It was kind of weird doing my first ever Fringe gig as a performer, and at the age of 29 – somehow, despite being involved in theatre since the age of thirteen, I have managed to always avoid it as a technician. I did once have an interview through there for a theatre (no names), but I think I was far too honest with them. Specifically, they asked what I knew about the Fringe, and I said “long hours, hard work, not a lot of money.” I wasn’t complaining about it, just offering my genuine perception of Edinburgh in August, but I didn’t get the job. Ah well, saved me living for a month in a city with which I have little affinity.
I have no great love for our capital, but then very few Glaswegians do. Whereas England and America have north/south divides, Scotland’s is east/west. According to the History of Scotland book I read last year, we are descended from two different tribes of settlers so it seems the feud dates way back to the dark ages. Also, Edinburgh (or Embra to the Glaswegians, Edinbrough/Edenboro/Edinborough to the tourists) seems to have a disproportionately large number of English-accented inhabitants. To misappropriate a quote from Patrick McGoohan in the film Braveheart, “The problem with Edinburgh is, it’s not full of Scots.”
That said, and since I value her friendship, I will acknowledge for my friend Roz that Embra has produced some alright people and her family are all nice, and friendly, and Scottish. And I’m sure there are other nice, Scottish families who exist there – it’s just that, at festival time, you have almost zero chance of bumping into any of them. Whereas there’s a very good chance that you will be bumped into, given the number of bumbling, distracted tourists who clog the main thoroughfares and stop to watch street theatre and body-swerve flyer hander-outers. This is probably what some people love about it, the atmosphere and the experience, but personally I can take or leave it, and prefer to leave it.
I arranged my “UK Tour of Edinburgh” to play three gigs in one day – saving on travel fares, since it’s relatively expensive to get to, and maximising my time while there. After trying and failing to entice a posse of friends through to see me, skintness and work commitments being the major factors in their absence, I arranged to meet my friend Sarah Crone before my first gig, and also Sarah Short after it. Sarah Crone will henceforth be known as Pavement Sarah, on account of an incident two weeks ago when she literally “hit the ground running” and mashed her face into the tarmac – and didn’t even have the common decency to film it for youtube.
Rule number one: If you are going to faceplant into a kerb, film it.
I’m also going to call Sarah Short “Seafaring Sarah” because of a daft joke I made on the way home (read all about it two blogs from now…) which caused her to buckle with laughter until she could neither breathe nor walk. So you can look forward to reading about that. Though it’s only really funny if you have spent the day doing three gigs, with the resultant adrenaline rushes and crashes, walking all over the place, not eating, and are therefore slightly delirious when you hear (read) it. So, go and do that.
I got this first gig through the comedy forum, and although I didn’t know Jamie Andrew at the time I sent him through links to my videos (link at the top of this blog) and he enjoyed them enough to book me. The format for the show sees him do twenty minutes, followed by a different guest spot every day doing ten, and then he does another twenty to end on.
After what seemed like no sleep the night before, and arriving an hour before the show, I met Pavement Sarah and went straight to the venue, where I drank coffee and made a half-arsed and half-asleep attempt to learn and remember the middle section of my ten-minute set. Jamie came down and, recognising me from the videos, introduced himself before going out to flyer for a bit. He warned me that his audiences have ranged from two people, to eight people, to thirty people. I made a deal with my friend Marion (who was going to come but couldn’t due to a zombie attack that saw her brains eaten) that if there were only two folk in the audience I would do my whole set in an English accent “to blend in” and open by asking: What’s with all these jocks everywhere?
It didn’t come to that, and the long, narrow bar upstairs felt pretty full even though there were only fifteen or twenty people there. In front of the stage there were two chairs on the right, about six or eight on the left, then a couple of steps down to the main bar, where people sat at the side at tables, or stood. Jamie got the crowd warmed up by asking them to follow him in a physical warm-up, and – to my surprise – everybody except one person obliged, doing very basic stretches. He then launched into his first twenty minutes, wearing a priest collar under his jacket as he compared and contrasted Christianity and comedy. Considering how often God turns up in comedy sets, his take was new (to me anyway) and consistently laugh-out-loud funny.
Whereas I don’t usually watch comedians before my set, to save myself from being distracted, I’m confident with the majority of my stuff just now that I felt able to. For one bit, he allocated people in his audience to be the Fanfare, the Heckler, and the Cheerleaders for a fictional headline act. His cheerleaders, voluntarily, were two Liverpudlian women in their mid or late fifties, sitting on the two chairs to the right of the mic. They were extremely enthusiastic and clearly enjoying themselves, and after standing up and doing a little wiggling dance as requested, they then proceeded to repeat it every time he told a joke that they liked. Much to the amusement of Jamie, me, and everyone else in the audience. It was a good, fun, upbeat atmosphere – which was both surprising and pleasant given the relentless rain outside and the fact it was barely the afternoon.
In my head, I toyed with reintroducing my “Jesus” joke to my set, in keeping with the theme, but I decided it wasn’t my theme to keep to, and that Jamie might have a similar joke in his second set, and didn’t. Instead I did my “Random” set, which was well received, and then did my (mostly-remembered) “Mortiis” set – which went reasonably well considering the obvious dearth of metal fans in attendance – before finishing with my “Gladiators” bit. The two scouse women (“Geriatric Cheerleaders”, as they termed themselves) both got up to do their wee dance for me a couple of times, and I got two or maybe three applause breaks too. A far warmer and more receptive crowd than I could have hoped for, who were clearly just having fun.
Jamie was sitting by the bar watching, and he seemed to like what I was doing, even though it is very different from the sets that are in the videos he watched. His second set was just as funny as his first, and I would definitely recommend going to see his show if you’re in Edinburgh during the rest of the month. It’s at Belushi’s on Market Street, which is literally behind Waverley Station, at 2.30pm every day, and is free entry.
After the audience had filed out, a couple of them mentioning as they passed that they’d enjoyed my set, Jamie said he’d enjoyed my set and gave me contact details for a gig in Falkirk. He also said he’d keep me in mind if there were any mid-section dropouts during the rest of the run. He seems like a pretty nice guy, and is definitely funny.
So that was my first gig in Edinburgh, and my first of the day. A combination of coffee and adrenaline meant I was now properly awake, and Pavement Sarah and I set off to meet Seafaring Sarah en route to the next gig.