EDINBURGH FRINGE 2010 REPORT NUMBER FIVE
Wednesday 18th – Sunday 22nd
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …?)