Category Archives: Edinburgh Fringe 2010

The Final End…?

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…

Friday

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.

Saturday

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.

Sunday

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.

Attention to detail at Adam Riches Rides : every day I had to queue with the audience in my Tiger suit and brandish a ticket, which always in my name.

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.

Brief Encounters

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER SIX

Monday 23rd August – Thursday 26th August

Need to be quick, as time runs out and I am entertaining this weekend. First things first – my friend Martin didn’t take us out of our way on the way back from Moths, so I was doubly unnecessarily grumpy on the way back.

I’ll add links later.

Monday

Lovely lunch at Mosque Kitchen, with my old friends Dave and Lucy. The “restaurant” has the aspect of a soup kitchen, with some chaps, in school dinners fashion, slapping curry and rice onto your plates. Then you sit outside on plastic chairs and long, communal tables. Despite such unpromising signs, their heroically scant attention to frills and comfort disguises one simple, important fact – boy it’s delicious. And extremely good value. This is where a bit of local knowledge can come in handy.

A day for friends actually – talented, witty Doctor Who writer Jonathan Morris and his lovely wife Debs were up, and on my recommendation had come to see Adam Riches Rides. So I hung around and waited for them after my claws had done their work. During that interregnum, I received a buoying e-mail from my good mate Peter to whom I’d sent a drunken spiral of misery the night before when at a low ebb. He’s one of those friends who allows you to do such a thing, understands why you’ve done it, and says something nice the next day. Had a cup of tea with Johnny and Debs and then took them over to the Underbelly where I was pleased that they, plus a bunch of Doctor Who fans and some Northern mates, all conspired to be a plentiful and absolutely supportive audience. A great show.

Giddy with the fallout from that, I then compered FFF, where a comedian of my acquaintance with Tourette’s, Luke Slurpe Montague, became the focal point of much of the show. He was game, but I worried whether it had been my fault that he became quite such a figure of fun throughout everyone’s routine. I mean, it was difficult to ignore and one had to say something, but actually, the less attention paid to it, the more the outbursts subsided. He assured me after that it was fine, but it left me exiting the gig with laughter ringing in my ears but a sense of personal disquiet.

Tuesday

Some students caught my eye as I walked up Broughton Street. I did that embarrassment- limitation thing of smiling and saying hello as if I knew them, despite not having a clue who they were. One of them charged after me, introduced himself and said that they’d really enjoyed FFF and assured me I hadn’t behaved unnecessarily towards the Luke. A spring was injected into my step, as I enjoyed that timely reminder about the palpable effect the kindness of strangers can have. He said really complimentary things, yet I didn’t bother to flyer him or promote my solo show in any way. I’ll lick this marketing thing one day, surely?

A nice Pizza Express lunch was spent with aspiring comic Des O’Gorman, and I offered what tips I could about the career he wishes to carve for himself. I don’t know if I was any use, but I hope so – he’d contacted me on Facebook and came to see both of my shows, so the least I could do was spare him a couple of hours and an American Hot.

My mates Dave and Luce, plus old mate Gill Isles (an illustrious BBC producer), were smiling faces in my quietest audience yet. A decent show under the circumstances, but by heck it’s so much easier to unleash a spiral of wit and passion when being buoyed long by a hefty, vocal audience. I had to grind the hell out of this one, and there were some lovely responses from the older members of the front row, but it was hard. People went out smiling, but I’m under no illusion that they felt they’d just witnessed a comedic tour de force. I was bemoaning my numbers when a friendly Scottish comic friend told me that she’s had three in that day. OK, I was in much better shape than that, so didn’t feel quite so small. Then I had a surprise and most welcome reunion with Jim Jeffries, whose smallest audience has been 450. ‘Kay, feeling small again.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

And probably marketing.

Wednesday

A bit of a lie in before Adam Riches Rides, which I then sneaked in to see the rest of (I’m dispatched fairly early on in proceedings, and he bravely does the rest of the show without me). You have to radiate likeability to get away with how much Adam involves the crowd, but he certainly puts them through their paces without ever humiliating them. The show is chock full of utter nonsense – but it’s hilarious stuff, engineered by a fine, versatile actors with a witty, fourth wall breaking cheek. He’s helped no end by the long suffering Benjamin Wilson, another versatile performer with great comic skill, who endures a pummelling throughout with good grace and much humour. Kirsten Hazel Smith too, keeps things efficiently ticking over in the background, unsnagging mic leads, ensuring that a horse’s trousers don’t fall down, or marshalling the crowd with unobtrusive professionalism early on as she arms the front row with blow darts (you have to be there). I’d got a ticket to see the show for my old mucker Peter Slater who I knew would adore it. I was right. Pete’s up ding a sketch show, The Uninvisibles, which he has typically pitched in to help with late in the day despite the status he’s undoubtedly got since his comedy lab, Slaterwood, and his high profile role in Ideal. If the latter in particular doesn’t lead on to greater things for this most energetic and talented of performers I’d be most surprised. Anyway, we spent the afternoon in reminiscence mode which was lovely, and then I did my show.

Thursday

I decide it is about time to support a few gigs – I’ve only been here three weeks. To be fair, I’d seen a number of previews, so had already checked out this year’s offerings from some of the best comics around. Paul Sinha’s forthright, honest and searingly intelligent Extreme Anti-White Vitriol is one I’ve been recommending to many, as is Alun Cochrane’s Jokes, Life, And Jokes About Life in which the admirable, languid, and erudite Mr Cochrane challenges himself and the conventions of a stand-up show to hilarious effect. He is bullet proof and utterly engaging. John Bishop has sold out anyway, but his preview was full of his dependably down-to-earth, easygoing wit. Add to that Rob Rouse’s brilliant, energetic and uplifting tales of feeding on roadkill (oh yes) and I’ve had a pretty strong run.

I’d already seen Jason Cook in preview, but seeing him on his natural stamping ground (he just fits Edinburgh like a glove) was terrific – an honest, heart warming show in which he charms the audience. Indeed, his opening ten minutes consisted entirely of likeable audience banter. How much have I had in either of my shows? None. I have such a story to tell there’s no time for segues and banter. And yet I spend most of my professional life as a compere, riffing off and controlling audiences. I may have missed a trick here. Or maybe I want to do something in Edinburgh I don’t get the opportunity to do for the rest of the year. Must think on this.

Jase and I had a lovely sandwich from a place around the corner from The Stand, and then went to the place itself. The best comedy club there is, anywhere, by the way: brilliant staff, a great layout, proper rules that are conducive to respect for the acts without making the audience feel like they can’t belch for fear of ejection. If XS Malarkey can aspire to be even close to The Stand in terms of what if (ahem) delivers, then I’m a happy man. That it’s a great space run properly and independently is probably why the incomparable Stewart Lee chose The Stand as the venue for his new Edinburgh hour, and boy what a show it is. To start off – it’s consistently funny, opening with a topical gag on BP, which is hilarious of itself, but delivered with a knowing disdain for the sweeping generalisations often adopted by comics when doing a righteous piece of up-to-date satire. All through Lee’s routine there is an arch self awareness of the conventions adopted by comedians, and just has he delivers another  gentle killer blow, he boomerangs one straight back at himself or the mores of your typical working comic. Aloof, faux-smug, surreal flights of fancy, and acid barbs aimed at the conventional, the successful and the powerful are all deadpanned with heavy irony, or perhaps with a subtle twitch of the mouth, playfully augmenting his softly spoken deconstructions. He’d probably read all this and declare it bollocks (as he does in a neat observation about when he was a librarian telling his colleagues he was leaving to become a comedian) but according to his book he doesn’t blog so is unlikely to read one either. To be honest, I wouldn’t blog if I had a book in me that people would buy, but I don’t. So here I am. If Lee tours, go and see him, it’s a masterclass in genuinely funny, witty, comedy, but laced with such clever metatextual moments that it’s as admirable as it is amusing. Just allowing oneself to get sucked in by a seemingly effortless performance is a joy, but his gentle enunciation is the only low key thing about him (oh, he smiles, and murders as he smiles). Inspiring.

An so I was nearly late for Now I Know My BBC, but just made it – and what a beautiful show it was. Another audience who buoyed me along and gave a pretty hefty round of applause at the end. They really seemed to buy the message of the piece and I left very happy. Part of the fun was that I knew someone from BBC world service was in. Except only when I came off was I told he hadn’t been able to make it. Indeed, despite many overtures, the BBC themselves have not exactly descended in a battalion of support. The message seems to be that – as they run ever more scared of The Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch and his philistine phalanx of bastards – even covering a show which is about them would generate more stick than they could, er, shake a stick back at. Or something. So they retreat as they have been since that business with the trailer involving the grumpy Queen. Because the tabloids never use selective editing to put something in a different light. Oh, I’ll stop now, I’m turning into my show.

Anyway, post-performance bliss did not last when having decided to see either the excellent Carl Donnelly, or a personal favourite, Gordon Southern, I missed both. I wasn’t allowed in to Carl’s by dint of being one minute late (I’d been chinwagging with top Manchester actor Chris Hannon , who, I was delighted to discover, is dabbling in character comedy and appearing at XS soon). So off to Gordon’s I went but mistimed it and was too shy to ask for admission after the show’s start time. Afterwards, Gordon said they’d have happily let me in. Bah – a waste of an hour and a half in which I twiddled my thumbs (over an iPhone keypad admittedly, but at least when I normally do that it’s in the warm and I’m not missing comedy).

Then to Andrew O’Neill’s show at The Tron. What a brilliant comic he is – oddness and principle in perfect symbiosis: heartfelt, righteous comedy combined with lunatic asides of playful surrealism (he opens by humming the theme to Poirot, and ends by having a punch up with a bigot on a bus). He’s grown in stature from an engaging, offbeat support act who could bring a genuine alternative flavour to a comedy line up, to a fully fledged comic in his own right, creating a night in his image and sweeping everyone along comfortably and with confidence.

What a good day’s entertainment I had.

And I managed to resist the fish and chip shop on the way home.

Balancing Act

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER FIVE

Wednesday 18th – Sunday 22nd

Wednesday

A day off, in which my body decides to deflate and throw up all the fatigue, aches and pains it has been suppressing for the past fortnight. Fortunately, I have in my inbox a first draft of the first quarter of Running Through Corridors, which to my excitement has been typset and redrafted. It’s a mighty task we have set Mad Nowegian Press editor Lars Pearson, but by golly he’s more than up to it. Oh yes, there’s the odd idiomatic misunderstanding, and some of my jokes were originally so sloppily phrased and robbed of meaning by my cack-handedness that he’s had his hands full and we still need to tweak here and there, but I’m enjoying the process and am beside myself with excitement about having a book on the shelf.

Much of the day was spent indoors modifying sentences and noting with guilt that Lars has made me look like a better writer than I actually am, until it was time to guest again on Hardeep Singh Kohli’s Chat Masala. I’d been on good form last time I did it, early on in the Fringe. This time, I was a bit hesitant and hardly the sharp joke-merchant or witty raconteur the audience would have needed me to be were they to leave with any desire to grab flyers for Moths. Excellent, ebullient Kiwi Jarred Christmas was far more at ease and a breath of energetic and comedic fresh air. Then the legendary Tony Tanner came on for anecdotes and plugging, though having said he loved curry, didn’t want to try Hardeep’s Haggis & Pea Vindaloo, which looked delicious (I demurred because I don’t eat meat, so Jarred had two portions). Good show, but I didn’t shine. The next day, I checked to see how many new tickets had been sold for either of my shows as a result of my travails.

None.

Thursday

Great show today – I’d thought the day off might throw me off my game, but no: really enjoyable. Afterwards, met Dave Owen – a reviewer for Doctor Who Magazine whose work I have greatly enjoyed over the years. He has a gift for apt observations and witty remarks without the humour or reviewing being self aggrandising or tricksy. We’d never met before and had a right old time, before deciding far too late to grab something to eat. And so we had a lovely Italian that we had to rather wolf down so he could make the show he was going to see, and I could head off for FFF. I was pleased that the waitress complimented me on correctly pronouncing the name of my dish – Spaghetti Siciliana. Obviously my heart, stomach and mouth are in Italy with my lovely wife even if my brain is filled with tartan and greasepaint.

And what a night was had at FFF – terrific fun. A relatively sparse audience who nonetheless moved forward when told. The rather nice couple I chatted with at the front turned out to be opening act Sam Gore’s parents, which added spice to the evening. Watching him wrangle with his wanton misanthropy and filthy tongue in front of the terribly nice couple who bore and nurtured him was brilliant. Credit to both parties for doing so well! The Boy With Tape On His Face did a lovely gig, and when closing the section I got the crowd to give him a round of applause and uttered the words “Notorious gag thief” which was a piece of improvisation I was very pleased with that nevertheless got a bigger laugh than I’d imagined it would. I guess because it works in a number of ways. He doesn’t speak, so doesn’t do gags, so couldn’t be accused of that crime which many a comic levels at many another comic. He also does his whole gig with gaffer tape over his mouth: a gag he’s stolen? A pithy, three word joke with a number of meanings.

I think I may have peaked and should retire.

It made Chortle’s Quote Of The Day the next afternoon which made me chuffed. An excellent FFF, with Nik Coppin and Elis James doing the second half and also on great form. I hadn’t particularly wanted to do the gig, but was very pleased I had as I wandered home, having spent the evening both sober and funny.

Chalk Thursday up as a win.

Friday

Early morning – thank God for Damian, my tech, who’d texted the night before asking if I was looking forward to my 8.30am tech. What??!! I’d though it was 8.30pm. Groo! Anyway, off I went that morning, vexed and grumpy and tired. But what a venue, populated by charming and helpful staff, and with a sound system to die for. Suddenly, the enormity of what I was about to do hit me, and I had to buy an Innocent Smoothie just to calm myself down (Apple, Kiwi, and Lime since you ask).

EICC ... from the stage

Back home for an an epic snooze to prepare me for the big day. I’d been slotted in for a gig at the Jazz Bar, but the lovely organisers had one act too many and I was happy to duck out as by now I was finding everything a bit overwhelming. A chance to catch up with Mick Ferry first though, who is having a good time, but once again is being written up all too predictably – damned with faint praise by being described as a “good club comic”. Yes he is. He’s a brilliant club comic, one of the best. But he’s also a more interesting act than the first impressions made by some from his Northern, bluff, blokeyness. Too often I see Mick and Justin Moorhouse – both superb performers and deeply intelligent men – underestimated because of how they look and sound. It must be deeply frustrating. I understand, as often people write me off as mere eye candy because of my good looks and sexual magnetism, but it’s a cross I have to bear.

Sometimes, you know from the off that the audience are with you – they help you ride the waves of laugher, time the jokes, dictate the rhythm, and invent little magical asides in the moment. Sometimes, the audience seem like they’re going to need you to dig deep to keep them. Not necessarily hostile, but not big laughers, and certainly not people who’ll go with a little comedic segue or whimsical tangent. You need to keep it tight, tight, tight, nail every punchline, make every set-up lean and free of fat, and be sharp and energetic in performance. And just sometimes, they start off well and you lose them. Quiet inexplicably, the laughter ebbs away, and reaching the finishing line is a chore. That was the BBC show today. No explanation – but I can’t blame them as they’d started off loving it and lively. Curious. It was just the cosmic equilibrium ensuring I can never be allowed an entirely happy day –the lovely and talented poet and writer Kate Fox had kindly given me a Pick Of The Fringe and a nice notice in The Telelgraph, which was heartily received at my end. So I had to do penance somewhere, it’s expected.

EICC ... from the audience

Then to the EICC for Moths. Oof – an enormous prospect. I had a curious hour long hiatus beforehand where I just wandered about rather aimlessly. Then to the show – nicely busy (target reached!) and full of love. A warm, supportive audience, and thanks to the acoustics I could lower some moments to a whisper that hung in the air. I really enjoyed the actual mechanics of the performing of it and filling the space. Of course, it went so well and without hiccoughs that I had to get the ending completely the wrong way around. Of course I did. It’s the sort of thing I do. I very nearly forgot the most important, touching and pivotal bit of the whole show. I have never done that before, in the many hundreds of times I’ve done the bloody thing. Bonkers. Nobody else noticed apparently, but I did. Mum was in, plus many pals, and it was all a bit heady. Good though, even if my friend Martin rather drunkenly navigated us home with a needless mile long diversion. I was unnecessarily grumpy about this.

Saturday

As Mum disappeared off on the train, millions of people descended upon the city. And seemingly, all of them people who, despite it being the 21st century, have not yet mastered the art of walking on a pavement in an untwatty way. This lot knew all the tricks – meandering, suddenly stopping, not even vaguely turning their body when the person they are about to bump into has pressed themselves far into the wall and arched back as much as possible. Then there are those who, when you’ve twisted and indicted that you’re letting the person opposite you through, cuts in front of you, blocks everyone’s way and creates gridlock. As if they’d thought that instead of being an exhibition of common courtesy, your movement had been an indication of a sudden desire to deport yourself like a crab for a few minutes. Had I been armed, I may have indulged in some kind of spree. I was necessarily grumpy about this.

And so to Adam Riches Rides, which continues to sell a hefty number of tickets and never fails to entertain. Adam had had an annoying punter in the show yesterday, and was regretting not kicking him out. Who has the audacity to go to a show and be silenced by someone as witty and affable as Adam and still insist on chipping in, in a way that is less funny than the stuff, you know, written, honed and rehearsed by someone clearly skilled at what he’s doing? I think as part of our deal for doing the fringe, each performer should be allowed to cull irritating audience members. It would help maintain universal balance.

Anyway, Tigering up left me in a good place to do Nicholas Parsons’ Happy Hour. What a joy. Jo Caulfield was there, and took it well when I told her that she’s been in my dream the night before. In the land of Morpheus, she and Kevin Hayes (who had both been on at The Frog and Bucket on my first weekend gig there as an open spot thirteen-or-so years ago, and had chosen to reunite in my nocturnal imaginings) had been talking to me: Kevin was saying I was a good comic and Jo was arguing that I was crap and I knew it. This is what’s called “an Edinburgh dream” and is nothing to be alarmed about, apparently. And actually, Happy Hour was an Edinburgh Dream too – Adam Hills on first; his easy wit and charm a great fit with the audience. He’s skilled and funny but clearly also an unassuming and decent human being. I am astonished at Nicholas Parsons – he’s in his 80s yet gamely interacts and ad libs with the audience for half an hour. Astonishing. He’d worked hard to make sure he pronounced my name right, but of course made a total hash of it. He was contrite, but it stood me in good stead as I have loads of amusing things to say about it, so got off to a flying start. I was pleased, as Adam was a hard act to follow and I hadn’t exactly shone at Hardeep’s show on Wednesday. I did a good gag about Nicholas’s death scene as Rev Wainwright in The Curse Of Fenric (in which he shouts “No … no … nooooo,” – which I pointed out was hesitation and repetition, to the delight of the audience) and he recounted with touching modesty how Nick Mallet had selected him for the part because of the way he’d been reassuring to some children when they joined him onstage as Window Twanky in a panto. A canny piece of insight from the director, and one which paid off, as it is a wonderful performance. Anyway – I’d been nervous, but a lovely host, friendly fellow comics who in no way expressed surprise that lowly old me was sharing the bill with them on such an illustrious outing, and a game audience, made for a definite highlight of the fringe.

A wave of heat greeted me at the Underbelly. Those delightful The Roaring Boys – always ready with a smile and an encouraging word as the hand the venue over to me – had sold out. They’ve had a raft of excellent reviews now, and look like one of the success stories this year. Couldn’t happen to two nicer fellows. The crowd at Now I Know My BBC was a pretty big one too, but they made me work for it. I don’t have a problem with this, but it still takes me by surprise (and it really shouldn’t, I’ve been doing it long enough) when a small midweek audience can really buoy you along, whereas a much bigger Saturday night crowd can be harder to get swept up by. I guess maybe there are more “casual” punters at the weekend, as opposed to many of the people who come because they already know and like my work and are sympathetic to the subject matter.

All good stuff for keeping one sharp though, so not a problem.

Sunday

Curious, how your eye always gets drawn to the most immobile face in the crowd. Tonight there was a fella who sat stony faced (not grumpy, not hate filled, just blank) throughout. And of course, in the middle of the front row. I could have put it down to a naturally stern demeanour, except he let out a huge guffaw at a joke I do referencing Anthea Turner and the Ku Klux Klan. And then returned to his inscrutable state for the rest of the show. Very odd. And I wonder why it was the crap-DJ/white supremacist interface that particularly tickled him. Do I need material involving Bruno Brookes and Combat 18 to win more vocal approval from Mr Granite-Chops? I mean, I call it a joke, but it’s not really, it’s reportage of an incident on Top Of The Pops from my youth. A fact. Perhaps he doesn’t like jokes, he just likes facts. Oh I dunno, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the bugger. The same happened with Moths four years ago. Can I remember any of the smiling faces, of which there were plenty? Can I bugger. But the fella who came one Thursday and whose physiognomy was a permanent study of ennui? I’d recognise him tomorrow.

Other than that…

Wibbly wobble day. Brick wall day. Self doubt day. Suffice to say, three minutes into the show I just didn’t want to be there. Not because of anything that had happened, and certainly not because of the audience (who were fine and laughed in the right places, Anthea man aside). I just found it a real struggle. But I pretended to be nice and happy and funny and think I got away with. That’s my job.

Went home, got drunk, took it out on my wife (who had been hitherto having a nice time on holiday, thankyou very much).

Edinburgh does this to everyone at some stage.

(I hope).

For universal balance, here’s a lovely review (though ironically, as I hit the edfringe website to find the link, I was confronted by a somewhat indifferent one from an audience member. So much for universal balance. It was from Sunday actually … Anthea Turner man, surely not …?)

If there has been any fighting in the dance floor, I haven’t seen it.

4 EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER FOUR

Saturday 14th –  Tuesday 17th

Saturday

Saturday, Saturday. Tiswas day, Doctor Who day. Or in the case of Edinburgh, just another performance/walking up hills/promising to see too many other shows day. The Now I Know My BBCs are all blurring but I think I’m settling into a rhythm. I have to be very careful with the ending – there is a reveal that people don’t guess unless I really heavily lay the groundwork and thread the theme blatantly throughout the show. It obviously wasn’t clear enough in the first week but seems to be hitting home more now. This is what happens when you do a show every day – you really trim it, make it clearer and ad lib better jokes whilst in the moment. It’ll be about 25% better as a show when I finish on August 29th. Because of the overruns I actually sat down with the script and trimmed and rejigged – there’s no point just resting on one’s laurels, and I may do a further rewrite next week. We’ll see. I note the irony that in a show that maintains that the audience aren’t as stupid as television people assume them to be, I’ve had to spell something out to make it clearer to the audience, which might actually mean that … (ahem)

I went to see my first show (I vowed this year to not even pretend I was going to anything in the first week). Jeremy Lion Goes Green had me doubled up with laughter – what a virtuoso performance from the enormously talented Justin Edwards (ably assisted by a beguilingly deadpan Gus Brown). For those who haven’t caught up with this phenomenon, Lion is an alcohol sodden children’s entertainer whose awful shows are replete with sequestered cans of Special Brew, hopeless props and staggering theatrical ineptitude. And are hilarious. Doing something badly well is an art, and Edwards has his shtick so well honed he’s at Turner Prize level. There’s pathos too, a show-stopping ending, some terrific songs and an absolutely splendid comedy of errors involving ventriloquist’s dummies. I will also be flabbergasted if anyone watching doesn’t have the song lyrics “Rim-nim-a-nim” dancing merrily through their head for days on end afterwards. Even thinking about it now is making me chuckle. A genuine treat of a show. And I’m not being biased because I was I was at university with Justin. I had never seen his creation live before, but the critical acclaim he has received is well deserved. I hooked up with his former collaborator and old pal of mine George Cockerill. We had a good old natter and catch up and it is insane we reacquaint ourselves in a city hundreds of miles away from the one we both actually live in. Justin is married to the heavily pregnant Lucy Porter. I know Lucy from my early days as a stand-up, but she didn’t know Justin then, though I did. Confusing, these intertwined lives. As the evening went on to prove …

In the Brookes Bar at The Pleasance Dome, George and I caught up with Justin and Lucy. Gus was also there, with the actor Rufus Jones, who was in a play with a great friend of mine at The Royal Exchange some years ago. Rufus and I met there and I’ve been pleased to see him pop up on telly being good in stuff ever since. His show, No Son Of Mine, is being produced by James Seabright, who is in charge of me. When talking to Gus and Rufus, I noticed an advertising hoarding (for Spotlight) up at the bar which featured a big picture of a friend of mine, Madeleine Worrall, a terrific actress and a pal I’ve kept in touch with since A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Exchange some years ago. I texted Madge as it tickled me to see her writ large (especially as it wasn’t a custom made picture for the advert – it was a randomly chosen theatre shot that she would have had no idea had been co-opted for this purpose). About a minute after that, Gus, to whom I’d not mentioned this, got a text. From Madeleine. She was on her way to that very bar. She knows both Gus and Rufus of old but not through each other or me. What a delight, and I proceeded to reel with all the mad strange coincidence of this. And then with consumption of white wine. Then Emma Atkins magically appeared in the corner – I’ve known her since pre-Emmerdale days when we acted together in a number of plays written by … Adam Riches, who I haven’t worked with since then till – this very Fringe.

Spooky, spooky spook.

Madeleine Worrall threatens to short out the time differential by meeting her photographic self

It was a convivial evening and I seem to recall bumping into Paul Sinha and telling him how brilliant he is (and he is, his show Extreme Anti White Vitriol which he previewed at XS Malarkey, is passionate, searingly intelligent, brutally funny, but shot through with decency and no little fire).

Sunday

George very kindly came to see Now I Know My BBC from which I’d managed to shave off 12 mintes from the previous overrun. That’s seven minutes short. My A For Androemda joke can’t have been that long surely? Weird. We caught up afterwards and the time simply flew by so we had to hightail it to the Dome to catch up with Justin, Madeleine, Gus and Rufus. The Roaring Boys were also there playing pool – they’re on before me and never fail to dispense a cheery greeting when I arrive after they’ve come off. They got a five star review the other day which is great and couldn’t have been given to two nicer fellows (and since I first wrote this, have earned another – good for them!).

A five minute phone call to my lovely wife turned into a half an hour one so I had to wave to Justin and George as they left for a show, all the while blowing kisses down the phone to Italy. Then to the Gilded Balloon where Jason was having birthday drinks. Wine and Hadoke combined to hopefully not disastrous effect, though I think I keep showing people pictures of my wife because I think she’s very beautiful and miss her. I suspect she’s not doing the same in Italy – “Look sophisticated Mediterranean types, this is the portly, pasty English thing that’s waiting for me when I get home, aren’t I lucky?”.  Agent and confidant and all round level headed ego wrangler Lee Martin’s wonderful Mum was up, enjoying herself and clearly proud of her son, and loads of the Manchester crew were about. Drink, familiar friendly faces, fun conversation, illustrious comics milling about – some corner of a foreign field that is forever XS Malarkey…. It was good to see everyone, and to enjoy chatting to, and celebrating the success of, fellow Gag Reflex acts (and married couple) Lilli La Scala and The Boy With Tape On His Face. They have both earned a number of hugely complimentary reviews (for totally different shows, independent of each other) and couldn’t be nicer people (and have now probably seen quite enough pictures of my wife).

Monday

Fringe showcase at the Pleasance Courtyard was done in the fug and wooziness of my previous night’s over indulgence. I got away with it and what a great, packed out and good value afternoon show it was. All the acts – John Robins (who gets Brownie points for doing the offstage mic announcement to get me on and pronouncing my name correctly), Danny Ward, Asher Treleaven and Gareth Richards – were spot on. Much fun was had by me being awkward about the fact that there were twelve year olds in the front row. I managed to make a virtue of not swearing, but Danny dropped the C-bomb to hilarious effect.

Desperate for a curry, I actually resorted to making my own, but it was worth is. Yum yum. The National Student allayed my fears by giving me Four Stars. I’d thought they may be a bit young, would reject my nostalgia and not forgive the uncertainty of an early gig. The List joined in with Three – a fair review of a choppy and under-energised show, from a few days ago, in which I stumbled a bit. They got the ending, which I’d worked hard to get right, and praised it, which is an important breakthrough. No complaints, though it seems that reviewers of my age like to apologise on the show’s behalf for “80’s nostalgia” when actually all the references to old telly highlight thematic elements of the show rather than being “do you remember so-and-so” nonsense. Interesting that the student paper had no problem with it, and didn’t add the “you probably have to be of his age” caveat. It was the same with Moths, where all the  newspaper reviewers who were self confessed Whovians dropped a star, with a self flagellating “Well, I like Doctor Who, but you might not so…”. The best reviews came from people who had no vested interest in, or had never seen, Doctor Who, so they could see beyond the umbrella theme to what the show was really all about (you know, the important stuff : imagination, love, family, goodness, and remembering cast lists). Interesting. Still, I knew I’d risk misunderstanding when I latched upon the ideas for the show, and I can’t spell it out any more. Again, it is so much better now anyway, but the critics can only review what they see, and as The List has crucified the odd person this year, I’m happy to have emerged unscathed.

Then a great show, with a pretty good house, with my Mum, brother and niece and nephew on the front two. A few comedians had a day off today and I noticed Dan McKee and Wil Hodgson there, lending much-appreciated support (unless it was the Tony Kinsella situation again and they have some doppelgangers augmenting audiences just to mess with our minds). I didn’t notice another gentleman till the end, who stayed behind to congratulate me and say it was good someone was supporting the BBC. Nicholas Parsons! Nicholas bloody Parsons! A legend and an honour and how thrilling that he should come along. Glad he and Mum and my mate Steve Berry all saw a good show. Tripped home with a spring in my step, and stayed up late but without drinking. Jason has bought an X-Box or somesuch, and so I vent my spleen on Call Of Duty 2: Modern Warfare. If this comedy lark fails, I’m pretty certain that there’s a future for me in special ops, saving the world from tyranny and insurgency with clinical, military precision. Oh yes.

Tuesday

This town, is ‘coming like a ghost town. Lots of comics have a day off at around this time, and the venues look a bit more sparse than usual. So I was expecting no-one in. And so it was a pleasant surprise that we had quite a nifty house, with some good mates up from London, off the train and straight in to see me. Another enjoyable hour (well, OK, hour and three minutes), free from too much uncertainty and stumbling. Two in a row that have come together nicely. So a break tomorrow to ruin any momentum I may have built up, of course.

Reports from XS Malarkey were that it was a bit quiet – do you hear me Manchester (shakes fist)? Support your local comedy club, especially in August. Hooray for Spider and Fishcake (codenames, no-one must uncover their true identities) for keeping their expert eyes on the place while the rest of us gallivant about here, lying about our intentions of going to see other shows and wondering just how much the human statues earn a day (and suspecting that they’re probably onto something – you don’t see them fretting about stars and reviews and audiences).

Missing home and family a bit more than I’m letting on to people, to be honest, and it isn’t easy. Everyone has their own frustrations and difficulties though, so you just plaster on a smile and get on with it. You don’t want to impose your hardships on others. Much better to hide such feelings and only note them down here, on the World Wide Web.

Jason Cook’s lovely wife Clare, who brings our flat a certain respectability and calm, returned to Manchester for one night only, so he and I saw out the day protecting the free world from computer generated hostility whenever Call Of Duty chose not to freeze on us. We’ll probably, therefore, spend tomorrow wondering around the flat in our pants. Because we can. There’s a thought for you all to take home with you.

Tickets for the big, spanking Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf are still available. Tell the universe!

If there has been any fighting in the dance floor, I haven't seen it.

4 EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER FOUR

Saturday 14th –  Tuesday 17th

Saturday

Saturday, Saturday. Tiswas day, Doctor Who day. Or in the case of Edinburgh, just another performance/walking up hills/promising to see too many other shows day. The Now I Know My BBCs are all blurring but I think I’m settling into a rhythm. I have to be very careful with the ending – there is a reveal that people don’t guess unless I really heavily lay the groundwork and thread the theme blatantly throughout the show. It obviously wasn’t clear enough in the first week but seems to be hitting home more now. This is what happens when you do a show every day – you really trim it, make it clearer and ad lib better jokes whilst in the moment. It’ll be about 25% better as a show when I finish on August 29th. Because of the overruns I actually sat down with the script and trimmed and rejigged – there’s no point just resting on one’s laurels, and I may do a further rewrite next week. We’ll see. I note the irony that in a show that maintains that the audience aren’t as stupid as television people assume them to be, I’ve had to spell something out to make it clearer to the audience, which might actually mean that … (ahem)

I went to see my first show (I vowed this year to not even pretend I was going to anything in the first week). Jeremy Lion Goes Green had me doubled up with laughter – what a virtuoso performance from the enormously talented Justin Edwards (ably assisted by a beguilingly deadpan Gus Brown). For those who haven’t caught up with this phenomenon, Lion is an alcohol sodden children’s entertainer whose awful shows are replete with sequestered cans of Special Brew, hopeless props and staggering theatrical ineptitude. And are hilarious. Doing something badly well is an art, and Edwards has his shtick so well honed he’s at Turner Prize level. There’s pathos too, a show-stopping ending, some terrific songs and an absolutely splendid comedy of errors involving ventriloquist’s dummies. I will also be flabbergasted if anyone watching doesn’t have the song lyrics “Rim-nim-a-nim” dancing merrily through their head for days on end afterwards. Even thinking about it now is making me chuckle. A genuine treat of a show. And I’m not being biased because I was I was at university with Justin. I had never seen his creation live before, but the critical acclaim he has received is well deserved. I hooked up with his former collaborator and old pal of mine George Cockerill. We had a good old natter and catch up and it is insane we reacquaint ourselves in a city hundreds of miles away from the one we both actually live in. Justin is married to the heavily pregnant Lucy Porter. I know Lucy from my early days as a stand-up, but she didn’t know Justin then, though I did. Confusing, these intertwined lives. As the evening went on to prove …

In the Brookes Bar at The Pleasance Dome, George and I caught up with Justin and Lucy. Gus was also there, with the actor Rufus Jones, who was in a play with a great friend of mine at The Royal Exchange some years ago. Rufus and I met there and I’ve been pleased to see him pop up on telly being good in stuff ever since. His show, No Son Of Mine, is being produced by James Seabright, who is in charge of me. When talking to Gus and Rufus, I noticed an advertising hoarding (for Spotlight) up at the bar which featured a big picture of a friend of mine, Madeleine Worrall, a terrific actress and a pal I’ve kept in touch with since A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Exchange some years ago. I texted Madge as it tickled me to see her writ large (especially as it wasn’t a custom made picture for the advert – it was a randomly chosen theatre shot that she would have had no idea had been co-opted for this purpose). About a minute after that, Gus, to whom I’d not mentioned this, got a text. From Madeleine. She was on her way to that very bar. She knows both Gus and Rufus of old but not through each other or me. What a delight, and I proceeded to reel with all the mad strange coincidence of this. And then with consumption of white wine. Then Emma Atkins magically appeared in the corner – I’ve known her since pre-Emmerdale days when we acted together in a number of plays written by … Adam Riches, who I haven’t worked with since then till – this very Fringe.

Spooky, spooky spook.

Madeleine Worrall threatens to short out the time differential by meeting her photographic self

It was a convivial evening and I seem to recall bumping into Paul Sinha and telling him how brilliant he is (and he is, his show Extreme Anti White Vitriol which he previewed at XS Malarkey, is passionate, searingly intelligent, brutally funny, but shot through with decency and no little fire).

Sunday

George very kindly came to see Now I Know My BBC from which I’d managed to shave off 12 mintes from the previous overrun. That’s seven minutes short. My A For Androemda joke can’t have been that long surely? Weird. We caught up afterwards and the time simply flew by so we had to hightail it to the Dome to catch up with Justin, Madeleine, Gus and Rufus. The Roaring Boys were also there playing pool – they’re on before me and never fail to dispense a cheery greeting when I arrive after they’ve come off. They got a five star review the other day which is great and couldn’t have been given to two nicer fellows (and since I first wrote this, have earned another – good for them!).

A five minute phone call to my lovely wife turned into a half an hour one so I had to wave to Justin and George as they left for a show, all the while blowing kisses down the phone to Italy. Then to the Gilded Balloon where Jason was having birthday drinks. Wine and Hadoke combined to hopefully not disastrous effect, though I think I keep showing people pictures of my wife because I think she’s very beautiful and miss her. I suspect she’s not doing the same in Italy – “Look sophisticated Mediterranean types, this is the portly, pasty English thing that’s waiting for me when I get home, aren’t I lucky?”.  Agent and confidant and all round level headed ego wrangler Lee Martin’s wonderful Mum was up, enjoying herself and clearly proud of her son, and loads of the Manchester crew were about. Drink, familiar friendly faces, fun conversation, illustrious comics milling about – some corner of a foreign field that is forever XS Malarkey…. It was good to see everyone, and to enjoy chatting to, and celebrating the success of, fellow Gag Reflex acts (and married couple) Lilli La Scala and The Boy With Tape On His Face. They have both earned a number of hugely complimentary reviews (for totally different shows, independent of each other) and couldn’t be nicer people (and have now probably seen quite enough pictures of my wife).

Monday

Fringe showcase at the Pleasance Courtyard was done in the fug and wooziness of my previous night’s over indulgence. I got away with it and what a great, packed out and good value afternoon show it was. All the acts – John Robins (who gets Brownie points for doing the offstage mic announcement to get me on and pronouncing my name correctly), Danny Ward, Asher Treleaven and Gareth Richards – were spot on. Much fun was had by me being awkward about the fact that there were twelve year olds in the front row. I managed to make a virtue of not swearing, but Danny dropped the C-bomb to hilarious effect.

Desperate for a curry, I actually resorted to making my own, but it was worth is. Yum yum. The National Student allayed my fears by giving me Four Stars. I’d thought they may be a bit young, would reject my nostalgia and not forgive the uncertainty of an early gig. The List joined in with Three – a fair review of a choppy and under-energised show, from a few days ago, in which I stumbled a bit. They got the ending, which I’d worked hard to get right, and praised it, which is an important breakthrough. No complaints, though it seems that reviewers of my age like to apologise on the show’s behalf for “80’s nostalgia” when actually all the references to old telly highlight thematic elements of the show rather than being “do you remember so-and-so” nonsense. Interesting that the student paper had no problem with it, and didn’t add the “you probably have to be of his age” caveat. It was the same with Moths, where all the  newspaper reviewers who were self confessed Whovians dropped a star, with a self flagellating “Well, I like Doctor Who, but you might not so…”. The best reviews came from people who had no vested interest in, or had never seen, Doctor Who, so they could see beyond the umbrella theme to what the show was really all about (you know, the important stuff : imagination, love, family, goodness, and remembering cast lists). Interesting. Still, I knew I’d risk misunderstanding when I latched upon the ideas for the show, and I can’t spell it out any more. Again, it is so much better now anyway, but the critics can only review what they see, and as The List has crucified the odd person this year, I’m happy to have emerged unscathed.

Then a great show, with a pretty good house, with my Mum, brother and niece and nephew on the front two. A few comedians had a day off today and I noticed Dan McKee and Wil Hodgson there, lending much-appreciated support (unless it was the Tony Kinsella situation again and they have some doppelgangers augmenting audiences just to mess with our minds). I didn’t notice another gentleman till the end, who stayed behind to congratulate me and say it was good someone was supporting the BBC. Nicholas Parsons! Nicholas bloody Parsons! A legend and an honour and how thrilling that he should come along. Glad he and Mum and my mate Steve Berry all saw a good show. Tripped home with a spring in my step, and stayed up late but without drinking. Jason has bought an X-Box or somesuch, and so I vent my spleen on Call Of Duty 2: Modern Warfare. If this comedy lark fails, I’m pretty certain that there’s a future for me in special ops, saving the world from tyranny and insurgency with clinical, military precision. Oh yes.

Tuesday

This town, is ‘coming like a ghost town. Lots of comics have a day off at around this time, and the venues look a bit more sparse than usual. So I was expecting no-one in. And so it was a pleasant surprise that we had quite a nifty house, with some good mates up from London, off the train and straight in to see me. Another enjoyable hour (well, OK, hour and three minutes), free from too much uncertainty and stumbling. Two in a row that have come together nicely. So a break tomorrow to ruin any momentum I may have built up, of course.

Reports from XS Malarkey were that it was a bit quiet – do you hear me Manchester (shakes fist)? Support your local comedy club, especially in August. Hooray for Spider and Fishcake (codenames, no-one must uncover their true identities) for keeping their expert eyes on the place while the rest of us gallivant about here, lying about our intentions of going to see other shows and wondering just how much the human statues earn a day (and suspecting that they’re probably onto something – you don’t see them fretting about stars and reviews and audiences).

Missing home and family a bit more than I’m letting on to people, to be honest, and it isn’t easy. Everyone has their own frustrations and difficulties though, so you just plaster on a smile and get on with it. You don’t want to impose your hardships on others. Much better to hide such feelings and only note them down here, on the World Wide Web.

Jason Cook’s lovely wife Clare, who brings our flat a certain respectability and calm, returned to Manchester for one night only, so he and I saw out the day protecting the free world from computer generated hostility whenever Call Of Duty chose not to freeze on us. We’ll probably, therefore, spend tomorrow wondering around the flat in our pants. Because we can. There’s a thought for you all to take home with you.

Tickets for the big, spanking Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf are still available. Tell the universe!

Standing and Delivering (and occasionally doing neither)

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER THREE

Monday 9th – Friday 13th

Monday 9th

It’s all starting to blur now. Monday involved partaking in Peter Buckley Hill’s legendary Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians at the Free Fringe. An institution himself, PBH has nonetheless been lucky to stay out of one. He was on fine, if elongated form, and introduced Richard Sandling, Matt Tiller, Michael Dolan and then myself. Richard did a joke referencing David Collings, which made me do a little dance in my brain, Matt was on fine form with his witty songs, and a nervous Dolan, protesting that he hadn’t gigged in ages, went on and blew the place apart with his blend of tartrazine-spiked misanthropy. I had fun, but kept it short as I had to nip up to FFF. There was just time to pick up the gauntlet PBH had left by paraphrasing Macbeth by doing most of that character’s speech from Act 1 Sc VI. Not often you get to do that at a comedy gig, and when the opportunity arises, one must seize. Fun, and the very essence of the Fringe.

Now I Know My BBC overran by four minutes. Odd, as I unintentionally dropped some bits. Including a bit in the first half regarding lazy labelling that people of ethnic origin have to put up with in small market towns. There’s a payoff to the joke later which, without the set up, just makes me sound bizarrely racist. Guess who forgot the set-up? I rushed the ending a little, and it needs a bit of streamlining, but fortunately I spotted Tony Kinsella in the audience . Tony had helped me bat ideas for the show about early on and we worked together a lot on the Unbroadcastable Radio Show. The audience were giggling away and I directed a lot of stuff that I knew he’d like directly at him. Afterwards I phoned to ask where he was – somewhat surprised he announced he was on the Royal Mile, and off to a gig. We arranged to meet later, and when we did I asked him needily what he thought of the show. He informed me that it was very good, and that Paul Kerenza had come up with some very funny stuff. What “And I look forward to seeing yours tomorrow,” he said. He hadn’t been in? Who was that I was doing the gags to then, who was chuckling away? A ghost from the future? Surely no-one else looks like Penfold and gets cheeky in-jokes about archive telly. Quick, everyone, have a look round to see if Michael Gove’s been smuggled in to infiltrate the Fringe.

At FFF, I managed to redeem my antics from the previous one by dancing like a monkey for a bitty, not entirely cohesive audience slightly overbalanced by overconfident youth. In the first half Elis James confessed to having drunk too much wine before going on (you’d never catch me doing that) but was his usual brilliant self, The Boy With Tape On His Face is going to storm the Fringe this year (and the unco-operative girl he brought on stage, who had the audacity to think that anything she might do would be funnier than if she just went along with what he was doing, was rightly dispensed with even if she wasn’t justly ashamed of herself). In the second bit, Sam Gore is just as waspish and sharp even without his suit, and it was nice to see a confident Nik Coppin end the night on a high. No drinkies for me.

Tuesday

An overlong show yet again, but this time without the apparently racist outbursts, so let’s look on the bright side. Tony was in this show, as was another Manchester turn, Jeff Downs. Jeff pointed out that he hadn’t made an important connection, and I grumbled and grumped that the connection was obvious and could easily be picked up. I nonetheless tried to make it more obvious on Wednesday’s show, and lo and behold, it worked much better. Sorry Jeff.

Pleased to hear from Spider and Fishcake that XS Malarkey was nice and busy. I always get a bit angsty when it goes on without me there. The boys are looking after it well though.

Wednesday.

Traipsed around looking for souvenirs for the boys, and bought them a load of yummy Edinburgh Rock. Then remembered I’d done that four years ago and it hadn’t been liked. Damn these modern kids who get to be fussy about sweets. They’re sweets for goodness sake! Merely purchasing them should get me a free pass into Daddy heaven. Bumped into Ian Fox, who has brought his camera to Edinburgh. He’s a great photographer. The publicity photos he did me for Moths have been extremely useful, and they were most affordable – budding comics in need of good shots, I wholeheartedly recommend him to you. He’s been capturing the spirit of the Fringe in picture form, and I reproduce an example here.

A Snapshot Of The Fringe (Image © Ian Fox)

An Italian supper with Robin Ince and a lovely lady I’d not met before, Charlotte Young (who is the girlfriend of someone I know) was a delight, and another night of sobriety was easily navigated (though I did have some ice cream – yum, yum). Robin has been very self deprecating on Twitter and said he felt comics should reflect on the diffculties as well as the successes of the Fringe when they Tweet or Facebook or Blog, as otherwise it paints an inaccurate picture. I shall try to follow his advice here, then.

I got a nice 4 star review from Edinburgh Guide – huzzah! On the other hand, I’m not very good at swimming.

See, triumph and disaster in careful balance.

Thursday

Best show yet. A great crowd who, if anything, bestowed too much laughter unto me. So I overran again. I had to pitch the show at the less laughy people for fear of leaving them out and resting on my laurels. It was such a good show that of course, no reviewers were in. Whereas The List were in for a slightly stumbly performance the day before. Still, at least the ending worked better than ever before (thanks Jeff, sorry Jeff) at that show.

Anyway, it was straight off to The Stand in Glasgow – with Sam Gore again, and the delightful Sarah Profit driving. Had a good time opening, and was thrilled to be on the bill with the magnificent Pippa Evans (as Loretta Maine) with whom I worked last year on Totally Looped – she’s daffy fun, extremely talented and a pleasure to see, and was in with her new hubby: they honeymoon after Edinburgh.

Friday

Yikes, busiest day of the fringe so far. Breakfast with the lovely Who-appreciating chum, who I first met when I did Moths at the Maltings Theatre, St Albans. It was a great gig which got lots of laughter and yet resulted in me receiving hate e-mail from a man calling me a “liberal tosser”. Ah, this angry isle and its keyboard warriors. Anyway, my friend is fluent in the language of those on the periphery of social acceptance, in that he knows his Zentos from his Zeos, so we had a lovely and all too brief chat about the merits or otherwise of The Power Of Kroll and Season Three. A man needs times like this. Then it was off to Susan Calman Chats Up in which the perky and witty Miss Calman effortlessly engages an audience who then stare at a comic who thinks the gig will be easier than it turns out to be and only really thaw when Susan returns and the chat commences. It wasn’t unpleasant by any means – they’re a nice bunch who turn out of a lunchtime, so don’t get raucous like an evening crowd. The chatshow banter was much more fun and it is an entertaining hour – they were also treated to Wil Hodgson and Rob Rouse after I’d gone. Rob was good enough to tell me later that he thought I’d done well (tellingly, neither he nor Wil did the stand-up bit) which is a measure of what a kind and thoughtful man he  is (the only person to go round and introduce himself to all the door staff at XS Malarkey and make sure to thank them and remember their names when leaving at the end of the night: that’s Rob Rouse, utter gentleman).

Adam Riches Rides continues to be an a total pleasure and joy. He’s getting deservedly good notices, and it’s inspiring to see such a strong show so professionally put together. It also benefits from the contributions of the doughty, long suffering and hilarious Benjamin Wilson who undergoes a right pummelling at the top of the show, and Kirsten, Kerry and Amira (who are all up here in a play called The Track Of The Cat) fulfil vital support roles and do so very well indeed. Done sloppily their contribution could bring a show down. Done with unobtrusive skill really helps to lend a sheen of quality to proceedings. I cannot recommend this show enough – you’ll have a big, stupid smile on your face at the end of it, I guarantee.

Then to PBH. I noticed a distinctive group sitting on the second row, which included a man with a red Mohican. They were a fun, feisty bunch and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, watched in awe as Robin Ince did twenty minutes of utter brilliance, and was sad to miss the excellent Gordon Southern, but I had to nip along to the Edinburgh Stand for the late show. Miles Jupp compered charmingly and I bounded on, happy to just do the material I’d shared with the good people of PBH’s crowd. And there, in the front row, was Mr Mohican and his six mates. So I had to do different stuff. I stumbled along with some distinctly second tier material – and they all roared with laughter. It was a brilliant gig – but not down to me at all. A terrific club with a savvy, generous audience. I got heckled by a lady and had great fun with her. By the time Phil Nichol devoured the stage at the end of the night though, her bonhomie had turned to belligerence and she was escorted off by the attentive and supportive staff.

It was Jason’s birthday, so he popped in and we stuck around for a bit. Being one of the best comedy clubs in the world, it was of course fully populated by an illustrious bevy of comedians – which meant the socialising was as good as the performing.

An excellent end to a busy but good day. Only one downside – I spoke to the kids and it only served to emphasise how much I’m missing them. Had a bit of a sad moment.

Sorry I haven’t put links of everything and everyone mentioned above, but it is stupid o’clock in the morning and I should be asleep.*

*OK, more links now added, and the text has been slightly edited and tidied up.