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.


day 1: pushing a boulder

I am in Edinburgh.

At about 5pm yesterday, I arrived in the the flat where I’m staying with the cast of the ’80s Movie Flashback’ show. The others hadn’t yet arrived, so put my bags down and looked out of the window. And outside it started to rain.

I got out my umbrella – unused since last year – and trudged back out across the meadows in the drizzle. Across the grass, a big black tyre in the playground swung listlessly on its own, taunting me about times when I’ve been happier to be here.

Last year, Edinburgh felt like controlled falling. Arriving yesterday, into an apparently unchanged festival landscape but with an achingly long three weeks ahead – just like the last few years – it felt like Sisyphus reaching the bottom of the mountain once more to start another episode of pushing a boulder up a hill, forever.

I walked through Bristo square, down through the C complex to Niddry Street and the venue for the showcase I’m hosting. Somehow, possibly because with my jacket and glasses and bloody-hell-am-I-here-again look that screams ‘jaded’, I reached the show venue without a single person trying to give me a flyer.

Anyway, the place where I’m doing the showcase is called The Hive, and the first two things I discovered on arriving were that a) more flyers had arrived than I could possibly ever distribute, and that b) The Hive is also a bar and nightclub which sells gin and tonic for £1.50.

Both of these are omens of impending doom.

But then something lovely happened: milling around in the venue were Sarah Campbell and Ed O’Meara – who are doing shows in the Little Cave just before mine – and Laura Carr and Lindsay Sharman. And just sitting in a room chatting to them reminded me how much I like the company of other comedians – and, of course, drinking £1.50 spirits in the company of other comedians – and I started feeling better straight away.

I still had no intention of running the Stand-up Showcase last night, even though it was billed in the fringe programme to start last night. My plan was just to check out the venue, so I didn’t bother to flyer for the show or prepare anything or book any other acts.

Instead, I sat in the Hive’s Little Cave and watched Sarah Campbell’s show ’27 Up’ (which is full of lovely imaginative touches and deserves a bigger audience than it had), thinking that if a few people actually turned up for the showcase, I could politely turn them away.

Then 68 people showed up.

And one of them was – I found out later – Kate Copstick, the comedy reviewer from the Scotsman. She is the Egon Ronay of the Fringe and she can launch or end careers with the stroke of a keyboard.

Fortunately, Manos the Greek was running a show in the small room next door, so I hijacked him and the acts from that and scrambled through something that resembled a show. The acts turned out to be awesome, and audience were lovely and seemed to enjoy themselves, but I felt terribly underprepared. If that show is reviewed, and it turns out to be a bad one, this year’s boulder could turn out to be even bigger and heavier than ever before.

Still – it’s necessary to imagine Sisyphus happy. And I know I’m not overly concerned about reviews this year. I’m not here for that, I’m just here to get better as an MC and have some fun with comedians I like. And when Rik and Fraser and Rachel arrived late last night, I started laughing – genuinely laughing – and whatever other omens were looming tonight for this year’s run, I am definitely going to have some fun.

Showcase: Audience 68; Performance 4/10 (if I’d thought there was going to be a show this would probably have been better…)

return of the mac

I’m back.

I’ve been without any kind of computer for the last few days – thanks to a dangerously burned-through macbook charger cable – and it drove me nuts. This was especially infuriating because, having not blogged for ages, about a million ideas for great blogs popped into my head and I badly wanted to write, but just couldn’t get them down. By last night, I finally gave up and spent fifty bloody quid on a new macbook charger cable.

Which means that now, of course, I can’t remember a single thing I wanted to write.

Still, I want to start writing this blog more regularly again. This is mainly because I’m going up to Edinburgh for the festival again in two weeks time, and I will BADLY need it when I’m up there.

In fact, what seemed last year to be the documentation of a gradual slide into Edinburgh insanity, was probably the only thing that actually kept me sane. (If you didn’t read any of my blogs from last year’s run, but really want to – for whatever reason – they start here.)

So anyway, I will try to keep blogging every day through the festival again. This year’s Edinburgh will probably be very different, though, for the following reasons:

1. My act has improved so much in the last year that I’m not scared of it any more;

2. Rather than doing the kind of Scurvy ‘lunchtime’ shows which I worried so much about the quality of – and about my own quality in them – I’m just doing one evening showcase show (which I will be co-promoting with the very lovely Timmy Manners), and doing my little cameo role bit in the 80s Movie Flashback show;

3. I will be living with Rik, Fraser and Rachel from the Flashback, who are all phenomenally laid-back, easy-going people to be around. Which is not to say that Tony and Loz weren’t brilliant to be around as well (they were) but it might be a little less…alcoholic.

So, Edinburgh should be fun.

On a separate note, it’s worth mentioning that the last ever Scurvy Wednesday happened successfully – and without melodrama – the other night. James Sherwood and Andy Zaltzman did Edinburgh previews; I didn’t even perform.

Which was fine; after all, I have no shortage of stagetime coming up…

the recovery position

I guess it takes a few days to recover from Edinburgh.

I’d quite like to just lie down and let my liver re-metabolise, but that’s not really possible – I’ve come back to a heap of work, a giglist that needs filling, and a slightly cool relationship with a girlfriend I have woefully neglected.

And also – Why did nobody tell me Ted Kennedy had died? I completely missed it! And then I was sad. It really is like having been living in a bubble for a month, or like some kind of fantastical dream that I’m just waking up from and discovering that things are depressingly back to normal.

It didn’t help that on my second night back I actually did have a gig booked; the truly delightful ‘Party Piece’, run by the truly delightful Tom Webb, in Stoke Newington. Annoyingly, instead of doing the tried and tested set that I’ve been honing in Edinburgh, I got distracted by Tom and Joel Dommett’s idea of trying to get a shout of ‘ULTIMATE PUNCHLINE’ for a joke. The result was that I went hunting for the silliest, most punchliney joke I had. Inevitably, I ended up in an ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’ cul-de-sac. Oddly, it got laughs that the Edinburgh audiences weren’t giving it, though I still wished afterwards that I’d just done my normal routine…

When I got home, I found that another review had been published:

Circling The Drain: Scurvy Comedy Present Mankind’s Inevitable Spiral Towards Total Destruction – Free

To say that this outing felt like a complete waste of time would be both unfair and inaccurate but the truth isn’t too far away. With the exception of Lawrence Francis’ catchy and entertaining song about the embarrassment of having to explain to a computer technician how a virus was caused by looking up you-know-what on the internet, the material from the other two comedians, Charlie Duncan and Tony Dunn, was repetitive, dreary and virtually devoid of punchlines. On the rare occasion a promising joke was delivered, it was bizarrely finished off, and subsequently stripped of any success or credibility by overly vulgar punchlines. My advice to Mr Francis – go solo.
Laughing Horse @ Espionage, 7 – 30 Aug, 1.15pm (2.15pm), free, fpp35.
tw rating 2/5

VIRTUALLY DEVOID OF PUNCHLINES? What could they possibly mean? Oh, right…

Still, at least Loz is vindicated. It must be odd to be called, within the space of a few days and by the same publication, both “worse than awful” and “catchy and entertaining”.

I’m sure he’ll cope with the inconsistency.

Anyway. The recovery is underway. Just need to take it easy for a few days…

and the results are in…

I got back in to King’s Cross yesterday afternoon, completely zombified, and it was fucking sunny. Hot and sunny – as if to say, this is what you could have won, if you hadn’t been off chasing unattainable dreams…

Still, there are a few things worth mentioning.

The first is that now I’m back, I need to book some more gigs. So if there are any promoters out there who want a massively improved Charlie Duncan to perform at their shows, please get in touch. I am now in the position where I could be billed as ‘critically acclaimed’ (on condition that the rest of the bill is “mediocre”).

Secondly, the number of views to this blog has inexplicably rocketed, from about two per day before the festival to 101 so far today. Who are you people? Have you nothing better to do? Or are you just one scary and obsessive internet stalker? If so, get in touch. I like the attention.

Thirdly, a few people have asked me about going to Edinburgh – was it worth it, they’re asking?

Yes. Emphatically, yes.

Even quantitatively speaking, when I counted up the days where I’d put ‘Win’ or ‘Lose’ at the bottom of the blog, I’ve ended up with 15 ‘Win’ days and only 6 ‘Lose’ days. Admittedly, the ‘lose’ days felt truly horrible. Gut-churningly, sickeningly, sleep-losingly horrible. And even some of the ‘Win’ days didn’t exactly make me feel happy, exactly.

But one or two of those ‘win’ days were so exhilarating that everything else was irrelevant: the hard work on my act, the fall-outs, the fluctuations of acceptance and rejection, the fact that I know I’ve made friends I can only miss; all of it was worthwhile, because there were times that were genuinely fulfilling. The horrible feeling of the bad days will go and leave me with memories of a very happy festival.

When Nan saw my tired face last night she said, “Please don’t do this again next year. It’s eaten you.”

But, I tried to explain, it was worth it.

If the last few weeks ate me, I just hope I was delicious.

day 25: the 25th day…

…and it felt like the 25th day out of 25. The feeling of everything being over, fizzling out like a wet firework, just sat all over the whole day. I hadn’t had enough sleep; there was nothing really left that I wanted to see; basically, nothing much that I especially wanted to do except pack up and go home.

I didn’t even get up in time to flyer for the lunchtime show; how it is that an audience of about 20-30 nice people turned up is beyond me. I did my act in what seemed like its most perfunctory form, the audience laughed and clapped happily, Jay sang songs and Tony told his stories for the final time of the festival…and then we were done.

All I could really manage in the afternoon was to sit and read and write a bit. For about an hour I sat, hidden away upstairs in a cafe and read some of Book 2 of the Gay Science – I owe a fair amount of my remaining sanity to those pages – but no sooner was I starting to enjoy the confused feeling of Nietzsche’s wonderfully feministic male chauvinism, than I could feel my eyes closing and I had to go back to the flat.

More than anything, I’m just physically and emotionally wrecked. A full run at the Edinburgh festival puts every emotion and faculty you have right through the wringer – happiness, sadness, self-worth, love, desire, friendship, fear, resentment, rage, disgust, compassion, elation…everything is heightened and pushed to its limits. I’ve spent the last week and a half fluctuating between euphoria, heartbreak and nausea, for no apparent reason other than that I’ve just been so tired.

Now I come to think of it, drinking every day – however slowly – and only getting three or four hours sleep a night probably doesn’t help.

So I sat in my room in the flat for a while, just feeling relieved that the whole thing is over. I went out briefly, into the dark, chilly autumnal evening, to collect our remaining things from the venues and to tell any prospective audience about the decision Tony and I had made not to bother with the evening show; I sat in a kebab shop and ate a chicken kebab on my own, and summoned the last strength I had to make the most of the last few hours.

And it really was a good last few hours: I saw old and new friends I didn’t think I’d see again before the end of the festival (if ever) – Bobby, Nick, Paul, Mariel, Georgina; I had conversations I hadn’t expected but genuinely appreciated; said goodbyes, and went home to pack.

And so – at least until next year – it’s all over.

CTD: Audience – surprisingly they actually existed; Performance – going through the motions one last time (6/10)

SSS: cancelled

Other stuff: see above

Overall, I’m too tired to care about wins and losses any more…

day 23: a typically good day

Up until the last few days, I’ve done pretty well so far to keep the days separate and distinct, so that very few of them became ‘typical’.

But if the last few days were becoming fairly typical bad days, yesterday was typical of the kind of good days I was having for the first two weeks. I did four really good performances at four nice shows, and spent the evening with lovely people.

The lunchtime gig went nicely; Jay finished his set with ‘Moon Chavs’ – it’s his most well-known hit, it ends in a big singalong and before the festival I would have been uncertain about whether I could have followed it. But I started getting laughs pretty much straight away, turned in a strong performance and finished the gig happy.

There was just time for me to stop very briefly for coffee with Bobby Carroll and Luke Graves before going to the Beehive to do the Comedy Manifesto, which was packed out as usual. I was probably the slickest I’ve ever been there (though I didn’t have answers to all the questions) and Jools and I won the show.

It also gave me just enough time for a pleasant walk across town with Rob Deb, whose show I will have missed this year for the first time in four years (because it clashes with our evening show), to get to the Grape.

The Grape is where Katerina Vrana and Sarah Pearce are doing an afternoon show, and it is possibly the worst room for comedy I have ever seen. The idea that Peter Buckley Hill was given an award yesterday for booking comedy shows in rooms like The Grape is unbelievable; poor Katerina should be given that award for having to compere in there throughout the festival. It feels like a hotel foyer bar (because, as Dan McKee pointed out, it is a hotel foyer bar), there is a noisy restaurant bar just the other side of a curtain, the ceilings are ridiculously high so all the laughs disappear, and there are enormous shiny pillars around the place. I got a few laughs for pointing out that the high ceilings and the shiny pillars make it look like a giant’s poledancing club, and then gyrated around the pillars in a way that I can only assume looked funny because I, a human being, am relatively tiny in comparison with a poledancing giant. But it was the kind of gig where most of the audience weren’t going to laugh anyway, so there was nothing to lose. I even did my ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’ bit for the three or four people who loved it; it was just fun to play for them.

And then our evening gig was just incredible. The audience were really up for a great show; Henry Paker was a great opener, and I went on right after him and had an absolute stormer. Everything went right; my timing and wording of the jokes was spot-on; basically, I was on fire. I was so hot, in fact, that just as I was about to deliver my last line, the fire alarms went off and we had to evacuate the building…

I went and had dinner with my Mum after the show, who was stopping by on her way back home from Iona; it was really good to see her, and especially good that we had dinner at the Balmoral Hotel, which was the first properly nice food I’ve had in ages.

After putting my Mum on the sleeper train back to London, I had a slight feeling of sadness as I walked home; I realised that I’d had a pretty good day, but there are still very few people in Edinburgh I could really tell about it. There are one or two people that I’ve got on really well with; possibly even too well, because I’ll miss them when the festival is over; but I really wanted to talk to somebody outside the festival and I had a feeling that Nan would be too busy with her dissertation and I didn’t want to disturb her.

So I called my friend Natalie, who is (and always has been) some kind of genius at knowing exactly what to say; I was so cheered up after talking to her that instead of going home I stopped at the Meadow Bar where I ran into a whole bunch of lovely comedians and got to watch Michal Grobelny perform one of the most brilliantly, gloriously confrontational sets I have ever seen. He was wearing a baseball shirt and cap, and mentioned backstage that people had been asking him all day if he was American, so he was going to be American for the show. And after the previous act had bored the room into silence, Michal bounded onstage yelling “HEY, YOU FUCKIN’ FAGGOTS!” and then howled out one of the most willfully obnoxious and distasteful sets I think I’ve ever seen, largely just shouting at a Scottish man in the front row about how much he hated Scotland and Scottish people and wished they would all fuck off. About two people in the room got it, the rest just sat in shocked silence.

It was genuinely glorious.

And, after a trip to the Library Bar that was probably ill-advised, I went home a bit drunk and no longer unhappy.

CTD: Audience – good, most seats full; Performance – solid and strong (7/10)

The Comedy Manifesto: Audience – jammed as usual, people sitting on the floor…; Performance – winning (7.5/10)

Comedy at the Grape: Audience – about 40 people, in a room which made it feel half-empty; Performance – not heavy on laughs, but lots of fun and as good as could be expected (7/10)

SSS: Audience – full; Performance – best yet…until the fire alarms went off, and then I got the biggest walk-out ever (8/10)

Other stuff: Mostly pretty good

Overall: WIN