“The greatest distance between any two cities is the distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh.”
– Muriel Gray.
I still have no great love for our capital city, and the Festival remains my least favourite time to be there, but I was offered this gig a while back and accepted – it’s alright to visit for a day here or there, especially when plenty of comedians are doing free shows. I knew there would be something worth watching, at least.
It was only a couple of days ago, checking the line-up online, that I discovered I was down to compere the show – the original compere pulled out due to a scheduling conflict, which seems to be the way of the Fringe. People get last-minute gigs or take part in numerous shows – lots of solo shows have guest performers, there are comedians forming part of sketch groups, showcases, and lots of other formats that allow people to do as many gigs a day as they have the energy for, and to promote their main gigs. It seems to be a good learning, networking, and social experience, but a notoriously expensive one. In my case, prohibitively expensive. Last year, I made it work by taking as many gigs as I could each day I was through. This year, I only had this one gig lined up, and decided to see friends in the rest of the time.
Having found out that I was compering, I started going through material and jettisoning anything Glasgow-specific or that works best if you share this city’s sense of humour. I noted down keywords to remind me of bits that would (might) work, and extracted a line here or there from longer bits. I didn’t have much hope for the gig, and had the added constraint of a very tight deadline – the show had to come down within the hour. That meant get on, get laughs, and get off as fast as possible so each comedian would get their allotted time.
This gig was structured as previous ones under the “vs” banner – acts, game based on a famous TV gameshow (varies each time), more acts. This time, it was a take on “Would I Lie To You?”, and we had been asked in advance to provide interesting facts about ourselves. That’s a very subjective word, interesting, and feeling a bit low last week nothing really sprang to mind. In the end, I condensed a couple of things I’ve done material about into their shortest and absurdest forms: a friend of mine once went out for Halloween dressed as me, and; I introduced my favourite band onstage to nine-hundred people after their support act headbutted me. The latter tale is documented on here, it was my 37th gig and took place in July 2011.
I sat down the night before and planned my day, deciding to stick mainly to The Beehive and their Scottish Comedy Festival programme. I wanted to see Tweedy Duffer’s solo show, then Will Setchell, and Billy Kirkwood, before heading off to my own venue. Then I would come back and see Raymond Mearns (highly recommended on Facebook in the preceding days, and I now also heartily recommend his show to you), followed by Keir McAllister, before participating in Car Crash Comedy for my first time in Edinburgh. It didn’t quite work like that.
I didn’t sleep well (or early), and so I didn’t bother with the first show (it transpired it had been cancelled anyway). Having seen Setchell trying out his new material at various nights in Glasgow for the past month, I gave him a miss too. I knew that, with the best of intentions, I couldn’t sit through seven hours of comedy in one day. The first show I saw, then, was Billy Kirkwood’s “Show Me Your Tattoo.” It was good, very funny, and he is extremely amicable and welcoming. I found out later he considered it a lacklustre gig, so I’d love to see what he’s like when he has a great time. His show clashed, just, with Chris Henry’s solo effort, and so I didn’t manage to catch Chris. My friend saw him at The Halt last week – where he was resident compere for over a year – and said “the boy has become a man.” If I’m back through I will definitely try and catch his show, which is along the road at The Three Sisters.
I walked to my own gig, ill-prepared. The nature of the Fringe is such that, audiences are never guaranteed. I heard that the day before had seen sixty people pack the room out. Despite fliering for twenty minutes beforehand, we pulled a crowd of just twelve. While I hastily scribbled material on my hand, trying to remember the opening I wanted to use, I was introduced to the stage by promoter Chris Stephen. So that was me fucked from the off.
Small audiences are difficult, because the laughter is never sustained – it dies away very quickly. So you kind of need to be better than me to keep them entertained throughout. I started with jokes about my name, then stumbled over my words asking if it was their first Fringe show and ended up talking about my own fringe – currently shaped into a quiff because after I got rid of my mohawk and started growing my hair I never quite stopped. So it has a bit of a Rockabilly thing going on, making me look like Danny Zucker from Grease or like Johnny Bravo (but not blond) depending who you ask.
I ad-libbed a lot of shite, literally counted the people in the room then instantly doubled it before realising that the folk in my peripheral vision were the acts. I just continued to talk nonsense, explained the format of the show, talked a lot more nonsense, and then got the first act on after trying to stir them into a frenzy of applause.
It was hard-going for all of us, I think, playing to such a small gathering, in the dark and dingy basement of a pub while outside it was bright, warm, and sunny. Robin Valo opened, followed by Struan Logan and Sarah Short. All got laughs, but it was one of those demoralising gigs for which the Fringe is famous. the audience, at least, did consist of English-speakers, and most of them were Scottish. We were understood, if nothing else, and local and UK references all resonated.
I hadn’t really understood Chris’ vision for the game, and it was easier to let him host that part of the show. He presented each fact as a given, and one of three comedians (one per territory) blindly picked a card. The other four of us then had to each pretend, in turn, that the fact related to us and tell the story of how it came about. Obviously, one person told the truth and the other three of us lied through our teeth. It was fun, but important to remember we had an audience and that this wasn’t just about amusing ourselves.
The first fact was about the sighting of a black panther, which Scott Brown referred to as “The Beast Of Westmorehill” (or something like that), and it was an easy laugh for me to ask “Is he not in jail now?” The second fact was about a fear of ghost trains, and I was able to twist it and say that my fear of ghost trains related not to the ride itself, but to the creepy operator – the aforementioned Beast Of Westmorehill. The third fact was (I already knew) Scott’s story about the time WWE wrestler Edge told him to shut up. I had fun with this one. I said that I’m a big fan of wrestling “as you can clearly see from my music t-shirt” – which got a laugh – and then used my wee sister’s favourite joke: “I went to the wrestling, and I saw Edge, and I shouted ‘Hey Edge, your mum’s so fat, when she fell down the stairs I thought it was the opening credits of Eastenders!’ So he told me to shut up.”
I think Robin won, by being the only person to correctly attribute an anecdote to the correct subject. On with the show, and Scott came back on, followed by Chris, and then rounded off by David Blair. I went back up to thank them for coming, and I meant it – four people walked out during the course of the hour, and it was only an aversion to undermining the gig that stopped me drily saying to the remainder “at least you got out the sun for a bit.”
I had wanted to say “please put a coin in the bucket”, thinking that nobody would put a penny in and so you’d be more likely to get 50p or a pound. Chris wanted me to ask for “money” though, in case anyone felt sufficiently entertained to drop a note. I didn’t think it would happen, and was proved right. In actual fact, when he revealed the takings for the show, I missed the pounds figure and only heard the 10p part, and wasn’t overly surprised. It’s a shame, because he has worked damned hard to secure a venue and populate it with a changing array of comedians and games. I’ve since heard (updating this ten days later) that numbers have risen back up towards the sixty mark, and that on one or two occasions the bar staff have come down to check that the room isn’t over capacity. Six acts and a compere every day of the Festival, at 16:30 – if you’re about, please go and check the gig out. Chris and Debbie have handpicked many of the best open spots on the circuit just now, so you will definitely laugh.
We walked en masse back down to the Grassmarket and the Beehive, where I had plans to meet a friend. As it turned out, on the way a friend saw me and waved me over to the table where her family were having dinner, and while I was talking to her (and her husband, who I knew many years ago from my local amateur theatre scene), another friend came up to me from where HER family were eating one table down. So that was unexpected, and I suppose part of what makes the Festival such a draw – if you could be there every day and meet up with friends at every turn, then yes, maybe it would be worth the expense, hassle. and demoralisation.
I finally met my friend half an hour later, and was barely in the pub when Bob Graham addressed me. I’ve seen him a few times, on the same bills as Setchell, trying out his own solo act, but we haven’t really spoken and I was surprised to find he knew my name. Certainly I don’t think he has seen me perform, but he knew I must have had a gig on account of the Broken Oath shirt I was wearing. It’s nice to realise that someone took that much of an interest in me or in this blog to register that fact. I chatted to him for a bit, and learned that – like me – he was at the band’s first ever show, and was equally taken aback at how professional and tight they were from the off. Good talking to him. His show is on at about 13:00 in The Beehive.
After an hour with friends and a pint, I headed upstairs to catch Raymond Mearns‘ show. It was excellent. He is highly regarded on the circuit anyway, and has made appearances in Rab C Nesbitt and Limmy’s Show (where he was part of the small supporting cast in series one), so to see him doing such an honest and soul-baring show for a few quid is a bargain. I know he is well respected as a performer, but I now have a great deal of respect for him as a person, for confronting his demons and continuing to overcome them. All while being extremely funny with it. Brilliant, and if you have the time do go and see him.
The room was very warm, and I decided to just go home after his show – I’d have liked to have seen Keir, but I was knackered and hungry and had a ninety-minute train ride ahead of me. I wasn’t bothered about missing Car Crash either, partly due to how comparatively late it started (22:10), and partly because experience told me I would most likely be shit. I didn’t fancy sticking around for two hours just to die on my hole and then get back to Glasgow too late to catch my second train.
So, that was my one and only confirmed Edinburgh gig. It was alright, I enjoyed talking rubbish and not relying solely on material, I just wish there had been a few more folk in, as there were before and since. It varies daily, like the line-ups and like the game, so that’s the one thing I would say – if you are in the area (it is opposite St James Mall, right by Waverley) please do check it out.
I like Janey Godley’s suggestion – if you are paying to see a show by some comic off the telly, please also check out some unknown who’s doing a free show. There are loads to choose from, and if you don’t take a chance now and then, what’s the point of living? You might be pleasantly surprised, there are a lot of excellent acts out there. All of the comedians I’ve mentioned in this blog can be seen doing finely-honed solo shows free of charge.
And that’s that. I’ve no more gigs lined up, so I’m not sure where you can see me next. In the meantime, check someone else out instead. And have fun. 🙂