day 22: friends in edinburgh

After the early night, it was fairly easy to drag myself out of bed on Friday morning to meet Mum and Nick, who have come back into town for today. We went to the Mussel Inn, which is one of my favourite places to eat in the whole of Edinburgh.

After that I went to meet Steve Bloomfield (whose talk about his book I saw yesterday), and some others – including the flashback – in the Just The Tonic bar.

Well – at least, I’d like to say ‘friend’ because I always liked him tremendously. But as my boy Aristotle says, you can only truly be friends with your equals, and back in my immature undergraduate days I was probably too envious of him for being so incredibly brilliant and high-achieving while I was stuck in my room trying to record crap songs. He was the star reporter of the Liverpool Student; he had a really lovely and very gorgeous girlfriend (he still does); he wrote and directed a play; and in my final year he was elected President of the Guild of Students.

In some ways, when I got to Warwick and realised I had a second chance at doing University properly, I probably subconsciously tried to model myself on his renaissance-man brilliance.

Anyway, these days he’s still frighteningly high-achieving. He’s had a pretty spectacular journalistic career so far covering Africa and global politics, and he recently published his book about football in Africa (which I’d like to say more about but unfortunately haven’t read).

But more importantly, he is still an extremely nice, witty, quietly confident chap, and it was lovely to see him. And hey – I might not have published any books about Africa, but I’ve got quite a good blog, I get a few paid stand-up gigs now and again and I hang out with the cast of the 80’s Movie Flashback, so I reckon that makes us equal enough nowadays to be friends. And it was really nice to see him after so long.

The day’s biggest downside was the dropouts we had from the showcase. I thought I’d booked a really fantastic lineup for a big Friday night crowd: Julian Deane to open, Patch Hyde and Timmy in the middle and James Sherwood to close. But then Julian sent a very polite text to say he couldn’t make it, and Patch let me know that he would have to drop out too because Tony Dunn needed him for his gig (which was annoying for the gig, but as friend of both of them, I knew was totally the right thing – I get the impression that Tony has been horribly unlucky with people dropping out of his show, and I don’t begrudge Patch being there to help fix that at all).

Then when the show got going, the audience seemed small and unresponsive. Even James couldn’t get much life out of them and by the end of his set looked just about ready to go home. I think he’s probably not the only one. The showcase has generally been a lot less fun this week than it was in the first half of the festival, and I think numbers have dropped as the people of Edinburgh have got increasingly fed up with us.

But then the Flashback was just amazing. We knew there were likely to be TV people in, as well as Fraser’s boss, so we packed the audience with our friends.

And it absolutely rocked. The others were hitting all the right notes in all the right places, adlibs were getting good laughs and everything went right. It was as good a performance of the show as there is ever likely to be.

Annoyingly, it was the only show we forgot to get on video.

Still, it had been a good day; and it got even better when we went to the Library Bar and Robert White showed us the Malcolm Hardee award he had just been given. That, on top of Imran’s Best Newcomer nomination earlier in the week, made it really felt like a really bloody good festival. And we went and danced and laughed and were happy in a way that I have never been in the last week of an Edinburgh Festival before.

One strange thing about Edinburgh is the strange things it does to your idea of friendship: last week I got annoyed at having friends and family in town because it took me away from the festival. But Aristotle is right: a sense of commonality and shared experiences is a necessary condition of friendship. And so immersive and intense is the Edinburgh experience that friends in Edinburgh can only really be your friends if they are doing shows too. Those people who have those same nerves, those same crushing, humiliating defeats, that same sense of exaltation when things go well. These are the only people I can relate to while I’m here.

Which would be depressing, if it weren’t for how much affection I feel for the rest of the flashback, for other performers who I like, how incredibly proud that makes me when they do well. In Edinburgh, these people are my best friends. They are the only people who could be.

WIN.

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day 9: close to perfect

I woke up to Chuck bringing me coffee. Chuck is another friend from London who’s staying. I like having visitors.

I spent the morning (by which I mean ‘Edinburgh Festival morning’, ie 2pm-4pm) walking up Arthur’s seat with Chuck, Anneliese and Ross. It was so different to last year’s attempt, which was bleak and lonely and done against the wind and drizzle. This was just for fun, because we could, and the sun was shining and the breeze was behind us – I’ve never put sun cream on in Scotland before, but today I did. That’s how beautiful the day was.

Near the top of Arthur’s seat, there is a plateau. From the very top, you can see that people have used the rocks which are strewn around to create shapes: patterns, flowers, the names of people they love.

We made a large cock and balls.

I think Chuck was a little uncertain about it, but I am here as in my capacity as a comedian and I didn’t climb all that way to not create a large cock and balls out of rocks.

When we got down, I finally got a replacement iphone (and started the huge task of going through emails). Then the shows were great again; there was a good crowd to see James Sherwood, and Rachel had an absolute stormer. I had the most fun compering I’ve had so far, too – at one point I noticed that there more ‘woo’s coming from the audience than actual cheers or clapping, so I pointed it out and then a few members of the audience started to shout ‘woo’ in inappropriate places. But I made mock frustration at that into a theme of my time with them, got some good laughs from that, and still managed to get it clear to the room that it wouldn’t be funny if they did it with the other acts. And generally they didn’t. It was a great gig.

The flashback show was the best yet, too. The room was full, but we filled it with energy and fun and for the first time the show felt like a four or five-star show; the pace was perfect, the ad-libs were sharp and well placed, and the whole cast put in brilliant performances. In particular, Rachel hit the pace and tone to perfection (I’d like to think because she had the earlier gig to warm up with, but really I think it’s just because she’s brilliant).

This is getting to be a lot of fun…

Showcase – Audience: almost full; Performance 8

Flashback – Fucking brilliant. Though we can still improve the johnny and baby scene…

Overall – BIG BIG WIN

day 14: flyering in the drizzle

My mother arrived yesterday, with an inexplicable desire to help with flyering.

I think visitors to the fringe actually enjoy giving out flyers; they seem to be incredibly keen to help, even though it does give me a sense of how a drought-blighted Tanzanian farmer probably feels when some white teenage christian missionary son of an accountant turns up on their gap year and offers to ‘help with a bit of the digging’.

Flyering is not supposed to be a fun novelty. It is a punishment, it is the forfeit fringe performers pay for our obscene arrogance in thinking anybody would want to listen to an hour of our blathering. It is not good for anyone to want to flyer.

That said, my mum is pretty good at it. She flyers with the enthusiasm of someone who doesn’t actually care whether anyone comes to the show or not, and not with the desperate yearnings of most flyerers…

I was glad when she arrived, because I had just stunk out the lunchtime show. Well, not really stunk, but it was pretty far from being a stormer. I hadn’t had enough sleep, I was tired, and I didn’t really do my best.

So, even though it was nice to see my mum, I didn’t feel actually happy for most of the afternoon. The drizzle seemed interminable; I missed Nan; I was trying to write the blog for the previous day and couldn’t quite word the theoretical bit quite right…and of course, I had to flyer.

On the upside, I did have a really really good gig in the evening. The best I’ve done this festival. It came in at just under 10 minutes, so it needs to be longer, but it was slick, I knew my material, I got laughs all the way through, and it just felt nice to be up on stage getting laughs. It felt like an easy room when I was up there, though I knew it wasn’t – Dee Custance had just had a relatively quiet slot before I went on and then Tony (who was headlining – we’d drafted Rik Moore in to MC) also struggled a bit before his brilliant Prince William routine finally brought the night to a happy ending.

So that was good, and had it not been for a general feeling of unease that I couldn’t seem to shake off, I would been back to happiness by the time I met my Mum at 23.30 to go and see The 80s Movie Flashback. I think Mum enjoyed it, and by happy coincidence I also ran into the former head girl of Hornsey School, who is now in her third year at Edinburgh and was going to see the Flashback too.

Obviously the Flashback show was great again; obviously it was packed out. They’ve been packing it out every night.

They clearly take their flyering seriously.

CTD: Audience – half-full; Performance: meandering and tired (4/10)

SSS: Audience – two-thirds full; Performance: one of the best I’ve done (7.5/10 – I hesitate to give it an 8, only because I forgot what I was saying at one point. But I am definitely improving).

Other Stuff: Nice to see Mum. Otherwise, just…sad and a little unnerving, for a variety of reasons (it won’t stop drizzling and I could probably be getting on better with Loz and Tony, for a start). And I couldn’t help but feel that even a visit and a great gig couldn’t carry the day.

Overall: LOSE

day 10: no regrets

So, obviously yesterday was a good day because Nan was around for most of the day. If this was a ‘charlie’s relationship’ blog, I could say more about that. But it isn’t.

In comedy terms, yesterday was a useful day, but also a day of some small regrets.

The lunchtime show went well overall, and I was doing well until I did two sections that bombed just like they’ve been bombing every day: the ‘pie charts’ bit and the ‘big butts’ bit. So, regretfully, I have decided to shelve them both for the time being. I wish I could get them to work, and I may try and pick them up again later on in the run, but they aren’t working and I can’t justify keeping them in.

As if go solidify the decision on the ‘big butts’ bit, James Sherwood was headlining the evening show and he has a brilliant joke that starts along vaguely similar lines (although mine goes somewhere very different with it). So I left it out entirely, substituted a bit about radio 4 and a line about mobile phones, and it ended up being the most consistent set I’ve done so far this festival – certainly worth a 7.5 (with the 0.5 deducted because it wasn’t as slick and well-rehearsed as it could be).

On either side of the evening show, I took Nan to see two sketch shows: Pappy’s Fun Club at the Pleasance; and our friends Rik, Fraser and Rachel doing ‘The 80s Movie Flashback’ in the Counting House.

Both were brilliant. Pappy’s, of course, are always brilliant: they had the energy and silliness and cleverness and combination of brilliantly structured narrative and feeling of madcap unpredictability they always do…if anything, I thought this year’s show was even better than last year’s, possibly even better than the Perrier-nominated show from two years ago.

But ’80’s Movie Flashback’ got pretty close to that feeling, too – their show was packed with such a great combination of scripted gags and audience interaction that it felt the way a good Pappy’s show does, like the unpredictability was in good hands. They could have perhaps done with a little extra plotting and structure, maybe bringing back a few characters more than once to make it feel like something was happening to them that went beyond each individual sketch – but the feeling of fun and energy was there in buckets.

Walking home, though, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad – it was only last year that ‘Topical Scurvy’ drew a few comparisons to Pappy’s; and the Flashback was an idea that grew out of a ‘Topical Scurvy’ guest slot that Rik and Fraser wrote for Fraser to perform as Marty McFly.

Somehow, in getting invidually stronger at our own stand-up, we lost something, and I don’t know what it was or when we lost it; but when we had it, we wrote some moments of really good sketch comedy last year. And we couldn’t capture it again this year.

I guess it doesn’t even matter why it’s gone, whether it was laziness, or business, or egos, or whatever. Because we have a stand-up show to get right tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day; and having taken a few moments to regret that we don’t have whatever it was any more, it’s time to stop moping and move on.

No Regrets – as a terrible but correct philosopher once said – they don’t work.

CTD: Audience – full; Performance – solid, apart from the puns, which threw me enough to not be worth doing them tomorrow (5/10)

SSS: Audience – packed out again; Performance – best so far (7.5/10)

Other stuff: Nice…

Overall: WIN