You never forget your first time...

Nathan Willcock has a reality check for his Fringe debut

If someone had told me five years ago that I would be taking a show up to the Edinburgh Fringe, my mind would have been filled with images of me being held aloft down the Royal Mile in a golden carriage, carried by my comedy idols all clambering to get the chance to kiss my shoe, because during my stint at the fringe I had revolutionised comedy with my own unique style. Agents, five-star reviews and awards would come a-knocking within hours of my first performance.

But I was a naïve and, come to think of it, quite annoying and cocky 15-year-old back then. And after just about two years on the comedy circuit proper I have more humble visions of my Edinburgh debut this year.

I am going to the Fringe with four other comedians. We all have sets which we’ve been honing for the past couple of years, and are ready to take on Edinburgh. However I don’t want to come back disappointed with no friends, I am intending to go up, not expecting too much – and determined to enjoy it.

I imagine our two-week run will be a microcosm of our careers. There will hopefully be nights in which the venue is full with an audience who is on my wavelength, who are receptive and who have loud laughs. Nights where I come off stage feeling that the whole comedy world is my oyster, that actually I am quite good at this comedy lark, and maybe making a living out of making people laugh is not such a wildly ambitious dream.

Then, however, there will also be the nights in which the only audience members are two pensioners who walk in to get away from the rain, unwrap some tuna sandwiches, and watch me with a face full of disdain, confusion and tuna as I talk enthusiastically to them about why I hate David Cameron and the wackiness of being a student.

Basically I look forward to the good gigs and am prepared for the bad, and know that they will always be just around the corner from each other, so not to get too carried away with either scenario.

I am prepared to get sick of my own and my fellow performers’ sets. At the time of writing I think that all our sets are really, really funny – of course I do, we wouldn’t be doing the show if we didn’t think that. But by the end of the run I imagine I will be looking at the audience laughing, with tears of exhaustion running down my face sobbing, ‘it’s not funny, not any more.’

I will not to get ‘spotted’. Out of the thousands of shows at the fringe, it is more likely I will give birth on stage to a llama than have an agent walk into our show of unknowns and decide that actually, these guys are the future of comedy, or a producer at the BBC will come in and offer me a sitcom commission on the back of my well-honed ten minutes.

The best we are likely to get is a good review, or at least an OK review from which a quote can be lifted; the word ‘good’ for example. But even if the show gets a bad review we should try not to be so sad about it because it will be lost in the thousands of reviews of the thousands of shows – and hopefully this will be the first of many Edinburghs for myself and the others, so there will be plenty of time to worry about the reviews in the coming years.

I know people will throw our flyers in the bin. So what if it cost us more than £100 to print them? It’s Edinburgh, it’s £5 a pint. Throwing money away is standard.

I’ve also heard horror stories about groups of friends going up to Edinburgh and hating each other by the end. So I, and everyone else in the show needs to try to keep a cool head and avoid pettiness rising up to the surface. No one has died as a result of you not putting the mic back in the stand. Calm down.

But most importantly I am going to enjoy myself. I will never again get the experience of my first Fringe. This will probably be the one I look back on most fondly, before the harsh Edinburgh winds and realities of the comedy industry has made me all jaded and bitter.

I am going to the biggest arts festivals in the world, with a group of my best and funniest friends and will be surrounded by my comedy heroes. I must remember this when I come back year after year until I have no money and no prospects and end up drunk, in a ditch on the Royal Mile with a deep fried can of Fosters in one hand and in the other a pile of flyers for my 45th Edinburgh show with its desperate attention-seeking title (something like Sucking Willcock) and blurb taking the word ‘good’ out of context from a review I got way back at my first Fringe.

  • Nathan Willcock is past of Dodger's Comedy Presents... at Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters at 21:30, August 2 to 11.

Published: 26 Jul 2012

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