Not a great show for me today. I’ll go so far as to admit it was probably the worst show I’ve done this year.
It all started yesterday, when I was at the International Showcase. One of my new comedian friends, a depressed Jewish New Yorker called Matt, had invited me to see his one-hour show later than night. I went along and really enjoyed his material. Unfortunately, the rest of the audience didn’t and it took me a good 20 minutes to realise why. I’ve spent more than a year living in the US and most of my childhood was wasted obsessing about American sitcoms, movies and video games. I understood every stateside reference in his act – Jewish Princesses, Puerto Rican Day Parade, hypocritical televangelists, fanny packs, closeted gay Republicans. No one else in the audience did, however.
Anyway, afterwards, we went through the usual post-mortem that comedians have when a show is less than well received. Matt was grateful for the feedback and now had a better idea of why some of his material wasn’t resonating with the audience. He also told me that a friend of his was running a daily Performer Showcase, and that I might want to lobby for stage time there.
I contacted his pal and was delighted to find I had a booking for a multi-arts show in the basement room of a Youth Hostel, near the Royal Mile, the next day. I now had thirty more unsuspecting people upon whom I could inflict my nasty humour!
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Edinburgh Central Mosque
After my triumphant debut on Wednesday, I wanted to keep the momentum going and get as much stage time as possible while I’m here. You might imagine it would be pretty difficult to secure performance spots at the world’s biggest and most popular arts and culture event, but the demanding nature and intensity at the Edinburgh Festival is working to my favour in surprising ways. My initial hope was to secure a gig for myself every day or two.
I spent a couple of hours going through my Fringe Programme and circled all the “Stand-up Comedy Showcase” type shows. These are the ones that most closely resemble what you would find at your local comedy night i.e. 60 minutes of three to six comedians introduced by an overly enthusiastic compere. Seeing as we’re in the second half of the Festival, and most comedians subsist on junk food, nicotine and hard liquor – mainly the liquor to be frank – there’s always a good chance the organisers of “Showcase” hours have had some dropouts and will be grateful for willing replacements.
Then there are the one-hour shows that simply didn’t happen. Either the people responsible couldn’t make it and were late telling the venues they weren’t coming – so they are still showing in the Festival Programme – or, worse still, they simply didn’t bother showing up at all. In those circumstances, and with a demanding public expecting an hour of entertainment, the quickest and easiest way to replace a cancelled show is to find yourself a funny man/woman willing to step into the breach and cover the time.
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I was so excited about my Edinburgh Fringe debut that I forgot to mention some of the more interesting aspects from my time at the Festival yesterday. In some (limited) ways, the Fringe can be a great leveller for artists of every stripe. Sure, the superstar celebs will still be driven around in comfort, and closeted from the hoi polloi in posh hotels and relaxing Green Rooms.
However, 99% of performers are forced to come here by public transport, accept hugely overpriced and poorly provisioned accommodation, and we walk everywhere. The vast majority of venues are less than 20 minutes from the train/bus stations, so with a little careful planning and a decent map you can save yourself a lot of money by striding – or, more often for comedians, staggering – around town. And there are no real “Green Rooms” to speak of at most venues. Artists just have to hang around in some quiet corner of the room while waiting to come on stage. The reason being that, at the Edinburgh Fringe, almost anything can be a venue. So far, I have come across shows in a cellar, an attic, a cave, a yurt and a bus! And then there are the street performers, who can turn any piece of pavement into their own personal amphitheater.
As a result of the “efficiencies” forced upon artists and performers at the Festival, it’s almost inevitable you end up face-to-face with a few household names every day. A joy for us mere mortals but, as I’m discovering, a wearying and perilous ordeal for celebrities.
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The Party Bus @ The Three Sisters
My trip to Edinburgh is, in all honesty, a huge gamble. I was originally planning to be here for a full fortnight but, thanks to some family crises, my time at the Fringe Festival has been cut down to a mere nine full days.
I came here with a dream of performing as often as possible at this world-renowned arts and culture spectacular, but arrived with only one semi-confirmed booking under my belt. I’d been given a slot, provisionally, at the famous Three Sisters venue near the Royal Mile. It wasn’t guaranteed, however.
Earlier in the day, a group of us newbies had to perform our acts in front of an experienced comedian called Jo to make sure we were up to scratch. I realised pretty quickly that Jo and I had very different comic sensibilities, seeing as she was dismissive of musician-comedians whereas I’m totally enamoured with the likes of Christian Reilly, Mitch Benn and Phil Nichol. We did, however, bond over our mutual distaste for a rather hacky Brit-Asian comedian – who shall remain nameless.
It was an eclectic mix of wannabes – three foreigners, two Scots, a Londoner and me. One by one, we stepped up to the mock stage set up for us at Edinburgh City Football Club. I was caught in two minds about the material I wanted to use. Should I try and do some observational story-telling? Or take the risk and roll out the racist, misogynist Arab character I’ve been working on recently?
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At last! I have entered Scotland. And the dirty bitch didn’t even make me buy her dinner first! 🙂
More than a decade ago, I took an eight-hour coach trip for my first ever visit to the Scottish capital. I remember only one thing about that journey, which was a Welshman who sat next to me and droned on and on. He was under the misapprehension that a teenager would be enthralled by stories of his childhood in the Valleys. He also taught me the word “conurbation”, which I had never heard before. Based on the “-bation” part I’d assumed it meant something sexual and suspected he may be trying to groom me for a NAMBLA-approved rectal desecration.
For my 2013 Edinburgh expedition, I was planning to fly there as (strangely) it was working out cheaper – and far quicker – than taking the train. As Britain is such a tiny island, it would have been a rare treat, and a new experience, for me to take a “local” flight. I was genuinely excited at the prospect. And then, on the day I was ready to make the booking, I came across an ebay listing offering a return coach ticket to Edinburgh for less than £15 i.e. shaving 90% off my travel costs! Sure, I’d have to endure nine hours of uncomfortable British motorway, but visiting Edinburgh during Fringe Festival season is a painfully expensive endeavour. So any options that lessen the damage to my bank balance over the coming fortnight have to be taken seriously.
So there I was at 8am boarding a bus from Birmingham Coach Station to my temporary home north of the border. Bleary-eyed and ready to doze off, I was hopeful I could sleep through the majority of the journey. Some hope!
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Today, I travel to Edinburgh.
I’ve been to the Edinburgh Festival once before. Of course, pedants will tell you that it’s actually many different festivals, all taking place in the same city at around about the same time of year. However, the average visitor sees this annual invasion of the Scottish capital as just one enormous cultural extravaganza. And concerted marketing efforts by various vested interests have singularly failed to subvert that perception.
I first heard about the Festival back when I was still in high school. To my great surprise, I won a scholarship to a week-long “bootcamp” for up-and-coming media talent, run by the Edinburgh International Film and Television Festival. Thanks to a snappy and verbose essay on moral relativism in children’s TV drama – it was basically about Douglas Adams-era Doctor Who and my favourite episodes of Press Gang – I was offered the opportunity to join 30 other hand-picked youngsters on an all-expenses-paid “foreign” trip. Woohoo!
As it turned out “all expenses” actually meant “all expenses necessary to keep you physically alive while you are here” and it didn’t cover travel costs or any incidentals while you were in Edinburgh. The accommodation was provided free of charge by the local university and we were expected to live on the sandwiches and free squash graciously provided by our hosts. Being poor, there was only one way I could afford to take part in this rare opportunity and that was to beg my parents to buy me a cheap return coach ticket. But I had to take a paper round with the local newsagent for three months prior to my trip in order to repay the loan. I’m not a morning person at all, but it was worth the sacrifices if it meant I could enjoy my first ever holiday away from home on my own.
Ostensibly, the bootcamp was an opportunity to meet bigwigs in the film and TV industries and make the kind of contacts that would help us pursue media careers once we’d grown up. Back then no-one had even heard of the internet, and “media” meant working with real people on film sets, TV studios, photoshoots and newsrooms, so it still seemed like a career option steeped in glamour and excitement. I did, as it happens, end up working in publishing, radio, television and public relations for almost a decade thanks to the advice I picked up while I was out there.
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