well, despite my best intentions to be amiable and put my points across with decency and good humour, there’s a man there who won’t be examining his ideals (despite the fact that I’d made him sympathetic to both me and my humour) but simply left thinking I was a bounder.
Yes, yes, the other 60/70-odd people loved it and guffawed continuously (even though I thought the last, vital ten minutes where a bit choppy thanks to stares from Mr Mail, clearly intended to send me to the mortuary slab), but it’s those two people that I’ll remember forever.
I’m not sure what I think about this, which is why I’m writing it down. I’m sure The Daily Mail doesn’t care who it offends, but I have no intention of becoming like The Daily Mail myself: that would be a failure. I just don’t know how I could have made my points anymore reasonably – I can be pretty harsh and cutting with hecklers in comedy clubs: not a problem, and part of the job. But with this show I wanted to be bulletproof, and not stand accused of caricaturing the targets of my ire in the same way tabloids do (and if some of the notices are to be understood, I succeeded too well, as they banged on about how “lovely” I was without paying attention to what I was saying). I’ve chosen to do a show that mixes childhood memories with polemic: one is a spoonful of sugar to help the other go down. That said, there are a couple of moments designed to be deliberately uneasy, to make the audience examine their own complicity in the dumbing-down of TV and our appalling treatment of “celebrities” thrust in the public eye thanks to the lure of “reality” TV. They have a punchline and they pay off comedically elsewhere, but only if you pay attention.
Anyway, sod comedy, we had a lovely supper at a fish restaurant suggested by Michael. I’ve been good, foodwise, all month, and even abstained from drinking on some nights. I fear all that good work will be undone in 48 hours and when I see my wife I’ll look as though I’ve spent the month feeding on lard. As opposed to eating myself up, which I was doing all night as I lay there thinking about the Mail man.
Well, we’d crashed on Saturday night, and then I got a text at about 3am for Lord Jason Of Cook which said “Come into the sitting room and amuse me” : one can’t ignore a Royal summons, so I managed to prize my eyes open and squeeze some more wine into whatever cavities of my body remained hitherto unsoaked. So Sunday morning was a bit groggy. I fixed us all breakfast and then Simon went to see Jason’s show (where Jason forgot the initial set up which he pays off at the very end – makes muddling up the Moths ending seem like a minor glitch!) and Michael did all the cultured stuff folk of his ilk like to do. Just one more Adam Riches Rides (where the star was kind enough to assure me he felt I was spot on to stick to my guns and say what I have to say in NIKMBBC even if it makes front row men grumpy), which was marred by the absence of Kirsten, who had to be taken to hospital. The team rallied round and the show went on, but the most important thing is that she recovers (*sends good wishes across cyberspace*). Simon was then plied with gin and tonic to make his return journey fly by metaphorically as well as literally. Always a pleasure to see him, and he was a charming companion to help me ease out of Edinburgh.
The final show could have been a disaster (Sundays are never busy, and after the great Saturday I feared an anti-climax). Thank heavens then, for various comedy types and brandishers of Underbelly passes who swelled the ranks and gave me a great send off. A really lovely show actually, which people seemed to get, and the polemic sat as easily as the jokey stuff, so it was a good blend of nice humour and grumpy humour. Among those taking part in audience duties were The Roaring Boys and talented comic Nishant Kumar, who I met in the same building … oh my God – 4 years ago. Yikes. And so the show came to an end on a strong note. It took a while to set in, and I think a few people didn’t get it (the mix between two styles was deliberate, and just because something uses nostalgia as a tool, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a more serious intent that Top Ten TV shows or homespun, unchallenging whimsy). Conversely, just because something boasts those things, doesn’t mean that turning them on their head to make a rigorous point is jarring or out of place. Most people I’ve spoken to have picked up on that, a few professional wordsmiths have not. Early on, I can understand that, as the show took a while to bed in and I wasn’t selling various bits (the central love story for example) as clearly as I should have been. Anyone there after week one doesn’t have that excuse though.
Hey ho, I did what I set out to do and as a follow up to a ridiculously successful show, I think I did a good job. Some illustrious advocates and good feedback mean I’m reasonably happy (which is pretty much as good as I get to be honest).
I couldn’t have done it without great help and support, notably James Seabright, Kat Portman, Lee Martin, Damian and Phil my smiling tecchies, always on hand as I dissected the gig with self justification for every bad bit afterwards, and the great team from The Underbelly: Alex, Angie and Camilla, who were always smiling and helpful. Lots of friends have been nice too, but this isn’t the Oscars. And if I’m not careful there’ll be more people listed on this blog than actually read it.
Now I Know My BBC will, I believe, tour in the new year, so job done!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this – good. It was an exercise for me as much as anything else. I rue not recording my thoughts and impressions of the many towns and folk I met whilst touring the country (indeed, the world) with Moths, so I wished in some way to redress that. And of course, some people are interested in the fringe and how things work from a comic’s point of view.
So here it is, and has been, for better or worse. I’ve tried to be honest and occasionally produce a diverting turn of phrase or two.
Hope you enjoyed it.