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Posts tagged ‘Edinburgh Fringe’

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Gigging again

On Thursday, I performed a stand-up set for the first time in six months.

In these Covid times, I have had a few long gaps between gigs. So, I almost know by now where the issues will arise in my performance. I may say a few lines in the wrong place and may also end up doing some freewheeling that borders on rambling. And my throat may also give out at some point. These first two points were correct on Thursday, but the third was thwarted by a throat lozenge. Yet despite these imprecisions, it went rather well. I’m not going to claim I “smashed it”, but it was fun.

I was on first and they were a really nice audience. In fact, a board game bar and cafe are pretty much my ideal crowd, even if many in there were a good 40 years younger than the punters I attract in Edinburgh.

Going so long between gigs, I find that much of my material is still in the muscle memory banks, but the rhythm is a little disrupted. I tried out a couple of new lines that went okay. I even bought back a line from 2011’s Mixed Bag, which served me well for several years before I dropped it when I realised how long I’d been doing it. But you’ve got to take the laughs where you can, especially if you’re not gigging regularly.

The gig was in Cheltenham, which I still get easily lost driving around despite having visited there numerous times in the past 30 years. For a few years, I was even going there every week.

And with the Cheltenham location, I continued with what I claim is low carbon comedy of only doing gigs fairly close to home, when in reality it is laziness. Then there’s also my unwillingness to pay more for petrol than I’m being paid for the gig. Also, I really hate driving to gigs when working full-time. Admittedly, I can now hop straight into my car at the end of the working day, instead of taking public transport for four miles and then having to queue to get out of the city.

But still, the combination of a race against the clock to get to the venue and then finding somewhere to park are two of my least favourite things about performing comedy. I am still traumatised by the horrendous drive to Newcastle in 2017, with two full hours of delays.

These factors kind of limit the number of gigs I can do, but then I’m not looking to go back into gigging at full-throttle until I’m back in London.

That said, the gigs are starting to increase in numbers. When I was at the gig on Thursday, I received an email asking if I’d like to do a spot in Cirencester in June. And one of the acts from Thursday has booked me for a gig in the Forest of Dean in July. If I can do a gig in May, I might even record one gig a month. Considering I used to do four gigs a week, this isn’t exactly impressive. But it is an improvement.

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To not to Fringe

The Edinburgh Fringe early bird deadline has passed and I have not put in a show application or even made any provisional enquiries. For those not in the know, the early bird deadline means you can get your listing in the main Fringe brochure for a discounted rate. But even that still costs about £300.

I’ve been looking at some of the shows that are on sale on the EdFringe site, mainly my venues of Fringes past out of curiosity. Even looking at the website evokes feelings of terror that were an annual occurrence during the entire 2010s decade.

But it is fair to say that Edinburgh Fringe is what kept me doing comedy for as long as I have. Particularly after I moved to Manchester, I would be ready to quit out of the frustration caused by not doing enough gigs, or not doing well enough at the gigs I was doing. I could be on a poor run of gigs when living in London, but the efforts to get to and from gigs were significantly less and I never had to worry about keeping my eyes open on the trip home afterwards. I also wouldn’t have to worry about what time I got back and if I would get enough sleep to function effectively at work the next day. The tube took away a lot of stress from gigging, even if it did have its downsides.

Anyway, in my hour of need, August would roll around and remind me of exactly why I did comedy. This is largely due to the intense daily release of endorphins and dopamine caused by performing. And if I did have a bad gig, then I just get back up the next day and aim to do better. And it almost always was.

So, the odds are now that I won’t be up performing there in August this year. I am refusing to formally use the phrase “never say never”, which is flawed as it includes two mentions of the word you’re saying you won’t say. I may yet receive an offer that is hard to refuse, but I probably won’t. I am not expecting one to come through. And that’s fine. I was toying with going up for a week to try out some new material, but I would then need to do gigs to prepare for that.

I actually do have a comedy gig booked in a few weeks. So far, it is the only one I have booked for the year. I don’t have any urge to leap back into it, although if my gig goes well then those endorphins and dopamine may cause a rethink.

I probably won’t get back into gigging regularly until I’m back in London and a September move remains on the cards. Although don’t ever say a word that sounds like ever but starts with an N.

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To fringe or not to fringe?

A friend posted a picture of the proof for her Edinburgh show this week and it got me thinking about it. Do I want to go there? If I do, then I’m leaving it pretty late.

One thing many people don’t realise about Edinburgh Fringe is the sheer quantity of admin performers have to do before they’ve even arrived. There’s accommodation, travel, venues, brochure listings, posters and flyers. Oh, then there’s also the small matter of writing a show and doing enough previews before you get to the Scottish capital.

As things stand – no pun intended – I am not going up to Edinburgh Fringe to do the full run this year. Or even half a run, for that matter. This could change if I get an email asking me to. I’m kind of like a vampire in that I need to be invited. And some days, there is a possibility that I may also suck.

When I was doing my short-lived podcast in 2020, I wondered whether having a year or two off from doing Edinburgh Fringe is like stepping off a treadmill that you’ve just about managed to keep pace with despite the ridiculous speed setting. This is all while feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, with the only thing keeping you going some days is the thought of eating a macaroni pie.

Anyway, I stepped off the treadmill for 2020 and didn’t fancy getting back on in 2021. And now in 2022, the prospect seems even less appealing. Do I need to put myself through potential emotional turmoil for all of August?

I think the answer this year may well be a ‘no’. Maybe I just really don’t want to do all that admin. I do still quite fancy going up for a week or so, maybe as a tourist, or maybe just throwing some ideas at a wall and seeing what sticks. But what I really want is a macaroni pie.

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2022: what awaits?

At the start of every year, provided I remember, I like to write a post on here with my hopes and aims for the next 360-odd days. Part of the thinking behind this is that it will spur me on to actually doing something, or at the very least allow the version of me in 360-odd days time to read it back and think: “Haha. Oh, what a naïve fool. I can’t believe he actually thought that could happen.”

New Year’s resolutions are one means that I find helpful to getting me to do things and avoid being mocked by the future me. I successfully stuck to my resolution from last year to write an entry on here every for the year. I think I’ll continue to do this as I try to make sense of what is going on around me. Hopefully, I’ll be able to write more entries about performing comedy that aren’t referring to the distant past.

And I have also stuck to my 2015 resolution to stop buying meat. Another NYR also saw me learn Spanish throughout 2017 and into 2018, until I took an actual physical class that put me off after it was much harder than Duolingo.

Then there was the ordeal for everyone of my Joke365 challenge in 2014. I completed it, with my sanity severely diminished. In a similar vein to this, my plan this year is to write ten jokes a week. I don’t have to publish them anywhere, but that should make sure I keep writing throughout the year. Also, this will yield at least 520 jokes for the year, which will put the tally of Joke365 the shade – and hopefully the quality too.

Reading back through some of my posts from last year, I’m reminded that I appeared on Alison’s podcast and that set myself a challenge to turn off my phone data between the hours of 10am and 3pm to stop me wasting time, while also avoiding social media during these hours if on a computer. I remember how much clearer it made my head and the decrease in distractions meant I was more productive. So, I’m going to try and stick to this challenge for the full year. Obviously, this will be tricky if I go to Edinburgh, so I can relax restrictions then.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like Ross Kemp: The Musical will be happening this year. Development has stalled. By this, I mean that I haven’t done any work on it in months. It is fast becoming my equivalent of Axl Rose’s Chinese Democracy.

This year, I want to do more gigs. My tally of five from last year should be relatively easy to beat, although I’m aiming for high double figures. I’m not going to set a specific target, as I’m not entirely sure where these gigs are going to be. I will need to get on top of my admin and deal with my loathing of driving to gigs caused by the rising stress levels. This may have to wait until later in the year. Because doing plenty of gigs and avoiding driving to them is going to be much easier in London.

The plan is to move back there in September after Edinburgh Fringe, possibly even sharing a flat with a certain ex-comedy partner. My aim is to also start running a gig or two a month, where I have the freedom to mess around ideas and don’t have to worry about impressing the promoter. I’ve really missed this during the past six years.

Did I mention Edinburgh Fringe back there? Yes, I think I did. My plan is to take a new version of How To Win A Pub Quiz there this year and see if there are any industry doors that I can open from it.

Part of me does also wonder whether my ship has already sailed, which possibly embarked in 2016 or 2017. But I have set a date of when the final ship will be leaving the port, which may turn out to be full of holes and could sink before it reaches its destination.

The plan is to move back to London, try to do as many gigs as I can within the following two years and then see where I am with everything at the end of Edinburgh 2024. If I’m not where I want to be, or don’t have some exciting projects in the works, it might well be time to try and live the life of a normal civilian – or at least pretend to be normal. That’ll be the year I turn 40, which seems a ridiculous to write. But that seems as good a cut-off point as any. And if I’m going to achieve anything, a target always helps.

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Some progress

I returned to the script for my musical project yesterday for the first time in several weeks. I’d become stuck. I knew where I wanted to get to; I just wasn’t quite sure how to get there.

As with most writing challenges, they often start to become easier when you actually sit down and try to do something about it. I’ve now made much more progress than I have in a few months. But when the progress in those few months was nothing, it doesn’t set a high bar. Still, it’s good to have done something with it.

The original plan was to take the show to Edinburgh Fringe this year. Then a certain straw-headed twat cocked everything up for a second and third time, then the pandemic soared out of control. Not only did this pretty much end my plans for performing the run of shows in August 2021, but it also meant I couldn’t go to Rich’s house for more musical collaborations.

Admittedly, in the grander scheme of things in the pandemic, I’ve gotten off pretty lightly if it’s only caused me inconvenience and irritation.

The plan is to now take the show up to Edinburgh in 2022. Everything
should have gotten back to somewhere close to normal by then.

And I’ll be going around Rich’s house again for another studio session. As Rich now only lives about ten minutes drive up the road, I’m now wondering if it’s best to make sure I get the project written and polished before I move back to London. And that now might not be for at least another year.

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Edinburgh Fringe is happening?

The organisers of Edinburgh Fringe have announced this week that they’re cracking on with proceedings. I can understand why they’re doing it, as it is kind of their thing and all.

The fact that they’re not printing a paper programme suggests that they’re not exactly confident that it will go ahead as planned. They’re planning on running online shows, as well as performances in the actual physical realm.

Whatever does go ahead in the real world will almost recently require some form of social distancing, which as I’ve said before on here will wipe out large swathes of venues. And the shows being planned outdoors are entirely dependent on the Scottish weather. And let’s just say Scottish rain doesn’t exactly hold back when it gets going.

I also don’t think the organisers have given enough thought on whether punters will feel comfortable going and mixing in and around with thousands of strangers from all over the place, especially with mutant variants of Covid appearing frequently.

Even if the entire country is vaccinated by that point, there will almost inevitably still be outbreaks of the virus one way or another.

Then another factor is that if performers are up there for the full month, they will be suffering from weakened immune systems. By the final week comes around, I am almost always running on empty. Edinburgh Lurgy is a very real thing. Combine that with Covid and you have a massive problem on your hands.

There are a couple of indicators for how a festival in the time of Covid could look.

In Perth this year, the fringe festival there had to shut down completely for a few days when there was an outbreak of Covid recorded in the city. Shows did restart again when they managed to track down and isolated whoever it was and who they’d been in contact with. It’s easy to see something similar happening during Edinburgh, albeit on a far more problematic scale.

And at NZ Fringe in Wellington, venues were running with reduced capacities. And Australia and New Zealand are countries with significantly better records on controlling the diseases.

We will just have to wait and see what unfolds.

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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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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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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.