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Screen time

For the next month, I have set myself the challenge of switching off
mobile data every day from 10am to 3pm. The reason I am doing so is
that my phone has become a chronic distraction and mostly a means to
waste time.

Although I have permitted myself to use the internet on a computer for work-related stuff, I am also banning myself from using social media during these hours. And I’m also stopping myself from procrastination searches that may be, for example, what Jason the original red Power Ranger is doing these days, what happened to Zach from Saved by the Bell, and of course, the latest news reports of giant squid.

On the first day I tried it, I was getting a little itchy at not being able to instantly check the latest meaningless nonsense. But after a day or so, I was amazed at how much clearer my head has been due to the dramatic decrease in distractions. I also continue to be amazed at how much worse my focus gets when I switch my phone’s internet back on after 3pm.

I was thinking how much worse I would have been at school if I’d had a
smartphone. Then I remembered that I did barely any work at school and
even with technology as limited as it was then, I still found enough to get distracted. The only explanation is that I have a superpower of being able to get distracted by very little.

If you’re wondering why this post hasn’t tailed off, you have no idea how long it’s taken me to get to this point thanks to my phone.

Anyway, I didn’t just come up my phone ban of my own accord. A few weeks ago, I received an email out of the blue from someone who’d been binge-reading the archive on here. I was then asked if I’d like to be interviewed to appear on a podcast about my experiences performing stand-up and the way I’ve dealt with all the extremes of emotions it brings.

The email came as something of a surprise, as I was fairly convinced that no one reads anything on here. So as with all the emails I receive through my site, I did some background checks to check it was genuine. And it was. You can listen to it here, in fact. Listen to the other episodes while you’re there too. By the way, hello Alison.

And part of Alison’s podcast is to get guests to set some sustainability goals. My suggestion of phone usage was something of a joke, but then I learned that browsing and watching videos results in far more carbon emissions than I ever realised.

While emissions from this might be miniscule for one person, they all stack up considerably if the majority of people in the world are doing the same thing.

But first and foremost, cutting down on my phone usage means I won’t get… something or other. Anyway, onto giant squid matters.

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2021…

This year, I’m going to try and write something at least once a week and have Sunday as the designated day. I’m calling it a pledge at the start of a new year. There might be a better, more concise way of saying that.

Given that I’m not doing a massive amount at the moment due to Covid
restrictions, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to write about
without it becoming repetitive. But that is where the challenge lies.

That said, this entire website began after a friend from school had spotted that I was writing 250 words a day on Tumblr, so offered to host it on his server. So writing a minimum of 250 words a week should be doable. Also, I hope you like reading details of dog walks.

It is a year filled with uncertainty and unknowns. I don’t know when
I’ll do another gig, I don’t know if Edinburgh Fringe will happen this
year, and I don’t know where I’ll be living at the end of the year.

It would be helpful to read some of the entries for later on the year now so I have an idea of what to expect. They all exist on this laptop, just not at this particular time.

But the future posts are not written yet, so I’d better make them good ones; or at least mildly entertaining.

The only thing I can say for certain is that I’m going to be doing a considerable amount of dog walking.

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2020 then…

It is fair to say that this year has been filled with things that I never envisaged 365 days ago. And I write this with a full-blown mullet, having today seen my credit in the local paper I last worked for in June 2009.

I will now attempt to summarise what has easily been the most ridiculous year in living memory. I have never known a year like it and hope I will never encounter such a year ever again.

For me, it started like almost any other with me waking up in my parents’ house with no hangover. My New Years Eves now consist entirely of staying in, comforting my dog who’s scared by the fireworks and desperately trying to avoid watching Jools Holland’s Hootananny.

In just under two weeks, I would be travelling to Australia to perform
shows in Perth for a couple of weeks. This was when the country was already besieged by bush fires, with the apocalyptic scenes very much
setting the tone for 2020.

Australia has always been on my list of places to travel to. But when I stopped watching Neighbours after a uni, a large part of the appeal for visiting the country had disappeared. I’d almost bypassed the country completely on my previous two trips to Australasia and gone straight to New Zealand. Anyway, 2020 would be the year I would finally go there.

I don’t know if I mentioned it much on here at the time, but it was really hot in Perth and I am unable to handle temperatures higher than about 30°C. A lot of people spend their time on the beach in Australia, whereas I was spending most of my time in the air-conditioned public library and the freezer aisle at the supermarkets.

I was also there to do shows and they weren’t quite as busy as I’d envisaged. My show was on at 9.30pm and I quickly learned that the centre of Perth pretty much empties of people before 9pm. Still, I managed to get an audience of at least 20 people every day and had larger audiences too. The shows were fun and covered the costs of my flights and accommodation.

The highlight of my time in Perth was a day trip to Rottnest Island. The sun was shining, the sands were white and the sea was clear. I rode it around on a bike probably would have got heat stroke had I not jumped fully clothed into the sea to cool off.

Next up, I went to Melbourne, which is a really cool city and somewhere I’d like to go back to at some point – probably in the Australian winter. From then, it was onto Sydney. I wasn’t a massive fan of the place. It was a bit too much of a generic city for me.

Then it was over to NZ. I did the Sky Jump off in Auckland again, 13 years after I did it the first time. When I did it in 2007, I’d never done anything like it before and got a massive buzz out of it. But having done several bungee jumps since then, being lowered from a platform 192m above the streets doesn’t get the blood pumping so much. Afterwards, I found a pub with numerous craft ales and proceeded to sample a number of them.

The main aim of my time in NZ was to visit places I’d not been to before. I went to Gisborne, which was okay but a bit boring apart from the local brewery. Next up, it was Napier. Apart from staying in a pretty horrible hostel, I really liked Napier. It’s got a totally different feel to any other place I’ve visited in NZ. The highlight was hiring a bike to ride to some vineyards.

Then it was off to Wellington to do shows at NZ Fringe. My hostel in
Wellington was horrendous. It stank, had no ventilation, and only three toilets for 30 rooms. Being hungover there was particularly torturous.

I had a great time at NZ Fringe with my two shows in 2019, so was back
for more of the same but doing four shows. They were great fun, but not quite as good as the previous year. I think people were starting to worry about the coronavirus, which ended up in the end of the festival being cancelled entirely.

I was also meant to be doing Dunedin Fringe, but my venue had fallen through in January and I couldn’t get a replacement sorted. As it turned out, the festival also ended up being pulled. Instead, I went down to Stewart Island and saw some kiwis in the wild.

By this point, the threat of Covid-19 was increasing by each day. Something that started out as a bit of a joke ended up turning into something that would take over the world. Amazingly, it didn’t really alter my trip. I would just fly home a day earlier than originally planned. But when I was in Christchurch, the flight board in my hostel just had multiple flights listed as cancelled. My flight went ahead and I got home without any problems or catching any viruses.

Since I arrived back home, my days have mostly been based around dog walking. I’ve watched all of Star Wars animation series Clone Wars and Rebels, as well as Umbrella Academy, Dark, The Boys, Watchmen, Better Call Saul, and most recently The Mandalorian.

For years, I had wanting to get into podcasting. Not because I really listened to many podcasts, but mainly as a potential revenue stream.

Anyway, I did it when I would have been performing in Edinburgh. I soon realised I didn’t like it. It was a lot of work for very little in return. I may do it again at some point, but only if I have a strong enough idea that excites me.

I’ve only done one gig since I finished my run in NZ. It was in October, I felt off the pace and didn’t really enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

Surprisingly, I haven’t really missed performing. It’s been a huge part of my life for ten years, yet I’ve actually enjoyed having a break from the stress of it all. I know the circuit will return at some point next year and I expect I’ll be performing again before too long, but some downtime has been welcome.

And next year, Ross Kemp: The Musical is coming. This has been the calm, that will be the the storm.

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Old stomping grounds

Of all the utterly bizarre things to happen in 2020, I would have said that a global pandemic was far more likely to happen than me helping to cover a news story for my old local paper.

As it turned out, both ended up happening this year. And for the first time since June 2009, I was reporting on a news story in the Cotswolds for the very same publication where I was once a trainee reporter.

It all happened on Sunday afternoon after I received a message from a mate who still works for the newsgroup. There had been some severe flooding in and around Cirencester and the paper needed some pictures from one of the villages badly hit.

With me being a freelance journalist, I can’t really afford to turn work down. And with them being a cash-strapped local paper, they don’t really have resources to employ more people to cover everything they need to.

So I jumped into action, via the supermarket as I’d run out of dog biscuits. It was a race against time to firstly get to the supermarket before it closed due to Sunday opening hours; and secondly to get to the village before the sun went down.

When I worked at the paper, I was often deployed as a deputy photographer when the actual photographer had another job on. I always much preferred taking pictures to writing stories, mainly because it was more fun and a lot easier.

But 11.5 years on, I was a little rusty with the practicalities of the job. I arrived on the scene to take some pictures of flooding, but was wearing trainers. I had to do some nifty hopping about to avoid getting too wet and managed to get some decent shots on my phone.

I got talking to village residents and found out more information that would make a great story. I passed on the details to the news desk, so hopefully something will come of it.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances of my deployment to cover the flooding, it reminded me how much I really used to enjoy getting out and reporting back in the day. There was just unfortunately a lot of other stuff that came with the job that I needed to leave behind.

Still, it’s always nice to remember the positive experiences instead of the negative ones.

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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.