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.