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Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – Day 4-9

After the first three shows of trying to find my rhythm, I hit my stride on the fourth show and it has been fairly consistent since then. As a rule, the less I write here, then the better the shows are going.

A significant improvement came as a result of me cutting newer bits that weren’t working as well as I’d hoped, and using sections that I know work from previous runs.

Surprisingly, finishing the quiz with the final question involving a track from Paul from S Club 7’s metal band didn’t prove very popular. I have since reworked the show and dropped this track entirely, reverting to stuff that I know works for the paying punter.

I have always been really lucky with the audience I get for this show, and the last few gigs have been no exception. It is both bizarre and amazing just what an extreme reaction answering a question correctly provokes in people. Every audience has been really competitive, determined to win, and arguing passionately that they deserve a point for their answer.

In review news, I have received my first ever four-star review for anything. This is nice, but I’m firmly of the belief that reviews in Edinburgh don’t matter quite as much as people expect, and usually fade away once August has ended. Nevertheless, there’s part of me that wants to better this still. On the best days, it feels like a five-star show. So, even though many reviews are fairly meaningless, it would be nice to get some text and characters to prove that I’m not completely delusional in my belief in the show.

When I started the run and wasn’t enjoying it so much, I was counting down the days for how many performances I have left. Now things have picked up, I want to be up here longer.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – Day 1-3

Three shows into Edinburgh Fringe 2017 and I’m exhausted already. Things have been going pretty well, with definite room for improvement.

The best show so far was the first one on the Friday, with an audience that was both competitive and argumentative. Saturday’s and Sunday’s were surprisingly reserved by this show’s standards.

I’ve added a few new bits to the show this year, some of these are working nicely, but others either need honing or dropping. My preparations this year were far from ideal. I had three previews in the diary, one was awful, one ended up booking me for a different day to the one that we’d confirmed, and the other was rescheduled and then booked me as the same night they’d already scheduled a band. Nevertheless, the pub quiz structure is a solid one that works nicely and it’s only a few bits that need fine-tuning.

I know I should stop being so fixated on audience numbers, as the rooms have been nearly full every day. But when you’re doing essentially the same show in the same venue and time-slot as the previous year when it sold-out, you do start to worry when there are still tickets left over even if it is only a handful. I didn’t expect every day to sell-out this year, but I did hope that the weekends would at least.

I really can’t complain though, as I’ve already covered all my costs and made a bit of money. This is obviously amazing and shouldn’t be sniffed at. Although the show have been nice, I’ve not been fully satisfied with one yet and want to feel like I’ve earned anything I make.

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Cliffhanger resolution and Doctor casting

I have realised that I left the last entry on something of a cliffhanger. Just what was happening with my ticket sales?

As cliffhangers go, it’s not up there with Who Shot Mr Burns?, the best series of Dexter, or even that episode of Neighbours with the massive fire at the coffee shop that was so spectacular that it made me miss a lecture when I was a student as it required a second viewing.

Even so, I don’t think I can put up with much more of this suspense. This suspense that I am creating here.

Right here.

This suspense.

Look, it’s my website and I will do what I want here. Although going by the frequency of new entries, this admittedly isn’t very much.

I can confirm that tickets have been continuing to sell for my Edinburgh show. Nearly a third of tickets have been shifted with almost two and a half weeks to go, which puts me in a decent position. Although the first weekend of the Fringe is currently looking a little quieter than I expected. I am also pleased to report that I have covered the show running costs of the venue already, so I no longer have to worry about losing the nice people at The Stand any money.

I’ve written quite a bit of new stuff for the show this year and was considering replacing a scene from a film I’ve not actually written, with a scene from a Doctor Who episode I’ve not actually written. However, what was intended to give me an opportunity to use it as an audition to be the new Doctor was thrown off slightly by yesterday’s news. And it wouldn’t be the internet if I didn’t comment on the casting of the new Doctor.

In case this is the only website you visit, I can tell you that the new Doctor is indeed a woman in the form of Jodie Whittaker. I can’t claim to be overly familiar with her work, but she was very good in Attack the Block.

My biggest concern was that the rumours were true and Kris Marshall had been cast, which would have been one of the blandest and most uninspiring castings of all time. And for a moment, in that introductory video of a hooded figure talking through some woods and there was that the low-angle shot from behind, I started to fear the worst.

I was pleasantly surprised when the hood came down and her identity was revealed. I am fine with the Doctor being a woman, as that immediately excludes Kris Marshall, who I will always associate with those stupid BT adverts that ran for decades.

Inevitably, there has been a backlash from the internet against this casting because of the gender. However, the essence of Doctor Who has always been about seeing things you haven’t seen before, or seeing familiar things in a different light. So having the first female Doctor epitomises this, and I am genuinely intrigued to watch the new series.

But before that, Edinburgh Fringe is looming.

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Presales

Another Edinburgh Fringe is fast approaching and bringing with it such strong feelings of excitement and dread that shouldn’t be possible to go together.

I don’t think I’ve announced what I’m doing for the Fringe yet, on here anyway. Although this site does tend to be the last place I share things, and I don’t think I’m alone in often forgetting that this website exists. That’s how seriously I take my web presence.

I am taking How To Win A Pub Quiz to the Fringe for the fourth year in a row. At some point, I’ll think of another show idea. But while HTWAPQ remains fun and people want to see it, I’ll continue to do it. I am returning with The Stand at the same venue and time-slot as last year.

Whenever I receive the ticket presale link, I tell myself that I won’t keep on checking it. I then end up checking it multiple times a day. Whenever tickets are sold, even if it’s just a couple, I can’t stop myself from celebrating internally. Sometimes it’s even accompanied by a quiet ‘yessss…’ and Henman-style fist pump.

However, something has gone wrong somewhere over the past few days in ticket presale land and the total sold has remained unchanged. Considering I’ve been selling at least a few every day for the past month, this is very unusual. So, either there’s something wrong with the presale link, possibly caused by my incessant checking, or I haven’t sold any tickets in five days. I’m avoiding emailing the support address, because it could only confirm my worst fears that tickets haven’t been selling. The ambiguity helps.

Then again, no-one bought a single ticket for my show when I was on the Free Fringe and those, particularly the later ones, went pretty well. It also gave me one less source of distraction.

If you’d like to help me out, here’s the ticket link. Go and buy some, then let me know and I’ll check if the presale numbers update. Oh, and come and see the show as well. That would also help.

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We’ve done alright

This weekend just gone, I was making a guest appearance in London. Since I moved from there last year, there has been a drop in London house prices. Alongside this, Manchester has experienced the highest rising property prices in the UK during the past 12 months. Obviously, these figures are entirely down to me and my general aura.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t equate to me being able to afford to buy anywhere. But I might start approaching estate agents around the country, explain the effect I have and then see if they’ll give me a discount on a house in return for my presence significantly boosting business elsewhere in their area.

I wasn’t just there to cause a temporal shift in respective house prices; I had business to attend to. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of the content management systems used by the business-to-business publishing sector, as I’m not allowed to under my contract. What a shame for you all that is.

For the night, I crashed at my mum’s cousin’s house in Tottenham. It was the same place I stayed pretty regularly in 2009 before I moved to London, when I was coming up for gigs and newspaper shifts. It was also the same place that I was house-sitting in 2011 that was then infested with fleas, when I took a call the morning after a night-shift from my current company to tell me that I was successful in my application. And at this exact time, I was sleeping in a bin bag to try and keep the fleas off me.

I did a gig for Gwilum on the Friday, but was really staying over as I had the opportunity for a meet-up with Parisian podcaster, Luke Thompson. Not only that, my old friend Moz was also there.

The three of us originally a met in a basement that smelt like toilets doing a comedy workshop in 2009, and I realised that we’ve actually done alright for ourselves through comedy and performing from those humble beginnings. Hopefully this won’t be the respective pinnacle for each of us, but it’s pretty good so far.  Moz is doing a successful walking tour of Soho, Luke has an international audience for his award-winning podcast and is making a bit of money from it; and I don’t know if you’re aware, but I’ve done a sold-out run at Edinburgh Fringe. I’ll admit, most people aren’t aware of this and don’t seem to react well when I berate them for not giving me the respect I deserve, no matter how weak the new material I’m testing may be.

The missing member of the crew is Paul Langton, who was characteristically absent. But as regular readers will know, he has achieved nothing in comedy. If only he’d stuck with the mediocre Love and Langton sort-of-double-act, who knows which small venue we would now be struggling to fill?

It was a brief counter, as Luke had to go off to band rehearsals in preparation for his 40th birthday gig and I had to travel back up north as I had tickets the following night to see another band in Birmingham. As much as I’m a fan of Luke and all his creative endeavours, his band will probably never quite match Iron Maiden.

In Edinburgh news, I can announce that I will be doing How To Win A Pub Quiz with The Stand again this year, but am doing the full-run. I am very much looking forward to this. Tickets should be available now. Probably, I haven’t looked.

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Squid, squid, squid

I returned to the Manchester Comedy Store last night to try my luck in the gong show. This is the point where I would usually go into great detail about how due to a combination of circumstances and my own shortcomings, I was unsuccessful in my attempt at lasting the full five minutes*.

But after hearing some tragic news today, I’ve realised that none of it matters in the grander scheme of things.

The news I am referring to is the death of one of my friends on the London comedy circuit, Chris Joyce. It doesn’t really feel real typing that sentence even after drinking almost an entire bottle of wine.

I first encountered Chris at the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell, which Langton would be hosting. It would be my default gig on a Wednesday if I didn’t have anything else in the diary, which meant I’d be there most weeks. In the early days, Chris would bring most of the audience and rip the room apart with his song ‘She’s pretty racist’, about dating a girl with questionable views.

I’d usually be trying stuff out and fare less well. Although what got us talking was one of the stupidest bits of material I’ve ever written, being a series of jokes about giant squid. For some reason, Chris really loved this and would often come up to me before a gig and make sure that I was doing it. It turns out that something I’d written about giant squid had legs after all, eh? Yeah, that punchline has bombed on stage.

That stupid joke that he really liked ended up evolving into a sold-out Edinburgh show. I’m glad I got to tell him this, because if he hasn’t insisted I do it whenever I saw him then I might have lost faith in it and never come up with How To Win A Pub Quiz.

The last time I saw Chris was in Edinburgh in 2015 when I was flyering for my ridiculous run at the Kilderkin. But that’s the thing with life; you rarely know when something is happening for the last time.

He was diagnosed with a brain tumour ten months ago and I got the impression he’d beaten it and had returned to doing gigs. Unfortunately, this was more wishful thinking on my part.

I hoped we would do another gig together and I’d look across the room before I was about to go on, then he’d pump his fist at me while mouthing the chant ‘Squid, squid, squid’. Sadly, this won’t happen. What’s even sadder is that the world has lost a genuinely great bloke. It is rare to meet someone in comedy who is liked by everyone that they encounter, both as an act and a human being. Chris was one of these people and taken far too young.

In tribute, I will continue to do my giant squid joke in spite of it often getting a room of blank stares, because I know that somewhere in the ether there is going to be someone who is enjoying it.

RIP, mate. I’ll miss you. Squid, squid, squid.
 

*For the record, my time last night was 2 minutes 30 seconds. My worst ever time at the Comedy Store gong show in London, when I was on the same night as Chris. Before the show, we had an in-depth discussion about squid types and sizes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to get to this material in my tight 20 second set that night.

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Thank you, Glasgow

My two-date run at Glasgow Comedy Festival had a distinct old school feel to it. For one thing, I was doing the show in its original 6pm time-slot in a venue that’s quite far away from where everything else is taking place.

I also had to get the room ready before the show on both days, do my own tech and wasn’t entirely sure just how many people would be coming. It felt a lot like the 2014 Edinburgh run than the ridiculous numbers that followed in subsequent years. I was even battling the lurgy.

On the night before I was due to go up there, I got an email from one of the bar staff saying that it wouldn’t be possible to hook-up to the PA from where the show would be taking place. Thankfully, I had a back-up plan in the form of the amp that came with the Argos guitar I got for my 18th birthday. Unfortunately, it only has one input point so I had to switch from mic to MP3 player during the show. It wasn’t particular slick, but it did the job.

I managed to get 28 punters on Saturday, with 26 on Sunday. Saturday was pretty raucous in the best possible way, with one lady in the front row keen to get involved as much as possible and even getting up and dancing during the music round. Someone in the group she was with had seen the show at the Fringe last year, so it’s nice to get some repeat business.

At one point during to the show, The Facts Bell flew out of my hand and smashed onto the concrete floor. I thought I had lost her for a moment, but she pulled through and is now fully operational again.

Sunday was a little more sedate, but still friendly and fun all the same. I had to contend with some hecklers out of sight at the bar, but it did add a bit of welcome unpredictability to things.

Another thing I enjoyed about doing a show in the early evening again was awarding points to anyone who bought me a pint. This time, I only received two, so didn’t wake up the next day to find myself on my bedroom floor in a pile of my dirty washing.

So, all in all, Glasgow was good fun. I had some nice audiences, just about broke even, and got bought four pints, so I can’t really complain. Glasgow is a great city and I’d love to spend some more time there.

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We meet again, Mr gong

King Gong at the Comedy Store is known for being pretty brutal. The last time I did it in London, I was gonged off after 20 seconds before I could even get to my first punchline.

I’d put off doing it in Manchester for long enough, so finally took the plunge last night and was bracing myself for another ordeal. But it was a much more pleasant experience than my previous three attempts in London. For a start, the venue is about half the size and doesn’t feel as intimidating.

The crowd were mostly pretty nice. I can only assume that the usual ruffians you’d expect at these gigs were attending the Coldplay concert at the City of Manchester Stadium. In fact, the most hostile person in the audience was Shane from Boyzone. He was there watching one of his friends taking part, and took exception when another act pointed him out. He got quite aggressive, shouty and sweary. You wouldn’t expect this sort of behaviour from Ronan Keating.

I was on early in the second half, which I thought was a bad as you generally stand a better chance of lasting the distance if you go on earlier.

I started off well, but after about a minute I was heckled by someone who wasn’t Shane from Boyzone. The heckler was correcting my geography. I say my home town of Stroud is near Bristol, but someone shouted out that it’s actually nearer Gloucester. This is of course true, but I’m going with the assumption that more people know where Bristol is than Gloucester. The interaction got a big laugh and I went back to her later in the set, which got another good laugh. Later on, I was heckled by someone else and I said the geography heckler was still my favourite.

So then I thought I’d see what Shane from Boyzone had to throw at me. Just as he started shouting and swearing at me, the music played to say I’d gone the distance.

For the first time ever at a Comedy Store gong show, I lasted the full five minutes. Unlike my last gong show at the Frog and Bucket last month where I scraped through unjustifiably, none of the three card-holding audience members had one aloft. I think the key difference was that I was having fun last night, and wasn’t on the other occasion. I did well, but can do better.

At the end, the four of us who’d made the cut had to perform an extra minute. I did okay, but not as well as two of the others and knew even before then that I wasn’t going to win the audience vote. It didn’t matter; just lasting that elusive five minutes was enough for me.

But in hindsight, I really should have sung a Boyzone song in that extra minute. Still, I’ll be prepared for next time.

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On the road

Since  I last  wrote,  I have  been on  a  road  trip  up  to  Scotland  and  north-east  England.  I had  three  gigs booked for Edinburgh, Glasgow  and  Newcastle  and thought  I’d  make  a  semi-holiday  out  of  it  as  I now have a car and it would break the drive up a bit.

As the Lake  District was en route, i  made sense  to  spend  a  couple  of nights  there.  For all  the locations I  was  going  to, a  quaint  little  town  in  a  car park  near  the Beatrix  Potter  museum  wasn’t where  I  was  expecting  to  have  anything  stolen from  my  car.

When  I returned to  it  in the  morning, I discovered that someone had stolen the glass from one of my wing-mirrors. I never had  problems  with  anyone  wanting  to  take  anything  from  my 16  year  old, battered Nissan Micra.  It  was  annoying,  but  could have  been worse.  I got  a  cheap replacement  as  a temporary repair, which I’ll probably have for the next five years.

If only  I  could  use  some  Ant-Man  technology  to  make  my  car tiny  to  fit  on  my  key-ring,  then  it  would save a lot of hassle about parking and people stealing things. But then people would be able to run off numerous carrying cars at once, so it wouldn’t be without its problems.

I also  ate  some  really  nice  meals,  which  I  didn’t  feel the need  to  take  pictures of  and  post  online. The exception to this was a  vegetable and  stilton  crumble  that had  a  layer of  water  in  the  middle. Consequently, there  were  repercussions that  I also  didn’t  feel  the need  to  take pictures  of and  post online.  This  was  the same  day  that  my  wing-mirror was stolen, so  it  wasn’t  one  of  my  favourite  days ever.

The  gigs were  with  the  Stand  venues  and  I’d  wanted to  do  all  three  in a  week  for  a  long  time,  but geography and holiday amounts set aside for the Fringe never allowed this.

Edinburgh  was first.  When  I last  did  it  in  2014, it  was  the  stuff  of comedy  dreams.  This time,  it  was decent,  but  not  as  good  as  when I last did  it. On  the plus side,  I  was  staying  in someone’s  house  and not in a cheap hostel with nine very loud Brazilian men.

The  Glasgow  gig  was  the best  of the  trilogy.  The  crowd  were  amazing  and although  a  couple  of  my line  lines  sank  without  a  trace, this  was  made  up for by  bigger  laughs for  other  stuff  and  crowd interaction. What  made  this  gig  even  more  of a  thrill  was  that  it  was  the  very  same  stage  where Stewart Lee filmed a couple of DVDs, including his first one with the Ang Lee routine.

As with  most  trilogies, the  third  never  quite  tops  the second  and  the  Newcastle  gig  was  the  hardest work.  The  crowd were  great  for  the  first  section, but  by  the  time  I got  on  stage following  what  can only  be  described as an art  experiment  that  went  wrong, I could  tell  they’d  had  enough  and  were dire  in  need  of an interval.  By  this  point,  the  energy  in  the room  was  pretty  flat.  Even so, I  still managed to  get  them  some  decent  laughs  out  of them  and  people  came  up  to  me  said  some  nice things to  me  afterwards,  but  I would  have  preferred  performing  in easier circumstances. Never mind, I will return and do better.

In  other news,  I’ve  finally  figured out  a way  I can  write  on  my  laptop  and transfer  it to  my  phone  for upload. I am  still  without  an  internet  connection  in my  flat  as I don’t  want to  pay  £20  a  month for something  I’m  only  going  to  use  on  the few  evenings  and  weekends  when I’m  actually  around. So this should  mean I’ll  be  able  to  write  more  regularly.

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A tale of two five minutes

It may seem obvious, but five minutes can seem like a hell of a long time if it’s not going well. At a comedy gig, space-time can actually bend around the stage and five minutes can last for several days. Conversely, if it’s going well then space-time speeds up and it’s over in a nanosecond.

This week, I have performed two five minute sets at two of the bigger clubs in the UK. One didn’t go well, but I beat the gong so was still technically a success. The other one went much better, mainly because I could relax due to the lack of the sword of Gongocles hanging over my head.

On Monday, I managed to last the distance at Beat the Frog despite being on last and much of the audience not liking my set. Two out of the three audience with cards were holding them up. Fortunately, my safe passage was ensured by the third card holder really enjoying my act. From the largely flat audience reaction, I didn’t really feel like I’d earned it when the music hit to confirm I’d beaten the gong. Still, it’s an improvement on when I last did it and I can mark it as W on my personal gong record. I hate gong shows, but it is one way of getting seen by the bigger clubs so is a necessary evil.

The second gig was at Glee in Birmingham, as part of the try-out section. I was instantly more at ease than Monday due to it being a gong-free zone, and also that I nearly always have nice gigs in Brum. It went well, I got some big laughs and enjoyed it much more than Monday. I also got a free pint and chocolate brownie, so I’m definitely marking this as a win.

I’m currently writing this from a cafe 30 seconds from my flat that I heard was interested in running a comedy night, which would be ideal for me. First impressions aren’t good. The beer is expensive, I hate the music and would probably actively avoid most of the clientele. It would be hard to run a gig somewhere I wouldn’t want to go through choice. Fortunately, I am scouting incognito, so they’ll never know I was here. If I do start running a night soon, then I must have been talking about a different place.