back in edinburgh

So I’m in Edinburgh again. And it would be weird not to blog while I’m here.

Plus it’s 8am, and most of the comedians will have only just gone to bed. There is not a single flyerer in sight. So, blogging it is.

I just got off a night megabus, and I’ve got that woozy, early morning slightly surreal just-tried-to-get-a-night’s-sleep-on-a-bus-and-failed feeling that I usually reserve for arrivals in Paris. It’s not that dissimilar from standard Edinburgh sleep deprivation, but it’s annoying because, as a veteran of night coaches, I had a sleeping strategy this time.

I didn’t even try to get my own double seat – I’ve tried that before and it just means that any massive snoring bad-smelling weirdo can come and sit next to you and take up all the space with their massive snoring bad-smelling body. But this time I knew all the seats would be fully booked, so I chose to try and get in the middle of the queue. That way, I could get on when about half the seats were taken. That way I could quite legitimately pick my weirdo.

I picked well: not far from the front there was a small woman, about forty-ish, who did not obviously smell and was having a quiet telephone conversation in a sane-sounding US accent. I sat next to her, and she gave me a polite, not-mental smile. When the bus pulled out, she settled over to the far side of her seat, put a blanket over her head and went into a calm, snoreless sleep, leaving me to celebrate the success of operation pick-your-own-weirdo, and feel just a little bit smug at not feeling too cramped.

At which point, the dark-haired man in the seat in front of me violently jammed his seat so far back into the reclining position that it almost crushed my legs. Then he couldn’t get it to go forward again – he’d forced the seat way further back than it was designed to go, and now it wouldn’t budge. He shrugged, lay back and closed his eyes, and I spent the rest of the journey unable to move my legs, and with nothing but a headrest separating the dark-haired man’s head from my crotch.

So I didn’t get much sleep. Whenever I’ve taken night coaches to Paris before, I’ve got over this feeling by sitting in the nicest café I can find and getting a café au lait. But this time I’m in Edinburgh.

So I’m sitting in Starbucks on the Royal Mile, looking over the crossroads where I’ve flyered for shows I’ve done every year for the last few years. It’s the place where I always notice how it’s suddenly getting dark early in the evenings towards the end of the festival. And no other square in the world has rained on me quite so much.

In fact now I come to think of it, this is the Starbucks where I come to get out of the rain. I’ve sat in this Starbucks before (many times), and it occurs to me that I’ve never actually been happy in here. In fact, I’ve only ever sat in here and felt depressed.

Come to think of it, I don’t really have very many memories of sitting anywhere in Edinburgh in the daytime and really being happy. I’ve always been miserable and worried and tired, and usually either hungover or still drunk. The few occasions I can remember being in Edinburgh and being really happy have almost always been followed by sudden, crushing downs that were usually a direct result of whatever it was that made me happy in the first place.

Still. I’m here now. And I’m only here for three days, and I’m not doing a show.

So perhaps this year will be different.

And the first step towards that is to get out of this fucking Starbucks.

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postscript: songs of edinburgh 2010

So there’s always a soundtrack.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the songs that I’ll remember from this year’s festival have all come from the shows I was in (or in the same room as). There are a few songs that are highlight moments of the 80’s Movie Flashback, a few that I often used as warmup music for the Showcase, three from Doctor Brown’s show (because I will always remember standing in a hot dark cupboard with Rik and Fraser every night listening to Enya and the laughs from Doctor Brown’s audience).

There’s also a few songs that I just kept hearing everywhere and that stuck with me: ‘The Cave’ in particular. Partly because it’s a wonderful song. And partly because I spent so much time in caves.

Anyway, here’s the songs – if you want to hear them, I also made a Spotify Playlist! It is right here

  • The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and The News
  • The Cave by Mumford and Sons
  • My Sharona by The Knack
  • In My Secret Life by Leonard Cohen
  • Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins
  • Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears
  • Only Time by Enya
  • Pata Pata by Miriam Makeba
  • Jessie’s Girl by Rick Springfield
  • Sexy Bitch by David Guetta feat. Akon
  • Banana Boat Song (Day-O) by Harry Belafonte
  • Cruel To Be Kind by Spacehog

I’d also like to include the song that Rachel closes her stand-up set with. But if it has a title, it’s probably unpublishable. and it’s not on Spotify (yet). But if you know it…well, then you know it.

day 24: the last night of the fringe is always weird

By early Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in an empty flat.

Rik and Fraser and Rachel had all left (after doing lots of cleaning, which was very lovely of them), but I was still there. Like an idiot, I had booked the showcase for one last Sunday night show.

Last year, when we did the Scurvy Stand-up Showcase, Tony and I decided not to bother with the showcase on the final night. I went out in the dark drizzle, drank too much and had some conversations that don’t need repeating here but which have never dislodged themselves from my head and probably never will.

The year before that I ended up in an argument that I didn’t want to get into.

The year before that, I ended my last night in Edinburgh sitting in Waverley Station at 5.30am trying to get a train to a remote rural farmhouse, wondering why I had been such an idiot to quit stand-up and realising that the months I’d taken away from it had set me back further than I had thought.

What I’m saying is that the last night of the Edinburgh Fringe is always weird.

I spent the day wandering around the city – which had, as it always has towards the end, the feeling of a carnival being gradually taken down while people are still trying to go on the rides – looking for things to do. The best thing I did was to go and watch Eric do his Laws Of The Land show. This was good, not just because it’s a really good show, but also because, totally by surprise, I was in it.

I knew Eric had asked to use a few of the e-petitions I sometimes read out when I do the closing section of the Comedy Manifesto; I had said of course he could, and when he asked if I’d make him a video of me doing it, I said I certainly would. Then, Edinburgh being Edinburgh, I didn’t get round to making the video. But I wanted to see the show anyway, and so there I was, quite happily watching the show, when a big picture of my face appeared on the screen – and a very generous plug for the Showcase. Then Eric asked if I’d like to come up and do the bit myself since I was there. I was so flattered that I didn’t need asking twice.

After that, though, it got to the showcase itself. I was a bit unsure about doing it, but Timmy really wanted to. So we did a bit of flyering (Timmy more enthusiastically than me), but didn’t book any acts because we didn’t think anyone would come.

What we didn’t factor in is that so many other shows were cancelled on the last night. So five minutes before the show was due to begin, and 50-odd people turned up, I grabbed Jonathan Prager off the street, and Timmy grabbed Doctor Brown.

Both were greeted with stony silence by an audience who were basically just a bunch of dicks. In the end, Phil (Doctor Brown) just told the audience to ‘go home and take a good hard look at themselves in the mirror’. Then he walked off. It was horrible.

Then I told one particularly twatty-looking guy in the front row called ‘Dean’, who had shouted a heckle about tumbleweed earlier on, that if he thought he could do any better than one of the most brilliant clowns I’ve ever seen then perhaps he should come up and try it. I was thinking that at worst, it would make the show a bit more interesting, and at best it would fill some of the cavernous expanse of time we’d left ourselves by not booking anyone. And as expected, at that point the audience came alive – the first sign of cooperation or engagement from them at all – and started shouting for ‘Dean’ to get up.

So he did. And he did five minutes of horrible, shit pub jokes. And the audience went wild for it.

He even closed with a ‘Paddy and Mick’ joke. To rapturous applause. To his credit, he had pretty good stage presence and he did at least give that bunch of bastards in the audience what they wanted. But they wanted Paddy and fucking Mick jokes.

As we stood in the Hive’s sick-smelling backstage tunnel, Timmy turned to me and said, “You know what we’ve done? We’ve broken comedy. Broken and defiled comedy.”

And he was right. Unfortunately he wasn’t quite able to recreate that kind of witty insight on stage, and he headlined to ten minutes of silence. But maybe that’s because none of his material is the kind of racist crap that the audience wanted.

Anyway, we got about £8 in the bucket at the end, (and a painful chat with some people who’d sat at the back and were insistent that ‘Dean’ had been a set-up, hadn’t he? No, he really wasn’t, I said), and then decided to go to the so Just The Tonic end-of-festival party. Where there was a free bar. And we got drunk enough to forget what had just happened and to try and remember that – weird final night aside – it had been a good last few days.

And so ended the festival for another year.

LOSE.

day 23: a triumph

Saturday is easy to describe. The previous night had been so good that I slept more or less quite happily until 3.30pm. Then, by the time I’d got up and had coffee, it was time to go and flyer for the showcase.

Since it was the final night of the Flashback being in town, the lineup for the show was:

MC – Timmy Manners

1. Rik Moore

2. Charlie Duncan

3. Fraser

4. Rachel Anderson

We filled the room, and everyone had a good gig. Rachel in particular absolutely rocked, and to see a hundred-odd people of all ages singing her closing song and waving their arms at a gig that I’d arranged felt really very special.

Then the Flashback show was great again. It was a sell-out; like the previous night, though, we had lots of friends in, and while the performances might have lacked a little of the previous night’s killer accuracy with timing, it was, if anything, even more fun.

It felt like a triumphant end to a pretty great festival.

Then we went out drinking. We went to the loft bar and saw other friends who have had a great festival too. By five in the morning, the four of us were back sitting around the kitchen table, still laughing.

And by six, I found myself sitting with Fraser on the windowledge outside his room looking at the daylight. He asked if I’m happy to be counted as a fully-fledged member of the Flashback. I am.

It’s strange to think: a few months ago, I was all set to just see out this Edinburgh run and then quit comedy altogether. I thought I’d failed.

But this has been the best Edinburgh yet. I’m not worried about my compering anymore since I’ve been doing it most nights; I’m also getting to think I might have something of a talent for directing; I’ve done gigs I’ve loved; and most importantly, I’ve spent an awful lot of the festival just being really happy to be here.

Perhaps that makes it a good time to quit.

But perhaps not. After all, I’m still here for at least one more day, yet…

WIN

day 21: too tired to be that great

It’s getting near the end of the run, and I’m so tired.

I drank nothing more than orange juice the night before, so I felt pretty good but still exhausted when it came time to go and see Dave Gibson’s early afternoon ‘Ray Green’ show. Now, Dave is a man with a great comedy face. His expressions are just so good and his show, while perhaps a little over-reliant on video clips, is superb. No doubt I’d rave about it more if I hadn’t seen Eric and Sanderson the previous day, but hey – context is everything. Still, Dave is brilliant and his show is an absolute cracker. Particularly the puppet bit at the end.

Then, after Fraser took Rik and I for lunch, I went off to the book festival to see my old university friend Steve Bloomfield talk about his book.

Annoyingly I couldn’t hang around because I had to go and flyer for the showcase, even though I wasn’t intending to perform in it. I had a show to go and see – more on that in a minute – and I thought that if I flyered enough to get a good audience in, booked Mark Restuccia to open, and left the rest with Timmy then everything would be fine.

It wasn’t. The few audience who turned up were idiots, and in particular there were some drunk mouthy scots at the back who kept shouting abuse at the stage. When I left, Timmy was into his tenth minute of valiantly trying to MC some life into a cold, hostile room, and Stooch was quite reasonably looking concerned.

I heard later that after the hecklers left, things were better, and that David Mulholland had actually had a pretty good headlining slot.

Still, at the time I had other things to concern me – namely, going to see Lady C at the GRV.

There is at least one adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover at the Fringe pretty much every year, and I have a personal tradition of trying to see them if I can. Not even for simply pervy reasons, either – surprisingly few adaptations contain anything close to explicit sex scenes or nudity, and the ones that do are generally either repulsive or hilarious or both. But I do really like the book, and seeing amateur adaptations of it has become a kind of weird hobby, like a collection. But Lady C wasn’t really an adaptation of the book; more a discussion of its publishing history and its effect on modern sexuality, done by three actors, often in the nude. It was also without doubt the most deliberately erotic Chatterley play I’ve seen, which made it a successful production, but only to the extent that that kind of thing can be. And I am led to understand that there are cheaper places to watch people stripping in Edinburgh, if that’s all people were there for. I was a bit disappointed that when one of the performers asked for a show of hands for who had actually read it, very few of us put our hands up. And the social politics of the book – without which the sex doesn’t really make much sense – was swept over a little too quickly. And sex without a wider politics attached to it is not really that sexy at all.

Still, it was at least more entertaining than watching my friends die onstage at the showcase.

I came out of Lady C with just enough to time to grab some chips and get down to meet the rest of the Flashback at the caves to finally see Doctor Brown’s show Because.

And what a show it is. I’d seen the end of it so many times but you need to see it from the start. It is really a work of genius. Everything I was saying about surprise and confidence the other day is played out so beautifully – the show is full of surprises. His tech, Jon, is also some kind of magician (he gets a lot of laughs just from his lighting and sound before anyone even appears onstage). By the end, I’d enjoyed the show so much that I didn’t even care that it had overrun or that I’d just found out how many laughs are gained from the bit that created the branflake-sweat-spore pond. In fact, it was a pleasure finally watching the mess get made at last…

In fact, I think we’d all enjoyed it a little too much. The Flashback show was fine, and the audience were a lot more generous than they had been the previous night; but it was possibly the least sharp performance for a while.

Ah well. I knew we’d pick it up for Friday. As long as we got enough sleep…

DRAW

day 19: what a clichéd difference a year makes

At last year’s Edinburgh festival, the Tuesday of the last week was my darkest day of the festival.

In late August in Edinburgh, it starts getting dark and drizzly unnervingly early in the evenings; you start seeing kids that have gone back to school. To add to that, last year I was tired, I missed Loz and the Flashback who had left a few days previously, and then I suddenly made and then (or so I thought) managed to idiotically lose a friend.

I hated myself, I hated Edinburgh, and I wanted to it all to stop.

This year was just fine.

I spent most of the day with the Flashback, stapling bits of paper to flyers (because during the final week you have to staple reviews to flyers otherwise people think you haven’t had any good ones).

I compered the showcase, and did it pretty well; Timmy is still struggling to find his voice at the showcase gigs but seems confident that he’ll get there by the end of the run; David Whitney was a good closer, and seems to be in pretty high spirits considering the fact that he’s been all over the comedy-world news this week for headbutting a heckler and getting arrested.

For the Flashback, Beetlejuice went well on its second outing; I really enjoyed it and the audience, despite being small, were really up for the show.

I celebrated by going out, back to The Hive and then to Opium, with some of the guys who are teching and involved in shows at The Hive; and the next morning I hardly even had a hangover at all.

A year ago, the most played song on my ipod was ‘Heartbeats’ by Jose Gonzales. At the moment it’s ‘The Power of Love’ by Huey Lewis and the News.

WIN.

day 18: it’s supposed to be bloody fun

I woke up on Monday in the little village of East Linton, where I had stayed in the cottage my Mum and Nick have rented. My back hurt. The bed was very comfortable but very single, and I’d fallen out in the night.

Apart from that, it was lovely to be there.

We went to the seaside for lunch, and that was lovely too. But unfortunately, we hadn’t actually booked any acts for the Showcase. So I got back just in time for me and Timmy to cobble together a makeshift lineup. We were quite lucky that James Acaster came back to close the show again. I like his act so much – he just speaks in a way that makes me feel calm enough to laugh a lot – that I wanted him to have a better gig the second time round; and I think it was a little better. Timmy compered, which was good because for some reason his material isn’t hitting at the moment, but he’s pretty adept at warming the room up.

If only we could get more people in there – it’s such a big room that even when we get 30-odd people in (as we generally do, even on the quiet nights) – it feels half-empty.

We also had a very small pre-booked audience for the Flashback, but that meant less fear. And less fear meant one thing. It was time to bring back Beetlejuice.

I did my best with it, but I think the audience was too small to really tell whether it had gone well or not. The best (and possibly worst) thing about it was that as I hit the bit where the first magic trick doesn’t work and Beetlejuice goes straight into ‘Magic number two!’, I heard a badly-concealed snort of laughter. It had obviously come from behind Fraser’s side of the screens which we optimistically call ‘backstage’, but it set me off giggling and I really struggled to get through the rest of the scene without completely cracking up.

Which was good – as Timmy pointed out a few nights ago, it doesn’t always look like we’re really having fun ourselves, and in all our attempts to get the show tight and professional we might have lost some of that sense that at the end of the day it’s just a bunch of idiots pissing about in silly costumes for a laugh.

But on Monday, in front of those sixteen people, it felt like we were making a realisation that we need to really be enjoying it, and enjoying it infectiously.

And also, of course – in front of those sixteen people – a realisation that we probably need to flyer a bit more.

Showcase: 5/10 (the audience was too small to get much atmosphere)

Flashback: 6/10

Overall: DRAW