24 Hours at the Edinburgh Fringe
And so another year of my comedy adventures rolled by without me sacking up and doing an Edinburgh show. Year after year I’d hear stories and reports from my comedy cohorts about the comedy Bootcamp that is the yearly Fringe festival, and year after year I’d nod and say, Maybe next year. Truth is, it’s unlikely I’ll get to put on my own show in Edinburgh for a long time; it would require a financial outlay that I’m unable/ too miserable to commit to, plus I’ve yet to find the right way to word it to my girlfriend that I’d be using all of my holidays from work to bugger off to do comedy for four weeks. But all that doesn’t excuse the fact that I’ve never even BEEN to Edinburgh, to even scoot over and see what the festival is like… flights cost fuck all, I have a pal living over there so I have accomodation…why not just hop over for a day and see some shows? So this week, that’s exactly what I did.
The story begins on Wednesday at Idiot O’Clock, as does most RyanAir flights. Eager to get over as early as possible (read; save a fiver) I booked a flight at six in the morning, so that picture up there is me waiting on the Aircoach outside Quinns at like half four, barely fit to stand. compounding my idiocy, I had nipped downtown the night before to do a set in the Mish-Mash, meaning I was one grumpy fucker in the morning (I died on my hole the night before as well, which didn’t help). I was hoping the early part of this blog would be a bunch of witticisms about Airports, Airport security, RyanAir and what the “deal” was with the whole thing, but in reality Air travel is a fairly well oiled machine at this stage. I had printed my boarding card the night before and pretty much strolled through security, and got my seat and flew off. It was a doddle. The only thing of interest the whole time was the fact that Sean from Foil Arms and Hog was pictured on the overhead bins as part of the Meteor a campaign, and I nudged the person beside me in a stupor of sleep deprivation/ and six am in-flight Heiniken (classy) and said “See that lad? It’s his birthday today”.
And half an hour later, BAM; Edinburgh. A bus into town, no problems… other than the fact that it wasn’t eight o’clock yet and no-one was up. Deluded as I am, I started sending a few texts to comedians wondering if they were around for coffee or breakfast (they would reply many, many hours later and inform me that they had been asleep at the time which, to be fair, what the fuck else was I expecting). I make up my itinerary for the day; the first Irish show I want t see is around twelve, then there’s another at half one. Then lunch, then skip over and catch two more shows before meeting up with Abie Philbin Bowman who has kindly agreed to let me perform at one of his shows around five. The catch the first half of one show before nipping out to catch the second half of another, then catch more shows after that. Dinner, another show, then a few pints then home. Spoiler Alert; none of this happens. I get off the bus and meet my friend Noel, fellow CMXican currently working in Edinburgh, who draws me a map of where everything is.
Following our meeting, I set off on my noble quest, the first half of which involves waiting around for two hours for anything to start. I find the Royal Mile, Fringe central, where everyone had told me tales of how packed and mental the whole place is. I don’t see the big deal; it’s kinda quiet. This is half nine, however. I wander up and down the mile, taking in the castle sights, finding a few directions to shows I want to see, and sitting down for a breakfast which includes my first ever taste of haggis.
Ten thirty, and the Mile is picking up a bit. Theater performers are starting to draw the attentions of the crowds; there are fucking mimes everywhere. The place is a Mimefield, ho ho. Seriously, back the fuck off, man. On top of the ac-tors and the mimes are the street performers, juggling fire and yelling to attract crowds. Most of them seem to spend the first twenty minutes assembling a crowd and begging them to come “a little bit closer”. Then they do their juggling act and, AND, they do a bit of whip work. WHAAAAA-TISHHH! When did street performers get whips? This is a new thing. Like, every one of them has a bullwhip. I watch one guy for a while then bugger off. Through the course of the day, I will see him perform four more times. The sensory overload of the mile gets to be a wee bit too much for me, and I find myself spending twenty minutes watching a guy do nothing except be upside-down in a bucket.
I have a flick through the Fringe brochure/ catalogue thing while having a coffee (my drinking schedule for the day is intended to see me remain relatively sober, and goes alcohol-coffee-alcohol-coffee… That’s sustainable, right?). Other than all the Irish acts, one show name catches my attention and makes me laugh. I figure fuck it; It’s a free show, it’s on early in the day, I have fuck all else to do… yeah, take a chance! Go see a show by some new comedian you’ve never heard of. That’s what the Fringe is for, right? The show is on in Jekyl and Hyde, (not far from The Stand, and yes I did go in and introduce myself to the office staff to try and wrangle a few gigs out of them later in the year; I may be on holiday but hustle doesn’t sleep) a venue which has Aidan Killians bright blue eyes postered all over the front of it. I make a note to return for Aidans show later (Spoiler Alert; Doesn’t happen) and sit down with eight other people to watch a young English comedian launch into his show.
It is AWFUL.
I mean, really terrible. The show starts with him welcoming us to a show that has been called “Tedious, unfunny and a downright waste of time by critics”, and then sets about living up to that hype. I want to leave.There is no way I can waste an hour at this. I keep giving him another five minutes to get better, to make a point or to be at all entertaining. This goes on for a half hour until I cannot stand it any longer. I’ve never walked out of a comedy show in my life. What if he draws attention to the fact that I’m leaving? What do I say? What if he makes a show out of me? Do I get defensive? Do I tell him the truth? This is awful! I hate this! Is this what it’s like to be an audience member at a comedy show? This is terrible! I’m never going to a comedy show again! I duck and swivel off my chair and scuttle out as if I’m dodging return fire. Back on the street, I make my way up to the center of town again, bumping into the girls from Shinoxcy on the way. They’re quieter than I’ve ever seen them, and after a long month performing at the festival I couldn’t blame them. I’ve been here six hours and I’m shattered. That’s not something that gets better when I reach the Royal Mile, where things have gotten somewhat busier…
The mile is considerably harder to negotiate at this stage. People cram fliers into your hands every five steps. Every show seems to have gotten four star reviews. When you put one flier into your pocket, you’re handed two more. I have made a mental note to drop the next mime that prances in front of me. I head to Finnegans Wake to catch Ian Perth ripping it up with his solo show Schoolbooks in Wallpaper. This is the polar opposite of the shite I’d seen earlier in the day; energetic, funny, striking the right tone with the crowd, and altogether entertaining. After the show, I have a chat with Ian and Patser Murray, about how the month has been so far. They have had good attendances at most gigs, so they’re pretty happy. They show me around the city a bit, so I can see where all these shows are that I’ll end up not going to. After they leave, I visit some of the venues out of curiosity. Just the Tonic at the Store, which will host Conor O’Toole and Rory O’Hanlon, looks very nice from the outside. The Gilded Balloon where large numbers of Irish acts will play looks imposing from the outside. Opium, where Eric Lalor will be playing in a few hours, looks kinda scary. I make a note of where all these places are and vow to come back later (Spoiler; doesn’t happen). It’s at this point that Edinburgh, keen to show me everything it has to offer, decides that it’s time to let the rain start falling.
Shit just got grim; umbrellas threaten to poke out eyes, Mime make-up begins to run. This curious love affair I’m having with the city ebbs and flows; I walk for fifty yards thinking wow, I’d love to be here for a month, doing my show and living it up. I walk another fifty yards and I can’t wait to go home. Halfway down the road, I meet Rory O’Hanlon, who informs me that it’s been raining like this, solid, for a week. He seems in good spirits though, with his shows doing well, but there is a look in the mans eye that suggests that he wouldn’t mind joining me in a baton charge on some drama students. I toddle off to a place called Cafe Roma, where Abie Philbin Bowman has offered me a short set. I meet Abie (and my friend Noel) and proceed to help in drumming up a crowd for the show, introducing me to the other delight of performing at Edinburgh; flyering.
Abie, on the other hand, is a dab hand at flyering, and has assembled a fine crowd of about forty people in the small downstairs room. I go down and do a lovely wee gig, taking care not to do any material that too irish-centered, to see how I play to the largely British crowd. It goes over quite well, as does the headliner for the show Robbie Bonham. I shuffle on after the show and meet up with Trevor Browne on the Mile, who was hard at work getting people into his show. He’s waiting on some reviews to come in from previous shows; this strikes me as something important to all the guys over here. Most of them are performing well and most of them are doing alright out of the donations buckets after the show, but what they really want is the reviews; good reviews that they can use to book more work with, both back home and in the UK. I leave Trevor to his work and head off to Noels flat to wash and get ready to go back out, missing most of the shows I’d wanted to see in the process. I get a call from Marcus O’Laoire to help him out with his show, to fill in for Lucy Montague-Moffatt who has gone down with food poisoning. Maybe she had the same haggis as I did, cos it is starting to give me a dose of the Tom Tits. I head over to Marcus’ show, where he’s ripping it up.
You can see the difference a month makes in Marcus’ performance; the intensive comedy training that you can only get from a full month of focused gigging shines through in his act. he’s sharper, his timing is better, his material has no fat on it at all. In Edinburgh, you cannot fail to improve. It’s bootcamp for comedians. Marcus brings me on, and I have a great time. It’s a lovely gig in a lovely room, and I do quite well based on the fact that it’s ninety percent irish and I don’t have to change fuck all of my set (which is a bit disappointing as I would have liked to have had a bit more of a challenge). Still, we wrap up and go out and get stocious. Marcus takes me and Noel and some other to a wee bar and we get drunk on viscous, syrupy beer while Marcus eats a cheese and cold meat platter.
As for the rest of the night; Edinburgh has me now. The night descends into a boozy Russian Roulette game of Pop-Up Pirates with a bunch of surly Aussies, and then… I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I wake up next morning in Noels flat. He puts me on the bus out to the Airport and I fuck off back home on a RyanAir flight seemingly piloted by someones cousin, given how hard he slammed it onto the Dublin tarmac. Looking back at the day gone by, it struck me all at once how much I would love to do my own Edinburgh show, and how much I would hate it. The brilliance of the audiences versus the trudge of flyering. The spirit and pride of the performers versus the spitefullness of some reviewers (and I would point out the assassination of an esteemed Irish act by a Chortle reviewer as my citation here; seriously, the last time there was an assassination like that, it kicked off a World War). The long days and the getting up to it all over again. The sunshine versus the driving rain. The delicious haggis dinner versus the vicious haggis skitter. Could I go through it daily, for a whole month? Maybe we’ll find out next year, but for now I have a renewed respect for those that have done it this year, and will be coming home next week. Well done, each and every one of you.
And if you see my Liver on the Royal Mile, bring it with you would ya?