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Posts tagged ‘Edinburgh Fringe’

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Lockdown diaries – Volume one

I am ten days into my quarantine after returning to the UK. So far, I don’t seem to have any noticeable symptoms of Covid-19. But I’m not counting my chickens just yet, mainly because I don’t have any to count.

Although I at least count myself as very lucky, to have not only made it back just before everything went into lockdown, but to also have been able to visit Australia and New Zealand. I don’t know how much longer it’ll be before anyone is able to do that again so freely.

Other than a sore throat that comes and goes, as well as a slight cold, I’m feeling pretty much fine. One key test is walking my dog up a steep and long hill every day. If I can get to the top of it without collapsing with breathing difficulties, then I’ll take that as a positive sign.

My flights home went without a hitch. The most uncomfortable thing was wearing a face mask for pretty much the entirety of my journey. It felt slightly eerie getting to Paddington Station around 7.30am on a weekday and finding it to be pretty much empty.

After almost 36 hours of travelling I made it back to Stroud. The outskirts of the town are probably one of the best places to be in such a time. It’s full of open space, fresh air and countryside, and crucially, not that many people.

So far, my days have mainly revolved around long dog walks and watching things on Netflix and Disney+. I would be lying if I tried to pretend that this is drastically different from my life back home in normal circumstances. The only thing I’m really missing is being able to meet friends down at Stroud Brewery for a pint.

I’m going to try and write often on here for however long this pandemic lasts for, to preserve my own sanity as much as anything else. Or at least what’s left of it.

I’m also going to use this time to write things that I’ve been meaning to for years. One of them is for a script of of Doctor Who that has been in my head since 2007, which is also a brief description of the story as it involves things tunnelling inside peoples’ heads.

At the moment, I don’t have the ending sorted. But then this detail hasn’t stopped many Doctor Who scripts being written over the years. It’s difficult to see it ever making it into production in the foreseeable future, but in order to succeed or fail you have to try first.

The other thing I feel I should mention is the cancelling of Edinburgh Fringe. I am disappointed, as it has been a firm fixture on my calendar now for the past decade and the source of so much euphoria, plus a hefty chunk of despair. If it wasn’t for the Fringe, I probably would have quit comedy a few years ago. It is the one thing that has kept me going in recent years when indifference from some audiences, combined with a lack of gigs, has made me question whether it’s worth persisting with.

Nevertheless, I understand the reasons for cancelling and definitely think it’s for the best. The city of Edinburgh could do with a year off as much as anything else. The Fringe has become too bloated and hopefully the break will give organisers enough time for a rethink.

At the moment, it’s unclear how long the lockdown is going to last for. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it will be for things to return to how they were before. I don’t know how the comedy circuit will look after all of this, or even if I’ll be part of it. But times like this remind me just how there are things much more important things in life.

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show four

Audience numbers for last night’s show thankfully picked up a bit. And while hundreds of people were lining the streets with the Wellington Pride parade, I managed to get around 30 people in.

The audience were great again. Although I would have liked a few more people in through the door, I’ve been very lucky with the people who have come through said door this run.

As it worked out, I actually ended up selling fewer tickets with each succesive show. This is a handy parallel with my last four Edinburgh runs, where each year’s tally is lower than the last. If the coronavirus is still widespread by August, then this record will almost certainly continue.

I would say that I’m not over here for the money, but it’s simply not true. Based on two shows last year, I thought I would make double the amount from four shows this time. Now I no longer have a full-time job, I need all the money I can get. Expectations ruin everything.

Unfortunately, I only made marginally more than last year.

Nevertheless, all the shows went well and it’s given me an excuse to come back to New Zealand again. Smaller audiences also meant I could have more fun riffing and dicking about with less admin to worry about. That’s very much how the show was forged and it is ultimately where I feel most comfortable.

As I have said many times over the years, I’ve always found failure easier to handle than success. Mainly because I’ve experienced more failure than success. But there’s no pressure or expectation that comes with failure. You just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on without worrying about sustaining anything.

It’s just as well I’m putting together a new show then.

It’s actually a relief that I won’t be doing Dunedin Fringe. I don’t think it’s healthy to compulsively check sales figures multiple times a day and then getting frustrated that the numbers haven’t increased.

And on another positive note, I have one night left in the worst hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

I won’t miss being woken up by my next door neighbour having lengthily phone calls with his partner on loud speaker, who sounds much like one of those garbling adults in Charlie Brown.

Tomorrow morning, I checkout of this dump and will never return. I may even steal a knife and fork out of spite.

They say a week is a long time in politics. It turns out its also true when staying in horrendous accommodation.

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NZ Fringe 2020 – Show two

It is definitely quieter this year in Wellington as far as audiences go. I think that there are a few reasons for this.

There are meant to be more shows on this year, meaning potential audience reserves are spread further. And the coronavirus could also be making people stay in slightly more, probably to guard their mountains of toilet roll they’ve panic-bought.

And there is another reason that a lot of people who would have wanted to see my show already saw it last year.

It is a new quiz apart from two questions, even if I am using some of the same material to set things up for later. But for the most part, it’s a different set. So one mistake I probably made was not giving the show a secondary title.

I was called out on using a few of the same jokes by a reviewer from Art Murmurs. She gave me a glowing review last year and it’s nice she enjoyed it so much that she wanted to see what I was doing for it this year. But she also said she was disappointed I’d rehashed some of the content from last year.

I’m fully aware of how complacent and lazy the show has made me in terms of writing material. And this is why I’ve made the decision to write a totally new hour for Edinburgh next year and am likely to put HTWAPQ into storage. After six years, I could do with a new challenge. So I expect this year’s Edinburgh Fringe to be my last full run with HTWAPQ.

Nevertheless, the reviewer gave me some amazing quotes. Such as this pearl:

“Love appears to be the epitome of those times you are in the shower thinking, ‘Oh, it would have been really cool if I had said THAT’, the Armando Iannucci-ian repartee a skill I greatly admire.” 

Being likened in any capacity to Armando Iannucci is perhaps one of the biggest compliments anyone could pay me. I’m not quite sure what she means here though. If it’s Armando himself, or the shows that he writes. Because Alan Partridge is certainly an influence on my quiz host twat persona.

The second show last night was also a good one, even if I could feel it dip slightly somewhere in the middle of my set. I had about 40 in, which is 20 tickets from being sold-out.

Afterwards, I met up with my friend Chloe for a drink. And I managed to magically turn one pint into five. It was the most I’ve drank in one evening on my trip. My 22 year old self would be horrified, and likely suffering from a much worse hangover.

There, I can make it through an entry on here without moaning about my accommodation. Although I did have to resort to my other token subject of Edinburgh Fringe. 

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Perth Fringe 2020 – Show six

Every night in Perth I’m doing a show, I get an automated email at 8.30pm to tell me how many tickets I’ve sold when they’re no longer on sale through the box office.

The more I think about tickets being unavailable through the official box office an hour before the show starts, the less it makes sense. Although tickets can still be bought on the door.

Anyway, I often don’t need this report as I’ve been closely monitoring numbers throughout the day.

Last night, my automated email said that only 11 people had bought tickets for the show. Despite achieving my Edinburgh Fringe 2014 target of double figures, it didn’t feel good for it to be my lowest audience of the run so far.

Shortly after I arrived a the venue, one lad came up and asked if he could buy a ticket on the door and if there were many available. He was in luck, there was plenty.

Ten out of the 11 pre-booked folk were seated. One person bought a ticket in advance but didn’t show up. This doesn’t matter though, because I have their money anyway.

Then a very odd thing happened. Just as the show was due to start, a group of ten people showed up and all paid on the door. So I had thus doubled my audience in an instant.

‘Very odd’ is a fitting phrase to use, as it was my strangest show of the fringe. The pre-booked folk were spread out across the front two rows, but the third row was left entirely empty and the walk-up group were sitting in the fourth row.

I later learned that the walk-up people didn’t know what show it was they were going to see, which explains a lot. They were all in their early 20s and had been drinking, so I had to step in early on to stop them chipping in and whispering to each other.

The show took a while to get going and bits that normally get big laughs received a few sporadic titters. Then I addressed the empty third row, saying that’s what I demand for all my gigs, and it got things nicely back on track.

It had been weird, but I’d enjoyed the challenge of having to adapt the show when it wasn’t going as intended. I now have three shows left of the run.

When I left the venue to get my post show burger and chips, it had been raining outside. How happy I was to get a feeling of home. It cooled everything down nicely.

As I sat on eating on a bench, I never thought that having a wet arse would be so comforting.

Now there’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever write.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Days 24-25 | And post-Fringe thoughts

The reason I’m writing this much later than usual is that I’ve been without any internet for a few days. It has been refreshing to not compulsively check my phone to see what’s happening, or mostly isn’t, in the world.

After the Fringe, I travelled north to spend four nights in the Highlands. I stayed in the cottage of a distant relative, which sounds like the start of a horror film. Fortunately, I didn’t get woken up at any point by a crazy person brandishing an axe and it was a very pleasant stay.

The cottage is owned by my gran’s cousin, who lives in Musselburgh and who I stayed with for two weeks in 2010 in the first year I ever ventured up to the Fringe. It is an integral part of my Fringe history. I don’t normally have the time to venture up to the Highlands retreat. So it’s just as well I’m unemployed this year.

One of the places I visited was Loch Ness, which was much more touristy than I thought. I don’t know why I was expecting fewer tourists in one of the most famous places in the world, but there we go. Luckily, I pulled into a layby on the main A-road where I found a pathway down to the shore of the Loch. I didn’t see Nessie, but thankfully didn’t see too many tourists down there either.

There is so much more to see in the Highlands, four days isn’t really long enough. I will certainly be back and for longer next time.

Back to Fringe matters, the penultimate show on the final Saturday was a little flat, but not bad. For some reason, Saturdays are often the busiest days, but very rarely the best. I had three older men sitting at the front looking bored throughout. I’m fairly confident that it was one of them who wrote an arsey review on the Fringe website. So thanks for that, Charlie. I’m glad you didn’t enjoy the show. Also, I’ve got your ticket money.

Sunday’s final show was much better, with the front row consisting entirely of people who had seen the show at least twice, if not more. So while a small minority of people may not enjoy the show, the people who do tend to come back most years.

As I mentioned many times, the Fringe was much quieter than usual. It was only on one of the last days that I learned one of the reasons for accommodation being much more expensive than previous years. There has been a fairly recent change in legislation in student housing contracts, which means they are now valid for the whole 12 months.

Previously, landlords would be able to kick tenants out for the summer months, where they could get in some performers to pay much higher rents for August. As a result of the changes, many students are staying put and there are fewer properties available for performers and punters. There are other factors, but this may be the biggest one for the rocketing Fringe rents.

My ticket sales were 8% down on last year, with me selling 91% of tickets. Alas, I missed out on my fourth official sold-out Jpeg by 4%. I would appreciate some quiet at this difficult time. At least I’m honest and not claiming to have broken box office records, even if I did technically sell my highest number of tickets ever by purely doing more shows.

Despite the percentage dip, I made more money than last year due to sticking an extra £1 on ticket prices. When you compare this to what many of my more talented peers have endured this year, I’m counting myself to be incredibly fortunate.

In spite of all my gripes, it has been a positive Fringe for me. My main goal was to just have some fun with it after last year’s ordeal. And doing 30 HTWAPQs is the most I’ve ever done in such a short space of time.

The late-night shows were mostly all enjoyable, with one obvious exception. Performing in the main Edinburgh Stand was nothing short of a thrill every time.

The midday show was mainly new stuff, which I’d just about fine-tuned by the end of the run. And I now know that I have two almost completely different versions of the show that I can perform to mostly appreciative audiences.

I even had someone from a terrestrial TV channel get in touch, asking for four comps to the show. I didn’t expect anything to come of it. And I was right, they didn’t even show up.

However, what is becoming ever more apparent is that I need do something else too. As good as HTWAPQ has been for me, nothing lasts forever and I can’t keep doing this alone. I never expected to be doing it for this long, but cannot complain with how it’s gone and where it’s taken me.

I have an idea for a new hour show that is starting to come together. I’m going to take my time with it, instead of rush it like last year’s show. If it’s ready for next year then I’ll bring it up. If it isn’t where it needs to be, then I’ll spend another year working on it to get it right. There were a couple of shows I saw this year that highlighted just how much work I’m going to have to put in if I’m ever going to do a successful hour show that doesn’t turn into a quiz.

But there’s life in the old HTWAPQ dog yet. I’m taking it to Swansea in October and then to Australia early next year, before possibly heading back to New Zealand. Five years ago, I was just delighted that I’d managed to get double figure audiences every day.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2019: Days 13-17

With just over one week left of the Fringe, I am approaching the final stretch.

After a slow first week, audience numbers have picked up for the midday slot and the past eight shows have pretty much all sold-out.

It might have something to do with the late shows no longer splintering my potential audience. But the possibility of gaining another official sold-out Jpeg probably went after the quiet first week and I have come to terms with not being able to add to my collection. It’s a Jpeg, nothing more, nothing less. That said, they can’t take my existing three away from me.

The midday audiences have all been great, but there’s that nagging feeling again that I need to do something else next. I need to have a think about this. Fortunately, I’m now unemployed so have plenty of time for pondering.

One thing I’ve not written about on here so far is the weather. It’s been perhaps the most extreme I’ve known in my nine years of coming to the Fringe. It’s been humid for pretty much the entire duration, but also raining a lot. And oh my, has it rained a lot.

Streams flowing down the streets have been a regular occurrence. For clothing options, I’ve gone for shorts and a rain coat, with a pair of jeans in my bag to perform in.

I’m staying down in Newhaven this year, which is right on the coast. So I’m making sure I get plenty of sea air in my lungs to ward off any lurgy. And I find that looking out across the waves is a great place to put in the pondering hours.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Days 8-12

After a couple of nights off doing the late-night shows, I completed the remaining two of the run and performed to the second and third largest ever audiences the show has been performed to.

Sunday’s show was probably my favourite of the run. I had 64 in, which is almost the perfect number for the show. There are plenty of people in the room, but not too many so that score keeping and crowd control are tricky.

Traditionally, the second Monday of the Fringe is the day most comedians take off. And while I had a break from the midday show, I still had the final late one to perform.

Monday’s show had at least 70 in. I was concerned I wouldn’t have enough stationery if a lot more people showed up on the door. Admittedly, this is not a concern you hear from too many comics.

The two audiences were just the right side of lively, without ever straying into dickhead territory.

And just to clarify, my record show audience remains Newcastle Stand, where I had 76 people.

Out of seven late Edinburgh shows, six went really well. It was only Tuesday’s show that was a struggle, which isn’t a bad return for a late-night Edinburgh slot. Although I’ve enjoyed doing these six shows, I always felt much more pressure to perform in the late-night slot than midday. This is partly because Stand 1 is such a legendary comedy venue, but there was also the knowledge that I may well have drunken people to deal with. I’m fine with this during the show, it’s just the mental preparation for it. Until the show starts, you never really know what you’ll have to deal with. And you can’t deal with anything until it begins.

I’m pleased to have completed the late run and no longer have to perform the first show of the day and the last one. It would be tough to do this for an entire Fringe. I can now start going to see other shows without having to worry about getting my early evening nap in.

The midday show is still proving to be consistently good fun. The past four days have all sold-out, which is nice in what’s been a quieter than average year. The show is nearly where I want it and I now have the time to rework bits to get it fully there. Today, I had  front-row that was mostly aged in their 80s. They provided a lot of laughs throughout the hour and their reactions to events in the quiz were a particular joy.

 

 

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Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Days 6-7

I have now completed my five late-night shows in a row, then duly hit the tiredness wall around 6pm just as I was about to go and watch a friend’s show.

Following from Tuesday’s struggle, the shows on Wednesday and Thursday had much better audiences. Although as it gets later, the show does start to lose its focus and the audience just want to sing to the tracks played in the music round.

I’ve been finishing the show around 1.10am. After I’ve packed up all my stuff, it’s not far off 1.30am when I leave the venue and have to get the night bus back to where I’m staying. I’ve been going to bed at around 3.30am, then getting up at 9am to head back into town for my midday show.

I’m thankful that I only have two late-night shows left, as I wouldn’t be able to keep up this routine for the better part of a month. Although four out of the five late shows have been good fun and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of doing the show in a later slot, it’ll be nice to start going to bed at a normal-ish time again.

As far as the midday shows go, I had my smallest audience of the run yesterday with 28. This year being as it is, this number isn’t actually too bad. The people that have been coming to see my show have all been good fun, even if they are a little less inclined to sing along as enthusiastically to the music round than their late-night counterparts.

The set for the midday show still needs work, as not everything in it is flying consistently every day. But I have time to rework bits, and chop and change things.

As I don’t have to perform this Friday night, I’m planning to go to bed before 11pm and become reacquainted with that thing known as a enough sleep. Comedy is still the new rock n roll.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2019 – Day 3 and 4

I have been unable to write for the past couple of days, due to the new part of my Fringe routine that involves having a sleep for an hour and a bit before my late-night shows. Otherwise, trying to get by on a cool four hours of sleep out of 24 is a pretty effective way of burning out.

Sunday saw the first ever late-night How To Win A Pub Quiz and it was a really enjoyable show. I’d had about 30 people on presales, but another 20-odd showed up on the night. And although this was less than half the total capacity, it felt nicely filled with teams sitting around tables.

One key ingredient that set this show apart from the midday one is alcohol. While the audience haven’t been drunk, they have had a few more units of alcohol than their midday counterparts. This can lead to more chatting that requires some crowd control work, but it can also lead to the audience bursting into song during the music round. It’s always fun to get the entire audience clapping in time to I Believe in a Thing Called Love, which was one of the original cornerstones of the show. I never expected to be doing it five years later in front of a paying audience in one of the best comedy venues in the world.

Last night was quieter, with about 20 in. Nevertheless, it was a good show and the people who came enjoyed themselves.

It is quite a thrill to be doing shows at the Edinburgh Stand. Since I first came up in 2010, it has been the one venue I’ve always wanted to do shows. Although I may not currently be close to filling the room, the people who are coming to see it have so far been very enthusiastic in their appreciation. And you can only ever perform to the people who are in the room.

Also, not having 140 people means that I have a lot less admin to do in the quiz. You’ve got to take the positives where you can.

Tonight is looking quieter still, but there is still time for that to change and we shall just have to wait and see. Having done the show to such varying ranges of audience sizes, particularly in the earlier years, means that I can adapt it accordingly.

Meanwhile, the midday shows are mostly full and they have all been enjoyable.

It’s time now for that tactical nap.

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So this is Fringemas…

In 24 hours time, I will have just finished my first Edinburgh Fringe show of 2019.

Ticket sales are currently ever so slightly down on this time last year. With last year’s theme being the 90s and this year’s being Britain, it suggests that people prefer that decade to this country. This is perfectly understandable, especially with all the mad things happening at the moment.

I’m also looking forward to seeing how the show works in a late-night setting. Ticket sales are much lower than for the midday show, but the later time slot does give much more time for flyering and for people to buy tickets throughout the day. I’m only doing the late-night shows for the first week and a bit, which shouldn’t cause any issues when my energy levels are likely flagging in the final week.

My main goal of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe is to just enjoy it. Although I greatly enjoyed my midday shows last year, the early evening show was often a struggle that I wasn’t having much fun with. Last year, I was trying to do too much and ended up being ill for most of the month.

Another thing that’s different this year is that for the first time since 2011, I won’t have a full-time job to return to afterwards.

I left my job of seven years and nearly nine months at the end of last week. I was with the company for seven years longer than I originally planned.

It worked out pretty well with previous Fringes, with me either working remotely in some years, or taking the whole time off as paid holiday in more recent Augusts. I could have quite easily stayed put, but I felt it was time for a new challenge.

At the moment, it hasn’t really sunk in that I’ve actually left. I’m half-expecting to go back to work after the Fringe. If I did, I’d probably get some strange looks and would find someone else sitting at my desk.

The main thing I will miss is having that salary at the end of month. I have to wait for my Fringe pay day until October. I’m going to be doing bits and pieces of freelance writing while I’m up here, so there should at least be some new funds coming into my bank account before then.

What I’ve done for the past three Fringes is finish work on the Wednesday, then drive up afterwards to stay a night in either Cumbria or Lockerbie, before heading up to Edinburgh the next day and nicely splitting up a 4.5 hour drive.

This year, I drove up on the Tuesday and arrived in Edinburgh a day earlier than usual. This has given me an extra day to relax in the calm before the Fringe storm.

Another thing that’s different is that I can go and see some of the rest of Scotland, which I never normally have time to do. Once my run finishes, I am heading up to the Highlands for a few nights and doing a show in Inverness.

I’ve always wanted to visit Loch Ness since I was a small boy who was obsessed with dinosaurs, so will be finally crossing that off my to-do list after 30+ years.

Throughout the Fringe, I will be writing significantly more entries on here than I do in every other month. This site is the best place to keep up with my physical and emotional wellbeing for the month of August. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.