Edinburgh is a long month. Any month is long if you’ve removed yourself from your context and you’re living in a bubble of art and drinking and partying and silliness and doing things that mean everything to you.
Edinburgh is a long month. It’s an exhausting month. And it’s better than anything else in the world.
I saw fewer shows than I did last year, but still quite a number. They were…
Abigoliah Schamaun – Namaste, Bitches
Alice Fraser – Empire
Andrew O’Neill – Andrew O’Neill’s History of Heavy Metal (three times, but to be fair I was helping out* two of those) (also I’ve seen it a lot of times before, Andrew is the best) (also go buy his book)
Andy Field – The Andy Field Experience
Arielle Dundas – Vulva Cupcake
Bec Hill – Out of Order
Colin Hoult/Anna Mann – How We Stop The Fascists
Courtney Act – The Girl From Oz
David Quirk – Cowboy Mouth
Elf Lyons – Swan
Elf Lyons & Ryan Lane – Hilda & the Spectrum
Hannah Gadsby – Nanette
James Acaster – Reset (which I saw last year but some friends had spare tickets that needed a home and also Acaster is exceptional)
Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales – Room 29 (this was a glorious thing that I found out about just in time and, while my seat was near the very top of a massive theatre, I’ve now witnessed Jarvis Cocker dancing)
Jayde Adams – Jayde Adams is Jayded
Jon Pointing – Act Natural
Joz Norris – The Incredible Joz Norris Locks Himself Inside His Own Show, Then Escapes, Against All The Odds!!
Mel Byron – Karoshi
Michael Legge – Jerk
Neal Portenza – N.E.A.L.P.O.R.T.E.N.Z.A.
Paul Currie – Cats In My Mouth
Rob Auton – The Hair Show
Sara Pascoe – LadsLadsLads
Sarah Bennetto – All My Life’s Mistakes, Catalogued (Volume One)
Siân and Zoë – Siân and Zoë’s Sugar Coma Fever Nightmare
Siân Docksey – Siân Docksey’s Totally Casual and Freewheeling Mystic Comedy: Lemon Torpedo
Tom Ward – Love Machine
Tony Law – Absurdity For The Common People
Will Seaward – Will Seaward’s Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories IV
(Also, Joey Page – Pretty Boy, which I teched so saw many, many times!)
A very important thing to note (I mean, you almost certainly know) is this: I did a fucking show.
When I realised I had to try to do a show, owed it to myself to make the effort, it was pretty late in the application process and so I felt very lucky to get anything. What I did get was a basement room in New Town, a lovely place called 48 Below that claims to seat forty but would look pretty full with twenty. It’s underneath a sporty pub, but has a dressing room(!) covered in leopard print wallpaper(!!), with a squeaky door that I pointed out to my audiences every single time I walked through it. Also it serves Brewdog Punk IPA and Golden Wonder crisps, both of which are exceptional things. My run was for eight days, and started on August 12th. This was a bit odd; for the first week or so of the Fringe a lot of performers were a bit wary of partying too much, wanted to make sure they were settled into what they were doing before they went too crazy. This is the mode I got into just as people were presumably getting comfortable.
As the date of my first show approached I felt more or less at peace with this huge thing I was doing. Or I thought I did, but then it was August 11th and I felt sick with nerves all day. I’ve spent months very proud of what I’ve been writing, and generally very satisfied based on the reaction and feedback I got from my three London previews, but suddenly there was the prospect of people actually seeing it and it didn’t feel finished (and, from this side, I can tell you it isn’t, not nearly, but the idea of my show continuing to change and evolve is actually incredibly exciting) and I wondered why I’d done this to myself.
Because risks are important. Because all of the best things I’ve done in my life have felt every bit as terrifying as this did.
So then it was the 12th and I got dressed up real fancy in my watermelon skirt (which is such an important recent addition to my wardrobe) and I felt sick. And I left the house and felt sick. And then some strangers took photos of me in the street and I felt pretty good. And then I did a spot at a gig (and was mostly met with silence with a couple eruptions of laughter) and I felt okay, really. Then I went to try to flyer for my show and I felt sick. I didn’t have much time to flyer that day and I genuinely couldn’t work out whether I was more terrified of no one turning up, meaning I’d have to cancel the show, or people turning up, meaning I’d have to go through with it.
People turned up (including my coworker-but-today-is-her-last-day-and-I’m-sad-about-it Rebeca’s family). I did the show. It was an absolute shambles but I did it. I had coffee with my friend Stuart afterwards and he told me everything he’d liked about the show and gave me some constructive criticism. I hadn’t encouraged anyone I knew to come to the first show, but there was something invaluable about having a comedian friend there, something comforting about a familiar face, plus there was a lovely symmetry to the fact that he’s the person who encouraged me to do my first standup set exactly three years and two days earlier. I love symmetry.
The adrenaline rush that comes from doing a show is insane. I could barely speak for about an hour after I finished each day. I’d already used up all my words.
In the end I had to cancel one show, not because no one turned up but because the two friends who did come along preferred to come back on another day when they wouldn’t be the only audience. We had drinks instead, which I really enjoyed, but I felt a bit sad that afternoon. All part of the experience.
My friends did come back for the last show. The last show was terrifying in a way that only the first show could outdo. I had a small audience, about six, four of whom I knew. Still, it was enough people (I had, after all, done my second show to just one person, a friend of mine I originally know from Ottawa but who now lives in London, too), and when I settled into it, I had an amazing amount of fun. I played around a bit. It wasn’t the best representation of what I’d accomplished over the last number of days, but I’m very sentimental about it.
I did a thing.
I will do much more with the thing.
And, guys, it was all so good. All of it. It’s hard to concisely sum up something so major and important. I loved having no responsibilities apart from art. I loved that, when I was flyering, it was for people I genuinely love and appreciate so when people did go to the shows and love them it was all the more exciting. I loved getting to know people because we’d see each other around all the time and you can develop a bond based on that. I loved seeing all the people I met last year who don’t live in London and who I wish did. I loved running around doing spots at gigs and feeling like maybe, just maybe, I’m actually decent at this thing that matters so much to me. I loved how easy it became to feel good about myself pretty much all the time, a thing that I think it’s important to maintain in the context of real life (if we can call this ridiculous existence of mine “real life”), and being able to respond to compliments with “I know”. Try it if you haven’t.
I kept a list over the course of the month of things I learned, or things that felt important to note. Here are some:
- Noon will start to feel really, really early
- 11 p.m. will start to feel really, really late
- Any later than that and you will feel totally fine (oh, what, it’s 4 a.m.? but I’m not tired…!)
- It doesn’t necessarily help this that many of the drinking establishments are open ’til 5 a.m.
- Early in the Fringe you’ll think you’re exhausted, but if you manage to sit down somewhere for a bit you’ll recharge
- Later in the Fringe this won’t work as well; it does help that Brew Lab is open til 11 p.m. and their filter coffee is amazing
- It’s busy and hectic, but hundreds of times more relaxing than real life
- You’ll see the same people everywhere
- You’ll become attached to so many new people
- You’ll run into the same friends multiple times in one day
- There’ll be people you don’t see around at all – but once you run into them once, you’ll see them everywhere
- You’ll mean it when you say you really want to see someone’s show, but if you make promises you’ll likely break them
- It won’t feel like any time has passed since the last time you were in Edinburgh
- Everyone is on edge
- The sun will always shine directly into your eyes at 6 a.m.
- Your bonds with friends will be strengthened
- You’ll be amazed at how many people you genuinely love
- You will walk ten to fifteen kilometres in a day, every day
- You’ll forget to eat (genuinely forget) and start to wonder whether it’s actually possible to survive on coffee alone
- You’ll realise no, maybe not, but by then your appetite will have shrunk and you’ll be suuuuper svelte (or marginally slimmer, whichever)
- If you don’t eat properly your stomach will be fucked
- You have to believe in yourself
- A lot of people genuinely want you to do well
- People are really understanding
- There’s something comforting, coming up on doing your first show, in watching the comedians you most admire because they did first shows once, too, and they must’ve felt similar to how you feel now
- The festival is meant for improving – and you will, quickly
- An hour is a fuckload to remember, but you’ve done everything else you’ve done to this point so you can do this
- There is no time to do anything (why is there no time to do anything?)
- It is very difficult to get over a cold if you spend a week talking for an hour straight every day
- When you walk ten to fifteen kilometres each day, you will get blisters on the bottoms of your feet
- A very quick way to break in a brand-new pair of Doc Martens is to walk ten to fifteen kilometres a day in Edinburgh
- Edinburgh is everything
- You are (one of) your harshest critic(s), and those you like and admire and have been lucky enough to befriend are on your side and will want to see your show
- Having your second-favourite comedian in for the final show of your short run will feel like it might be more terrifying than anything ever has been, ever
- You’ll be okay, though, and it’ll feel amazing in its aftermath, even if listening to the recording still makes you cringe a bit
- Putting a blanket over your window will not stop the sun from getting in
- Okay, you’ll get better at it with practice
- Time will fly, and most of the tentative plans you make won’t come to pass
- Berocca and the Beatles can fix most things
- The people who don’t make it to your show will feel every bit as bad about it as you do about not making it to theirs; it’s not the people who aren’t there who stand out as much as the people who are
- Vodka and Irn Bru make a goddamn perfect drink
- If you cough enough, your ribs will ache
- It is very tiring to be around people literally all the time
- You are fucking good and reliable
If I have one Edinburgh tradition, it turns out, it’s going without sleep on the second-last night of the Fringe. Last year it was an impromptu house party and then sitting in the Meadows drinking sangria; this year it was hanging out with a friend as he packed for his 6 a.m. train home, listening to the Beatles, wishing we’d had the foresight to buy beers (I mean, we’d already drank a lot of beers) but ultimately feeling like it was good we didn’t.
The last day of the Fringe was fuzzy around the edges, on account of the mentioned staying-up-all-night. I got into the Airbnb at 7-something in the morning and anticipated how I’d sleep away a lot of the day, then was rudely awoken at 10 by the intense beam of light coming through the wooden window shutters that had been one of** the banes of my existence all month. Fine, whatever, I had things to do. I would get things done, then I would nap. It would be good. I got things done. I napped. It was good. My friends Amanda and Owen, wonderful Ottawa people who are now living in Washington, DC, timed their trip to Edinburgh beautifully so they arrived around 6 p.m. on the last day of the Fringe. I met up with them and we went for dinner at Yo! Sushi, and exited the restaurant (after the two of them built up an impressive stack of plates; food on a conveyor belt is endlessly exciting) to find the street full of people waiting for the fireworks to start. The fireworks were amazing and everything was fuzzy and funny and I laughed and laughed and coughed and coughed (deeeeath cough!).
Actually, that’s a thing: the best description I could give another Ottawa person of what it feels like to walk around Edinburgh during the Fringe is that it’s like Canada Day, but for a whole month. Similar amount of fireworks, too. Much prettier scenery.
Edinburgh never stops being bafflingly beautiful. I’ve spent over two months of my life there so far. Most people I know have spent much, much, much more time than that. It’s still hard to comprehend what it all looks like.
I have so much to say, so many stories, that I could write about this forever. I don’t know what else to tell you right now, though, apart from this: on the first night of the Fringe I drank and had a lovely time with friends in the Library Bar at Gilded Balloon. On the last night of the Fringe I drank and had a lovely time with friends in the Library Bar at Gilded Balloon. I love symmetry.
Everyone who was there, everyone I spent time with: thank you. Anyone who came to my show: thank you so much, I hope you enjoyed it and I promise you that if you come see it again next year it’ll be more polished (though not entirely; I realised early on that, because of the way I am as a person, a really slick show wouldn’t feel right). Anyone who wanted to see my show: thank you for wanting to, I understand how things work and I appreciate you a lot. Everyone I ran into in the street and quickly hugged before we both rushed off to do other things: those hugs were so important, and one of the most shocking parts of Edinburgh coming to an end is no longer seeing and hugging people constantly.
It was just so fucking good, guys!
* mainly sitting on the edge of the stage before the show drinking beer, plus a little bit of packing stuff up afterwards
** the other bane of my existence was the silent disco that was constantly happening in Grassmarket when I was flyering