Recently, I was flown home from a Portuguese nature reserve in disgrace and foot bandages, after my European festival experience culminated in being run over by a tractor. I mention this now so you know what kind of gonzo professionalism to expect, as I report on the next huge event – the biggest, baddest arts festival in the UK; The Edinburgh Fringe.
Crammed into just one month, the Fringe spans genre and artistic discipline like the wings of an immense albatross; connecting some with luck and fame, and others with nervous exhaustion and a new craving for ‘quiet-time’ that could last the rest of the year.
Shows, music, live panels, midnight comedy, slam poetry, and dream-exchange programs, by comedians, musicians, poets, painters, and campaigners, including huge names and up-and-comers, are all on the cards, getting handed out in person all along The Mile.
In previous years, Edinburgh in August has been a frenetic dreamland, refusing to recognise the dichotomy of show-man and show-goer. This year, I’ll be here till the end – braving bruised feet, over-stretched vocal cords, and Fringe Flu with London-based comedy crew Fat Kitten Improv, to witness this mishmash of creativity, and find out what gives the city its tics.
With regular updates, I hope to cover it all for you.
Tuesday 14 August, 2.28pm
Politics of the Free Fringe
Disaster! I’m about to flyer the Mile and we’ve run out of ‘Fat Kitten Go Speed Dating’ leaflets (Voodoo Rooms, 4.40pm). You know what else is a disaster? Big Comedy Venues! Let me explain.
I just saw a panel show with PBH (as in THE Peter Buckley Hill, founder of the PBH Free Fringe). He’s a funny old man who claims he once used his free bus pass to get local buses all the way from Edinburgh to London. It took him three days, but it beats playing Bingo. And he made up a song about Fermat’s Last Theorem. What a legend.
Little do most show-goers know, that despite the term ‘The Edinburgh Fringe’ bandying around with such abandon, ‘The Fringe’ is actually several rivalling organisations, all of whom hate the others with a fluorescent passion.
One is the original free one (that’s our boy PBH), one is, in PBH’s sentiments, a ‘cheating copy’ (Down with Laughing Horse! Down with them!), and the other is the one you see on the BBC, doggedly building their big-name monopoly and pushing out the smaller, niche-r performer.
With the PBH Free Fringe collating 387 shows across 37 venues, all organised to co-operate with promotion and funded on a post-show donation basis, PBH could be said to be a true man of the Fringe people, if it didn’t make him sound like a Doctor Who spin-off. There are rules, but as he just said, “Basically, you can sum it up in four words. Don’t be a dick.”
As the biggest venues force the performers to underwrite the costs in advance, losing one panellist £12,000 last year (despite having wit AND a plastic crown), I think not all the Fringes are playing to the same rule.
… Where the hell are those flyers?!
Tuesday 14 August, 2.49pm
You know what’s important? Burma‘s important. I hope Amnesty International comes to our show!
Wednesday 15 August, 4pm
Comedic intolerance s’not cool
Bit of drama last night – my first (and hopefully only) walkout of the Fringe.
Ok, women, gays, people of faith and the over 40s – they deserve to be picked on and shouted at (sarcasm flag). But audience members without shoes on? In the heat of preparing his ire, I think he also forgot to pack any jokes.
I’m not actually going to dignify this homophobic, sexist, ageist anti-footite with a name, but show-goers – remember – a walkout is most powerful. No vote possible. You can heckle, but he has a microphone, and the cocaine-like effects of being stood on a big important stage are at work on his ego. If someone’s being a total shit on stage and it isn’t the 1970s, don’t talk back, just leave. Conspicuously.
Also nice to see the Guardian agrees with my bit yesterday on Big Comedy turning our arts festival utopia into a kind of extra shiny Logan’s Run. They do go into more detail – for example, I wouldn’t have used the phrase “parasitical worms crawling out of a cat’s anus”, but I did just eat a ham roll.
Wednesday 15 August, 6.02pm
Discussing Siberian saltmines with comedian Bob Slayer in the queue for Loretta Maine’s show, Bipolar! at Just the Tonic. Bob Slayer recently broke his back crowdsurfing in a wheelie bin. S’quite rock ‘n’ roll…
Wednesday 15 August, midnight
Where: Banshee Labyrinth
What time: 4pm
How much: Free! Donate at the end – thanks PBH!
What it was like: An unexpectedly tender ode to the colour yellow, and to items which are yellow, delivered in an obsessive, starey deadpan. Supporting roles from two sponges, tropical berocca, and a man shouting ‘HAM!’, though I don’t know if that was scripted.One of the funniest things and most charming things I’ve ever seen, but I’ve never been able to account for my sense of humour.
What I learned: There’s such a thing as tropical Berocca.
Loretta Maine, Bipolar
Where: Just the Tonic Comedy Club
What time: 6pm
How much: £9 (£8 with concessions)
What it was like: Vocally closest to That Woman from The Cranberries, with an extra serration of satirical-hysterical, Loretta Maine isn’t singing about real Bipolar Disorder, but the mascara-smeared, screaming-celebrity-disease that happens to share its name. Oh, and the social conditions that give rise to it. Oh, and the unfairness of her band (‘Penis Envy’) refusing to dress as Polar Bears on stage. Oh, and wine. LOTS OF WINE.
What I learned: If you are immensely talented and extremely witty, a chirpy-rage grrl-rock show is also the perfect time to have a banjo battle with the spirit of your dead Grandma.
Where: Tron Church
What time: About midnight?
How much: Free!
What it was like: Dubstep beatboxing, with some freakishly fluid moves. The force and agility of those [insane, extreme, completely mouth-made] SFX and [filthy, anarchic, dexterous] rhythms reminded me most of ferro fluid, if it chose to go to a rave.
What I learned: If you do the button-puppet dubstep-dance all set, and then shout “ME!” when he holds up his CD, you might just get given one! Also, here’s a song by him. He makes those sounds with just his mouth. Check him out at 2:28!
Where: Bloody everywhere
What time: About 7pm
What I learned: If you only bring one pair of socks with you, and they get soaking wet, microwaving them will not make them dry. It will, however, make them smell much worse.
Thursday 16 August, 1.56pm
How not to flyer, part one
This man is just standing on a plinth, shouting “SHAKESPEARE, SHAKESPEARE”. The effect is impressive, but a time and venue might better translate that to audience numbers…
Thursday 16 August, 2.59pm
This man has a cabbage stapled to his face. His show is Peter Piper: The Man Behind The Legend, Venue 203 Princes Mall, 4.45pm. Free entry.
Thursday 16 August, 3.11pm
Just ran into Superbard! I LOVE THIS GUY! He performs spoken word, ‘Douglas Adams meets Sigur Ros’. He does loads of London shows so see him if you can. It’ll be showing in Edinburgh at Spotlites, 9.10pm, and costs £9.50-£7.50, but unemployed go free.
Thursday 16 August, 4pm
There are many things at Edinburgh Fringe I may never understand.
Thought I’d try out the “SHAKESPEARE, SHAKESPEARE” man’s technique. On [lack of] balance, I have a renewed respect for it.
Tonight I missed the Beta Males, because I’m some kind of subconscious fun-masochist who pathologically misremembers show timings, but am making up for it with the aforementioned Superbard show instead. Half price hut has tickets for less monies – will let you know how it goes!
Friday 17 August, 5pm
I did Superbard last night for free on the unemployed-person’s ticket. Had no proof of status, but it seems that a long, rambling story about how I left my job – slightly embellished with a part about a blow struck against Late Capitalism and Everything It Means For The Human Soul – impresses door staff enough to wave you in anyway.
The rant seemed apt, as when I saw Superbard on The Mile, he claimed that the show was all about the recession. I find this confusing now, as the show seemed mostly to be about falling in love, and time travel.
I also found out that Superbard’s real name is George. But come on – lots of superheroes have lame real names – Superman has Clark, The Hulk is called Eric. Okay, Batman really hit a jackpot with Bruce. But a Bruce couldn’t have been so soft and intoxicating a Superbard.
His show is called Superbard Starts to Save the World. I really think he COULD.
Friday 17 August, 6.45pm
I have discovered the power of ONE OF THESE.
So I used it to see and hysterically enjoy The Beta Males’ The Space Race for free (after cocking up the show time that I actually had a ticket for). And I realised my great power.
Show starts in 25 minutes. Can my seamless impersonation of Astra Philander* possibly get me past the peak-time Friday night door staff of the most popular show at the Fringe? I’ll let you know. Oh, by the way, I have blue hair and I’m dressed as a tiger.
*All names changed to protect persons at risk of a big nasty telling-off
Friday 17 August, 10.08pm
The answer is no. It didn’t get me in.
I’m seeing Storytellers’ Club and eating an ice-cream instead. At a time like this, what else can you do?
Friday 17th August, 10.27pm
Very short and yet very boring anecdotes. I lasted 19 of 90 minutes. £10 a ticket for people not impersonating unlikely employees – are you kidding?!
Just further evidence that paying shows won’t be better than PBH free ones just because you pay money for them. I’ve never seen anything on PBH for free that wasn’t less tooth-achingly mundane than that.
Monday 20 August
We’ve reached it – the final week of the Fringe. I’ve said little about my troupe ’til now – the Fat Kittens. But it’s the community and collaboration in supporting casts around this core of shamefully funny people that ends up being the most compelling. I slept with five other people in my bedroom last night. It’s not like a sleepover. We’re too exhausted to talk into the night.
But it’s the Kittens’ last Fringe. With only a week to run.
One week until the end
My last Monday. Saw five shows in a night: Fat Kitten, Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart, Doom: The Musical, Planet LEM, and Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD (all world-class, apart from the show I now refer to only as the Doomsday Disaster). Then I tried to catch the end of a show of some men dressed as superheroes doing wanking jokes. What we saw was very funny, but our ability to judge was hindered by copious alcohol and the fact that we missed most of the beginning by arriving right at the end.
Drinks to say goodbye to the Kittens Quartermaster. Flat about to be much filthier on a daily basis.
Night finishing 4am with raised voices about the Kittens show. I’ve never seen the Kittens do a poor show. James (El Capitan Kitten) wants every show to be great, not just enjoyable, and not just ok.
Nobody’s said it, but I think the lasting lastness of this last week is on everyone’s minds.
Five days until the end
2.16am Got that lift. This hot, sweaty, working-men’s-club room at the RAOB is congregated with slightly broken Free Fringe comics, swapping buoyant in-jokes with each other after another back-cracking Edinburgh day.
The Existential Awards, the awesome brain[damage]-child of comedians Dec Monroe and Mark Dean Quinn, consist of awarding a Horn (as in a brass bugle) to the star of the Best Show. The award ceremony itself seems to consist solely of everyone in the audience lining up to play it, sat on the winner’s lap.
Incensed by Barry Ferns carrying off the prize horn, Richard Tyrone Jones (Of Utter! infamy) strode up to give him a Viagra*, right at the start of the horn-lap-playing queue. After we’d all had a go on his lap-horn (actually not a euphemism), this show began to what might have been a song from The Lion King played on repeat. Here’s a picture of me trying to play The Last Post (I used to be a semi-professional trumpeter**) sat on Barry sat on James Ross after the ‘show’:
And a picture of Barry giving Kitten-Captain James Ross ‘The Horn’, during:
Just for the record, the rise in Levi’s never arrived, but it certainly lifted our spirits. And my most favourite cockle-warming Fringe-thing of the day? Not the bugle fanfare to herald my slightly late entrance. Not the fact that the door could be bolted from the inside. No. It’s knowing that, not only are these funny blokes part of a tight-knit, supportive community, but in the right circumstance, they’ll let bloody anyone sit on their lap.
* Richard has heart failure. See his [really good] show about his experiences, Richard Tyrone Jones’s Big Heart, 6pm daily at The Banshee Labyrinth.
**I got paid for it once
Six days until the end
10.30am Morning meeting of show casting, key-count, and flyering plans passes without incident. I am monumentally hungover.
Nottingham Improv are sharing the Kitten flat: they’re all about 19. Self-confessedly, they are “not used to calling adults by their first name,” which tells you all you need to know. Very eager to prove themselves.
12.30pm Notts. Improv. Arrive back at flat shortly after leaving to flyer The Mile. Slender 19-year-old girl is shaking and crying, having apparently fainted in the road.
Sugary drink and anti-panic attack re-breathing techniques notwithstanding, the Scottish equivalent of NHS Direct has recommended ambulance attendance. Most worrying symptom is her sense of confusion.
1pm This definitely qualifies me as official Kittens Medic.
What we learn from this: if you want to do more than a week at the Fringe without a medical emergency, you have to juggle your show commitments with self-commitment to eating and sleeping, at least a little bit.
I chose my lunchtime Ginsters Cornish Pasty according to most-calories-per-pence calculations. Since the show must go on, so must the lunch.
4.30pm Ran a Kitten’s show shirt up to the Voodoo Rooms. Got it there in the nick of time, to find she’d just thrown up and wasn’t doing the show anymore. Some comics would say this lacks commitment. They would be better suited to a career in military dictatorship.
The show MUST go on. EXCEPT if you’re vomming on your audience.
11pm Edinburgh. End-in-blurgh. Doom seems inevitable; me and everyone else, cast and crew. Tomorrow is Fat Kittens’ one day off. With Edinburgh highs still here, but hand-in-hand with crashing, we’re all hoping for a lift.
Four days until the end
1.04pm Someone has apparently turned the London riots into a musical. Is that cool?? I don’t have time to go see it and find out.
2pm And, here’s YET another one!
11.59pm Waiting for Itsy’s Midnight Kabarett to start. Sweaty, black-and-gold swaddled room, with a pall of late-night enchantment. Curious to see what James described as a “suicide set”.
12.30am BLOODY HELL! That was the best and funniest I have ever seen the Fat Kittens!
Carefully honed comedy craftsmanship of three years together – abandoned! Pure talent from the seat of the pants, pure risk – from a half-strength cast of literally the last three left standing at the Fringe, running on fumes and the daredevil spirit of being too tired to care.
Channelling this ‘screw-it, screw-it all’ factor into a 15-minute slot, sandwiched between a middle-aged hipster with an acoustic guitar and a sinuous, silky burlesque act, the Kittens met with a roar of approval.
I feel sorry for anyone who missed that.
Three days until the end
4.50pm Penultimate Fat Kitten vs The World show!
Kittens are up against Austen-tatious – a Jane Austen-themed comedy improv group. They’re all stood on the stage in ballgowns and pantaloons.This is the fullest the room has been this run. People are still arriving and, refusing to admit defeat, shoe-horning themselves into the already tube-train-like standing room at the back.
5.30pm Absolutely smashing it! Daniel Barker is MCing, recovering from a horrifying bout of tonsillitis just in time for most of the cast to have gone home, which makes his diaphragmatic patter even more impressive.
5.50pm Phenomenal show. Since I’m missing tomorrow (the very last, last show ever), SO glad I caught this.
Paying their pound of flesh in sweat to the gods of comedy, the Fat Kittens set today is sizzling with fevered, manic funnies. The accustomed games, scenes, and smart-assery have taken on a frenetic end-of-Fringe edge, and while they may have burnt their hair at both ends for a month now, it only gets better the less sleep they have.
By contrast and despite corsets (I can’t see them but I assume for the sake of historical accuracy that they’re there under the gowns), Austen-tatious are cool, smooth raconteurs, swooning as punctually as any consumptive 19th-century debutante, but with considerably better-than-average education and political awareness.
An example of comedy improvisation from the audience suggestion, ‘invisible libraries’:
Watson: The libraries Holmes! They’re all gone. But…who could have taken them?
Holmes: Well Watson [glassy stare], I expect it was the Government.
7pm £155 in the donations pot tonight. The audience loved us – them there’s weekend-like figures! *whoop whoop*
The penultimate day: Last day of the Kittens
11am Only six of us left in this huge flat. Matt Andrews (Mandrews) has his 36th birthday today. Posh cupcakes were bought.
The last day
4.37pm Free Syria demo at the top of The Royal Mile. Can’t argue with that.
One of the things I really like about the Fringe is that everyone’s represented, if you look for it. From the one-man nazi musical to – something as big and active and important as this. It’s by no means all frivolity and glitter.
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.