Panic and preparation means Edinburgh festival is like exam season for comedians
EDINBURGH festival is like exam season for comedians. The whole year builds up to it, you spend the month before panicking and you have to pretend to care about how your peers get on.
I start writing my new show pretty much as soon as I finished touring the last one. I did my final performance of my 2017 show at The Melbourne International Comedy Festival on 22nd April and then less than a week later did my first preview of ‘Almost’ in the back room of a pub in Carlisle. It was quite the come down.
Throughout the year Edinburgh is always in the back of my mind. In October it feels like what retirement does to me now aged 28… “ahh I’ve got ages, no need to set up a pension yet/start writing jokes yet”. Then suddenly it’s February, the deadline for fringe programme entry is upon us and we’re being asked to title and write a synopsis about a show that largely doesn’t exist yet.
But, relax! In May you’ll have a strangely successful new material gig which will give you false confidence that your new show is already in great shape – no need to worry, you’re a comedy genius! In June, a series of tough preview shows will bring you crashing back down to earth – cue mild panic and a work rate that I wish I had discovered in January.
July is the worst month to be a comedian. While most of my friends are enjoying beer gardens, heat waves and over-inflated hopes of their country’s football abilities, I’m schlepping from market town to coastal town testing out new routines.
Sometimes the gigs are in intimate rooms full of devoted comedy fans, who provide a useful workshop for you to test your ideas, and sometimes they’re in a tent at a festival in south Wales in front of 5 hungover people who were looking for the toilet.
I did one in Reading last week that started terribly. As the audience filed into the seats there was no music playing, creating a distinct lack of atmosphere. So I plugged my laptop into the sound desk and put my ‘iTunes purchased’ section onto shuffle, problem solved.
I left the room for ten minutes, and when I returned I was horrified to find the audience sat listening to an audiobook… about how to be successful, I think the 16 strong crowd found it very ironic.
Being up at the festival for a whole month can be gruelling, so it’s important to carefully select who you’re going to live with. You don’t want some drunken lout who gets in at 4am every morning and sets off the fire alarm trying to make cheese on toast. Or even worse, someone who insists on unsubtly mentioning how well their shows are going every second of the day. Protect your ego at all costs!
This year I’m sharing with three good friends and very funny comedians, Brennan Reece, Stephen Bailey and Chris Washington, all of whose shows I would recommend going to see.
The flat is in a good location, with the luxury of a lounge and I’ve only had to sell one of my kidneys to pay for it. The people laughing hardest at the fringe are always the landlords.
On 2nd August I’ll make the annual journey to Kings Cross to board the train and head up to Edinburgh (please note the self-restraint I’ve shown here by not making a Harry Potter/ Platform 9 and 3/4 reference).
It’s inevitable that you’ll bump into one of your fellow comedians as we all tend to leave on the exact same day and time. Some people love this – the “Fringe starts now” they cry, tinnies aloft!
However, due to my personality and insecurity, it is essential that I don’t get trapped talking to someone for the entire four hour journey. Once you’ve asked “what room is your show in?” and “what time?” there is very little small talk left.
My method is to do all the small talk on the platform, including the obligatory lie we all tell each other… “I’ll definitely come catch your show”. I then cunningly isolate myself on the train carriage, avoiding eye contact at all costs to ensure I get the solitary commute that I crave.
Obviously if you’re one of these ‘sociable people’ then you may be comfortable chatting away with your fellow comics, like school children on their way to their first term at Hogwarts (sorry).
I’m starting to get the sweats just thinking about that train journey, so I think it’s time for some last minute revision, make sure I’ve packed a spare pencil and head into the exam room.
Good luck to all the comedians going up, I’ll definitely come catch your show.