Your browser (Internet Explorer 6) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.
X
Post

Return to half-formed

After a period of silence for almost two months, you, my dwindling readers, are due an update on what I’ve been doing since I last wrote anything on here.

A fair amount has happened, with my geographical location noticeably shifting multiple times.

At the end of September, I moved out of my flat in Manchester and back to Stroud. It took almost three days to clean what had been three and a half years of miscellaneous nonsense and dust I’d accrued.

I’d be lying if I said that my time living in the north of England went exactly how I’d hoped. Although I’ve done far more paid comedy gigs than in the six years preceding the move, there is very much a feeling – at least as far as the circuit goes – of underachievement, stagnation, and frustration, not doing myself justice or working hard enough in relocation. I added those last two words for rhyming purposes.

My move was a gamble that I’d not really thought through or researched before diving straight into. But you don’t know if a gamble is going to work until you give it a try. I think I just needed to try harder to give it a better chance of succeeding, which is what many gamblers also believe in spite of a lack of evidence. Nevertheless, what’s done is done.

I didn’t have any gigs in September because of something that I may reveal more details on at some point if the material for a show comes together. Cryptic.

My return to the stage kicked off at Swansea Fringe at the start of October, which was hugely enjoyable. I’ve also been in London and did a couple of rusty short spots at some nights I’d not been to in a good few years.

The difference between me performing HTWAPQ and a shorter club set feels very much like what happens after breaking an ankle. When it comes out the cast, it takes time for the strength to return. That unintentionally reads a lot like a Swiss Toni quote.

After breaking my right ankle on that fateful New Year’s also in Swansea in 2008, my dominant right leg still feels weaker even after almost 11 years. HTWAPQ is my left leg and was never meant to be so much stronger than my right, but it’s done a lot more work. There’s nothing weird about this metaphor. It makes total sense.

Then at just before 2am this morning, I got back from a few nights in the Czech Republic where I was doing a couple of HTWAPQs. I had a show in Brno on Wednesday that turned out to be fun, albeit with the language barrier making things a little trickier at the start of the show. But to be fair, there have been many audiences all over the UK who’ve not been able to understand what I’m saying either, so it’s not like this is anything new.

I was in Prague the next night for another small but fun show. Audiences of 13 and nine respectively for two shows are much smaller than I’m used to for HTWAPQ, but they gave me an excuse travel to another country I’d never been to. And I may even be able to write them off as tax deductible.

Originally, these shows were meant to be part of my attempt to do a show in each of the 27 EU member states before Brexit. But judging by my energy levels after a three day trip, I’m now quite glad these plans never got very far.

Aside from comedy, I’ve been getting a fair amount of freelance writing work with my previous company thanks to my old friend, staff shortages. This work may start to dry up a bit, so I will need to find other sources of revenue. If you’re looking for writers and willing to pay, then I’m willing to write. I don’t think I can just rely on leads from this site though.

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Days 24-25 | And post-Fringe thoughts

The reason I’m writing this much later than usual is that I’ve been without any internet for a few days. It has been refreshing to not compulsively check my phone to see what’s happening, or mostly isn’t, in the world.

After the Fringe, I travelled north to spend four nights in the Highlands. I stayed in the cottage of a distant relative, which sounds like the start of a horror film. Fortunately, I didn’t get woken up at any point by a crazy person brandishing an axe and it was a very pleasant stay.

The cottage is owned by my gran’s cousin, who lives in Musselburgh and who I stayed with for two weeks in 2010 in the first year I ever ventured up to the Fringe. It is an integral part of my Fringe history. I don’t normally have the time to venture up to the Highlands retreat. So it’s just as well I’m unemployed this year.

One of the places I visited was Loch Ness, which was much more touristy than I thought. I don’t know why I was expecting fewer tourists in one of the most famous places in the world, but there we go. Luckily, I pulled into a layby on the main A-road where I found a pathway down to the shore of the Loch. I didn’t see Nessie, but thankfully didn’t see too many tourists down there either.

There is so much more to see in the Highlands, four days isn’t really long enough. I will certainly be back and for longer next time.

Back to Fringe matters, the penultimate show on the final Saturday was a little flat, but not bad. For some reason, Saturdays are often the busiest days, but very rarely the best. I had three older men sitting at the front looking bored throughout. I’m fairly confident that it was one of them who wrote an arsey review on the Fringe website. So thanks for that, Charlie. I’m glad you didn’t enjoy the show. Also, I’ve got your ticket money.

Sunday’s final show was much better, with the front row consisting entirely of people who had seen the show at least twice, if not more. So while a small minority of people may not enjoy the show, the people who do tend to come back most years.

As I mentioned many times, the Fringe was much quieter than usual. It was only on one of the last days that I learned one of the reasons for accommodation being much more expensive than previous years. There has been a fairly recent change in legislation in student housing contracts, which means they are now valid for the whole 12 months.

Previously, landlords would be able to kick tenants out for the summer months, where they could get in some performers to pay much higher rents for August. As a result of the changes, many students are staying put and there are fewer properties available for performers and punters. There are other factors, but this may be the biggest one for the rocketing Fringe rents.

My ticket sales were 8% down on last year, with me selling 91% of tickets. Alas, I missed out on my fourth official sold-out Jpeg by 4%. I would appreciate some quiet at this difficult time. At least I’m honest and not claiming to have broken box office records, even if I did technically sell my highest number of tickets ever by purely doing more shows.

Despite the percentage dip, I made more money than last year due to sticking an extra £1 on ticket prices. When you compare this to what many of my more talented peers have endured this year, I’m counting myself to be incredibly fortunate.

In spite of all my gripes, it has been a positive Fringe for me. My main goal was to just have some fun with it after last year’s ordeal. And doing 30 HTWAPQs is the most I’ve ever done in such a short space of time.

The late-night shows were mostly all enjoyable, with one obvious exception. Performing in the main Edinburgh Stand was nothing short of a thrill every time.

The midday show was mainly new stuff, which I’d just about fine-tuned by the end of the run. And I now know that I have two almost completely different versions of the show that I can perform to mostly appreciative audiences.

I even had someone from a terrestrial TV channel get in touch, asking for four comps to the show. I didn’t expect anything to come of it. And I was right, they didn’t even show up.

However, what is becoming ever more apparent is that I need do something else too. As good as HTWAPQ has been for me, nothing lasts forever and I can’t keep doing this alone. I never expected to be doing it for this long, but cannot complain with how it’s gone and where it’s taken me.

I have an idea for a new hour show that is starting to come together. I’m going to take my time with it, instead of rush it like last year’s show. If it’s ready for next year then I’ll bring it up. If it isn’t where it needs to be, then I’ll spend another year working on it to get it right. There were a couple of shows I saw this year that highlighted just how much work I’m going to have to put in if I’m ever going to do a successful hour show that doesn’t turn into a quiz.

But there’s life in the old HTWAPQ dog yet. I’m taking it to Swansea in October and then to Australia early next year, before possibly heading back to New Zealand. Five years ago, I was just delighted that I’d managed to get double figure audiences every day.

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Days 18-23

Edinburgh Fringe has a way of warping time. At times, it feels like I’ve been here for years. At others, it feels like no time has passed at all. It is very easy to lose track of time and have no idea what day of the week it is, let alone the date.

What is consistent though is thinking that there’s enough time to see all the shows I was planning to, before getting to the final week and not having seen anything. Then there’s either the urge to see everything, or just choosing to admit defeat and see the shows when they’re on tour.

This year, there are shows I have been planning to see all month, but had made no efforts to actually do so. I have seen some of the shows I wanted to, but will have to let others pass me by. Then there’s always the vow to be more organised next year, but knowing that the same thing will likely also happen then.

One thing that is different this year is that my visits to the Kilderkin have so far been limited to the solitary pint. It’s another thing I kept meaning to do, but didn’t get around to much. Although the pub will always hold a special place in my heart, that sour taste of last year’s show there is still there in my palate.

I’ve actually barely been drinking this Fringe. This wasn’t a conscious decision; it has just turned out this way. Doing midday shows has been a handy incentive to go to bed at a reasonable hour. And another key factor is not having a bar there immediately after I finish performing where audience members either want to buy me pints or I need something to numb the pain.

The shows have been going well. I now have just two left then that’s me done for another Edinburgh.

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019: Days 13-17

With just over one week left of the Fringe, I am approaching the final stretch.

After a slow first week, audience numbers have picked up for the midday slot and the past eight shows have pretty much all sold-out.

It might have something to do with the late shows no longer splintering my potential audience. But the possibility of gaining another official sold-out Jpeg probably went after the quiet first week and I have come to terms with not being able to add to my collection. It’s a Jpeg, nothing more, nothing less. That said, they can’t take my existing three away from me.

The midday audiences have all been great, but there’s that nagging feeling again that I need to do something else next. I need to have a think about this. Fortunately, I’m now unemployed so have plenty of time for pondering.

One thing I’ve not written about on here so far is the weather. It’s been perhaps the most extreme I’ve known in my nine years of coming to the Fringe. It’s been humid for pretty much the entire duration, but also raining a lot. And oh my, has it rained a lot.

Streams flowing down the streets have been a regular occurrence. For clothing options, I’ve gone for shorts and a rain coat, with a pair of jeans in my bag to perform in.

I’m staying down in Newhaven this year, which is right on the coast. So I’m making sure I get plenty of sea air in my lungs to ward off any lurgy. And I find that looking out across the waves is a great place to put in the pondering hours.

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Days 8-12

After a couple of nights off doing the late-night shows, I completed the remaining two of the run and performed to the second and third largest ever audiences the show has been performed to.

Sunday’s show was probably my favourite of the run. I had 64 in, which is almost the perfect number for the show. There are plenty of people in the room, but not too many so that score keeping and crowd control are tricky.

Traditionally, the second Monday of the Fringe is the day most comedians take off. And while I had a break from the midday show, I still had the final late one to perform.

Monday’s show had at least 70 in. I was concerned I wouldn’t have enough stationery if a lot more people showed up on the door. Admittedly, this is not a concern you hear from too many comics.

The two audiences were just the right side of lively, without ever straying into dickhead territory.

And just to clarify, my record show audience remains Newcastle Stand, where I had 76 people.

Out of seven late Edinburgh shows, six went really well. It was only Tuesday’s show that was a struggle, which isn’t a bad return for a late-night Edinburgh slot. Although I’ve enjoyed doing these six shows, I always felt much more pressure to perform in the late-night slot than midday. This is partly because Stand 1 is such a legendary comedy venue, but there was also the knowledge that I may well have drunken people to deal with. I’m fine with this during the show, it’s just the mental preparation for it. Until the show starts, you never really know what you’ll have to deal with. And you can’t deal with anything until it begins.

I’m pleased to have completed the late run and no longer have to perform the first show of the day and the last one. It would be tough to do this for an entire Fringe. I can now start going to see other shows without having to worry about getting my early evening nap in.

The midday show is still proving to be consistently good fun. The past four days have all sold-out, which is nice in what’s been a quieter than average year. The show is nearly where I want it and I now have the time to rework bits to get it fully there. Today, I had  front-row that was mostly aged in their 80s. They provided a lot of laughs throughout the hour and their reactions to events in the quiz were a particular joy.

 

 

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Days 6-7

I have now completed my five late-night shows in a row, then duly hit the tiredness wall around 6pm just as I was about to go and watch a friend’s show.

Following from Tuesday’s struggle, the shows on Wednesday and Thursday had much better audiences. Although as it gets later, the show does start to lose its focus and the audience just want to sing to the tracks played in the music round.

I’ve been finishing the show around 1.10am. After I’ve packed up all my stuff, it’s not far off 1.30am when I leave the venue and have to get the night bus back to where I’m staying. I’ve been going to bed at around 3.30am, then getting up at 9am to head back into town for my midday show.

I’m thankful that I only have two late-night shows left, as I wouldn’t be able to keep up this routine for the better part of a month. Although four out of the five late shows have been good fun and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of doing the show in a later slot, it’ll be nice to start going to bed at a normal-ish time again.

As far as the midday shows go, I had my smallest audience of the run yesterday with 28. This year being as it is, this number isn’t actually too bad. The people that have been coming to see my show have all been good fun, even if they are a little less inclined to sing along as enthusiastically to the music round than their late-night counterparts.

The set for the midday show still needs work, as not everything in it is flying consistently every day. But I have time to rework bits, and chop and change things.

As I don’t have to perform this Friday night, I’m planning to go to bed before 11pm and become reacquainted with that thing known as a enough sleep. Comedy is still the new rock n roll.

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Day 5

Just before last night’s show started, my tech warned me about that three very lively Northern Irish ladies sitting at the front on stage-right could be the night’s troublemakers. It turned out that they had some competition, not just from their equally loud Scottish boyfriends.

However, it was another group that arrived slightly later ended up taking the arseholes of the night award.

While the group of six on stage-right were indeed disruptive and interjecting, they were crucially engaged in the show. Even if the three lads were often away at the bar, outside having a smoke, or going to the toilet.

The group at the back on stage-left were talking frequently throughout the first part of the show. I would pull them up on it a few times. This, combined with the lively Celts on stage-right, meant it was difficult to get into any sort of rhythm throughout the show.

Yet it was when the quiz began that the night’s true bellend emerged. He was sitting in the middle of the group on stage-left and was mostly quiet for the first part of the show. He would interrupt the quiz, disputing the validity of certain questions or the phrasing, and was generally being an unwelcome presence.

He said that he’d paid £11 to see the show, implying that he could do what he want. I told him I had his money. He tried to protest the questions and answers by claiming that we live in a democracy. I said that this show in fact operates as a dictatorship and I set the rules.

I deducted him two points for being a dick. He didn’t appreciate this, even if he deserved it.

In the end, we agreed that his team would get their two points that had been deducted back if he left.

Shortly after this, he got up and started walking towards the stage. I thought he was going to try and square up to me. Fortunately, he veered off towards the bar and his departure was cheered on by the rest of the audience.

I somehow dragged the show through three rounds. It was a hard slog. When he left and the rest of his team did shortly afterwards, the atmosphere improved immediately.

I’ve performed variants of the show now for five years, more than hundred times in front of thousands of people around the world. There’s never been a show quite like this one, which isn’t meant as a positive thing to say.

But then this is Edinburgh Fringe late at night. And if you combine dickheads and alcohol, it doesn’t always end well. I was just relieved that it did end.

I have two more late-night shows, before a two-night break and then the final two late ones of the Fringe. Tonight has to be better. If it’s not, then at least I’m now prepared for the worst.

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Day 3 and 4

I have been unable to write for the past couple of days, due to the new part of my Fringe routine that involves having a sleep for an hour and a bit before my late-night shows. Otherwise, trying to get by on a cool four hours of sleep out of 24 is a pretty effective way of burning out.

Sunday saw the first ever late-night How To Win A Pub Quiz and it was a really enjoyable show. I’d had about 30 people on presales, but another 20-odd showed up on the night. And although this was less than half the total capacity, it felt nicely filled with teams sitting around tables.

One key ingredient that set this show apart from the midday one is alcohol. While the audience haven’t been drunk, they have had a few more units of alcohol than their midday counterparts. This can lead to more chatting that requires some crowd control work, but it can also lead to the audience bursting into song during the music round. It’s always fun to get the entire audience clapping in time to I Believe in a Thing Called Love, which was one of the original cornerstones of the show. I never expected to be doing it five years later in front of a paying audience in one of the best comedy venues in the world.

Last night was quieter, with about 20 in. Nevertheless, it was a good show and the people who came enjoyed themselves.

It is quite a thrill to be doing shows at the Edinburgh Stand. Since I first came up in 2010, it has been the one venue I’ve always wanted to do shows. Although I may not currently be close to filling the room, the people who are coming to see it have so far been very enthusiastic in their appreciation. And you can only ever perform to the people who are in the room.

Also, not having 140 people means that I have a lot less admin to do in the quiz. You’ve got to take the positives where you can.

Tonight is looking quieter still, but there is still time for that to change and we shall just have to wait and see. Having done the show to such varying ranges of audience sizes, particularly in the earlier years, means that I can adapt it accordingly.

Meanwhile, the midday shows are mostly full and they have all been enjoyable.

It’s time now for that tactical nap.

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019: Day 2

My second show of the Fringe ended up being two people short of officially selling-out.

However, when the room is full, some poor sucker needs to be wedged into a corner next to the air-conditioner unit. So it is probably just as well for that person.

The show was a good one, most of the material landed; although it is currently my bit about the film Bohemian Rhapsody that is furthest from where it needs to be. I will try and rework it over the next couple of shows.

My main regret of the show was being a little too mean to a family sitting at the front who were suffering from the heat of the room. At the moment, the main issue with the show is ventilation in the room. Two shows in and that’s not a bad place to be, albeit a sweaty place.

It is the first Edinburgh Fringe run I have done of the show that doesn’t feature any references to giant squid. Previous years’ shows have also regularly featured The Darkness and the Smurfs, but I have now also weaned myself off these staples. As fond as I am of giant squid and The Darkness, it’s nice for shows to go well that don’t rely heavily on the old guard.

I will admit to being indifferent to the Smurfs. Things have changed from my obsession of 1996.

My biggest concern at the moment is sales of the late-night show. The room is more than double the size of my midday show capacity, yet total sales are on average half that of my earlier show. As I’ve never done late-night shows before, I don’t know if this is normal or if people are more likely to wait to buy a ticket until shortly before show time.

I’ve been out doing some flyering. I will do another stint tomorrow and am going to pay to use the team available to hand out more of them. That way, if audience numbers are low, I’ll at least know that it wasn’t though lack of trying.

Apparently, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo has also sold significantly fewer tickets than in previous years. It appears to be a trend throughout Edinburgh this August. I will do some digging when I get a chance. I’m sensing a story. Although we are only two days in and this could yet change, this year certainly feels different to others.

Post

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Day 1

As you may have guessed from the title, Edinburgh Fringe 2019 has now begun.

I had my first show of the run today and it was good fun. Not everything landed and the set is going to take some honing, but there’s a lot in there that is not far from where it needs to be. The show always develops throughout the run. Something that’s ad-libbed one day and gets a big laugh can end up staying for the whole run, or even years in certain cases.

I was about 16 short of selling-out, which is something I have stupidly become used to. The fact that I sold-out the whole run last year without handing out any flyers doesn’t help with this mindset.

But then selling-out was never part of the plan when I was developing the show. It’s something that I’ve been very lucky to have experienced almost by accident.

Nevertheless, I have a feeling that this year is going to be harder to get audience in.

This year in particular, the flat rental prices have rocketed way more than in any of the previous years I’ve been coming to the Fringe.

It’s not uncommon for acts to have forked out around £1,700 just for a flat to stay in for the month. Richard Herring has also spoken about spending £7,000 to rent a house for the month. These prices just aren’t really realistic to maintain at this level, something has to give somewhere.

It wouldn’t surprise me if hotel prices have also increased, in addition to the rise of AirBnBs that aren’t exactly cheap either.

Higher prices will inevitably put people off coming up to the Fringe, both for audience and particularly for performers.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to get a good deal on a flat through a wonderful site called Theatre Bookers. I’m paying £600 for the month, which is actually pretty cheap by normal Fringe standards, let alone for this year.

Although I have no control over rental prices (at least for the moment), what I can do is make every effort to get more punters in through the door and try to give the best show I can to the people who do come to see it.

I didn’t want another sold-out Jpeg anyway*.

 

*Okay, maybe I did want another Jpeg. But I’m over it. I’ll just have to wait and see what unfolds over the next three weeks.