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Standing up and locking down

The other week, I had my first comedy gig since 7 March. They say the secret to comedy is good timing. And I suppose it was, as England would be back in lockdown less than a week later.

It was the same venue in Bristol I performed at in May 2018, when I was in rich vein of form and had one of my best gigs from that year.

What a difference two and a bit years make. This time, the audience was socially distanced and there were no intervals, which is not ideal for a comedy gig due to the bladder needs of audiences. But such measures are necessary all the same.

The audience got very heckley towards the end of the opening act who had done 20 minutes. Not nasty heckles, just a bit weird and persistent. As a result, I arrived on stage and they were a little restless. I had to try and get things back on track and manage the people who were having their own private conversations.

I felt rusty and so did my throat, with it threatening to stop working at certain points due to the number of muscles I’ve neglected in the last eight months.

With so much going on, I wasn’t entirely happy with how my set went down. Certifiable gold fell flat in places. But the second half of my set went much better than the first half, which is always the better than the reverse.

It’s never a great feeling to return to the scene of a great gig and not doing as well the next time. Nevertheless, it was nice to be back on stage and it takes several gigs in over a number of weeks or months to return to form. I was expecting to feel the adrenaline again that you can get immune to if gigging regularly, although it never really kicked in.

I certainly hadn’t missed driving to gigs. In fact, the experience reminded me just how much I hate the driving side of things and the multiple stresses involved, not to mention motorway lane closures on the way home. And in all honesty, I haven’t missed the regular grind of the circuit in the slightest.

I don’t have anything else booked up and with the way things are going, it seems wise not to. As things stand, I have no idea when I’ll do another gig.

At the moment, my main priority in comedy is writing my Ross Kemp musical. That may seem like an absurd sentence because it is. The entire project is absurd, but I believe in the idea and have a good feeling about just where it might lead. The last show I had a similar feeling about ended up doing pretty well indeed.

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A year, and a half

An entire year has now passed since I moved out of my flat and away from Manchester. And as I walked to my loaded up car, getting one final soaking from the Mancunian rain, I didn’t have any idea where I’d be a year later.

The only firm plans I had at that point were to go to Australia and NZ, which seems like another world away now. Then I was eyeing up a move to either Bristol or back to London after Edinburgh 2020, but a certain pandemic derailed things.

Instead, I have been living back home in Stroud for the past six months and will likely be here for at least another six months until things settle down a bit. I’ve been taking my dog for three mile walks pretty much every day since then, which has helped keep me sane.

I’ve been lucky to get a fair amount of freelance writing work, which isn’t paying loads but enough to pay the bills.

I haven’t done a gig since March when I was in NZ, and haven’t performed in the UK since the 1 November last year. I haven’t really missed it, mainly because the circuit isn’t really operating at the moment. But I do have my first post-Covid gig lined up for the end of this month. I’m looking forward to it, but don’t have a lot else in my diary.

One thing I have been working on is a ridiculous musical about Ross Kemp that’s been in my head since Edinburgh Fringe 2018. I’d not made much progress on it as I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d get it all together with the normal time constraints. But fortunately, the coronavirus has created a lot more time for such things. The other main thing holding me back was that I couldn’t think of a story; although it is now all coming together.

I’d been sending ideas for songs to one of my best mates from school, Rich Shillitoe. He’s an accomplished musician, so was the first person I thought of to work on the show after I had the idea. As it would turn out, he’s now also back living in this part of the world. And now after 20 years of living in totally different parts of the country, we’re in close proximity again. He’s been putting together some music for it and it is genuinely sounding amazing. I went around his house last weekend and all sorts of idea started flowing freely. It is all rather ridiculous, but I am very excited by this project. We’re hoping it will run at Edinburgh Fringe next year.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2019

And now, our final stop in this series is 2019.

Last year was my first Fringe since 2011 where I was without a full-time job, as I left that at the end of July. Despite taking my Fringe runs as holiday for the three years preceding – and revelling in the freedom that brought – I still had to kind of be ‘on call’ if anything went wrong and couldn’t properly switch off. I didn’t miss that, but I did definitely miss the pay slip at the end of the month.

For accommodation, I was staying with a local down in Newhaven. It was right on the coast, so I would regularly go out and sit on the edge of the harbour and gaze out across the water to escape the Fringe madness. I paid £600 for the month and was only sharing with one other person. The website I used proved a great source for bargains. One of the things I am most disappointed in missing out on this year is that I’d already booked a room for about the same amount and it had an en suite. That would be an unheard of luxury.

After a turbulent Fringe in 2018, I just wanted to have some fun in 2019. My other aim was to get through the Fringe without any persistent bowel issues. I wasn’t going to be doing a new show, just HTWAPQ; although I would have a new theme and writing new material for it.

My original plan was to make it the European Edition, but I semi-bottled it. I thought people would be sick of hearing about Brexit after three years, plus I tried writing some material about Europe and it turned out that there was far too much to cover in an hour. But then far better educated people than me have also struggled to come up with anything on Europe in four years.

I also considered making it the Space Edition, but didn’t know if there was enough I could do with that – despite space being infinite. So I picked another option and went for the British Edition. It wasn’t the most inspiring choice, but most of the new material worked and it did give me a chance to finally use Queen in my music round.

This was for the midday show at Stand 2. I was also doing a late-night show at Stand 1. Nine years after first visiting The Stand to see Stewart Lee and thinking how much I’d love to do a show there one day, that’s just what I was doing. I may have used a cheat code with my gimmick, but it was still happening.

I initially asked if I could do one show in Stand 1, but was then offered seven shows there for the first week and a bit. I was in two minds about accepting, because I was concerned it could split my audience. In the end, I decided that it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. Very few get such an opportunity, especially with as low a profile as I have.

So for the first week and a bit, I was doing HTWAPQ shows at midday, then again at 11.40pm and finishing just after 1am. It was a ridiculous routine, but I’m definitely glad I did it as it was a totally new Edinburgh experience.

I wanted to test myself and see if I could scale the show up for a bigger room. And on the couple of nights when I was approaching 80, it was a wonderful thing. In fact, there was only one night that was a struggle with a few arseholes in attendance who kept chatting amongst themselves, but I got through it.

Unfortunately, my hunch about ticket sales was right. The midday show sold much stronger than the late night one.

For the late-night show, I didn’t go any lower than 20 people, which I would have been delighted with in the 2014 run. But when the room can seat 140, I really needed a few dozen more. I ended up losing about £100 from doing these late shows, which is still not a bad loss at a festival where many the losses made by many acts run comfortably into the thousands. And I made up for it with ticket sales from midday. Nevertheless, it still stings.

On the days I did double shows, there was a noticeable split in ticket sales. I had my lowest ever HTWAPQ midday audience in Edinburgh one day with 28. But if you added the 20 people who attended the late-night show, then I would have been close to selling out the 50 seater.

Once I’d finish the late-night run, ticket sales picked up noticeably for the remainder of the run. But that first week meant that I would miss out on another official sold-out Jpeg by 4%. It seems ridiculous to think of selling 91% of tickets as being a less successful Fringe, so I will now make a point of slapping myself in the face whenever I do this.

Apart from the odd flat day and arsey audience review (singular), the shows were good fun. I even managed to keep the show going during a power cut.

For me, Edinburgh Fringe was never meant to be about ticket sales. But I’ve just realised that it’s become that way. It was meant to be about trying out different ideas, experimenting, and creating something that’s hopefully fun and interesting. Success, and trying to cling onto that, kind of got in the way. Still, I consider myself incredibly lucky all the same.

If I was to never do another Edinburgh Fringe again, I could retire pretty satisfied with what I’ve achieved there. Three official sold-out runs isn’t a bad accomplishment at all.

I will return there, hopefully next year with a totally new show. I just need to write it first. And preview it multiple times. Oh, and the festival will need to be running too.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2018

Right, here it is: my account of the struggle that was the 2018 Fringe. I’ve given this enough hype.

I began 2018 with a renewed sense of purpose. If I was to get to where I wanted to be in comedy, I would need to write a lot more new material and do a lot more gigs. And so I did.

I was driving all over the place like never before. I did gigs all around Yorkshire, to Bristol, and down to my old uni stomping grounds of Portsmouth. I was even part of the world record for the longest continuous gig, which took place in Banbury. I was exhausted due to all the driving after work, but I was happier than I’d been in years with all the gigs.

For the first eight months of the year, I was probably doing the same amount of gigs per week that I regularly did in London. And barring one the odd duffer – one that comes to mind is getting stares of disdain from ‘established’ acts for doing new material at a gig that was for… new material and unpaid – the gigs were mostly going really well. Highlights include XS Malarkey in Manchester, Comedy Depot in Bristol, and a wood workshop in Nailsworth. Sadly, it wouldn’t last and something broke.

I was trying to write a new hour show. It was sort of coming together. However, I didn’t do enough previews. I did eight that were spaced out over five months. If all those eight had been in one month, it would have made a dramatic difference to the show.

I was doing two solo shows a day in Edinburgh. And for the new one, I was back at the Kilderkin and wasn’t worried about low audience numbers. After all, I had reigned supreme there in 2015. The Kilderkin conqueror was returning. I thought that if flyered my midday audience, I would be sure to get a healthy percentage to attend my later show. And I don’t know if I already mentioned it, but I did alright there in 2015.

The other show I was doing was a double-whammy of gimmicks. How To Win A Pub Quiz: 90s Edition. I was hoping to be back in Stand 6 for 2018, but a combination of factors meant that The Stand wasn’t running anything at The Place. And due to the decreased footfall caused by the empty void at St Andrew’s Square, it was running a considerably smaller number of shows. I was given a midday slot at Stand 2, which is a great room, albeit a 50-seater. And it was very sweaty. I would stink a lot in my 2018 shows; one from perspiration, and the other from the show more generally.

I’d added some new bits to HTWAPQ, but not done many previews as my focus had been on the new show. Despite this, HTWAPQ was going arguably better than ever. The shows were great fun and were packed every day. I ended up selling 99% of my tickets without handing out a single flyer or doing any promo. Such is the power of the double gimmick.

Yet all was not going so well in my other show over at the Kilderkin. In fact, this is an understatement. Some days were downright torturous. The show needed work, but I didn’t really have the time to sit down and figure it out. Although I would continue with the flyering, my heart wasn’t in it and some days I’d be hoping that no audience would show up so I wouldn’t have to do the show.

To give you an idea of my state of mind, this is something I wrote on my computer at the time but didn’t publish on here until the end of that year: “I don’t want to perform this show any longer. It is not fun. I am not getting anything out of it and it feels like I am banging my head against a brick wall a lot of the time. I hope that I’ll come out the other side.”

That is not to say that every show was dreadful. In fact, some days were actually pretty good when I had an audience and had done some rewriting. But with such number fluctuations, it was almost impossible to build any momentum with the show. I quickly lost faith in it and it often felt like a chore.

A particular low point was the total arse man incident. I call it this as the man involved was a total arse. There were seven people in on this particular day. He kept interrupting, then gesturing for me to get to the point in what I was saying. This was a lot harder to do when someone kept interrupting. He also left three times during the show to go to the bar; and refused to put any money in my bucket at the end. It’s a reminder of just how exposed you are to everything on the free fringes.

Talking of arses, another unpleasant association I have with the 2018 Fringe is that something was wreaking havoc on my bowels. This lasted for pretty much the entire duration of the Fringe. I’m still not entirely sure what caused it, as I wasn’t drinking much that year. In fact, I couldn’t really drink alcohol at all as it would cause unfortunate consequences; normally in the early hours of the morning.

The heat may have partly been to blame, because there was about six weeks before Edinburgh when the temperatures were unbearably hot and I would be driving for hundreds of miles to gigs. And at the Fringe, I was doing two shows most days, meaning a double shot of adrenaline that lasted an hour.

Some days, I would still be on the toilet mere minutes before I was due to go on stage. I honestly don’t know how I got through the month without pooing myself. I suppose that’s another success I can take from 2018, though.

As for accommodation, I was staying at a mate’s flat and paying £200 for the month, which was £800 less than I paid in 2017. He’s since stopped replying to my messages, which I can only assume is to avoid me asking to stay there again with my dodgy bowels. Seriously though, they’re fine now. Mostly.

I needed September off to recover, as the 2018 Fringe had left drained both physically and mentally. For October, November and December, I doubt I even I did 20 gigs. And for a year that had started off with such energy and determination ended at a gig in December to apathy in Audenshaw.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2017

Just before the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, I was fairly close to chucking comedy in altogether. This was a recurring feeling throughout my time in Manchester. I wasn’t doing enough gigs, meaning that the gigs I performed didn’t go as well because of the lack of gigs in the first place. Did you follow that? It was a tough cycle to break.

Approaching the Fringe that year, I hadn’t done enough previews as I’d found them hard to book. Well, I could book them but wouldn’t know how I’d get an audience. When I ran gigs in London, my audiences consisted of largely friends and colleagues if it was central, or eccentric locals in Walthamstow who would normally attend if I put a poster a week or so beforehand. To demonstrate how difficult I was finding it to book previews around Manchester, I did one back at my local in Walthamstow in 2017. And 2016 for that matter.

Anyway, this meant that I arrived in Edinburgh with some new ideas that were mostly untested and didn’t really work. Early on, I had to change the music round as it wasn’t working. I thought it would be hilarious if one of the songs was the metal band formed by Paul from S Club 7. This didn’t end up getting any sort of reaction from the audience, so I had to instead rely on stuff I had found worked in previous years. If I’d done enough previews, I would have been able to weed this out earlier.

There were one or two new bits, but the show was essentially another ‘greatest hits’ version of the three previous fringes. This was an unforgivable lazy habit I had got into. I often think how much more material I would have if I’d taken new hour shows up to Edinburgh every year since 2015, but then I very much doubt if these would have achieved anywhere near the same level of success or been able use my shows to fund global travel. In the loss-making frenzy that is Edinburgh Fringe, once you’ve found something that works then it’s very difficult to let go of – especially if you know that you can get a two or three grand for it.

I was back in Stand 6 at The Place with my beloved terrace out the back. But the venue as a whole was far quieter than the previous year as the arseholes who own St Andrew’s Square had banned any show tents, bars or food stalls from being set up there. What they intended to be ‘an oasis of calm’ had turned the place into a soulless sterile dead zone. This meant that shows in the New Town really struggled to hang onto punters. This led to The Stand running fewer shows in 2018, which was a massive shame.

But all things considered, I had a good year in 2017 in spite of the difficulties. I achieved sold-out status for the second year in a row. And I also got two four-star reviews, which were my first ever.

Having come from the Free Fringe in 2016, The Stand felt like an arm-chair ride. It was such a luxury to have front of house staff, people on the box office, and a tech; whereas before, I was doing all those things myself.

One gnawing pang of regret is that I didn’t really use this platform for further career opportunities. Doing a sold-out run without any PR or flyering team behind me is pretty rare indeed. Each year that went well, I said to myself that I’d push it the next year with agents and production companies, but never got around to doing anything about it. I pride myself on being someone who doesn’t ‘play the game’; I hate to schmooze. I’ve always done the Fringe with the mentality – perhaps misguidedly – of doing what I want and not worrying about getting the attention of anyone in the ‘industry’. Ironically, I was actually going to use the 2020 Fringe to do just that. Alas.

In 2017, I was staying in a flat nice flat that was about a mile away from my venue and it had a designated parking space, which was invaluable. Although at £1,000 for the month, it was by far the most I’ve paid for Fringe accommodation and I can’t see myself ever paying so much again. Needing a parking space limited the options available. I was sharing with two other comedians, deploying the old trick of one sleeping on an air bed in the living room. I won’t name my flatmates as the overriding memory I have of that year was me cleaning the entire flat at the end of August on my own. One flatmate had wreaked havoc on the kitchen work surface by chopping up an onion on there with no chopping board, which I’d done my best to repair using cooking oil and some laminate coating used for car scratches. The other flatmate had left a load of beard and nail clippings in his room when he moved out of the flat. Amazingly, I still somehow got my deposit back.

After the Fringe, my HTWAPQ gigs were going infinitely better than my club sets. After a couple of poor showing at two big clubs, I went through my set and realised just how long I’d be using the same jokes and had become tired of them. I vowed to make up for that in 2018 and write a totally new Edinburgh show, with mixed results. No bag though.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2016

Originally, I wasn’t going to perform at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe. It was the year I’d relocated with the day job from London to Manchester and I’d promised colleagues that I wouldn’t be disappearing for the entire month of August as well.

Within a week of moving up, I did a gig in Liverpool. Also in attendance that night was my old mate Stephanie Laing, who I’d gigged with multiple times back in London over the years. She’d also recently moved up to the North West. With most comedian conversations, Edinburgh is never too far away. I said I didn’t think I’d be going up, she said she was planning to and was waiting to hear back from The Stand. So I asked her for the contact.

I sent them an email asking to do a half-run and didn’t think I had any hope of getting in with them, so was already thinking of how I’d actually spend my summer instead. I didn’t apply to any other venues.

But I got a reply from The Stand, asking me for more information. I was still convinced it wouldn’t go anywhere. I sent them back details about the show, where it had been performed before, what sort of audiences it had drawn, and suggested it for their 40 or 50 seater rooms, as those were similar sized rooms to where the show had worked well before.

A week or so later, I was stunned when they got back to me with an offer. It would be a 60-seater room and a midday time-slot. I honestly didn’t think I could fill a room that size and that getting an audience at midday would be a struggle. Even if anyone did show up, they wouldn’t have had any alcohol and would be really subdued. It was also the first year I had done a ticketed show. I was convinced that I wouldn’t sell many and those people who had bought tickets would be queuing at the box office to demand refunds. I would later be proved wrong on all fronts.

I’d been sent link to check my ticket sales in the April, which I had been reluctant to click on I thought it would only confirm my suspicions. When I checked around mid-June, I was astonished to find that I had sold about 75 tickets.

These ticket sales links would become an obsession and I’d be checking multiple times a day. In later years, if there had been any new sales then I’d celebrate. If there hadn’t been any for 24 hours, I would despair and do some soul-searching about what went wrong.

It was the first year I drove up. It was a lot less stressful than getting the train, and I’d break the drive up by staying a night at a midway point. This year, it was Carlisle. The tradition of getting an early morning train was replaced by leaving the office late due to tying up loose ends, then normally not setting off from Manchester until 8.30pm or 9pm. The mad dash to get on my train was replaced by a mad dash to make sure I could actually check-in before the hotel reception closed.

A recurring issue of my time living in Manchester was that I simply wasn’t doing enough gigs. I’d found it hard to get as many as I needed, partly because I’d become lazy in booking them; but also because there weren’t as many that I could easily get to a few times a week after work. There was a lot more driving involved that really sapped the energy levels and clashed with a full time job. As well as the insufficient tally of gigs, a few people this year had told me that I spoke too quickly. This feedback ended up working counter-productively, as it made me more conscious when talking and I would end up swallowing words and being even more incoherent. All these things meant that I arrived in Edinburgh not in the best comedic shape.

2016 was the final year when there were things in St Andrew’s Square such as shows, bars, and food huts. It was a vital hub in New Town that made people hang around thee a bit longer and maybe see another show or two. Another thing that was really helpful was all The Stand’s show listings all around the outside. When such activities in St Andrew’s Square were banned by the square’s owners the following year, it made it so much more difficult to get audiences to stick around in New Town. They would come over for what they’d bought a ticket for, then leave.

On the show listings, it was bizarre seeing my name alongside the likes of Stewart Lee and Daniel Kitson. And it was equally surreal hearing the venue staff asking people if they were there to see me.

For the first couple of gigs, I felt like I shouldn’t really be there, let alone charging people to see a show that they could have watched free in the two previous years. The first show was a preview in front of 12 people. It was shaky and didn’t go particularly well. A reviewer who was in gave it three stars, which I felt was generous.

In the first show of the official run, I had 37 in. It was a bit better, but I was still being held back by the straightjacket of imposter syndrome. I went to the Kilderkin for a pint to mull over my set, cut what didn’t work, and see if there was any other stuff I could use.

But then on the first Saturday of the Fringe, something happened. I had sold-out my first ever show, although I still didn’t like I should be there. Then towards the start of the show, something seemed to click into place. There was a hen do sitting at the front who I started riffing with, and suddenly I started performing like I knew I could. And with that, my mindset changed completely to: “That’s right. I do deserve to be here.”

The hen do all wanted pictures with me afterwards, which felt like an out of body experience. Other people throughout the run also wanted pictures with me, and one or two even asked for my autograph. It was all a little odd, but I went with it.

I loved the Stand 6 room in The Place Hotel. It was perfectly set up for my show and I very much enjoyed having the terrace out the back where I could sit and relax after the show, as well as have a bar where people would buy me beers. For accommodation, I was staying down in Leith with a local.

I would end up selling out nine shows out of my official run of ten. All that worrying was a complete waste of time and energy.

I really wasn’t ready to go home when it felt I was just getting started. And I would be back at work in the second half of August, with Facebook and Twitter feeds full of friends still up there. I just wanted to go back immediately and carry on performing, but I would have to wait another year for this.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2015

With three days left of August, I still have five more years of Fringes to cover. August this year has actually been pretty busy, not by my usual standards; but busy enough so that I haven’t had enough time to do this. I’ve been getting a fair amount of freelance work, and am also doing a podcast that I’ve also not been able to devote the time that I thought I would. I will continue regardless.

The next five years brought much success, which is boring. So stay tuned for the 2018 one, as that featured some good old fashioned struggles. Anyway, onto Edinburgh Fringe 2015.

As a result of the unwanted promotion in the day job, I was approaching the 2015 Fringe having done very little writing of new material. This is a sad trend that has mostly continued to this day. I had a few scraps of ideas, but the show was essentially a refined version of the 2014 one.

What was different in 2015 was that I had paid the £295 to go in the official Edinburgh Fringe brochure for the first time since 2011. I was convinced that it wouldn’t have any significant effect on my audience numbers. The Kilderkin was too far away from everything else to get a big audience every day. Wasn’t it?

Well, no. I will never forget getting back to the Kilderkin after flyering on that first Saturday and seeing more than double the capacity of the room queuing out of the door to see my show. And it wasn’t just a one off. I was getting full rooms every day. It took a few shows to adjust to. And felt like I was living in a parallel universe. There was only one day out of the 18 shows where it wasn’t standing room only, where I was four people short of filling all the seats.

Not everyone enjoyed my show. A group of disengaged students fled through the fire escape during one performance, with one of them writing on Twitter that it was the worst show he’d ever seen. And who can forget my audience review on the Fringe site from Megan? She said: “This is a tedious hour, peppered with weak jokes that are delivered charmlessly.” I certainly haven’t forgotten. She also said it was clear that the show was going nowhere. Predictions weren’t her strong point – that much is clear.

And aside from a few flat days, the shows were great fun and a sign of things to come. I was getting the most out of my bribe rule, where audience members could win their team a point if they bought me a pint during the show. One Saturday, I was bought three pints within the hour. The drunkenness descended from there, leading to me heckling my friend Pete who was playing some acoustic song in the pub later on. He did open mics every night at the Kilderkin in 2012, but didn’t appreciate my alcohol-fuelled demands for Mrs Robinson and Rocket Man on this particular night. He asked me not to come back. The next morning, I woke up in a corner of my bedroom on a pile of washing.

I was staying in a nice if unconventional flat behind the Meadows. The shower was in a cupboard in the kitchen. I was sleeping in a double bed that I had to climb a fairly high ladder to get in, probably why I opted to sleep on the floor on a particular night. And the key to the front door from the street was temperamental; sometimes, it took what felt like 15 minutes to be able to open it. Alas, it would be my final Fringe sharing a flat with Deech. Jake Baker was also sharing the flat, along with at least three different people sleeping on the sofa bed at various times.

Another thing that felt significant with my show in 2015 was breaking the £100 barrier in the collection bucket at the end. It had eluded me for years, so was thrill to achieve that.

I clearly had something in the show that people not only wanted to see, but were willing to walk a considerable distance for in large numbers. And there was only ever only one paid venue provider that I wanted to perform at.

After my shows, I would count my money at the bar and chat to Les, the Kilderkin chef. He knew people who worked at The Stand, so I asked him to mention my show. I don’t know if he did, but I didn’t know how else to go about approaching them for shows.

As it happened, 2015 would be my final year before moving to the paid fringe. This would also be my last Edinburgh as a London resident, although that may very well change in the not too distant future.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2014

I originally didn’t want to return to the Kilderkin in 2014. After a tough 2013 and the struggle to get an audience due to it being a fair walk from anywhere, I was planning my next move.

While my show idea was still forming, I’d been looking at other options. This was the same year that Freestival had set itself up as a third free programme of shows in Edinburgh.

I sent them an email and asked if I could do a solo show with them, which at the time was going to be something about trivia and weird facts. I didn’t hear anything back for a while and wanted to start getting things organised, so applied to the Free Fringe. And sure enough, I was offered the same time-slot at the Kilderkin.

By the time I’d accepted the offer and had come up with the concept of How To Win A Pub Quiz, I received an email from Freestival to say that my application had been denied but they would reconsider another application if I applied for a two-hander. And that was fair enough. At the time, I’d not really done enough to justify a solo show for a promotion that really needed their first fringe to be a success. I hold no grudges about it and get on well with all those involved. And everything worked out for the best.

Well, for me that is. The new promotion would only last two Fringes, before vanishing completely after 2015. Fair play to them for giving it a go though; they were like a much more organised and competent version of the Rebel Fringe.

As I’ve no doubt written on here before, the concept of HTWAPQ all came together pretty ‘organically’, so to speak. My giant squid material made me want to do a show about trivia, and a pub quiz would allow me to bring everything together quite nicely.

What helped massively when planning the show was that I knew exactly what the Kilderkin room was like and the technical capabilities.

What also helped me develop the show was living in London. I could try bits out at the numerous open mic gigs, and then also knew the circuit there well enough to book previews. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to develop the show in the same way, if at all, if I’d moved to Manchester a couple of years earlier. London provided me with countless development opportunities that I didn’t have to drive for two hours to try out.

After my first preview I did at the Roadhouse in Birmingham, I knew I had something on my hands. And it wasn’t just my set list. Aah. I thank you.

Not all the material worked and I think I dropped a fair amount of it, but there was definitely something encouraging there.

My main goal of the 2014 Fringe was to just get an audience every day that was in double figures. I hadn’t gone in the Edinburgh Fringe brochure again during this year. Although I’d actually meant to, but hadn’t decided to until quite late; and if I recall correctly, the application system had changed and I didn’t have time to figure it out. This meant that I had to rely on flyering and the Free Fringe booklet for audience.

I was delighted that I achieved my goal of getting at least ten people in to see every show. And at the weekends, I sometimes I even had a full room. Not only that, but having a full room made the show operated on a different level entirely. There was one Sunday when everything seemed to click into place, with the material, the quiz and the riffing off an audience all coming together so amazingly well that it gave me a buzz that lasted for a good few hours afterwards.

But it was the smaller crowds that really gave me a chance to experiment and figure out exactly how everything worked without any pressure.

For accommodation, I was staying on a new build estate about half-way down Leith Walk. The flat was really nice, with two bedrooms with two bathrooms – one was an en suite. I was sharing a flat with Deech for the third year, with Paul Dance maintaining our tradition of having a flatmate called Paul. We were going to take it in turns to spend a week on an inflatable mattress in the living room, only Paul had a back injury; so me and Deech had to split it between us.

The other memory that springs to mind for the 2014 flat, is that Paul had decided to cook an egg after getting back late one night. I was woken up the next day by someone knocking on my door and said there’d been a gas leak in the block of flats. Anyway, it turns out that Paul had left the gas on for a mere seven hours or so. I was feeling a little groggy on my way to the venue, possibly psychologically, with visions of collapsing during my show. But it turned out to be possibly the very best of the run mentioned above.

It was a great Fringe and felt like a significant step in the right direction. I even got a nice review from Copstick at the Scotsman. What did put a dampener on things was in the final HTWAPQ of the run. I’d been battling the lurgy for much of the final week. And in my final show, my brain seemed to fail me, I was a bit all over the place, and it didn’t go so well. But this didn’t take away from all the other positives that the 2014 run had brought.

This was also the year of the seven-hour train delay on the journey home. It still remains one of my favourite train journeys, mainly due to Twitter interactions with all the other comedians also stuck on there.

When I returned to the day job, I received some awful news. My manager told me she was leaving and that I was being promoted to her position. This would consume so much of my time and energy over the next five years. It would also signal the end of this particular care-free era of my life that I’d enjoyed so much. I would be getting more money but with it came more responsibilities that I really could have done without.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2013

As far as my years performing comedy go, 2013 was quite possibly my favourite. I was doing lots of gigs, writing regularly, and experimenting with ideas. But it was running and often MCing two monthly gigs that really improved everything else.

Knowing that I had those opportunities to try stuff out and mess around, while watching top headliners in small rooms, gave everything else I did a massive boost. Comedy was a lot of fun. I even broke my competition hex and made it through to the final of the biggest competition… in the market town of Droitwich in Worcestershire. It’s Rik Mayall’s hometown, so is therefore the only comedy competition that matters. Or mattered, as I don’t think it runs anymore; thus making it all the more exclusive.

It wasn’t all glory. I had some stinkers too, although they would ricochet off me thanks to all the good stuff that was going on.

However, it was not one of my favourite Edinburghs. In fact, it was one of my toughest. I was adamant about returning to the Kilderkin. I adored the pub and liked the room, plus I’d heard from a reliable source that one of the barmaids had taken a shine to me in 2012. In fact, this latter reason might well have been my main motive for returning there. I’ll skip to the end here: when I arrived, I found out she no longer worked there and pretty much the entire bar staff I knew had gone. And my plans would start to unravel from there.

I’d been offered a shiny 6pm timeslot and the show would be called Love and Langton’s Fear and Loathing. Yet it didn’t quite work out this way.

In possibly February, Langton asked to meet up for a pint and a chat. As he’d recently got engaged, I was all set to tell him: “Yes, I will be your best man.” But he had something else to say: he would not be doing Edinburgh that year.

There was a last hurrah for Love and Langton though. We did two dates at Brighton Fringe that year and it was rubbish.

Anyway, after Langton dropped out, I spent the next couple of weeks trying to convince the Free Fringe organisers that I should be allowed to do a solo show in the same slot, despite the fact that I didn’t really have any ideas for it. This was denied. They obviously had no idea what was at stake.

I was given a few days to find a replacement for the two-hander slot I’d been allocated. And that came in the form of Simon Lilley. I’d done a couple of gigs with him and he was a funny man.

Simon was doing a solo show earlier in the afternoon, which was his main priority and that was totally fair enough. Five years later, I would come to appreciate just how draining it was to do two shows a day.

I’d seen that from the earlier shows at the Kilderkin that it was easier to get a crowd there at that time, as there are still people walking past there in the early evening. If we can get a crowd every night at 11pm, then a 6pm slot should be no problem. I didn’t think I’d even have to do much flyering. How mistaken I was.

It turned out to be a struggle to get people along even after flyering for a couple of hours. And we had to pull a few shows due to having no audience. Simon was having a tough run in his solo show and I could tell he was relieved some days when ours was pulled as it gave him a chance to rest a bit. I can relate to this much better after 2018.

Just as an example of how desperate things had become for wanting an audience, Simon had managed to persuade four Spanish students to come in and watch the show while they waited for their pizza. The one who spoke the best English was whispering translations to our material to bored looking faces. As soon as the pizzas were ready, they were off in a flash. This left a couple on the front row who may very well have been swingers judging from what they were saying. They invited me to one of their parties; but alas, we didn’t exchange contact details.

This is not to say that the run was a total disaster. We had some good shows and I was mostly enjoying performing when we had an audience. Nevertheless, I did find the the stop-startness of it all frustrating. I wanted to perform every day and wasn’t always able to. The bottom line to it all is: the theme of fear and loathing simply wasn’t strong enough. It made me start thinking harder about themes for the next year.

Two things that did feature in my 2013 set were The Darkness and giant squid, which would form the basis of How To Win A Pub Quiz.

For accommodation, I was staying at the same flat as 2011. Only, Moz was out and Deech was in. Probably the highlight was finding a pair of Deech’s in my bag after I left and for the next year, I would play a game where I would take them to various landmarks and Deech would have to guess where his pants where. If you’d like to see this, do a search on Twitter for #whereareDeechspants.

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Edinburgh Fringe Archives: 2012

I very nearly didn’t go to Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. I’d applied in plenty of time for a venue, but didn’t hear anything back until very late in the day. I was offered something ridiculous like two weeks in one room, and a week in another venue with a different timeslot. I replied straight after getting the email, only to be told that the slot had been taken. I think I was offered something else that wasn’t really workable.

For the next few weeks, I was actually looking into running my own Fringe venue. I’d found somewhere, it was sort of confirmed with the manager; I’d set up a Facebook group, recruited various other comedians, started putting together a rough plan for show timeslots, and even had a logo designed. But it didn’t quite work out. Alas, The Rebel Fringe was never meant to be.

By now, it was early April and the early bird deadline for a discount on the brochure fee was long gone. We were faced with the decision to either admit defeat and not do Edinburgh that year, or apply to the Free Fringe and hope that our very brief association with their bitter rivals wouldn’t count against us.

I’d heard from someone that it can help your application if you suggest a venue, so I suggested somewhere I’d done a ten-minute spot the previous year. I was offered a slot at 11pm for the full-run. And the venue was the Kilderkin, which would be my home for five Fringes and see my solo show reach heights that I didn’t think were possible. Plus lows, but more on them in a later entry.

Unlike in 2011, I had a full-time job. I’d planned to leave the company before the festival but was then told that I could work remotely. Unfortunately, as I had already been working on the basis that I was leaving before the festival, I did not have much holiday allowance left. This meant that I had to work full-time for the first two weeks of the Fringe. I’d finish my show just after midnight, take the room apart, have a pint of old man beer McEwan’s and sometimes a pizza. Then I’d walk back to the flat to get some sleep before waking up just before 9am, then commuting by switching on my laptop from my bed.

It was slightly frustrating being in Edinburgh, but being able to see very little of the Fringe until I’d finished work for the day. But having a full-time job is what made it possible to do Edinburgh Fringe every year. Plus I got my full salary at the end of the month. I would get better with my holiday rationing. And it wasn’t until before the Fringe last year that I finally left the company after 7.5 years, which was significantly longer than the original plan.

One of my highlights of the 2012 was going to a recording of Richard Herring’s podcast where he had the wrestler Mick Foley as a guest. It was two of my heroes from when I was a teenager, from totally different performance backgrounds and no obvious links, united on stage. That’s just one example of the weird and wonderful magic that Edinburgh Fringe can provide.

We had a nice flat about half-way down Leith Walk. Moz was meant to be sharing a flat with us, but dropped out a few months before as he decided not to do the festival. His replacement was Deech, who I’d originally met in 2005. Me and him would go on to be flatmates for four Fringes in total, annoying each other frequently and almost always deliberately.

My show this year was Love and Langton’s Dirty Laundry. Our posters and flyers had a picture of us hung on a washing line, which got people’s attention. We weren’t in the main brochure, just having to rely on the Free Fringe guide and flyering for a couple of hours to get an audience. But we got a crowd every night. And our smallest crowd was seven, which I’ve since got far lower in that room. Some nights, we even had a full room. The main lesson: if no-one knows your name, you need a strong theme to get your audience.

I’ve recently recorded a podcast with Langton about our Edinburgh Fringe runs in 2011 and 2012, to be published at an unknown date. Until he reminded me, I’d forgotten just how determined I was to perform to any kind of audience in those days. Whatever size the crowd was, I was resolute in giving them a show. If Paul was reluctant, then that just strengthened my resolve. It was quite a contrast from the jaded diva I’d become when I was doing a solo show in that same room in 2018. Some days, I was strongly hoping no-one to show up as I needed to have some time away from the show in order to work on it.

Dirty Laundry was much better than A Mixed Bag. We were a year more experienced, had figured out how to do shows better and the material was stronger. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we were better comics at the end of it and that was always the main aim for both of us.

Sadly, it was the end of the road for Love and Langton. Paul got Yoko’d and that was the last run of shows he would do in Edinburgh, although I still haven’t entirely given up persuading him to do one more.