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Archive for August 29th, 2020

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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.