When laughter isn't the best medicine

Daniel Meyers on the strains of watching comedy at Edinburgh

As I write this I am laid up in bed at home. Feeling rough.

My nose is running, my throat is sore, my chest is tight and my limbs are achy. I know what you’re thinking and no it’s not man flu. It’s even worse than that, if anything could be. I have just returned from my annual pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe.

As each year has passed my companion and I have squeezed ever more shows in to our 3 day excursion. This year our target was 17. Thankfully, one of these shows was cancelled before we even set off, leaving us with a positively slow first day of four shows, followed by a demanding next couple of days of six shows each.

So we meticulously packed our rucksacks as if preparing to be dropped behind enemy lines on an SAS field training exercise; water? Check. Isotonic Energy Gel? Check. Knife? Check. Cyanide tablet? Check.

We were ready. We couldn’t put this thing off any longer. It was time to go and see some comedy.

Day 1 started fine. Booked in to the B&B at 4pm leaving us a luxuriant hour and twenty minutes to cab it down to our first show at The GRV, Sanderson Jones: Another Heartbreaking But Ultimately Life-Affirming Show About Death (a show which delivered on neither of the promises made by its title and severely tempted me to pop the cyanide tablet there and then). The evening continued at a concerted but achievable pace, ending with Spank (we love it!) at the Underbelly.

Merry and well oiled we are turfed out on to the street at around 2.30am, we flag a cab and are in bed by 3am ready for a nice long, well-earned sleep; and this is where the problems really start.

As my companion and I are well aware of the potentially escalating costs of a Fringe holiday, and that we have to take every fleeting opportunity we can to eat, we set the alarm to get us up for our pre-paid breakfast at 8am. Five short hours after putting our weary heads down we are sat in the B&B’s pokey dining room, hungover and grumpy, silently trying to force down the paltry breakfast that neither of us are anywhere near ready for.

Then it’s back to bed to try and make the most of the few hours we have before that day’s shows start at 3.20pm, but of course, as we desperately try to sleep, Edinburgh is waking up. Just as we do finally drift off the sprightly maid bursts in to spruce our room up. Despite her beating a hasty retreat upon the grotesque sight that greets her, any chance of meaningful sleep has evaporated.

We unwillingly haul ourselves out of bed. A couple of surly showers later (my ire increasing at not being able to scrub last night's huge Spank ink-stamp off my hand) and we are as ready as we’re ever going to be for Day 2.

A cab to The Stand 3 for Jason Cook: Fear. A lively, likeable show but led me to thinking if it was even natural to be watching comedy at what effectively was for us, first thing in the morning. I struggled with a beer and struggled to engage with the performance as I yearned for the sleep that I'd missed and trembled at the prospect of the sheer amount of fun that still lay ahead.

For the remainder of the day we ping around the city; the Pleasance Above for 5pm, the Pleasance Beside for 7.30pm, The Stand 2 for 9pm and The Gilded Balloon for 10.45pm, grabbing food on the hoof like a marathon runner snatches a drink from a strategically placed water table.

We finish Day 2 at Just The Tonic at The Caves. My feeling that I may just be getting too old for all this is only heightened by the throng of ever-so-young and ever-so-lively people that eagerly await the next show. The show features enjoyable sets from Pete Firman and David O'Doherty but is interminably long and includes an unfathomable, and quite frankly spiteful, two intermissions.

At well past 3am we are on our way back to the B&B. Ratty and irritable, and aware that the "early start" of day 3 at 2pm is going to impinge on our lack of sleep even more so than the first couple of days.

Day 3 now feels like an episode of an Eighties Japanese game show; no fun, no enjoyment, just got to hang in there for as long as possible and refuse to be beaten by it.With an even tighter schedule than the first two days we adhere to a highly stringent yet necessary set of rules: don’t sit, don’t talk, don’t engage any flyerers and limit all toilet stops to number ones no matter what level of discomfort you may be suffering.

Thankfully, the wildly over-long and self-indulgent School for Scandal allows me an opportunity to zone out and briefly recharge my batteries and then it's back on the road again.

As the venues become increasingly stifling and claustrophobic my permanent paranoia about contracting some fatal virus becomes virtually debilitating but the light is at the end of the tunnel, against all the odds we have nearly completed our ordeal.

We finish day 3 with our now traditional Daniel Kitson double-header but as is always the case the small time scale and great distance between the two shows means that by the time we get to The Stand for the final show it is standing room only. So propped against the wall at the back of the room we listen as Kitson warns us straight off the bat that his show is currently running long at around 1 hour 50 minutes.

Doubtful that my aging knees will handle the strain I summon all the reserves I have for one final push.

And so here I am now, in bed, malnourished, dehydrated and almost certainly in the early stages of swine flu. I wouldn't have it any other way. Bring on next August, I can't wait.

Published: 18 Aug 2009

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