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.
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.
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.
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.
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.