There’s no time for despair now – day one/two/three of Edinburgh Fringe

The problem with comedians is that all the reasons that mean they must be on stage or all the reasons they must never be on stage.
It is good for them.
It is not at all good for them.
It is the old keys to heaven, gates to hell debacle.
Having not done an Edinburgh run for three years, my memory of its rigours are rusty and distant.
I arrived on Tuesday.
Within 23 minutes of placing my feet on Edinburgh Waverley tarmac, my producer looks at me, sad-faced, and says “ticket sales are disappointing.”
Don’t do that.
We aim to have at least one night without misanthropy, melancholy and self-loathing.
Then, I made the mistake of drinking with Michael Legge.
I did not get drunk, but forgot that at 48 you don’t need to get drunk to get a hangover.
I only had to do one of my shows on Wednesday.
Being a daytime preview, it was a small audience.
I was not happy with the mulch-headed delivery and I failed to find gags when they were hanging there.
The clouds gather.
The doom clangs on an anvil.
It has all been a terrible mistake.
You will now embarrass yourself in front of your peers.
With so many comedians covering the rooftops, basements and sheds, you have been revealed to be an impostor. Stand up and reveal your twenty-five year ruse to the panel.
Last night, sat alone near a concrete cow and a glass of red wine, I toyed with getting the sleeper train.
My dreams were show rewrites.
I had a good scone on the way to the venue, it seemed to be a date and yeast omen in its deliciousness.
More people in the room.
My brain unfuddled.
Despite the length of time I have been showing off, at 1am I did not believe I could find the show I had lost. Walking on at 130pm, there it was.
I remembered what I had forgotten the day before, I had forgotten the point of the show, the reason I was standing there. Now, I recalled why I thought this was a good idea in February.
I had enough fun to eat solids afterwards, a full vegetarian breakfast.
Even if my other show failed, I knew that I could end the day thinking, “well I know one show works if I remember what I am doing and why.”
I did a lot of walking.
Many of the sentences I would be propelling out in a cascade had not made it out of my brain before.
Standing in the stockroom/prop room/ dressing room, I wondered if I would remember any of my intentions.
The audience were lovely. My mind behaved or misbehaved, whatever is required and I enjoyed myself. I think they did, too.
Now I know, even if I cock it up, these idle thoughts have energy. There are shows there, it is up to me to ensure I don’t let them slip away. I am relieved, but I am not relaxed. There is not time for that.

I also saw Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette yesterday. You must see it. Off to See Gavin Webster tomorrow, see him too. Also Barry Crimmins is coming to town, he is quite legendary.

My shows are here and here.

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Silly to get so Het Up About Being Silly For Living – Day One

What do I expect from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe?
What did I expect from my first visit thirty years ago?
I was obsessed my comedy.
I suppose I still am.
Each Summer, Russell Harty would broadcast the best bits of the festival from the fringe club, comedians, acapella groups and poetic interviews.
I stayed in the second home of a schoolfriend’s parents, last time I saw him, he was playing in a ceilidh band that played weddings. Being a teenager unaware of how to eat effectively, I varied my diet by buying different spaghetti shapes each day.
That year, I saw The National Theatre of Brent, Pete McCarthy and Roger McGough, Helen Lederer and Raw Sex, Jenny LeCoat and The Diamantes, Harry Enfield, Jeremy Hardy and Denise Black and the Kray Sisters. Imagine only seeing one white male stand up these days? (where is Hope Augustus now? She was one of my favourite acts when I was 17. I can still play her version of Wild Women Do in my head, even if I get some of the lyrics wrong.)
I bought a signed poster from Jeremy Hardy, he was donating the takings to the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Now I am an attraction, one of thousands, easy to get lost.
The streets are not just scattered with Berkoff obsessives, iambic pentameter fanciers and comedy nerds, it is a huge fun park, everyone seeking the rides that will make them tweet “wheeeeeeeeeee!”
I’ve been jaded, but I’m not anymore.
This might be because I have fewer hopes. The hopes I still possess are more specific.
I am not expecting to be lapped up by TV. I had some small bites of some small cherries a little over a decade ago and that’s more than a lot of stand ups get up. The later possibilities of developing the science variety shows have mainly been scuppered by a BBC executive who has been furtively (though energetically, I am told) stymying such things.
Hopefully, my Radio 4 work will remain intact, with thirteen Monkey Cages a year and one or two documentaries.
In terms of seeking new career opportunities, the Edinburgh Fringe is no longer about that for me.
This means that the pressure and fear and paranoia is all based on one thing, will my shows be good enough and for no other reason than them being good enough to be live shows.
The fringe is exam season if you want it to be.
What will your marks be?
Will you pass?
I hate to disappoint.
I promise you, my intentions are good.
I have never gone through as many notebooks as I have for these shows.
I have never written down as many words with the hope they will turn into something that means the audience will leave excited or contented.
I have never imagined and re-imagined as many possibilities of what will happen when I talk of goats, rabies or Georgia O Keeffe.
I have imagined the silences.
I have imagined the confused “what the hell was that”s.
I have imagined the happy “what the hell was that”s.
I am only there for 12 days as my son would rather spend some of the summer looking for fossils at the seaside.
It’s only showbusiness.
Silly really to get so het up about being silly.

my shows are HERE Then I tour the UK.

Some other shows to consider include Catriona Knox, Urzila Carlson (here’s her Book Shambles) , Michael Legge, Tom Ballard, Hannah Gadsby, John-Luke Roberts, Joe Wells… I’ll continue to update this. Please feel free to add your own recomendations or shows below this post.

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Rembrandt Doesn’t Need to Arm Wrestle Heisenberg – art and science

(apologies, it seems some of my words have been hijacked by adverts. I am a bit cross. Do not click confused, accident or stocks. will work out to get rid of this)

I am a natural pessimist. Fear and worry are my default positions.
It might not be my nature, it could be my nurture.
The car crash I was in when I was nearly three and the damage I saw to my mother on that night might have had something to do with it. As I have learnt, it is not nature or nurture, it is nature expressed through nurture.
Anyway, that is of no concern, the point is, when the phone rings, my first thought is “has someone died”, when Michael Legge is late to record our podcast, by the fifteenth minute I presume he is lying prone and bleeding at the bottom of his staircase.
Despite what you might imagine, my stand up shows are predominantly hopeful and positive.
I used to think I was doing this for the audience, now I realise I am doing it for myself.
“Look what humans can achieve!” I holler as if to erase all the overheard conversations on The Jeremy Vine Show and the inescapable headlines of massacres and hate that lie strewn on the train carriage floor.
The previous solo shows have relied on my ham-fisted and eager explanations of the delight of scientific imagination; Charles Darwin’s bassoon-based experiments on earthworms, the exciting collaboration of lasers and merging black holes that led to the detection of gravitational waves, and the delayed gratification of particle physics.
My evening show will have some science mixed in with more personal stories of hide & seek, hypocrisy and mortality. Since having a stand up row with Brian Cox about the simulation theory equation which required me to leave the room for thirty minutes to calm down and swear, that might sneak in too. I was told about a stand up who used to perform a routine about how we couldn’t be living in a simulation because George W Bush was president, the ante of absurd presidents has been upped since then. Personally, I think such events increase my sparse belief that we are living in a simulation. These thought of world leaders sound like a programmer’s trick to me.
“Let’s run this planet’s history again, but let’s see what would happen if we placed this inappropriate character in the Oval Office.”
My other show is inspired by a stuffed goat.
It is stories of art that has delighted me over the last year as I visited seventy galleries while touring with The Professor and wandering off alone.
We once recorded a Monkey Cage about “Art Versus Science” but it didn’t go very well as the scientists argued amongst themselves so the artists doodled quietly.
Some listeners complained that there was no battle anymore and we shouldn’t be talking about clearly having confused a debate title with a conclusion (again).
Of course, there should be no battle. We do not want a world populated by science-less artists and artless scientists. It seems a pity that teenagers in the England and Wales are expected to specialise so soon. Why shouldn’t those studying cosmology also have a little corner of their course for Holst and HG Wells and those studying English literature some time for the Journals of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace?
What is the difference between art and science?
Both provide us with visions of the world.
Both require imagination.
“Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will get you anywhere,” wrote Albert Einstein.
Is it is as simple as subjectivity versus objectivity?
An artist says, “this is how I see the world.”
A scientist says, “this is how the world is beyond our perceptions.”
Whichever it might be, I like to find time to lie on the grass and look at the stars shining as they transform hydrogen to helium and I like to see how JMW Turner looked at all that light reflecting off the sands of Margate and the canals of Venice and, for a while, both will help me escape for the imagination that stocks me up with pessimism and paranoia.

My two Edinburgh shows are HERE. Both still have low price tickets available. I promise nothing but plan to provide more than that.



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Coco Pops as Croutons – Fragmenting Comedians

The problem with the Edinburgh Fringe is you have to take the show you’ve imagined since January out of your mind and place it in front of the harsh realities of an actual audience or the harsher reality of no audience. The show in your head can shatter when taken out of it.
It is six days to go, so the nausea begins.
In the past, I was unable to eat solid food for the first twelve days of the fringe, relying on thin soup or Coco Pops or thin soup with Coco Pops as croutons.
This is my first Edinburgh fringe run for three years.
I am doing two shows and both have barely been previewed.
It’s only since this century began that comedians started to spend the majority of their life previewing, followed by three weeks of presenting something that is intended to be complete. Then, they go back into another 11 month state of preview from October in the hope that you’d get it right next August.
Expectation striking reality will be what cracks open the heads of many of the comics.
By the end of the first week, the liver damaged, morale extinguished turn walks heavily.
Low numbers and barely audible reactions are not what was seen in the dreamscape.
That £3000 spent on PR was meant to mean you were drinking Riesling with the TV executive and every time you walked into a room you’d hear “that one, that’s the one they think is a cert for the Edinburgh award.” Your flat smells of vinegar and verruca skin, the taps leak and everyone you meet tells you about their four star reviews and sell out shows. They all smell of high quality Riesling.
You are the only failure.
That is how it can feel.
It shouldn’t, but it does.
Edinburgh can bring out the worst in comedians.
There’s so much riding on it…or is there. The main thing riding on it is will you create a show you are happy with or experience a month where you think, “bloody hell, I learnt loads from this.”
Everything else needs to be thought of as an extra treat. You might get some telly out of it if that’s what you are after. You might be invited to a festival in another country. A Radio producer might want to make a series based on your show. You might build up just a little more of an audience and that increases the chances that you can keep standing in rooms being appreciatively looked at as you take things out of your head.
Oddly, my most dismal Edinburgh Fringe led to lots of interesting work and was the reason I started a show called The Book Club which led to me putting on science variety shows that led to me doing the Infinite Monkey Cage. What seems to be an immediate failure may not be a perpetual failure.
The 26 days of the Fringe festival can seem horribly long, an inescapable time trap forged by an evil anti particle Einstein.
The one thing you can try to be is “not a dick”.
If you bump into another comedian, don’t immediately tell them how great your show is and all the wonderful reviews, they might not be having such a good time. In fact, don’t perpetually bang on about your show, some life still remains beyond it and around it.
Plugging other people’s shows doesn’t mean you risk losing an audience member. And if you have had a good show, why not plug someone else’s show near the end of yours. Michael Legge’s #sellthisshowout or #letssellitout or whatever hashtag the old man uses , a daily Twitter idea is lovely. Each day, a show is chosen and a social media push is made to try and get as many people there as possible. Sadly, in previous years, some of the shows chosen never bothered to join in on any other day apart form theirs.
Also, if there are not many people in your audience, don’t keep complaining about it, they are the ones that turned up. Then go into the streets and complain into the face of any of the millions that didn’t turn up.
Don’t use Coco Pops as croutons.

Also, don’t keep writing blog posts about doing Edinburgh when you should really be writing your show.

Things I’d recommend – Hannah Gadsby, Tom Ballard, Gavin Webster , Michael Legge, Eleanor Morton, Urzila Carlson, Comedy 4 Kids, Setlist, John Luke Roberts, The Dark Room for Kids, Funny Stuff for Happy People, Alternative Comedy Memorial Society, Lucy Porter, Barry Crimmins, Bec Hill, Topsy Turvy Hotel (with the brilliant Jo Neary) , Catriona Knox, Chris Coltrane, Gráinne Maguire, George Egg, Stuart Black, Joe Wells, Katy Brand…and all that theatre and dance too
Oh and me, twice a day for the first 12 days

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Frightening Verse

“Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head”

Dorian Lynskey has written an article about Morrissey’s cantankerousness and whether it has distanced his ageing fanbase.

As one of his ageing fanbase, I replied to a few questions.I took an hour or so to decide if I wanted to partake, after all, this was Morrissey and, as a purchaser of the novel and frequent visitor to his gigs, could I really betray my cult leader?

Here are my original rambling replies.

It was probably The Queen is Dead that won me over and repeated listening of “pay no more than £4.49” Hatful of Hollow. All the clichés abounded “I am deep because I am lonely and sad too” “oh yes, all the clubs at the end of the road will lead top me crying and wanting to die.”
“I better write some poetry” Thank heavens that was put in a bonfire in the early 90s.

I didn’t have reservations during the Madstock controversy and I worked hard to imagine Kill Uncle wasn’t terrible. I remember pinning up a bad Melody Maker review of Kill Uncle and daubing it with slogans about what a liar the journalist was…then i heard it, and with the chutzpah of youth, attempted to maintain my position despite the evidence.

I think Southpaw Grammar was the first splinter. Only ten years before, in The Headmaster Ritual, he had been on the side of the pupils, now, with The Teachers are Afraid of the Pupils, he was entering his “kids nowadays” phase. The clunker of a final track on the US release of Maladjusted, Sorrow Will Come in the End

“And you were believed
By a J.P. senile and vile
You pleaded and squealed
And you think you’ve won
But Sorrow will come
To you in the end”

His revenge song against Mike Joyce seemed very clunky.

The “what about me-ness”, ‘the aren’t i always the real victim of everything” started to be too overt.
It all seems like a long way from the Patti Smith inspired feminist, though maybe it wasn’t.

Now I find that he represents a rather typical selfishness, a sledgehammer provocateur who seems to have much in common with the “paid to wrote spite” columnists of our daily papers.
The “Aren’t white middle class men the real victims nowadays” sort of archaic Littlejohnisms are just around the corner.
I was drawn to him because he was writing about humanity when i was young and trying to work out how to be a human and now his view of humanity, his appreciation for some of the world’s more oafishly petty politicians makes him a hard listen. With some artists I think I can separate the art and the human, but he is an artist whose subject is himself, so that gets tricky.

There is a point where I think, I can listen to Life is a Pigsty or I can listen Nick Cave’s Distant Sky or Savage’s Adore, songs that do not call for a haughty withdrawal from life, but engaging with it whatever its trials. I am too old to be a Box Bedroom Rebel blaming everyone else for my failures. There are plenty of people doing that already. I begin to wonder if Morrissey joins that group of people whose hope is not that his work will make anyone else’s life better, merely that he can eventually make everyone feel as bad as he does. Cave elevates, while Morrissey takes out a shovel and offers you a new hole.

And he seems to have become less elegantly cantankerous with age. It’s like being the only guest at a seaside bed and breakfast and, while waiting for your grey scrambled eggs, the host goes on and on about what’s wrong with the Chinese and how the promenade is not what it was since all the new people came and removed the Only Fools and Horses fruit machine. After an hour of waiting, you ask if the scrambled eggs are nearly ready, he throws up his arms and says, “I only have one pair of hands” and insists you leave as it is all so unfair and no one will ever know how a harassed bed and breakfast proprietor feels. ” Oh, TripAdvisor, so much to answer for.”

“It takes strength to be gentle and kind.”

I am doing two shows in Edinburgh for the first twelve days of the festival and will then be off on tour with an amalgam of them both. All details of such things HERE.

also, I highly recommend Dorian’s 33 Revolutions Per Minute, a book about the protest song. Here is his article.

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Eddie Izzard, Airing Cupboards and the nature of writing

Eddie Izzard once advised me that I should not have an airing cupboard. He had come round to my flat to play Escape from Colditz. He won. He told me an airing cupboard was a level of luxury too great and no creativity could come from warm or even dry towels. It was damp towels and uncomfortable knee hinges that led to him creating the “cats drilling for oil” routine.
He didn’t tell me to open a blog post with a name drop, but he might have done.
I no longer have an airing cupboard, I don’t know if it has helped.
One piece of advice I have never followed is “why don’t you actually write a show as opposed to dicking about on stage hoping to find one”…until now.
Carl Cooper, the non malfunctioning HAL of the comedy circuit since 1990, a former brilliant ice cream salesman turned brilliant radio producer suggested I actually wrote a show for Edinburgh this year. Ever contrary, I have tried to write two instead.
I have never really written stand up. I have always had lots of notebooks, postcards and till receipts with non-sequiturs and half words on them, and then they turn into something or other, and the most effective something or others stick.
I have written screenplays, pilots and routines for other comedians, but when it has come to my spitty little exclamations, I have shied away from it.
Maybe I think it could cause a “loss of authenticity” or maybe I’m just lazy.
Over the last couple of days, I have written an 8000 word script for one show (and there is more to add) and I have another script to write for the second show.
It is interesting to see a different sort of joke appear when staring soberly at a blank page rather than in the heightened state of lunacy and paranoia that happens on stage.
The intense staring of others is very different to the solipsistic staring of writing alone.
I had almost escaped from the clutches of Carl’s demand, but with two weeks to go and no more previews or stage time, I decided I would have to create some sort of monologue. I will now pace around the garden, reciting like my swearing and clumsy analysis of the world was The Revenger’s Tragedy.
I wonder if Michael Legge could kneel in my prompt box on the first night?
I have been surprised how many comedians write scripts.
I remember standing at the side of the stage and seeing the open notebook of a comic.
It seemed that he started the day with a pun, then tried to ring that subject dry by writing out every thought in his head until he found the joke he wanted. When you are writing on a specific subject, it can be useful to put whatever the first joke that comes to mind down on the paper or screen. It gives you something to fight against, the fear that the grotesque clichéd tangle is the best you can come up with acts as a spur.
I remember admiring Tim Vine’s tenacity when we did a few gigs together so long ago that we had hair. Every morning, he would wake up and think and rethink a pun involving some bare knees, a desert crossing and a tandem. He never did find the joke he was looking for, but by god, he tried. (Correction: Tim has contacted me to tell me he found the joke. ‘I cycled across the desert with my legs exposed. Tandem? I certainly did.’ )
George Carlin wrote meticulously and then toured methodically to perfect his HBO specials. Greg Proops told me of a night where George Carlin, halfway through his set, pulled out a piece of paper and said, “I haven’t memorised this bit yet, hope you don’t mind me doing it.”
Then, despite the lack of illusion of spontaneity and the fact he was reading it from a bit of paper, he delivered it so perfectly that it made no difference whatsoever.
Yet, despite his genius and years in the comedy business, Carlin still knew he needed to get tour constantly to ensure he had found the right words and the right delivery.
At least by putting it on the page I know what my shows are about, one is about art, the other is about delusions, narrow boats, dog erections, the universe as simulation, Kurt Vonnegut, entropy and ghosts.
I am intrigued to see how writing a show for the first time in a writerly way changes things, hopefully the damp towels helped.

My two shows are here and here.

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Too Taboo…or just too Difficult – things you maybe shouldn’t joke about

Are there some topics you shouldn’t joke about or that you shouldn’t want to joke about? is suicide one of them?

A couple of years ago, I was talking to an ex-headteacher in a hotel bar after a gig. There were a few us around the table, as well as a stranger on a business trip who was lonely so joined in the drinking and olive eating. As I lent in to pick up my beer, the ex-headteacher grabbed my arm and said, “you comedians need to do more routines about suicide.”
In a matter of fact manner, she told me that her daughter had killed herself and she believed that it would help if talk of suicide did not seem such a taboo. As George Carlin probably said (I remember him saying it, but can find no trace of it), “stand up is a low art, but it’s a potent art.”
As I haven’t created much new stand up for a couple of years, I decided I should try to honour the ex-headteacher’s request. It is not easy.
How do I approach this subject tactfully, stupidly, insightfully and/or pointlessly?
Should I try to perform stand up about this at all?
George Carlin was there before me in 2005 show. Straight after his routine on cornholing, he asks, “do you realise that right this second, right now, somewhere around the world, some guy is getting ready to kill himself…do you ever stop to think about this stuff? I do. It’s fun. It’s interesting and it’s true.” He then spends five minutes approaching the subject with the dark, facetious nihilism that marked out his later HBO specials.
It’s an approach that won’t suit me. I don’t have the gravitas.
Where do I start?
Do I talk about the first time that I thought about suicide when I was nine years old, brought on by a fear of rabies from endlessly repeated, paranoia fuelling public information films and an episode of Terry Nation’s Survivors?
Do I talk about the story I was told about why suicide was made a sin by the church?
Apparently, it was nothing to do with Judas Iscariot and everything to do with life being so pustule and plague ridden and bloody awful that the priests worried their serfs would just kill themselves as a shortcut to heaven rather than go through the relentless rickets and burial of young loved ones.
Do I talk about poor Lupe Velez whose tragic suicide was retold by Kenneth Anger in Hollywood Babylon. According to Anger, feeling her career was ebbing, she decided to drink her favourite wine, eat her favourite chilli con carné and then take some pills and lie on her ornate bed, her chihuahuas resting at her feet. She would be found like a serene god. Sadly, the combination of pills, wine and carné led to an upset stomach. She went to vomit, then slid in her vomit, cracked he head and was found splayed, dead and in disarray. I have since (today) found out this story is a myth. Obviously, the bleak laughs of this guillotine humour sells more books.
One friend who was depressed and had suicidal thoughts for weeks was persuaded against taking action when a friend said, “but you’d look so silly.”

One of the most peculiar and haunting sounds I have heard was the scream of a mother as her teenage child through themselves in front of a train. I was on the train at the time so was not aware of the cause of this alien noise. Remarkably, the child’s leap was perfectly timed for him to land under the train and survive unscathed. Hopefully this drive that led to him leaping is no longer with him now.
People on platforms say it is a selfish act, others tell me that it is a loss of self that leads to killing yourself. Some people are unable to imagine their worth or those who preferred a world with them rather than without.
I have been careful to speak to therapists who have dealt with suicidal people.
One told me darkly, “a suicide note is a positive thing, that person has started to talk, unfortunately, they have started too late.”
Another advised me, “I tend to feel you can be as dark as you need to be as long as everyone can hear you’re coming from the right place” and reminded me to avoid mawkishness and sentimentality.
I read Al Alvarez’s The Savage God, a study of suicide. He was a friend of Sylvia Plath and writes of how they would talk of suicide. Both tried to kill themselves, Alvarez survived his attempt.
It worries me that this might mean talking about it is not as useful as I hoped.
I tried something at a preview last night, it might just have been silly, silly and true. Maybe silly is enough to open up communication.
I might fail.
I might be told it is not worth the attempt.
I never thought it would be easy, but I think I’d prefer to try and write about this rather than cornholing.

Here is CALM, a charity that specifically aims to aid young men, The Samaritans and MIND in case you want to find out more on these issues or wish to contact someone.

Some sort of routine about this may or may not end up in this Edinburgh show at Stand 2. I am interested to know what you think.

A while back, on a day where I was heavily delayed on a train due to a suicide, I wrote this

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