day 24: grind, reduce and judge

One of the biggest problems with stand-up, and particularly in Edinburgh, is the way complex people, personalities and situations become condensed and reduced until almost nothing of the original remains.

A whole personality, a whole life, is reduced to a month’s work; each night, that work becomes reduced to somewhere between 5 minutes and an hour of a show; that show is watched and reduced into a few sentences of a review; and that review judges and ascribes value – often an entirely spurious numerical value in terms of ‘stars’ or something similar (because we are numerate capitalists, and can only think of value in numerical terms).

Even when a judgement is more detailed, it can be pretty wide of the mark. Take, for example, this particularly malicious reporting of Stewart Lee’s routine about Richard Hammond. I wrote about the routine back when I saw it because I thought it was one of the finest satirical routines I’ve ever seen, but the Daily Mail, being the slithery nasty filthy bastards they are, have wilfully taken the whole thing out of context, purely in order to make everyone’s lives worse. It’s not that they don’t get the joke; it’s that they get it and they know they can get an easy shock out of it. It’s repulsive.

All of which is a preamble to the fact that our review from threeweeks came out last night. This is what it said:

Scurvy Stand-up Showcase – Free

Scurvy Comedy

It’s in the nature of showcase events that they are of mixed quality and vary from night to night, but the idea is that you get some real dross at the same time as discovering something special. The problem with this show, at any rate on the evening I went along, is it has the former but not the latter. The best act was the former teacher Charlie Duncan, Nietzsche t-shirt proudly on display, but he only stood out because the others were all fairly mediocre. Mediocre, that is, with the exception of the guitar-based comedian, who was worse than awful. But, who knows, there might be a better selection some other evening, so why not try it out?

Laughing Horse @ The Newsroom, 6 – 30 Aug, 8.45pm, free, fpp 94

tw rating: 3/5

I’d like to be pleased that they said I was good, but I don’t think a positive review really counts when it has to be qualified by the phrase “…but he only stood out because the others were all fairly mediocre.” I’m also a little bothered by them calling me a “former teacher” – it just makes me wonder if someone at threeweeks knows something I don’t. Perhaps they’ve seen the number of students enrolling for my courses this year…

What is particularly galling is that the reviewer obviously came on a bad night, because they refer to a “guitar-based comedian” who was “worse than awful”. But if they mean Loz, he had very few bad nights, and for most of the shows he was so good that nobody could really follow him. There is no way that “worse than awful” is an accurate summary of his festival run. And yet, there it is, on paper and ether, floating around the city.

But this is not rare, and it’s essentially part of a wider phenomenon of contexts and details being ignored. To get to know people in any satisfying way takes time. And in a three-and-a-half-week festival there are a lot of people to meet – and judge – and not enough time to do it in. Corners get cut; real conversations become rarer and rarer. I’ve had a few remarkable exceptions to this rule during this festival, but it does have to be a pretty remarkable connection to really feel like you’re getting to know someone. So, as a rule, everything which might have had meaning is summarised until meaning vanishes; lives are condensed, and souls are ground down to almost nothing. Two of the friends I’ve met here could even refer to me just by a number (for Jay I’ve become number 8; for Mariel, number 4)…

So, yesterday was another day in which I met people who summarised me, and themselves, and made a judgment which may or may not have been the right one. I mostly did pretty well out of it – I got okay laughs in the evening show, and I got a big cheer at Sweet Heart just for walking on stage and not being the ordinary compere (who was having a terrible gig and needed to leave, so they roped me in to introduce the last few acts).

So, judgments are made and stuck to, and that is that. I just wish, sometimes, that there was more time.

But there never is.

CTD: cancelled (due to there being no audience)

SSS: Audience – medium-sized and surly; Performance – solid, though they didn’t go for the more controversial bits because I didn’t think them through right (5/10)

Open Mic Night at Sweet Heart: Audience – drunk; Performance – considering I’d had a drink and was roped in at the last minute totally unprepared, pretty good (7/10)

Other Stuff: Unpredictable; chancy; often good.

Overall: Neither a win nor a loss. It just was what it was.



  1. Hello Charlie,

    I wanted to apologise for the mistake aobut you being a former teacher. I thought that you made a joke about being fired, but must have read too much into it – I should have checked it up. I did, however, enjoy your act. It is one of the perils of writing 120 words that you have to be a little brisk, and in this case surveying the event as a whole rather pushed out the opportunity to praise you. I must dispute your judgement of Loz, however. I’m sure he’s a lovely guy, and maybe he did have a bad night in terms of audience reaction, but I thought his lyrics were fairly terrible.

    In other news, that Daily Mail piece is hilarious. I particularly like the quote from the audience member, who is dim enough to think that the story about bullying might be true.

    • Hello Chris,

      Thanks for getting in touch – and don’t worry about my employment status, you weren’t to know that I found another job since! And thanks for enjoying my act and my Nietzsche T-Shirt. I like it a lot too.

      I must, of course, counter-dispute your judgment of Loz Francis – it may well have been a bad night; but under normal circumstances only a colossal moron could fail to find his song ‘heavy bleeder’ funny. I can only assume it was not a normal night!

      Anyway, thanks for taking the time to come and see our show. Reviewers have a hard time during the festival, but you seem to be a nice young man and we wish you the very best of luck.

      Best Wishes,

  2. PS – I doubt the review is floating around on paper around the city, unless it was printed somewhere and I didn’t notice.

  3. Hey it’s andy the barman from the newsroom. Shame I couldn’t make it along for the last night, but last night at the Sweetheart was hilarious. I still can’t believe you got roped in just for being there. I’m intrigued as to how Jay was feeling this morning as he seemed pretty rough last night…and so did you. Hope all is well for you guys.

    • Hey Andy!

      Jay seemed surprisingly sharp for the lunchtime show, though he couldn’t remember most of his set from the night before…

      We didn’t do the show on the last night – neither Tony nor I had the energy to flyer, plus it wouldn’t have been the same without you there anyway!

      Thanks so much for making us so welcome at the Newsroom, by the way – it’s been great and perhaps (with luck) we’ll be back next year…

  4. Hi Chris
    Thanks for your feedback 🙂
    Next year I plan to do an entirely instrumental gig, so hope you will come and enjoy that…
    P.S. Out of interest, which day did you review?
    P.P.S. Thanks for defending me Charlie – although I am not sure I deserve defending
    P.P.P.S. Hey Andy – hope you are OK and had a good last week of the festival!

    • Hi Loz,

      I’m sorry! Reviewing is a harsh business, and obviously a matter of personal taste. If you normally have good audience reaction, that’s clearly much more vlauable than having a snotty, unqualified ThreeWeeks reviewer like your set. Critically, we’re worth nothing. Comercially, we’re worth something if you get a really good review. For performers esteem, however, I’m sure a nasty review ain’t great fun reading.

      I can’t remember exactly when I was in, but I think it was a Friday night – must have been the week before last. I felt there was audience hostility, at least around me, to the Fritzl song. Someone did throw a tampon for heavy bleeder, though!

      • Ah! You came that night! I remember it well!

        (well, I remember the tampon hurling incident well anyway… a pretty severe heckle!)

        A tough one indeed, and yes, I did sense some severe hostility towards my josef Fritzl song… which I accept is probably completely justified!!!

        Anyway, cheers for the feedback, and good luck in your future endevours as a reviewer 🙂

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