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Back on the road

This week, it felt like I was heading to a gig. And by that, I mean that I had to get to the motorway during rush hour.

But it wasn’t to a gig. I was on a rescue mission. My sister’s partner had been up in the Lake District with his parents for the weekend and their car had broken down on the M5, so I had to go and pick him up while to take him back to his house in Bristol while his parents waited to be towed home to Plymouth.

To mark the occasion, there were delays; albeit nowhere near on the scale of getting out of Manchester or on the M6. And it got me thinking.

When I was in London, I always envied comics with cars. Or as they’re known in the trade: “a London driver”. If you have a car, live in London and are a half-decent comic, then you instantly get more gigs because you can drive other comedians to gigs – usually the headliner.

But when I moved to Manchester, and was thus a Manchester driver, I found that I actually really hated driving to gigs. I’ve been thinking about how many different stresses were involved with the drive before I even got to a gig. The first stress was getting back to my flat from the city centre. There weren’t normally any delays on the trams, unless I had a gig to get to.

Stress number two was getting my car out of the driveway on one of the tightest imaginable roads, with cars often parked on both sides. What made this worse was if the arse bag who lived next door was blocking me in and was out when knocked on his door to ask him to move it. Thankfully, this only happened once. But even without that, it was often a really tight road if enough people had got back from work.

The third stress was getting out of Manchester, with delays and congestion on seemingly all routes out of the city. Then there was the myriad 50 mile an hour limits, reduced lane sizes and speeding lorries.

Stress number four was motorway driving during rush hour, or the winding roads of the Peak District. Snake’s Pass is one of the most terrifying places to drive in the world at night, and is even worse during bad weather.

Stress number five was finding somewhere to park when I got to the gig. And stress number six was the general race against the clock to get there on time.

So by the time I’d endured all these stresses, it was time to go on stage. It’s not surprising that many of the gigs I did during this time didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

But that wasn’t the end of the stresses. The seventh stress was getting home again, battling motorway lane closures, diversions along one-track back roads, and just trying to stay awake.

Then the eighth stress was parking when I got back to my flat. There was enough room in the driveway outside my flat for two cars out of the three flats. And there was also technically enough room for the arse bag next door to park on the driveway outside his house. Unfortunately, he almost always strayed over to our driveway, thus depriving one of the people of their parking space – because he was an arse bag. Then getting back and finding there was nowhere to park meant trying to turn the car around in the ridiculously tight road, with mere millimetres to play with to avoid scratching one of the parked cars.

With all these stresses encountered regularly, it’s little wonder that in the summer of 2018 that there was what felt like an apocalypse raging on in my bowels.

Anyway, that went on a bit. I didn’t have to worry about most of these stresses for my rescue mission, where I was rewarded with beer for my troubles. And it just so happened to give me a chance to visit the highly regarded Gloucester Services for the first time. Service stations are a big part of the travelling comedian’s life and Gloucester Services is a firm favourite for many comics. But as I only need to come off at pretty much the next junction, I never had a reason to visit before.

I have now, and I can confirm that they’re really good. Although my heart will always be with Tebay Services, which always felt like a post-Edinburgh treat just before returning to the real world.

Visiting services stations for the sake of it isn’t something I intend on doing, although I may consider it if I need a new hobby if I ever permanently turn my back on comedy and feel there’s a lack of overpriced food and petrol in my life.

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Ale

This week, I planted some ale hops. I received them from Stroud Brewery as a reward I paid for in their recent crowdfunder to survive the turmoil the pandemic has sent its way.

Admittedly, my track record with plants isn’t that impressive. A few years ago, at least two new cacti I bought for my flat died fairly quickly. One was called a Magic Cactus. The magical powers weren’t specified and it is possible that they consisted of the ability to die significantly easier than other cacti.

But I’m hoping these hops will have better luck. Provided everything goes according to plan, the grown hops will be sent back to the brewery in September as part of the community ale that they brew every year.

Fortunately, there are load more people around Stroud who also have them growing in their gardens and the pressure isn’t solely on me. I’ll also receive nine pints of the stuff as another part of the crowdfunder reward.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch them grow, as the hop plant is something of a mystery to me. In fact, ale is still largely a mystery to me. I love a good pint of the stuff, but wouldn’t be able to tell you what was in it or how it was made. Though I should know more later on this year, as another reward I paid for in the crowdfunder is for me and a group of friends to have a brewing lesson at Stroud Brewery, where we’ll make our own ale.

I may have spent far too much money on rewards in the brewery crowdfunder, but I’m glad I can help a really worthwhile business survive these difficult times. Plus, I get beer in return for my philanthropy. I’m just glad that my tastes have evolved from that rancid snakebite and black that I drank far too much of in my first year of uni.

Fortunately, the brewery hit its target quite comfortably. I’ve spent countless hours there with friends in the last decade, drinking some fine ales and eating amazing pizza. And I look forward to doing so again once the Covid madness has run its course.

And on the subject of Stroud Brewery, I can announce that I will be performing How To Win A Pub Quiz there in September. Half of the ticket price will go to the brewery, with the other half helping me to recoup some of the funds I spent on the crowdfunder. I’m fairly sure that Edinburgh Fringe isn’t happening this year, so it’s nice to have something in the diary. The hypothetical diary that is, I haven’t bought a physical diary since 2019.

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Shaped like a pear

I returned to performing this week, sort of.

One of my favourite ever comedy nights, Pear Shaped, has recently moved online. It was an institution of the London circuit and really helped me to discover the joy that can be gained from dying on my arse. The clue’s in the name, it was a night where it was fine for everything to go wrong; and it frequently did, in the best possible way.

The audience often wasn’t that big and it wasn’t uncommon for there to be no audience at all. Or if there was a crowd, you were never quite sure how long they would stick around for. But sometimes, just sometimes, downstairs at that pub in Fitzrovia in that weird wooden room that smelt a bit of toilets, it would be a full of paying punters and it could be a lovely gig.

And after saying nice things about the gig on Alison’s podcast recently, I received a message from Brian asking if I’d like to perform. Now, I have a rule that I only do online gigs if I’m asked. So it was nice to do my first one.

I decided to pre-tape my bit, just to avoid any technical difficulties in a live broadcast. Plus if I know there’s not going to be much chance of hearing laughter anyway, I might as well do my set at a convenient time and relax later on when the show was being broadcast. And is it weird to perform a stand-up set without a crowd? No, at Pear Shaped it certainly isn’t. In fact, it feels the most appropriate gig to do online.

Another reason I’m glad I pretaped it is because it took me about seven or eight attempts to get it right without fluffing my lines. I’ll claim it’s because I’m out of practice, but then I know really that I am prone to fluffing lines on stage.

After a couple of run throughs, a weird thing started happen to my throat. It is a condition I like to call ‘weird quivery sheep throat thing’, where it’s difficult to talk without being interrupted by my faltering vocal cords. It started happening in 2019 and then returned when I was trying to talk on stage in October. I normally have a throat lozenge before I
perform, so perhaps my throat muscles aren’t used to it after such a long absence. Anyway, I gargled with some mouthwash and pushed through.

I enjoyed doing it and it was good to see catch up with some old faces again. Plus the journey home after the gig was really quick and I didn’t have to worry about getting delayed by motorway lane closures.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2021?

Is Edinburgh Fringe going to happen this year? Well, the short answer is that I don’t know. Thank you for your traffic, I appreciate you stopping by.

I will give some further thoughts now. I should add that I am not privy to any inside information and have no scientific qualifications relating to disease, or indeed any scientific qualifications whatsoever. Thus making me the perfect person to give an opinion on the matter.

I am also aware that I mention Edinburgh Fringe more than anything else on this site. I don’t even have to look that up either. Since I first visited the festival in 2010, it is what I have planned my years and entire comedic focus around. So while I don’t know what is being discussed with organisers at the moment, I do have enough knowledge and experience of the festival to give me an idea of the practicalities of running things in the post-Covid world.

Firstly, I should add that I hope Edinburgh Fringe does happen this year. And here comes the ‘however’. However, it is difficult to see it happening this year even with the vaccination roll-out.

As far as I can tell, about half a million people come to Edinburgh every year during August. And they come from all around the world, from counties all with varying infection rates and different action by respective governments.

Were the Fringe to go ahead, it is likely that there would be some social distancing measures still in place. And this is where everything falls down. Many rooms in Edinburgh are small, cramped and sweaty. If one of these rooms had a pre-Covid capacity of 50; then for post-Covid with social distancing this could easily reduced by ten times. And being in one of these tiny rooms will hardly be appealing to an increasingly health-conscious population. On the plus side, it would be easier to sell-out and I have also performed to audiences lower than five during my time up there.

Post-Covid, having hundreds of thousands of people all mixing in cramped conditions is a recipe for disaster.

The other factor is financial. The majority of performers in the UK have hardly been able to perform within the last 12 months, thus depriving them of money. And Edinburgh Fringe is an expensive endeavour, to say the least, meaning that a lot of performers will be unable to afford it through lack of revenue.

And this financial factor also includes audiences. While the fortunate have been able to save a load of money on commuting, not everyone currently has a job and unemployment is soaring. People may end up choosing to save what money they have, or choose to spend it to go somewhere else on holiday instead.

Therefore, Ross Kemp: The Musical may not be making its debut in August. Although there is always a possibility that it could be performed towards the end of the year. As with everything at the moment, it’s just a matter of wait and see.

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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.