day 20: bravery and bravado

There are different kinds of bravery.

I thought I was feeling brave by starting the day by going to see a play based on Tenessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie. It was called ‘Laura’, it was on in the Hive (so was free), and it had got a four-star review from the New Current.

As it turns out, all you need to do to get four stars from the New Current is just have so many looooooong silences while two pretty young actors look around at the room and each other, that it’s a relief when they finally break into a dance routine at the end because at least it means something has happened. And I don’t even like dance. The acting was perfectly competent (I saw worse in the Old Vic’s production of The Tempest last month), but it took an hour for them to tell a story that could have been told in ten minutes. Dull.

Feeling like I needed some guaranteed quality, I went from there to watch Eric’s show Tales Of The Sea. I’ve been meaning to see it for years – and I’m so glad I finally did. It’s such a brilliant show and a story of bravery in so many different ways; not least because of the charm with which Eric underplays his own courage by talking quite humbly about what he perceives to be his lack of it. The stories about his submarine training and his fear of sharks are so endearing because the tales he presents as attempts at overcoming his own nerves are stories of things that the typical Edinburgh festival type wouldn’t go near in a million years.

There’s also a warning in it – one that might have come straight out of Plato or Aristotle, if they had ever been on a submarine – about the dangers of excessive, hubristic bravado.

But what is also brave is that Eric was prepared to spend so much time and effort on a show which, considering that he is a stand-up comedian, quite often goes for long periods without laughs. He says openly to the audience that a lot of his comedy show won’t be funny, but the unfunny bits are worth telling. That, too, takes balls.

And on the subject of having balls – massive, massive balls – Sanderson Jones is about as cojone-tastic as it gets. I went with the Flashback to see his show, Taking Liberties; and I think it might be the best thing I’ve seen this festival. I don’t want to say too much about the show, partly in case he tours it (in which case you HAVE TO SEE IT) and partly because it is now the subject of a police enquiry. That’s how ballsy it is. But for me it is an absolute masterclass in intelligent taboo-busting with moral purpose. He goes so far over the line of what would be acceptable for many comics that he gets away with it; I guess he’s like Chris Morris, only taller and beardier and very very charming. If there is one show I wish I could have done but couldn’t (partly because it would cost me my day job), it’s this one.

And on the subject of police enquiries (another pretty slick link, huh?), I also ran into David Whitney on my way home. I hadn’t really had a chance to chat to him at the previous night’s gig, but in the absence of a showcase that night I was very pleased to see him. He also explained to me his point of view of the ‘headbutting’ incident – and while I think he knows that nutting a heckler possibly wasn’t the bravest thing to do (however much of a prick the heckler was no doubt being) I could see how it happened and it really is a pity that the whole thing was reported on Chortle in such a public way. He’s one of the most genuine honest chaps in comedy, I hope nothing too bad comes of it, and I think he is showing courage by seeing out the run and not just going back to London. I think that’s what I’d do.

Perhaps the problem is that justice has been accidentally unjust. By which I mean, if there was any just injustice here, Dave Whitney’s arrest would have gone unreported and Sanderson Jones’ show would have been on the front page of Chortle so that perhaps more people would go and see it.

Anyway. For normal people, perhaps, bravery at a comedy show is nothing more than sitting on the front row where you might get picked on. Most nights when the Flashback show is not sold out, I have to try and hustle people down to the front. So was impressed – at least at first – by two teenage girls who seemed to be really keen to sit at the front.

It turned out they were just drunk. And stupid.

Now, in fairness it should be pointed out that not only is our timeslot (the last slot of the night) a prime horrible time for drunk people, it is also very hot and humid in the room, because it is a cave with no air conditioning or ventilation and it has been full of audiences and performers under hot stage lights for twelve hours straight. Unspecified liquids dribble down the walls regardless of whether or not it has rained outside, so I suspect the dripping is mostly condensation formed from the sweat of hundreds of audience members and performers. We are also, of course, following Doctor Brown, who (because he is lovely) no longer overruns very much, but whose show does still involve quite a wide distribution of foodstuffs around the room. There is a growing pool of damp congealed branflakes in one corner that has not been cleaned throughout the entire run, and is now probably on its way to becoming a protected habitat for all the festering species that have evolved in it.

Basically, the place is a hot, damp, stinking tunnel.

It takes real courage to stay there and stay focussed on the show; Rachel gets a good laugh early on by apologising for the fact that it’s like watching a comedy show in a fully functioning anus, and after that then most people seem to manage it. But it turned out those teenage girls didn’t have that courage. They didn’t even laugh at the anus joke. They just complained. Loudly and obtrusively. Until eventually, having completely disrupted the show, they left.

Even after that, it still felt like a weak performance. There hasn’t been much rehearsing in the last few days and there isn’t the sharpness that was there last week.

Still, there isn’t long to go now…and as with all tests of bravery, it’s really just a question of keeping going until it’s done.

Flashback: 4/10, but it can’t be a losing day when I saw those other shows…

DRAW

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day 12: university of comedy

The biggest problem with being a stand-up comedian at the Edinburgh festival, I think, is the same problem that students face at University: that incredible learning opportunities are accompanied by opportunities to indulge in a remarkable social life. This wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the latter’s potential to completely wreck the former.

Which is not to say that networking isn’t an invaluable part of the festival; it is just that it can sometimes be hard to know exactly where the line is between networking, and obscenely hedonistic drinking. The fact that everybody is drinking doesn’t really help; it just means that you know you are meeting a lot of people but it’s not always clear to simple folk like me whether the people you’re meeting are the people you intended to meet. But it certainly is possible to drink your way into some terrible performances.

Thus it was that I, after quite a late night the night before last, crunched on my hoop yesterday lunchtime.

There was no excuse; I was tired, I stammered, I ummed and ahhed throughout my set, and at one point I even described Edinburgh as being a rainy city “in the North of England”. I didn’t get any laughs after that.

I made up for it in the afternoon with a good performance at the Comedy Manifesto, in which myself and Eric somehow managed to beat David Mulholland and James Sherwood, who is a proper bona fide topical comedy writer. Ironically, if I hadn’t been out late the night before I wouldn’t have been drinking with Eric and Jools Constant, and wouldn’t have got the gig. So the ‘networking’ ruined one gig for me, but got me another at which I was quite good. And this is how the balance is restored.

Also, yesterday afternoon, I saw a play, called Splinters of Light. I had been given a free ticket by a flyerer and I enjoyed the performance of the ‘clock-fixer’.

The evening show was also pretty good. I didn’t do puns, just a solid set – perhaps one of the best sets I’ve done, albeit still not as slick as it could be…

So, the work continues. And when drinking and being hungover feels like work, then I guess there’s probably some kind of learning going on.

CTD: Audience – full; Performance – dire (2/10)

The Comedy Manifesto: Audience – full; Performance – solid (6/10)

SSS: Audience – full; Performance – Good (7/10)

Other stuff: okay, considering the late night the day before…

Overall: DRAW