Edinburgh: The virgin comic's view

by Alan Sharp

It’s 10.15pm on an overcast Monday night. The Fringe is all but over, the last remaining shows fizzling out with a whimper rather than a spectacular bang. I’ve just had my final Fringe experience of the year, watching Jim Jeffries in a big upside-down cow, and I’ve popped into the Underbelly because my bladder is bursting and there are huge queues at the Portaloos in the Cow Pasture. As I come back up the stairs, Reginald D. Hunter is on his way down. Two nights ago we both won the if.comedy Panel Prize spirit of the Fringe award, but then so did everyone else. As he passes me, I’m thinking, that’s Reg Hunter, and he’s thinking, hmmm, that’s some hairy dude. If he notices me at all.

And there we have it. The Fringe in a nutshell. Me and Reg, we’ve both spent the festival trying to make people laugh. But the difference is, he’s been doing it in a huge hall, with 700 packed onto raised seating and paying fourteen quid a pop, and I’ve been doing it in the basement of a pub, for a handful of folk, half of whom don’t even throw a lousy handful of copper into the bucket at the end.

There are several strata, and he’s close to the top one, and I’m right down at the bottom. We were both there, and that’s where the similarity ends.

This is the fifth summer in succession I’ve spent in Edinburgh, but my first on the working side of the microphone. And I’ve had a blast, I really have. I’ve done shows with Stephen Grant and Liam Mullone and Vlad McTavish, I’ve chatted with top promoters and TV producers, I’ve been recognised in the street, I’ve performed at the Gilded Balloon, and thrown up in the toilets beforehand. To quote from the immortal Vinnie Jones, it’s been emotional.

And I’ve learned. Boy how I’ve learned. A couple of weeks before the beginning of the festival I ran into Jongleurs booker Julia Chamberlain in a pub in Soho, and I told her I was doing a full Fringe run, and she said it would either break me or fire me six months ahead of where I should be. And I nodded, and said yeah, and didn’t really believe it. Just over three weeks ago I walked on stage for our first night, with a well-rehearsed set of material and a fervent hope that the audience would let me get through it and not interrupt. Quite frankly, they terrified me.

But here I am three weeks later, I’ve had storming nights, I’ve died on my arse, I’ve called an audience a bunch of cunts and meant it, I’ve compered for the first time, I’ve gone on wild ad-libbed digressions, and I’ve come to the point where I walk on, fix them with a steely eye, and think, come on you fuckers, bring it on, I can take whatever you throw at me.

And of course I’ve had that other quintessential Fringe experience. The one where you stand in the street in the pouring lashing rain, trying to hand soggy bits of paper to people who look like they would rather spit on you than take one. Reg doesn’t have to do that any more, or Stephen or Vlad, they have teams of students they pay to do it for them. But once they did. It’s a rite of passage we all have to go through, without which you haven’t earned the right to say. ‘I did Edinburgh’.

Which, in the end, is the point. I did Edinburgh. I didn’t get any awards, or accolades, or glory, or recognition, or for that matter even one single stinking lousy review. My 35 performances over 23 days went entirely unnoticed by anyone who wasn’t either in the audience or sharing the stage, and probably even by a few of those. In effect, what I got out of it was two lines for my comedy CV when I finally set one up: Edinburgh Fringe Show 2008 and So You Think You’re Funny? semi-finalist.

Oh yes, that, and a hatful of experiences and memories, and the realisation that there is no way I would have rather spent my summer. Me and Reg, we had entirely different Fringes, which intersected only briefly on the stairs of the Gilded Balloon on the very last night. I hope he enjoyed his half as much as I enjoyed mine.

Published: 26 Aug 2008

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