Tag Archives: Edinburgh Fringe

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!

Will There Be Any Stars, Any Stars …?

EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER TWO

Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th

“Hey Tobes, are you up in Edinburgh for the month? If so, do you fancy helping out a little with my show? I need someone dressed as a tiger to get hurled onto a grenade where he explodes in a sea of orange polystyrene. Have you ever played that before??!” That text could only have come from Adam Riches. I worked with him a lot doing daft but brilliant plays in Manchester. He packed his bags for London where I was sure he’d become an overnight success. It’s taken a bit longer than that, but he’s had deserved hits at the Fringe in the past few years, mustering a raft of  superb (Four And Five Star) reviews that justly herald his gift for batty, charmingly silly comedy and performances of winningly idiotic chutzpah. Not even the most cynical can fail to smile at his stuff, so who am I to refuse to play a tiger for the man who has cast me in the past as a superhero’s cocky agent, a Diabolo-wrangling gypsy, and a half man/half Dalek? Be good to catch up too. He has a rare gift for not allowinging the inherent annoyances of this business effect him – he just knuckles down, grafts away, and produces reams and reams of comedy gold without fail. But I suspect he’s a terrible, selfish lover.

Next day – “Toby, I’ve cut the skit, so you can hang up your paws”. Damn, sacked before I’ve even begun. Story of my career! I’d spent the whole night channelling my inner Tony (it’s Grrrrrrreat!) and watching old ESSO adverts. Then, on Sunday “Toby – great news, Tiger is back!”. So I’m not the only one making last minutes changes to my show!

Anyway, I won’t spoil the gag by revealing any more than I have above, but suffice to say Adam Riches Rides is terrific – and he’s selling out already (not by accepting an OBE or doing adverts for McDonald’s or genocide, I mean all his tickets are being bought). It’s a joy to participate in the most infinitesimal way to something so inventive and funny. It opens with a song in which Pierce Brosnan outs himself as a Centaur. That’s all you need to know. (Five stars)

The Original Plan Had Been To One Day Play Hamlet

As I won’t be seeing my wife until the 1st of September, Saturday and Sunday were precious times with her, mostly used for swatting up on the show. She made me revise and remember the rigorous order and not forget to get all the loose ends tied up. She really helped (All The Stars In The Sky).

Performances were nicely attended and jolly. Still missing bits out: nothing major, but I’m still not making the ending as neat a series of payoffs as I should be. The shows have been running to time, which is a major consideration, though Saturday was the first night they made me work, where the satirical second half went down better than the nostalgic first. This is a good thing, but it meant I had to be on my toes, and I responded by pacing about a little too much. Agent, promoter and friend Lee Martin was in, who told me to put a table on stage for my drink so I didn’t pace about so much, like Simon Cowell on the prowl, dancing about in anticipation of feasting upon the soft, pliable carcass of a newborn baby.

Having missed one interview because (thinks of any number of excuses …) I forgot (No Stars Hadoke), I then mistook the Pleasance Courtyard for The Pleasance Dome and went to the wrong place for another. Still, everyone seems pretty calm at the moment, apart from a testy antipodean homuculous techie-type I encountered throwing out far too much machismo for a Lilipution wrangling a prop of an afternoon. I rose above it (which was quite easy considering).

Flatmate and superb comic Jason Cook (Five Stars, every time) is doing predictably well, and together we’re creating our own modern day Never The Twain as he plays upon the supposed charm of his salt-of-the-earth ignorance and I introduce him to eclectic foodstuffs (“This is an anchovy”) and the concept of literature. As usual, he takes much of what I say that is funny and Tweets it or quotes it in his set and gets the laughs for himself. The cuckoo. Or leach. Or twat.

With my lovely wife gone (The Stars Have All Gone Out), I forced myself to honour a commitment to perform at Free And Freakin’ Awesome Comedy Showcase at Bannerman’s for Ro Campbell – simple premise, Ro goes on and gets some comics to be funny. I didn’t really want to do it and thought it’d be either ill-attended by the dead, or well attended by the riotous. It was actually packed with lovely people, Ro did a great job, and I had a lot of fun unleashing all the swearwords and bile I have elected not to use in my BBC show. On that issue, I have got myself another review in which I’m described as “charming and likeable” but safe (Three Stars – I lost marks for pacing about too much: guess which show they were in). Safe, me safe??! Have they never seen me caterwaul with rage about trivia at XS Malarkey or The Comedy Store? Oh, maybe they haven’t. That said, I do also think that there’s a lot of noise and swearing that gets mistaken for profundity around these parts … I’m sure Jonathan Swift didn’t yell at eveyone. That said, maybe I’ve been so conscious of being reasonable with the message and intent of the show, that I’ve left a bit of my passion in the fridge to cool. Maybe I need to get it out and add some spice to give it some much needed heat. Then people will enjoy eating it. Or something.

Oh, never mind the metaphors – it seems that so far the reviewers love the show, but don’t want to sleep with it yet. I texted that fine Manchester based Irish comic, Caimh McDonnell, who knows a thing or two about doing well in Edinburgh, to that effect. “Don’t worry,” he texted back, “People kept giving my last show fake mobile numbers to get rid of it.”

And I walked up Broughton Street with a big smile on my face, placed there by someone miles away in a different city, but in the right place just when I needed him. (SuperStar)

Tickets available

OK, it’s official, tickets are available for my two fringe shows.

Now I Know My BBC is a brand new hour which will be performed between 5th-29th August, at 6.55pm at Belly Laugh at The Underbelly. It should contain the same mix of personal, satirical and heartfelt humour as my last show, and it’s been shaping up quite nicely in the previews (of which there are many more to come). It has a much broader scope than Moths, but I’m sure the Doctor will get a mention. Quatermass certainly does, and I can confidently claim I’m the only comic who’ll be doing that this year! Tickets are available from the venue or from the Edinburgh Fringe site.

Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf is definitely winding down, so we’re doing one final Edinburgh performance at the massive Edinburgh International Conference Centre. It should be a huge event, and a final opportunity for many of you to see it live. Tickets are available for the August 20th show from the Edinburgh Fringe site or from the venue.

I haven’t been blogging because, frankly, my writing time has been spent on the forthcoming show, but I have been keeping a diary of the various things I’ve been up to for the Doctor Who DVDs I’ve been working on this month. I will upload the memories from those experiences when the specific releases are announced, but there are some fun tales to tell and I’m really looking forward to them hitting the shops. I’ve been working with two wonderful programme makers, Ed Stradling and Steve Broster, on a documentary feature which is right up my street, and the work progresses well. We have one more shooting day in a week or so, and the boys have been good company as we’ve schlepped up and down the country interviewing people. I have done a commentary for another story (with producer John Kelly, who always gets a good line up) in the past week or so, and am doing another (for one of my favourite stories) with Steve in a week or so.

Also, exciting news about a book I have co-written with Doctor Who writer Rob Shearman will be announced shortly.

I promise to blog with more than pluggage soon, but frankly, I’m knackered.

So I’ll leave you with a fascinating fact – like Leo McKern and Elton John, Mervyn Pinfield, Doctor Who’s mysterious original Associate Producer, was actually called Reginald.

Moths went to Pitlochry last month - a long way, but beautiful.