The Glasgow launch night for Chris Stephen’s Edinburgh Fringe showcase, this should have been a dreadful gig. The odds were truly stacked against it from the off – it was a Friday night, in Glasgow when everyone who might support it is in Edinburgh, and the sun was shining meaning people who were out were looking for beer gardens. The night kicked off a little late, the bar distinctly empty compared to a Tuesday night with Pop-Up Comedy. At most, there were twenty people in the room, half of whom were either comedians or friends of the comedians, and that number includes the bar staff too.
Scott Reilly opened, mostly playing to a few tables down the front after Chris had enticed a handful of punters through from the main bar – including two women who were easily in their mid sixties. As James Breadner said, it was like doing a gig to your gran and he was worried that he’d get told off if he swore. Scott Brown closed the first section, but I stepped outside during his set to try and concentrate on my own set. I’ve not been sleeping much of late, and was so tired during the day today that I didn’t practise or rehearse in any shape or form – save for the briefest decision to add in a new line near the opening of my set, a line I used once during the comedy festival and which worked. I figured it would make the bridge into “Hating people” easier to take, by getting a laugh before launching into it.
Chris’s show is a mixture of stand-up and games, and the first half finished with him being joined onstage by six of the comedians for a game of “Lines You Wouldn’t Hear…”, which follows the format of the section on Mock The Week, with everyone stepping forward to offer their suggestions for “things you wouldn’t hear” in a variety of situations. I declined to go up, since I was on next and didn’t want to distract myself from the material I needed to remember. The game was a bit slow to start, with his girlfriend Debbie playing hostess, and I was worried it would kill the room. Sure enough, at the break which followed, the two older ladies both left, as did three students who’d been in one of the booths, and I had visions of playing to ten comedians and a barman – even quieter than the Victoria Bar ever was. A couple of girls came in though, and a drunk but resolutely quiet guy who looked vaguely like Father Ted.
I ran through the opening of my set in my head, because of the changes, but having done it to audiences on Saturday and Tuesday this week I knew that I knew the rest of it well enough. In order to fill seven minutes, as required, I had my “Random” stuff and my “Gladiators” bit lined up – the set that bombed on Saturday at the Scottish Comedian of the Year heat – and decided to end with an untested anecdote which gets laughs in conversation. Standing at the end of the bar, fully expecting to die a horrible death onstage in front of this tiny crowd, Chris began my introduction – describing me as a brilliant comedian who had exploded onto the comedy scene, and embellishing that with further hyperbole. I turned round to the comedians behind me and just said “No pressure.”
And then, unexpectedly, the gig went ridiculously well for me. Opening lines got laughs, and all the stuff leading into “Random” went well. I found myself directing it at the two girls sitting off to my right, and to the couple standing at the corner before the booths. Father Ted wasn’t reacting much, and then at the back of the room all the comedians were standing in a line along the wall. My friend Ryan had come down too – we gigged together at the Flying Duck during the comedy festival, and he tells me the only thing hs family remember about me from those gigs is the early incarnation of the “Random” material that I did. This is only the sixth time I’ve used this set in its current form, and I’m still tweaking it, but it meant that very few of the guys had seen or heard any of it previously, and as it was new to them they laughed too. For the second time this week, the final line of that bit got a round of applause.
I found myself making eye contact with the two girls and with the couple, which is something of a first – usually I just look into the room and pitch it at them rather than to them, which is probably a confidence thing (or the lack of). It was a different experience, my hand forced by the physical lack of anyone in the middle distance to focus on, but it went pretty well. The Gladiators stuff went well, and then I finished with an anecdote I first heard from a workmate back when I worked for the Inland Revenue (giving people money, not taking it). “I’ve never done this before, so it might be good or it might be shite. Let’s find out together.”
The story went okay, but having never told it (or rehearsed it) with a microphone in my hand, I found myself unable to make the usual gestures that I use to illustrate it and had to use my left hand for them instead – which just felt awkward and unusual. The punchline got a laugh but the laughless build-up (save for a couple of ad-libs) made me realise that for it to work I need to put funny lines into the main body of the story, or “make the journey interesting,” as Chris Grady concurred afterwards. It will definitely work though, and so I’ll probably work on that next. Once it’s written I can then start to add in more jokes, lines, looks and so on before I start to rehearse and try it.
Adam Struth followed me. I haven’t seen him for a while, but I was taken to see the band Vintage Trouble on Thursday and from the back of the room their bassist had the same height and build so in my head I just imagined it was Adam. Which made it a bit weird seeing him the very next day. The band were brilliant, I’d never heard of them but my friend bought my ticket so I went along. I expected them to play the ABC2 to a hundred or a hundred and fifty people, but they filled the main room of the ABC and the gig must have been nearly sold out, 1000-strong or thereabout. The crowd were totally up for it too, and so while I spent the first half hour spotting influences (kind of Led Zep meet The Who, James Brown and bluesier Gary Moore to cover “Mustang Sally” and Aretha Franklin songs) for the last hour it just flew by as I was won over by their passion and enthusiasm. They clearly play from their heart, and while I wouldn’t really listen to them at home I will absolutely go and see them play live again. By the end of the gig the whole crowd was dancing, and their talent, charisma and showmanship are undeniable.
Anyway, Chris Grady followed Adam, doing a mix of old and new material and having twisted some of his older lines to fit with new premises. He too had a good gig, saying later that he had been looking forward to it until I did so well (nobody was more surprised than I on that one, trust me.) Then we had the second game, which was a version of old favourite Blankety-Blank. It worked surprisingly well, and this time those of us who hadn’t participated in the earlier game went up. James Breadner hosted, and after a couple of reluctant contestants had been coerced to join us we all had fun. Personally, I think it worked better than the earlier game. During the festival, the games will change daily, as will the line-ups, but I think I’ve been chosen to take part in a version of Countdown so that’ll be interesting… I’m doing the show on the 25th, it’s at the Three Sisters at 5pm, for an hour, but will run for a couple of weeks with different line-ups every day. It’s also free, so if you’re in Edinburgh do go and see it.
Tony Hilton did a quick five minutes before John Purves headlined after the second break, and although the couple had left by this point he still had a great gig. It was only the second time I’ve seen John but he’s good, and also called back to my set by describing something as “haphazard” before saying it didn’t really work. From the back of the room I thanked him for trying anyway, thinking I might be able to add in an extra line about it being okay in context. There was a fundraising raffle either before or after his set – I forget which – to help towards the costs of running a free gig in Edinburgh, and we all bought tickets. I managed to win, separately, two different hand-turned incense holders, one with “energizing” lemon incense and one with “healing” aloe vera. I’ve never been so incensed…
The night took a further unexpected turn after I’d bought Ryan a pint back. Before I’d finished the second he’d bought a third, and before I’d finished the third he turned up with a fourth. So, knackered and now pretty drunk thanks to a short beer/time ratio, we headed to the Classic Grand. My friend Hannah, who is crashing at mine just now, came to meet us and the night descended into a hugely fun drinkathon. I bumped into some old friends I hadn’t seen for ages – including Staresy, the founding member and original guitarist in Broken Oath. Still in my “stage clothes”, it meant I was wearing their t-shirt and so there were some reminiscences about Glasgow bands (he, Big Andy and Mike were in tonight, and they all played in Dionysus at various times too, the only two bands I used to go out of my way to see on the local scene.) He’s been to The Stand a few times in the past, back when Kevin Bridges was breaking through, and expressed interest in seeing me sometime. It’s going to be mental when my friends in/from bands start coming to MY gigs.
Finally, I got the chance to speak to promoter/DJ Barry Douglas about some of the things we’d talked about on Tuesday night. Infest isn’t going to happen for me, this year anyway, but there are other festivals coming up and it runs annually so there are still things in the works that might come to fruition. It looks fairly certain that there will be a comedy element to a gig in September, although I’m not sure how much more than that I can or should say. If, as he says, he adds my name to the posters I’m sure you’ll hear about it.
My next gig is in Edinburgh on the 16th of August. I have three gigs in one day, and will update this when I collate all the information about them and suss where I am at what time. All are free entry and spread throughout the afternoon and early evening, so if you’re in the capital that day you’ve got three chances to see me (or avoid me, given your preference.) I should probably also dedicate a blog to the shows I plan to see, in case anyone is interested in my recommendations. Yup.
Meanwhile, here’s another video of one of the greatest live bands I’ve ever seen: