Edinburgh 2019 (or: Leslie does her first full Edinburgh run)

This is a blog post in two parts, one relatively short and one likely incredibly long. That Leslie doesn’t half go on, does she?

The first bit I wrote last Monday. I was sat in my venue, The Raging Bull. My show had ended the previous day, and I’d spent the entirety of the day, that relaxing day before I’d return to my normal life, in my pyjamas in the living room of the student dorms I’d been living in for the month. There were only three of us left, and I spent a good portion of the afternoon chilling out in the living room with my friend David (one of my friends David; I’ve always had trouble having duplicate friends with the same name, although theoretically that ocean separating them helps to clarify) watching videos of the Muppets and talking about anything and everything. If there’s one thing Edinburgh can lack it’s that: you’re so busy all the time you don’t get much time to laze around and chat. Particularly this time around, when I had a good few times where I felt overwhelmed with everything I needed to do. But this was the last day, the day after my show had ended, and although I had things to do I also knew it was important not to do anything for a while. So I watched videos of the Muppets with one of my friends David and then at some point we both decided that on the count of three we’d get up and do what we needed to do, and then I went to The Raging Bull to get the suitcase containing all my show stuff. And then I arranged to meet up with some recently-met pals for drinks there, and while I was waiting I started to write about my experience. And here is what I said:

I don’t know where to begin telling you about Edinburgh.

For one, I came in feeling the wrong way. I was overtired, overworked, and felt a bit emotionally fucked. It’s okay; that is very much how life works.

This show, this Leslie Ewing-Burgesse Exists! (a positive: writing a show about how you’re a real person makes you feel like a real person) started to take shape very shortly after Edinburgh 2018. A recurring bit of material throughout, one of the best bits, I wrote at the kitchen table of the ridiculous student flat we were staying in last August. The show got its name in early September when, still on Fringe comedown, I was sat in a cafe in Soho and decided to put in an application for Leicester Comedy Festival. I knew I was sick of all my old material, I knew I wanted to write something new that could stand alone or serve as a companion to my first show Imaginary (which, surprise surprise!, was about being imaginary), and I knew my friend Andrew had agreed to direct me. And I didn’t know much else, but I’d already been having a blast fucking around onstage, being less scripted than I had always been up until that point, so I was excited for whatever it was.

And I worked really hard on the show. I took my collection of new material on its first proper outing when I did a split show with my friend Katie Mitchell (a stupendous human) in Nottingham in November. It was called A Fun Time With Katie and Leslie, and we opened the show together, not a double act by any stretch of the imagination but still having fun sharing a stage for a moment and really just chatting with one another with an audience. I feel like Katie and I will always end up splitting previews when we can, because we’re a great match and it’s giddy fun. (I would almost love to do a monthly- or bimonthly-high concept gig, A Fun Time With Katie and Leslie but semi-regularly.) I was meant to do Imaginary in Nottingham a couple of days later, but once I’d brought out the new material I couldn’t believe how detached I felt from the old. And when no one turned up to the latter (apart from one person who’s since become a pal of mine, who had the misfortune of getting there after we’d already decided to pull the show) I felt almost relieved.

The first work-in-progress I did of the show was in January, again with Katie but this time in London. I was caught up on the idea of including puppets. I didn’t in the end. The show took on its own shape and that shape would’ve made the inclusion of puppets confusing at best. (I’m determined to have puppets in my next show, and that’s all I know about it at all right now, so stop asking.) Then I did Leicester in February (which had four audience, but they were very helpful, and the fact that I’d foolishly opted to spend several days in Leicester gave me a lot of time to write, because there was nothing else to do!), and a show in London the following day. That’s when I got Andrew properly involved directing me, and talking to him and hearing his suggestions made my brain go into overdrive and write and write and write.

I did work-in-progress shows as often as I could. I dedicated gigs upon gigs upon gigs to trying to hone the same material.

Through this all I went through a massive period of personal development. Again, there’s something about writing a show about being valid that makes you believe it. There’s something about writing a show about figuring yourself out that makes you do that. There’s something about writing a show about tackling insecurities that makes you stop hiding from them. I have for a while been of the opinion that a version of myself with decent self-confidence would be unstoppable. So I’ve been working on that.

In May, the day before I went to do Brighton Fringe (two shows one weekend and one the next), my flatmates and I received an email from our landlords at the flat I’d been living in since August 2013. The email said that they were terminating our tenancy, that we needed to move out at the end of July. It’s fair to say this set me back. I went into a panic, worried my life was falling apart. It’s all I could think about. And I know people who move all the time, but it had been such a nightmare to find somewhere to live when I first moved to London that I was terrified of how this could possibly end. These fears were hugely abated when two of my flatmates, the wonderful humans who are Becky and Vlad, suggested we look for a place together. So all my spare time became about finding somewhere, and what we ended up finding after a lot of viewings, after some rejection, was a beautiful flat on the same road I work on, on the main road of the neighbourhood that I’ve lived in for six years and didn’t ever want to leave. We moved in at the end of June, and I can’t believe I’m allowed to live there. It’s by far the nicest place I’ve ever lived, and I adore it.

But I feel like I lost a month of work on my show. And that’s okay. It’s very much how life works.

And then I wrote, and meant to weave into that version of this blog post,

I did exactly 100 gigs in between the end of August 2018 and the end of July 2019.

And then, also,

Imagine living a life where you’re Quite Sad to be going back to your Amazing Life in your Dream City.

And that’s everything I managed to say about it then. I thought I might continue on the train home, but I didn’t. And I’ve been busy and extremely tired and a bit sad (Quite Sad to be back in my Amazing Life in my Dream City) and sick with a stuffy nose and headaches and a sore body and this cough that I inevitably get every year and which I thought I’d avoided this year because it didn’t hit me while I was still there but here it is and it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere! I’ve had no energy. Today I’ve actually accomplished things, but I also stayed in bed until about 2 p.m. (which was, honestly, luxurious and I’m happy I finally had the chance).

I don’t know where to begin telling you about Edinburgh. The Leslie who existed at that time on Monday the 26th of August in The Raging Bull wanted to tell you about the process of creating a show, and she did.

Here’s the poster. You know how I love show and tell.

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I suppose the way I’ve generally started these Edinburgh roundups (the one consistent thing about this blog after all this time) has been by telling you the shows I saw, which were…

Alice Fraser: Mythos
Andrew O’Neill Un-Ironically Sings Some Songs He Likes
Andrew O’Neill: We Are Not In The Least Afraid Of Ruins, We Carry A New World In Our Hearts*
Bec Hill: I’ll Be Bec
Demi Lardner: Ditch Witch 800
For Robin Williams: A Benefit Gig In Aid Of Mind And SAMH
Garry Carroll: Crock or Gold
Ian Lane: Paperweight
John-Luke Roberts: After Me Comes The Flood (But In French) drip splosh splash drip BLUBBP BLUBBP BLUBBPBLUBBPBLUBBP
John-Luke Roberts’ Terrible Wonderful Adaptations
Laura Davis: Better Dead Than A Coward
Laurie Black: Space Cadette
Lulu Popplewell: The Humble Bumhole
Neal Portenza is Joshua Ladgrove in: Edinburgh’s Only Bilge Pump Sales Seminar
Nick Helm’s I Think, You Stink!
Paul Currie: Trufficle Musk
Paul Foot: Baby Strikes Back!
Rob Kemp: Moonraker 2: Moonrakerer
Ryan Lane Will Be There Now In A Minute
Simone Belshaw: Goblin & Fiends
Sons & Co.: Let’s Get Tough
Tom Walker: Very Very
Tom Walker and Demi Lardner: We Musn’t**
Two Little Dickheads: Kapow!
Will Seaward’s Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories VI

* Which I helped with, so I saw it every single day and enjoyed it every single day
** Which I was a part of and it was a huge deal to me (more on that later!)

Edinburgh is a bubble. Edinburgh is an entire lifetime, every single time. Edinburgh is a fucking emotional rollercoaster, to be honest, especially when you go in feeling overtired, overworked, and a little bit emotionally fucked. I can see a number of things I could’ve done differently. But I also love it so entirely that it upsets me when people don’t seem to enjoy the experience of it.

I know for a fact what my worst time was. I can’t decide my best, because there are too many options. I think that’s a good sign. What follows is the worst, and some contenders for the best:

With this show, because it was my first full run so my first time doing Edinburgh properly, I decided that it was important to get reviewers in. I sent out a press release in July, and I got two reviewers in, one whose review hasn’t yet gone up but who’s still posting reviews (and I still think of it regularly, although I shouldn’t), and the other one who hated it. Well, who laughed a lot and participated a lot during the show, but whose review didn’t say a single nice thing. And it was a bad version of the show, and I know that. I was panicked at the idea of the reviewer. I left my drink backstage and had to acknowledge that early on because there’s no way I could get through an hour of talking without a drink. It was one of my first days trying to do the show without any kind of notes so I fucked up the order. It was far from the best representation of what the show could be. And I obsessed about the review until it came out, knew it wouldn’t be the best review in the world but was counting on there being decent quotes I could use, and was especially disheartened to see there weren’t. (When I told my friend Alice this she took it upon herself to read the review and find me pull quotes. She came out with “a style of comedy”, which is exceptional and which I will be using.)

I found the review one day after a bit of a difficult show (I had been great, the audience had been underwhelming). I read the review on the way to help with Andrew’s show and I felt my heart sink, and decided to shake it off, and that I’d never think about it again. Of course I thought about it again. I told Andrew about it and then I started to cry. And I pulled myself together but felt a bit sad for the rest of the evening. The next day I tried to get past how much of a performer I’m not according to the reviewer and decided to put on a good show… only to find there was no audience, even though it was a Saturday and I’d paid a flyerer. So I sat in the venue’s stairwell and sobbed, then pulled myself together and walked down Princes Street and then sat on a bench and sobbed. This was honestly the best thing I could’ve done; there’s something about a proper cry that’s extremely therapeutic. Also, people are really fucking lovely, and I can’t express how much I appreciate the outpouring of love and good will I got when I posted about that shitty time on Facebook. It did feel self-indulgent, but also… I do comedy. Of course I’m self-indulgent.

But anyway, brighter things.

If you’ve spent any real time with me and you didn’t know about ACMS anyway, you definitely do now. It’s one of my favourite gigs. It’s one of my favourite gigs and it brings out my ever-present imposter syndrome. It’s impossible to feel alternative enough for it. And when I did a spot at ACMS on the 6th of August, it was the absolute greatest time I’ve ever had performing there. When I turned up, Thom Tuck asked if I was okay being the very last act (which, in Edinburgh terms, means going on at 2 in the morning). I said yeah. John-Luke Roberts then asked if, because I was going on so late and so many audience members would have left by then, I wanted to plug my show at the beginning. I hesitated, and he said “I think it’ll be funny.” So, before they brought on any acts, Thom and John-Luke got me onstage to plug my show, and said I’d be back later. They went on to plug every other act’s show at the wrong time. And then it got to the third and final section, and I was on after professional wrestler and Edinburgh Fringe staple Colt Cabana. John-Luke kindly took time to calibrate the rowdy audience back to standup mode, and then when I went onstage, nervously, I was greeted like a returning war hero. If anyone had left, it wasn’t many people. It was one of the most receptive audiences I’ve ever had, which was especially validating since I’d had only a handful of people at my solo show. In short, it was incredible.

Another contender for the best time I had in Edinburgh was when I was in Tom Walker and Demi Lardner’s ridiculous and wonderful show, We Musn’t, on the 22nd of August. I’m a massive fan of both of theirs (and adored both their solo shows this year), and absolutely love their incredibly fucking weird podcast bigsofttitty.png. Naturally when Tom posted in a Facebook group I’m in saying they needed someone to play a very small role in their show, I jumped at the opportunity. And the day rolled around and I worried I’d fuck it up somehow, because (oi oiiiii theme of this Fringe and my show and also kind of my life) I don’t believe in myself enough! Suffice it to say, it went really well (the character I played was needed for literally a minute; there wasn’t much margin for error, and also and importantly I AM GOOD AT THINGS) and Demi told me how good I was and I got paid £10 and I got to hang out with these people I massively admire and it was an incredibly good time for me.

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There we are! (Photo by Laura Davis)

Other wonderful moments of this Fringe included: dinners with friends! a ridiculous late-night dance party! impromptu drinks! executive leaning! the time I somehow ended up sat next to Donny Tourette for ages and didn’t realise it! Edinburgh Gin (it’s really fucking good and I meant to buy a bottle but ran out of time)! the one time in the whole month I actually had a nap!

I learned a lot about myself this Fringe. As I say I’d been in a massive period of personal development for some time, but there was a huge test of the self-belief I’m trying to learn to have in the form of… trying to promote my show. Which was about trying to learn to believe in myself. While not being able to believe in myself. I’m absolutely horrible at flyering anyway, and at least Imaginary had an easy tagline I could use to sell it (“free standup comedy from your imaginary friend!”) but I couldn’t think of anything so concise to describe this show. “Uh… hi. This is a show and I’ve been working really hard on it and I’m actually really proud of it and it’s about me and it’s about identity and insecurities and also it’s about conspiracy theories and the conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney died in the 60s and… oh, no, they’re gone.” Also and an essential note, I do not like to speak to people. I don’t know if I ever got anyone in as a result of my own regular flyering. It was disheartening. My venue was just out of the way enough, but if I’d known how to sell myself, it wouldn’t have mattered. And I did a few times pay others to flyer for me, but that didn’t seem to make a big difference, either.

Early in the Fringe I had a lady come up to me in Grassmarket and ask me directions to Edinburgh Castle. Which is across Grassmarket. So I told her, and she didn’t seem to believe me, and I repeated it was across the square, and she still seemed to doubt me, and I kept telling her. Eventually she said, “You don’t seem sure,” and I responded with, “No, I’m just really bad at speaking with conviction. It’s over there.” I feel there’s a lesson for me somewhere in that story.

Ultimately I think a number of the people I got came from the fact that Andrew very kindly included a plug for my show at the end of his show. The people who came along because of that were all amazing and felt like exactly the right people to be there. One, a man called Dougie, was the only audience member at my penultimate show and was remarkably enthusiastic and receptive. When I ran into him on the last night of Edinburgh after one of Andrew’s music shows (of which he did three, and which were excellent and fun and warm and lovely) Dougie told me that he’d seen four other shows that day, and mine had been his favourite. I shouted to Andrew about it, and he and everyone else around cheered.

What I learned most of all is that even though I’ve made a lot of progress in my self-confidence over the last while, it’s incredibly easy for that sort of progress to feel like it’s gone away.

I had a major realisation midway through the Fringe that I wasn’t giving my all to my show the way I should’ve been, that whatever else was happening in my brain was getting in my way but that I’d put so much time and energy and brainpower and love into this thing I had written and if I phoned it in I’d regret it.

I am somehow a person who’s now written two shows, and I’m very proud of myself for that.

The thing I love so much about this show is that it’s incredibly personal while still being ridiculously silly, without ever feeling like I’m trying to make some huge point with it. That was something that I never got with Imaginary, which just made me feel vulnerable. And of course I felt vulnerable at moments of doing … Exists!, but I loved the fact that when people got into it they really got into it.

I don’t feel done with this show yet. Certainly performing it 22 times has been quite a thing, but definitely I think I have it in me to do it a few more times. I don’t have anything booked in yet, but I’m going to have to change that.

I had another realisation near the end of the Fringe that I’d rather get small numbers but have people really, really like what I’m doing than get a load of people in who are ambivalent. I had a few people who came back from the last two years, which I think says something. I’m still very new to this (although the 10th of August marks five years since I started doing standup!!!) but it feels like I’m very slowly creeping in the right direction. I think I definitely had people in this year who’ll come back next year to see what I’m doing then, and that’s amazing. I don’t like people that much, so I don’t need them all to like me.

Also I had a load of friends make a point to come see my show, which meant the entire world to me.

Also I only had four walkouts over the course of the run, two pairs of people, absolutely none of whom I wanted to be in my show at all because they were all fucking awful. (I basically had a breakdown onstage one of the days because I was feeling delicate and there was a couple that came downstairs twenty minutes into the show and then asked what the point of the show was and asked if there would be any jokes and kept interrupting me and responding to every single thing I said and when I told them that they could leave if it wasn’t their thing they refused to leave and anyway, it was a bad time and eventually they left under the guise of going to get drinks but not before the man made a rape joke and also they proved that they had entirely opposing opinions on John Lennon which I hope led to them breaking up somehow.)

I had ordered some button badges to hand out at the end of my show, but they only turned up two days before the end. Obviously this is annoying but it was and continues to be a huge joy to hand them out to everyone I like, regardless of whether or not they’ll get the reference. There were a few times near the end of the Fringe when I was surrounded by people adorned by a little token I’d given them, and it made me ridiculously happy.

I’ve been figuring out the ways in which I’d like to improve as a performer. As the month went on, wearing my amazing show outfit including the best boots in the entire world, I started to get more fluid in my movements onstage, but I don’t know if it’s that review (which, as I recall, goes on at some length about how I’m not a performer, but then I could’ve exaggerated that) but I feel very limited in what I can do at the moment. I’m good at writing words, but I want to get braver onstage.

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Look! At! That! Outfit! (Photo by Laurie Black)

I had a couple of spots I did while drunk, which while not huuuugely professional was incredibly fun and not something I often do. One was at the normally Leeds-based A.C.I.D.! (Alternative Comedy It’s Downstairs!) which I was asked to headline(!!) quite early in the festival. It was at 1 a.m. and I’d been drinking with pals. There was a wireless microphone and the lights were bright in my eyes so I knelt on a chair to talk to the audience, and I went backstage to get my backpack because it had cards I needed for my set, and I just fucked around and had fun because it was the correct environment and I felt comfortable. I need to harness that energy.

My next show is not going to be about insecurity. It’s not going to be an explanation of who I am. It’s going to be something fun and exciting. I’ve already bought a notebook to start planning it out, and am looking forward to kicking the remainder of these post-Edinburgh blues so my brain will give me something to work with again.

There’s so much more I could say. I was so busy and so tired and my notebook got soaked through on one of the first days so I didn’t document everything as obsessively as I normally do. It was big and important and emotional and fun and draining and wonderful and tough and I didn’t ever want it to end but I also really like sleep. I made amazing new friends. I massively overcrowded one of my good friends. I stayed with amazing people. I ran into people I love constantly.

Edinburgh Fringe remains my favourite thing in the world.

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