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03rd Aug 2019

FRINGE 2019: The Edinburgh Fringe from a comic’s point of view

The highs and lows of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

Danny McLoughlin

A stand up comic’s calendar usually looks like this: September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May, June, July, Edinburgh.

As soon as a stand up wakes up on comedy New Year’s Day (the day after August Bank Holiday Monday), they’re already planning their trip back up to Scotland to take on the world’s biggest arts festival again next year. Some excited, some terrified, and some with a begrudging acceptance that even though they can think of nothing worse, as a stand up, it really is the place to be. And August isn’t really August when it’s in the middle of the year.

When I do Edinburgh, I hate it. Not the city, I love the city – it’s dead nice. But the festival? Nah mate.

Just the thought of it gives me flashbacks of walking down Cowgate piss wet through, with the non-stop rain dripping off your cap into the baked potato you’re desperately trying to keep dry. I’m instantly transported back to stepping off massive kerbs, trying to swerve not only a rowdy stag do but the smug comic giving out flyers with his new five-star review stapled to them. ‘I gigged with you in May mate, you died on your arse,’ you think as you squelch up the road to your venue to get ready for your show.

And don’t get me started on the shows. Pouring your heart out for an hour on something that took you twelve months or more to craft, only for someone in the crowd to leave during a sad bit because it’s “too warm”. Nice one mate, I only sent myself half mad with anxiety worrying if this show was better than the last one, and you’re walking out because you’re warm? Take your coat off then you tit.

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When I’m in Edinburgh [I better clarify that when I say ‘Edinburgh’ I mean the Fringe – every comic does. You could ask as a comic who lives in Edinburgh but not doing the Fringe if they’re ‘going to Edinburgh’ this year, and they’ll say no], all I think and dream about is not being there.

I just slip off into daydreams of getting back in my car and floating happily down the M6 back down to the North West – a place where the streets aren’t lined with massive bins and even bigger seagulls, where you can park your car and shop 24 hours. Back to the comfort and warmth of the bosom of the UK stand up comedy circuit, where you can do a gig to 200 people, happy to be there on their only night out that month…as opposed to 40 people in a sweat box, that includes a couple of nice people, some folk seeing their fifth show that day, a stag do from Aberdeen, a reviewer you know doesn’t even like your stuff…and some prick who won’t take his coat off.

There’s a few more reasons why I hate the Fringe whilst I’m at it… *deep breath*

I resent the fact I’m renting some slum landlord’s mouse-infested flat, three miles above ground level, financing his August-long skiing trip, whilst he hasn’t even got the decency to get the 1.3 Mbps of rubbish internet to stir into life.

I hate paying £6 for a pint of Tennants in a beaker. I hate Tennants. I hate reviews – some failed comic slagging off professional comics because they weren’t good enough to do comedy themselves.

I dislike the fact that I can only cook three times in the whole month because my flatmate has all his smelly mates living in the kitchen that is also the living room. I hate that there’s no living room.

I don’t like that you only see comics: no real friends, no old work friends, no old school friends, and no old uni friends (unless you went to Oxbridge – then they’ll see loooaads) – just comics. Pure undiluted comics asking the same questions. “How’s your show going? You getting many in? How many reviews have you had? Have you heard about so and so?” And then they wait for you to ask them back so they can lie.

I hate spending around eight grand on something you truly love, just so people can come in and shrug.

*and breathe*

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‘But Dan, if the Fringe is so shit, why do you go?’ I’ve asked myself that question so many times, and the main reason is that it’s pretty fucking amazing. In fact it’s only when you’re not there that you actually realise it.

When as a comic you make the call not to go – usually in about March or April – you feel a strong sense of euphoria. A feeling of peace that you’re not going to have to put yourself through the ringer this year, that you can remain sane and dry and financially solvent.

You think about all of the things you can do with the money instead. You can get a new kitchen, or go and get sunburnt in Bali. You can enjoy the World Cup knowing you don’t have to preview your show to eight people who would rather be watching Peru vs Denmark. It feels great…for a while. Then it hits home that you’re gonna miss out on loads.

There’s nothing better as a comic than the feeling you get when you write an hour of comedy. The creativity involved really makes you feel like a ‘real comic’. Yeah, twenty minutes on a Saturday to 200 people having their only night out that month is great, but it’s a different skill.

To present something you’ve crafted to 40 people in a soaking wet room and have them get it; sure some will shrug, and be too pissed, or hot, or whatever – but that’s the game. The feeling of winning them round over an hour is unrivalled and makes up for all the shit you whine about whilst you’re there. Plus it often gives you a great story for when you bump into your comic mates in the street outside.

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You realise it’s actually a good thing that there’s comics everywhere. There are some really good people you don’t get to see enough of, perhaps one or twice over a year – a Thursday in Nottingham, a Saturday in Middlesbrough – now you see them for a month just walking about, like it’s a comedian safari park. “Oh look there’s so and so, I wonder if they know everyone is asking about them.”

There are of course further reasons to love the Fringe, as a comic who is normally on the circuit putting the hours and miles in. It’s great not having to drive; you can walk five minutes to work every day, and then get pissed afterwards and not worry about a night bus or a tram, or road closures on the M6. And who cares if you can’t cook in your apartment? Even if you could, you wouldn’t want to anyway because Civerinos do a 20-inch pizza, and Sal’s chippy is the best.

So yeah, it can be rubbish, there’s loads of things I would change (I haven’t got time here), but for all its cons, Edinburgh offers you the chance to be a better comic every year and that outweighs the lot. It helps you realise what a great job you have, and you can all have a party at the same time.

I didn’t attend the party this year, but as I write this – sunburned from a beach in Bali – I’m pretty sure I’ll be there next year, probably whinging like mad about some coat wearing fool, or some mate I’ve seen too much of, whilst supping on my over-priced pint. Asking why the hell I do it to myself when I could be at home sitting in a brand new kitchen.

You can follow Danny McLoughlin here, here and here. He’s ace.