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Posts tagged ‘Edinburgh Fringe’

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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.

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Trial and error

On Tuesday, I did something I haven’t done in a good few years.

No, it wasn’t that. I performed the latest incarnation of HTWAPQ in front of an audience who had no idea what show it was they were about to watch. It was at a weekly open mic night in Leeds in a small room that is reliably full.

The look of bewilderment on people’s faces when I handed out the stationary was something to behold.

Nevertheless, it was nice to do the show without any expectations and have the freedom to try stuff out. Although I never tire of performing HTWAPQ to packed rooms of paying punters, I sometimes miss the room to experiment where there is no pressure.

After all, trial and error were a massive part of how the show came to be in the first place. It’s just as well I still have open mic gigs then.

Having done variations of the show so many times in numerous venues, I have a good idea of what will work within the format. However, what I thought was about 15 minutes of material was actually closer to ten minutes, so I need to get some more writing done. The new stuff received a mostly positive response. But then again, it was the same venue in Leeds last year in my preview for Stop the Press where one particular bit got a massive laugh that was never anywhere close to being replicated in any of the other shows.

In spite of the set coming in shorter than expected, I know I can always rely on riffing and audience interaction to get me through this particular show. The quiz itself needs work, but I have plenty of time.

This Edinburgh, I just want to enjoy myself. Last year hit me hard both physically and mentally. I was spreading myself too thin and didn’t have enough time or energy to devote to making the best of my new show.

What is particularly exciting for me this year is that not only am I returning to the midday slot at Stand 2, but I am also doing several late-night shows in the 140-seater Stand 1 downstairs.

I don’t expect the sell this out. Then again, I never expected any of my other shows to sell-out when I first moved to the paid Fringe. I honestly had visions of people queuing up at the box office demanding refunds. Things didn’t quite work out like this.

Edinburgh Stand is a special place for me. When I first went up to the Fringe in 2010, I saw Stewart Lee in the same venue and said to a friend that my aim was one day do a show there. I may have achieved this via a gimmick, but I’m counting it as a colossal win nonetheless.

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How To Win A Pub Quiz Mini International Tour. Stop one: Singapore

When I first came up with the idea of How To Win A Pub Quiz, my aim was to get double figure audiences every day at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe. I didn’t expect to be doing the show five years later and I certainly didn’t expect the idea would allow me to travel the world. But I am and it has.

The first stop on my mini international tour was Singapore. The last time I was there was confined to a quick stopover at the airport while the plane refuelled in 2007, when I think it was on my way back from New Zealand. It’s expanded pretty dramatically since then as I remember it being much smaller. Also, being in an airport doesn’t actually count as being in a country.

This time, I was totally unprepared for the humidity and was sweating profusely shortly after I left the airport. I’m used to sweating profusely on trains, but it’s normally due to me racing against the clock to catch one or being on the London Underground in rush-hour during the summer months.

I’d been booked in at a capsule hostel. Except it doesn’t feel like a hostel, which is basically like sleeping in a deep cupboard. It’s actually not bad, albeit with clammy conditions despite the air-conditioning being on constantly.

I was in town to do a show at The Merry Lion. As I was kind of limited with what days I could do, we settled on a Tuesday. It’s a great little room that had an audience of 15 people.

It’s not quite the crowds I’m used to with the show. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and also achieved my show’s original aim of getting double figure audiences numbers. It has also opened up potential opportunities to perform the show elsewhere in South East Asia.

I have now arrived in Wellington, where the climate is much more manageable. I perform my first show in a couple of hours time at The Cavern Club. I am also pleased to report that I am sleeping in a much more spacious room that doesn’t require air-conditioning.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Days 21-23

With two shows cancelled for Stop the Press on the bounce due to having two in for audience and then a day off, I was going to pull a third. Only to have the three people who had made the effort to be there be very insistent that I give them a show.

So I did, even though it was more of a chat than a gig, but I’m still counting it as a gig as they also insisted on giving me money afterwards.

The penultimate show saw my audience double to seven, who were a more receptive than many other audiences I’ve had for this run.

Then the final Stop the Press show gave me my biggest ever crowd for the show and my largest Kilderkin audience since that crazy run in 2015. As a finale, it was okay, but nothing outstanding. It started off pretty well, but soon descended into mediocrity.

The best thing about the final performance was the euphoria of finishing a show that I haven’t enjoyed performing much. It was my first experience of performing an hour without the involvement of any quizzes and at times it was just painful.

There were some good shows, but a greater number were a struggle. Although the show was in a better shape by the end of the run, I couldn’t get it to where I wanted and I still don’t know exactly what the ending is meant to be even after performing it for a month.

It has been consistently difficult to build momentum throughout the show. When something got a laugh, the next bits often didn’t and there were far too many blank faces throughout, which I have to take full responsibility for. If I’d been able to do more previews, it would have certainly helped.

The show only really flowed when I incorporated the audience into it more. This kind of defeated the object of doing a show that was intended to be more about the material and not the interaction, as I already know I can do that. There have been a few enjoyable gigs, but it’s mostly felt like a chore.

As I said in an earlier entry, it wasn’t exactly a triumphant return to the Kilderkin. It felt much more like the 2013 run there, which wasn’t much fun but ended up being the catalyst for How To Win A Pub Quiz. So perhaps something will similarly emerge from the ashes of Stop the Press. Nevertheless, I have learnt a lot and now have much more material. Maybe not a solid hour, but certainly enough to draw on for a club set.

The more of a struggle Stop the Press became during the run, the more fun I had with HTWAPQ. Even after four years and five Fringe runs, the show still feels as fresh as when I first performed it at The Roadhouse in Birmingham in May 2014. One of the best things is that a number of people come back to watch it every Fringe and always really enjoy it.

It’s almost become the holy grail of an Edinburgh show for me. One that I didn’t have to do any flyering for, I have no media profile, no reviews or PR, but still managed to sell 99% of tickets. I may have been in a 50 seater instead of a 60 seater this year, but that’s still not bad going at all. I’m not taking any of this for granted and am well aware that I can’t do this forever. HTWAPQ will certainly return to the Fringe and other venues, but it does still pose the question of: what comes next?

I’ve got a few ideas for new shows floating around. But whatever my new show will be, I’m going to make sure it’s fun. Because if it’s not, the Fringe is always a lot harder.

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Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Days 14-20

This week, Fringe fatigue has properly hit me. Fortunately, I foresaw this months ago and had already booked a day off from both my shows today.

However, I’ve now also had a total of three days off from Stop the Press due to no audience showing up for Monday and Tuesday. Well, there have been two people on both days. But as performing in front of two people is often painful, I chose to spare these people from this and cancelled both shows. This is what happens when I’m not wearing my HTWAPQ Iron Man suit.

Fortunately, I needed the extra break, as I could feel my voice starting to go in HTWAPQ.

I was planning to try and see some shows today, but instead opted for having a complete break from all things Fringe. Performing two shows a day, plus all the weird stuff my bowels have been doing for the past three weeks, left me in need of such a day.

My day off began with looking for somewhere near where I’m staying that sells high-quality macaroni pies. If you have never had a macaroni pie, you are missing out big time.

As I opted to leave my phone in my room, I was without maps so ended up wandering around for much longer than I should have been. When I eventually found the shop, it was closed and I had to make do with a macaroni pie from the Co-op. Then I went for a run, before finishing my day watching Ant Man and the Wasp, which was good fun.

As for how my shows have been going, I had one of the very best HTWAPQs of the run on Monday. When the audience start singing along to the preshow music, you know it’s going to be a good one.

And on Saturday, I had the best show of STP so far, with a nearly full room, most things getting good laughs, and my largest bucket takings of this Fringe at £76.

I now have three shows left for Stop the Press, and four for HTWAPQ. The end is in sight and I’m now slightly more rested with hopefully enough energy to see it through.