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Posts tagged ‘Edinburgh Fringe’

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Grafting

This year, I am prioritising getting new material honed over paid gigs. It’s just as well, because otherwise driving a 175-mile round trip to Birmingham on Friday night for what turned out to be a reduced set of five minutes at a spoken word night might seem like a complete waste of time.

The other side of this is that I’m getting offered barely any paid gigs, but I’m also not actively sending requests for them. After eight years of plugging away, a logical person might consider this to be a pretty shocking failure.

When things aren’t going well, it’s all too easy to blame other factors such as the audience, the way the gig is run, not getting enough sleep, or needing a poo before the gig and there being no soap or toilet roll. But after a while, these just become justifications for your own failures. Either you get bitter, or you can keep trying to get better. It’s just one vowel’s difference and cheesy as hell, but I do love cheese.

Also, I’ve done two official sold-out runs at Edinburgh Fringe. So shut up, logical person. Admittedly, this does put me among pretty exclusive company among the circuit stragglers.

On the flip side of this, the new stuff has been going really well for the most part. I’ve suddenly got a lot more stuff that is getting to the level of where it needs to be. This has been achieved by writing, trying it out, writing some more, trying it out again slightly differently, then more writing and more gigging. There’s no secret to it other than hard work and that’s the key thing. I have been far too lazy in the past few years. I’ve not been booking up enough gigs or writing and performing enough.

The other thing behind this is that I am writing and testing stuff for my new hour show. It definitely helps to have a focus and a target to aim for. In August, I will be returning to the Kilderkin for Stop the Press, I Want to Get Off.

When you’re planning a show, it’s useful to have an idea of the venue in mind and there are few rooms I know better than the Kilderkin. In fact, I am fairly sure it’s where I have performed the most number of times. A quick calculation suggests that this is around 80 times from four runs at the Fringe, with only Walthamstow’s Ye Old Rose and Crown coming anywhere close to that and those were monthly gigs over six years. This isn’t something I’d ever thought of until now.

I’ve done two previews so far. At both, what I thought would be an hour turned out to be just over 40 minutes. This was fine at the second as it didn’t matter if I ran under. However, at the first one, I was part of the world record attempt for the longest running comedy gig and had to make sure that I at least did an hour. Fortunately, I had my notebook and was able to pick out bits of material to ensure I went the distance. My comedy accomplishments are now: two sold-out Edinburgh Fringe runs, a world record, and a white sock from all those dodgy nights in Tooting.

My new show still needs a fair amount of work, but I like the direction I’m going with it. I’ve got another preview on Thursday, but definitely need to book up several more.

Oh, and I’ll also be doing How To Win A Pub Quiz for the full-run at Stand 2 in August. I just couldn’t leave it alone.

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Reinvigorated

If you’re wondering why I’ve not written anything so far this year, there is no reason other than I’ve not really felt any need to. But for my first entry in 2018, I am pleased to report that I am feeling reinvigorated, at least as far as comedy goes.

For the first time in many years and not including the Fringe, I have done three gigs a week for four or five consecutive weeks before the snow interfered. Many of these gigs were also to trial new material.

A wise man once said: “It is better to die on your arse and learn from it, rather than coast along in a bubble of mediocrity.”

I may share a latop with this mysterious philosopher. I have recently realised that coasting along in this bubble is exactly what I’ve been doing for far too long now at too many gigs. I’ve become complacent and over-reliant on material that worked four or five years ago, but that I’ve since become disconnected with. When you become disconnected from your material, people tend to stop laughing at it and that’s never the audiences’ fault. I’m also a different person to the one that originally wrote many of these jokes. I mean, I am the same person, but I’m older and am no longer sleeping in a bin bag, covered in flea bites.

Another thing that brought this stagnated material issue into light was after one of my higher profile gigs last year that went okay, but not as well as I’d hoped. I went through my setlist and put the year the joke was written next to it. There was a worrying lack of material from pre-2014, which is no coincidence that this the last time I took a new show idea up to Edinburgh How To Win A Pub Quiz has been far more successful than I ever anticipated when I initially came up the idea. I’ve had so much fun with it and genuinely love performing the show, but at the same time it’s meant that I’ve not been writing anywhere near as much new material specifically for a show that I was doing in the years before 2014.

After this introspection, you’re probably wondering exactly why I’m feeling reinvigorating. Well, that is because I have been writing a new hour show for the past couple of months. I will be taking this up to Edinburgh Fringe this year. The provisional title was What Are You Going to Do?, then was A Decade of Life and Death, and it’s currently Stop the Press, I Want to Get Off. The show looks back on my time as a reporter for a local newspaper, then quitting to follow my dreams, and all the horrible things I’ve been through since then, i.e. sleeping in a bin bag while covered in hundreds of flea bites.

I have been trying out large chunks of the new stuff at various gigs, much of it is getting good responses and I’m getting excited by performing comedy again. Having an hour show to work towards is really helpful to focus the mind. I will also be returning to the Kilderkin, where my pub quiz odyssey began. It’s difficult to see my new show reaching the same levels of success, but it is a different animal. My main aim is to create a show I’m proud of and hope people enjoy it, but you just don’t know until you give it a go. The first outing for the new show is in a couple of weeks.

But never fear, pub quiz fans. I am taking up another show this year to Edinburgh, called How To Win A Pub Quiz: 90s Edition. I can’t leave it behind just yet. Coincidentally, I also need money to buy a house.

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Looking back at 2017

With a few hours left of 2017, I will now summarise what has occurred in the past 12 months.

There are no surprises to learn that the highlight of my 2017 was doing a sold-out full-run at Edinburgh Fringe. That this was also a year when many shows on the same side of town struggled for audience makes it all the more of an achievement. Being asked to do the show at Newcastle Stand was also a thrill, even if my journey there was an ordeal to say the least. Leicester Comedy Festival in February was another highlight of my year, and I really enjoyed my shows up in Glasgow.

I have also made the most money from comedy this year than possibly the previous six years combined. Outside of my hour show, I have done more gigs than last year and a decent amount of these were paid. But it still remains that How To Win A Pub Quiz is going substantially better than my progress on the main comedy circuit. This is partly because I’ve been doing the same material for so many years that I’ve become bored with it and also that I’ve not been booking up enough gigs in my diary. To rectify this, I am planning to do an hour of stand-up in Edinburgh next year without any quizzes, just me and a microphone. Hopefully I’ll have an audience as well. Forcing myself to do a totally new hour will give me a much-needed focus and motivation to write more, plus I’ll need to do more gigs to try stuff out. But do not dismay, quiz fans. I am also planning on doing a variant on How To Win A Pub Quiz in August. I don’t know what sort of state I’ll be in at the end of the month, but I’ll worry about it then.

It has been a good year for attending music gigs, as I’ve managed to see Guns and Roses once and Iron Maiden twice, plus Weezer, The Darkness and Jarvis Cocker. At the moment, 2018 is looking pretty empty on the music gig front.

In November, it was nice to do some reporting for the first time since 2009, when I was sent out to Finland to write a feature on an electric ferry as part of the day job, even if my shorthand turned out to be a little rusty. When I was a reporter in 2008, I was looking into last-minute trips to Scandinavia. I ended up buying a Playstation 3 and spent my holiday playing on it instead, which pretty much sums up what was the worst year of my life. While in Finland in 2017, I suffered from a severe bout of food poisoning, which is also a decent summary of my 2008.

Onto films, my favourite one of the year is probably Logan. I really enjoyed The Last Jedi as well, which has polarised opinions. I’m writing a more detailed assessment of this, so stay tuned. This should tie-in to my idea for a podcast, which I’m hoping to get up and running this year.

New Year’s resolutions: write more comedy, do more comedy admin, spend less time procrastinating on my phone. Every year, I also say that I’m going to learn a language. I’ve been learning Spanish for the past year on the Duolingo app and am going to be doing real language lessons next month.

I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring or where it’ll take me, but can at least be fairly certain that I’ll be writing a review of it in 364 days time.

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One for the scrap book

Tuesday night was definitely one for the scrap book. I performed my show in the little room at Leicester Square Theatre on the same night that Stewart Lee and then Bill Bailey were on in the big room.

It’s not quite as exclusive as it sounds, because anyone can perform in that space I was in as long as they’re prepared to cover the costs. I was originally planning on using it as an opportunity to get production companies in to see where else I could take it. Then when ticket sales were stubbornly slow, I chose to just concentrate on getting a full room and enjoy the night for what it was. I did at least manage to get it filmed for the first time ever.

The last two occasions I’d performed in the Lounge were part of the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year heats, which both went pretty badly. In fact, one was so bad that Moz, who had come on audience duties, refused to vote for me. I am pleased to report that my gig this week went considerably better. Moz was on tech duties this time and had no voting rights. I’ve since worked out after my costs, he’s going to get £10 more for the gig than me.

The show itself was good fun; I had a full room that was very much like an old Ruby audience, consisting largely of old friends, colleagues, and housemates. I had to resort to nagging anyone and everyone I knew in London after sluggish ticket sales, which might not be the best sign of my show’s commercial viability outside of Edinburgh. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the show and it was a nice note to end it on for the year.

In related news, I’ve realised that I’ve have become too comfortable sticking with stuff that I know works. For the past three years, I’ve only really had to worry about 15-20 minutes of material in my Pub Quiz.

So, I have set myself a challenge next year to do an hour of stand-up in Edinbrugh. There will be no questions, facts bells or mentions of giant squid, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be at least one reference to The Darkness. Not only this, but I am forbidden from doing any pre-2016 material during the show and also at non-paid gigs. Both of these things should give me a kick up the arse to create and hone new stuff.

I’d be mad to drop Pub Quiz given how well it’s been received, so I will also be working on a new version of the show for next year’s Fringe. It’s looking like 2018 is going to be busy and push me further outside my comfort zone, which is very exciting.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2017: a summary

When I woke up this morning, it felt a lot like that scene towards the end of Hook when Peter wakes up underneath a Pan statue to find himself back in the real-world and dressed in formal clothes. Thankfully, I didn’t find myself outside or have to climb a drainpipe to get back into my flat, but did have to go back to the day job.

I definitely felt like I had left something magical behind and wondered whether or not what I’d experienced in the last three and a bit weeks was real or just existed in a dream. I have since decided that it definitely was real, because no-one would dream something containing so many lifestyle choices that have such severe and detailed consequences on the bowels. If Narnia and Neverland had a child that liked to drink, it would be Edinburgh Fringe.

Admittedly, getting home was a lot easier for them in Hook as they just flew and I had to drive 4.5 hours. Fairy dust was seriously lacking in the equation and I had to make do with Lucozade and glucose tablets, because I’m sure I would have been able to generate the necessary level of happy thoughts from just thinking about my Fringe. This would also have saved a lot of money on petrol, depending what taxes fairy dust was subjected to.

What a Fringe it was, with 100% of my reviews being four-star. I may have only had two, but that’s not the point. I also gained the necessary ticket sale requirements for official sold-out status for my run and made a healthy profit that will unfortunately make me appear on HMRC’s radar.

Before the Fringe started, I was seriously thinking about jacking comedy in and becoming a grown-up with a career and a mortgage. Following the Fringe, I have realised that there is no way I can leave this behind. How To Win A Pub Quiz in particular has something magic that is going to ensure fun whenever it is performed, or at least for a large percentage of performances if I do material that actually works.

Now I just need to work out a way of ensuring that everything fits in around comedy, instead of trying to make comedy fit in around everything else. I’ve also got a few other potential projects in the pipeline that will be very exciting if they materialise. Hopefully I will have more details on these shortly.

I always say that next time I go back to Edinburgh will be to do solo hour without a quiz and have decided that this will happen in 2018, which I’m intending on doing alongside HTWAPQ. You now have this in writing, so please sue me if I don’t do it. My current idea has just been inspired by half a bottle of wine and features jetpacks; actual real jetpacks, live on stage. What could possibly go wrong? Stay tuned for more.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – Day 21-22

Thursday 24 August turned out to be pretty good. Despite ticket sales being my second lowest of the run and having two empty rows due to people who bought tickets not showing up, it was a fun little show and crucially bumped me 20 seats closer to the magical 95% mark to achieve sold-out status.

And I am pleased to announce that today, ticket sales have gone up further and I have now crossed the official sold-out threshold with two shows to spare.

In spite of having done the pub quiz show format for four Fringes now, I am still really enjoying it and finding new laughs in bits of material I have done countless times.

In other news, the end of the Fringe is fast approaching and I am trying to muster enough energy to get me through it.

It could be that my Fringe stamina has decreased after I only did a half-run last year, or my tiredness could be the result of having to walk 3.5 miles every day, but I am feeling utterly exhausted in any case.

I now only have two shows left and in many ways I don’t want the Fringe to end. In an ideal world, the Fringe would last for 12 months of the year and then I really could do this full-time. However, many areas of my body are currently protesting at doing this for just one month a year and threatening to punish me if I continue this ridiculous diet and lifestyle.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – Day 10-20

Before the Fringe began, I did not think I would realistically get sold-out status for the full-run. Now I am within touching distance of those damn sold-out laurels, I am determined to get them.

For those not in the know, you need to have sold 95% of your tickets for your show to achieve official sold-out status and receive your Fringe laurels. And at the moment, despite all expectations, no PR and a significantly reduced numbers of punters in the vicinity due to nothing happening in St Andrew’s Square this year, I am currently on 91%.

Not that I’m getting obsessed with it or anything, but I just need to sell 32 more tickets from my last four shows to reach the magic 95%.

In a year when many of my incredibly talented friends have struggled to fill their rooms, I have done ridiculously well and really shouldn’t be so fixated on what is only really a graphic I can use on promotional materials.

For someone who doesn’t get anywhere near enough paid gigs, I know I should just be grateful for having done as well as I have in what can only be described as the comedy equivalent of a personal Narnia. In a week’s time, I will have gone back through the wardrobe and into a totally different reality where I am much less successful.

And whether or not I get past the 95% threshold all really rests on Thursday 24 August. Ever since I have been checking the presale numbers thousands of times daily, this has been the one day that hasn’t been selling anywhere near as well as the others. Even when the Fringe started, this one day was stubbornly on six tickets. At the time of writing, the number of tickets sold has risen to a significant 32 as if to taunt me.

To stay on target, I just need to sell four more tickets for tomorrow, then sell-out the other three days and I will have just scraped through. I’ve done as much as I can; now it’s for the Fringe Gods to decide how many more people will come to see my show.

The important thing is that the response from people who have seen my show has been hugely positive. Whatever happens and however many people I end up getting through the door, I am just going to enjoy my four remaining shows of what has been a great Fringe.

Nevertheless, I am so close to getting those damn laurels that I can taste them. They taste laurelly.

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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.