All entries for August 2006

August 27, 2006

Eddies – 2 out of 3

Follow-up to Some quick thoughts on the Eddies from And Now For a Word

Phil Nichol and Josie Long win Best Act and Best Newcomer respectively, with Mark Watson winning the panel prize

So 2 out of 3 guessed correctly, and the other one I'm glad I got wrong.

August 24, 2006

Edinburgh Blog – Day 16 – August 16th

“I’ve had four hours sleep since Monday”

Unsurprisingly, today I slept in until very late. But not only had I left the laptop power cord behind the previous night, I had also not actually shut down the laptop fully before I went to bed. As such when I turn it on today, expecting 3 hours of battery power: enough to check my mail, figure out what shows I’ll be doing in the next couple of days, and sort out ticket request; I get nothing. As such rather than spend all day in my PJs lounging about reading books, I have to go out. I wonder over to the Pleasance Dome – I’m still a bit tired but I ask the girl at the reception desk about the lead, she radios up to ask one of the technicians to have a look.

“Were you there for the whole thing?”
“Yes, I was.”
“Have you had any sleep yet?”
“Yeah I went right home and slept, just got back up really”
“Lucky, I’ve only had like four hours sleep since Monday”

Poor girl had been covering the Mark Watson gig, then the Pleasance party which happened immediately after (I was only vaguely aware of this starting at the time Watson’s show ended, but Andy later confirmed they’d been out at it and it went on till 5), and presumably then started again the following morning. Frankly I think that’s even more impressive that what Watson managed and next year she should have her own show.

Since I was out it seemed a shame to go right back home, so I go watch Jarred Christmas (Pleasance Courtyard, 21:40) which is a show about geekiness. This is slightly odd as Christmas generally does fairly loud and lewd material and he doesn’t really strike you as a geek. But turns out he is and has a damn good show about it to boot.

The plan was then to go watch Ray Peacock, then do The Dirty Book Club (Robin Ince’s gig, not some weird sex thing). So I watch Ray Peacock (Pleasance Courtyard, 23:00) who has a great show. He’s been moaning slightly on his blog about his 3 star Chortle review (in a light-hearted fashion), but I can understand it. It was a good show and seemed to have structure and be going somewhere, but at the end he tells us the ending is private. And that’s a shame, because the show then just peters out and vanishes, rather than comes to a fitting denouement. That’s what would personally stop me giving it four stars: he needs to either get over it and just come out and say it anyways, or just make up a cool ending and lie, no-one will know anyways! The current ending just frustrates. Brendon Burns pulled a similar trick with last year’s show, keeping the contents of a final phone conversation from the audience, but got away with us as he dropped a couple of hints and gave us enough to know that it was a happy ending.

After this I then realise the Dirty Book Club starts at 23:50 not 00:50 so give up on that and wonder back home.

Edinburgh Blog – Day 14 and Day 15 – August 14–15th

"Oh yeah, I'm going to do six more hours now. It's one of those things where you book a venue for 42 hours and pretend to everyone it'll only be 36"

These two are put into one as I didn't sleep between them so it makes no sense splitting them. These days were of course, the days of Mark Watson's 36 hour marathon gig. To go into it in detail would take far too long, and a rolling report of things that happened is available here .

For me some of the best bits were the complimentary rap battle between Kitson, Zaltzmann, Burns and Minchin; David O'Doherty and Adam Hill's double act when filling in for Mark as he's off doing a TV appearance for an hour; and the wonderful musical collaboration mentioned in the rolling review.

Going into a detailed hour by hour dissection would also be pointless, and I shall explain why shortly, but first I'm going to mention a few of the more interesting things that happened concerning me directly during the gig.

I was doing a rolling review on Chortle, as previously mentioned, and Steve also suggested a 'Stars so far' rating with each update. On reflection it probably didn't make much sense but I went along with it. Now this 36–hour show had some vague sort of structure, based upon visiting different parts of the world, but this was basically just something to fall back on if Mark should run out of anything else interesting to do at any point. It's rarely required as Mark tends to throw so many balls up in the air at the start, there's always one coming down and ready to catch – be it finding celebrity guests, sending someone on a task to get as far away as possible, or composing a new song. Or checking in on their rolling review. Of course, with Mark having two guys sat at his side throughout, with laptops and internet connections, to find interesting things or make sly interjections via a projected Word document, it was only a matter of a very short amount of time before the review was found and became part of the show. At that point the review does lose any critical strength as you can't really give a fair opinion when you're in the same room and are having the whole thing critiqued by those you are critiquing as it's written. Still, I tried to maintain some degree of objectivity, mentioning which bits worked and which bits didn't – and became somewhat of a pantomime villain and later hero, as the 'stars so far' rating went up and down. The trouble of course is, if you're doing this for 36 hours, you can't blow the 5–stars too early on or you've no–where to go. Needless to say, if you read the rolling review I did find a clever way around this at the end. Just hope I'm not doing it again next year as I've blown those two clever ideas now!

But what was really weird was that Mark is part of a certain group of comics (there's various factions of them, that hang about with each other and such, it's sort of weird) that includes Tim Key and the rest of the cast of Cowards. Tim Key himself being Mark's most regular helper on the computers. Cowards of course being the show I controversially gave a bad review to (though I had no clue it would be controversial when I first saw the show, I just walked in, watched it, thought 'poor sketch show' and that was that – it wasn't until I came to write it up I saw they had a radio 4 series in the bad and were getting 4 and 5 star reviews). Now Tim was very nice about it – some wry comments were made but he didn't seem to be holding any sort of grudge. Also in the audience though was the director of Cowards, one 'Will Breen'. He took it upon himself to publicly attack the review I was writing of this show during it, complaining I was the only one putting out anything about the show on the internet and I wasn't giving a proper indication of what it was actually like. Now this was around 16–17 hours in. At that point my writing certainly wasn't particularly witty, descriptive or anything more than informative, as I was getting pretty tired. In exasperation I offered him the chance to guest–write the next update – the old 'do it yourself if you can do better then' trick. Predictably, he declined.

But then a few hours later, things took a really weird turn. Mark had set up a system whereby people could write letters to other people in the audience and get them delivered. Much to my surprise, I received one. I repeat it here in full for your amusement:

Dear Dean, Just a quick note to say, look, friend, its nothing personal. You've got your job and I've got mine. Mine involves mounting a production that people will enjoy and doing a service to the magnificent script that lands on my desk every year. The are good in my view and I know how hard they work and how much they care about their work. Dean, of course, in this context, i'm going to be sad when the show is compared unfavourably to a sixth form revue. Mark's show is an extraordinary event which brings people together from all walks of life and all corners of this magnificent festival. Very unlucky for us to be put in the same room, Sparks will fly. But it is a rare thing among many rare things. I think it would be unfitting for there to be any ill feeling. Indeed I bear no ill will to you personally, of course, i've got some frustration off my chest, Dean. I hope you understand. Perhaps this experience has been instructive to you too. Anyway, I hope we will become friends this evening. At your request I will buy you a beer. A wet olive branch if you will. Yours in solidarity, lets make it beautiful, Will Breen.

You might want to read that again. It took me a few hours to get my head around it. See, from that it sounds like i fucked his wife or something. I really didn't give a toss about what he thought – it was a bit rude of him to moan about what I was writing in public, but then that's what I'm doing for a living. Also I'd thought his points about the quality of the writing in the rolling review were fair enough – I was tired, it wasn't my best – and I didn't take it personally at all – it was a criticism of the work, and the work is not me. But the letter just implies he was just saying it out of bitterness over the Cowards review, and it was personal. Unlucky for us to be in the same room? Not really, all it needs is a little professional decorum – I was happy to ignore the whole Cowards issue as any sort of conflict there would just bring this wonderful event down a bit, but he decided to bring it up. It also annoyed me a little – it's the private apology to a public argument trick. You get to have the last word in public, then apologise in private so the other person looks bad if they don't accept it. One gets around that by posting the private apology on ones blog. I later spoke briefly to him, shook his hand and said it was fine, and I bear him no ill–will. Which was true, and would have been true whether he sent me that letter or not. And on the off–chance he ever reads this, I'm not detailing this whole thing here out of any sort of bitterness, just the whole thing was one of the more bizarre incidents in my life and deserves documenting on that basis. I didn't have the beer in the end, as I don't drink beer.

So that was really weird. The whole issue of this Cowards review and the reaction it's engendered is a big one and I'll probably go into in more detail in another entry post–fringe, and explain a bit more about why I felt like I did about it, but this entry is about the Mark Watson show.

Daniel Kitson was also a bit rude about my writing, picking flaws with the spelling and grammar, but that's 'cause Kitson knows how to get easy laughs from being rude to someone and in this sort of gig I was the only possible target. The moral victory was mine however, as while I'd lost the ability to spell and punctuate at that point, a few hours later when Kitson had been up as long as me, he lost the ability to function completely and sneaked off before he became a liability. It did leave with the feeling though that Kitson, while a personal hero of mine, the best comic of his generation, with a great taste in music and a wonderful general outlook on life espoused in work, in person, he is a bit of a cunt. In fact there was a wonderful moment in the show where Brendon Burns, aggressive aussie comic gets quite excited about the complimentary rap battle on the table: "What, Daniel Kitson having to be nice to another human being?". And he has a point, and the contrast is interesting to see. See, while Kitson comes across as a wonderful, lovely bloke in his stand–up, the glimpses I've seen and the general opinion seem to be in real life he's a bit of a twat. Burns on–stage is the most abusive, rude, abrasive personality you will ever come across, but on the few occasions I've spoken to him he's been charming and one of the nicest stand–ups I've ever met.

But back to where we came in: Mark's show. I mentioned a blow by blow account would be useless and heres why. On the way to change rooms at around 1am I'm stopped by a woman who's wondered in, I think as part of Mark's regular stand–up show, who decided to stick around"
"What is this?" she asks.
I try to explain the concept.
"I know but what is it? I mean it's not comedy, it's entertainment, do you watch Big Brother?"
"Well this is like Big Brother isn't it? It's just entertainment? Because if that's the case, that's fine. But if it's something more, I want to stay."

And you see, if you're there for an hour or two it is just a bunch of comics fooling around, telling the odd joke, and doing wacky things. But if you're there for large chunks of it, it's something far more. It's a living, breathing, community, created to exist for 36 hours only. And that's magical. There's a feeling you get, being part of it, that's similar to that you get at Glastonbury, a living, breathing community that exists for 5 days only. And that's why it's special. You can't really explain it in words, which is why that woman left after my vague attempts to communicate the experience. I'm not doing much better now either, so I'll stop.

I was only going to cover the first 24 hours, but after that I wanted to stick it out anyways to see it through to the end, and Steve was happy for me to carry on writing, despite the rapidly declining standards. Going without sleep is weird. You feel really tired for the hours you'd normally be in bed, but once you're through those ten hours and back into the waking hours, you're fine. And it's not a daytime/night–time thing either, as we were in a room with no windows throughout.

My boss Steve spoke to me on the way out: "I've booked you in for a 9am show in morning, that okay?". Comedy critics – all think they're comedians! Steve wrote up the final review from his experiences and my live review here as I was in no fit state.

When I got home I realised I'd left the power cord to my laptop back there, and chided myself for being stupid. Then realised I'd been up for 40 hours and that it'd been more surprising if I did remember everything.


Edinburgh Blog – Day 12

"Lord Hirrick, grant me wings of vengeance"

Today is a day off. I play World of Warcraft for a bit, and finally get to sample the chinese takeaway I now live just down the road from. It's been a while since I've lived that close to a chinese, and it's damn nice!

Tomorrow and the next day I'm covering the first 24 hours of Mark Watson's 36 hour gig so that should be fun, and is the reason I've arranged today as a free day!

Some quick thoughts on the Eddies

Writing about web page

While these are still relevent, and so I can throw down now and show off if I've called it right later:

Main Award

David O'Doherty Is My Name – Brilliant show but O'Dohertys been doing the Fringe for years, weird he's finally getting recognised now. Was speaking to one of his publicity guys who were having trouble promoting him to people on the streets as none of the big names have even got around to reviewing him yet, since they all know he's good but have sort of seen it all before. He's not doing anything particulary new or different this year, hell, the show even has a bit that pokes fun at how he hardly changes his style at all.

Russell Howard: Wandering – Seeing this friday – I've seen him play club gigs and compere Late n Live and had him down as soley a brilliant circuit comic who works best in small doses – Am intrigued to check this out now to see how he works in a full length show.

Phil Nicol: The Naked Racist – can't get tickets for this and it's all sold out, probably as he's in the tiny Stand 2 room that only holds around 40 people. Saw last years show last year and it was one of the highlights of the festival so I can see it being a very good show. Plus Nichol has an increased profile from playing the lead in Talk Radio

Paul Sinha: Saint or Sinha? - huh? Not heard any buzz about this at all to be honest, and it seemed to be getting fairly middling reviews. Have seen Paul before and he's good but this is very surprising. I'm not going to say 'token black act' but it wouldn't surprise me. Edit: since writing this it turns out that I was wrong and Sinha has had a number of 4 stars reviews in the national press that went over my head

We Are Klang: Klangbang – Between this and Brendon Burns for funniest thing I've seen this festival, and I've had so many other people tell me it's the funniest thing they've seen too. Deserves to win but won't as it's too populist and silly and not nearly arty enough.


Fat Tongue- Saw this today to review, it's alright and one particular sketch is brilliant but it's not that good.

God's Pottery: Concert for La Vert – weird one as I love these guys and went to see thier show and really wanted to love it but it just wasn't that funny. Thier songs are good and I love the concept (they're a very close parody of Christian acoustic folk duos) but it really didn't grab me. The reviews have been simmilarly middling. I'd love for them to win it but frankly they don't deserve it.

Andrew Lawrence: How To Butcher Your Loved Ones – Brilliant show, this nomination is no surprise whatsover.

Josie Long: Kindness and Exuberance – Also a brilliant show but slightly more suprising as it's somewhat off the beaten track an Josie has been floundering in relative obscurity since winning the BBC New Comedy Award years ago.

Russell Kane's Theory of Pretension – Seeing this one on friday too.

Who should win:
We Are Klang and Josie Long

Who will win:
Phil Nichol and Andrew Lawrence

Weird fact: Josie Long won the BBC New Comedy Award in 1999, David O'Doherty was also in the final. Andrew Lawrence won the same award six years later in 2005.

Also, there's a third award for the performer that best sums up the spirit of the Fringe or something. The lack of a nomination for Mark Watson in the main catagory pretty much ties that up for him I think, though maybe Brendon Burns, finishing his 3–year trilogy of shows, is in with an outside chance.

August 22, 2006

Edinburgh Blog – Day 12 – August 12th

“Corporations don’t fuck with the DoD ‘cause you’re going to get smashed eventually”

One of those annoying days today where you have stuff scheduled at the start and the end and nothing in between. Starts off with a show that is very much my sort of thing – Jesus: The Guantanamo Years (Underbelly, 1300). It’s an interesting show, as it posits that Jesus was just a stand-up who got taken too seriously – he was the son of God, and had magical powers, but wasn’t preaching, just telling jokes. It raises (but never directly) the question of hero worship in comedy. The idea seems far fetched but you can buy a book of every Bill Hicks ever wrote and a large number of people can be found in student bars that will quote it at you while living their life by it. The show fell apart towards the end but the one thing really annoyed me during it wasn’t the show, but a member of the audience. See there’s this guy called Bruce Dessau, one of a very small number of people that makes a living off comedy criticism, you might have seen him on those shows where semi-famous people remember things. He has a very smug face but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a smug person. Well he was in the show, in critic mode, notepad in hand, sat almost directly opposite me, the stage between us (the seats are in a semi-circle around it). There’s a bit in the show where ‘Jesus’ gets us to hit our legs and clap to the rhythm of Queen’s We Will Rock You (you know, ‘ba-dum-dum-ch’). Everyone does, except Mr Dessau. He sits there watching as if he’s above it all. Two things: first, have a heart and a sense of fun and get involved you silly old sod. Second: how can you realistically and fully write-up a show if you’re not engaging with it on the performer’s level? Now it’s only a small thing but surely critics should do what they can to make their experience of a show as similar to that of the audience, with the necessary exceptions of not paying for their ticket and taking notes. It just wrankles me somewhat.

Anyways, the bad thing about that show was it over-ran so I missed the next show I had scheduled at the Pleasance, made worse by the fact that I couldn’t track down the Baby Grand – the sub venue within the Pleasance that he was playing in. Turns out it’s right at the back of the Courtyard, but to get to it you have come out, walk a fair way down the road, past the leisure centre, then turn right into some hidden car park and you finally get there. I figured that out too late. Then it was Paul Lyalls (Pleasance Dome, 15:45). There’s a bit cut out of the review where I admit I know fuck-all about poetry and don’t really like it – but even so it was a fairly poor if nice show. One thing I do know about poetry is you never use the word ‘nice’ in a complimentary way as it demonstrates lack of vocabulary and is almost an insult as it means something is good in the most pedestrian of ways. This was a nice show.

Three hours until the next show so I decide to head back home (the Edinburgh flat, not home home) for a few hours. Except it takes the bus about an hour to turn up and so I only get half hour in the end and it was all rather pointless. My notions of mid-day nap dashed I then head back out to review a free show, Amos Phineas Klein (Laughing Horse @ Jekyll and Hyde). It’s a weird venue, in a gothic room at the back of a Scream pub, in an L-shape with a stage in the corner and a couple of tables on one ‘spoke’ and pews holding 2 people each on the other. Not as weird as the show though. At first I was pretty upbeat about it as he announced it was based around a book called The Game by Neil Strauss. I’ve read this book, it’s about seduction and pick-up artists and the mechanics and material that they use to pick up women in a very geeky but effective fashion. It all started as an online community that I came across when first looking into NLP (a variation on traditional psychology) and it’s a damn interesting field, that I’ve spent many an hour reading about. It’s also what I call a ‘fringe’ stand-up topic. Nothing to do with the festival in this case, but rather it’s on the fringe of what exists in the average knowledge of most comedy goers. That is, they all understand relationships, and they have a knowledge of what seduction typically is – hence you can briefly explain the concept in less than a minute, before going onto doing funny material about it. It’s exactly the approach I used in my World of Warcraft set I did at the last Reckless Moment. People know what video games are, they know what Lord of the Rings is, and they know about the internet – you explain the connections and then get on with being funny.

Klein spent about 5 laugh-free minutes explaining the concept, repeating himself over and over. And then he wasn’t even very funny.

But then he gets out his mobile. I tend to write set notes on my hand or worst a piece of paper I take on stage with me, but it’s conceivable he might have them on his phone. After five minutes of him tapping on the keys while delivering his set in an increasingly distracted fashion it becomes obvious this isn’t the case. He spends 20 minutes, the entire last half of the show, performing while doing what I can only assume is having a text conversation with someone. Now in his defense the audience was small, was getting smaller, and they weren’t going with it, and it was a free show. But still – when that happens you should try and pull the around, or at the very least push on and be a professional. Or you could say ‘this isn’t working, sorry, good night’ if you’re really fed up. But to treat the audience as a secondary concern to your mobile phone – that’s just low.

Fortunately I then headed over to the Assembly Rooms for a wonderful duology of shows: Will Smith _ and David O’Doherty _(Assembly Rooms, 22:00). The astute amongst you will notice there’s just five minutes between one ending and the other starting – but they’re both in the same venue. It’s the absolute best way of maximising show-watching potential. Alas it’s somewhat reliant on the shows running on time, and when we’re still queued for Will Smith and 21:05 I worry a little. In the end I’m late for David O’Doherty but only by a couple of minutes, and I’m not the only one that went for that particular pair of shows (“The O’Doherty audience is famed for multiplying at the last minute” said the man himself).

The shows were both ace. Will Smith I’ve always liked but found last year’s show an immense let down – focused far too heavily on his powerpoint presentation and pre-recorded video, and too stuck on the theme of Marillion that it got a bit dull. This year’s show is on the much wider subject of ‘How to be Cool’, the powerpoint and pre-recorded video used much more sparingly, and it plays well into Will Smith’s ‘character’ of a very posh man with few social skills. I use the word ‘character’ in comma-thingys there as I heard one comic tell the story of how they once took him out for a drink, but everywhere was closed, so they took him to a crack den. He thinks he’s going to get killed, until said other comic points out that the people there have never seen anyone remotely like him before, so it’d be like killing a unicorn. Anyways, it’s a great show and it’s good to see him back on form.

David O’Doherty is likewise ace, doing his usual low-energy musical whimsy. It really defies any more description other than that, other than to say he’s ace and you should see him. And he plays battery-powered Yamaha keyboards. Yes fans, that’s ‘keyboards’, as in the plural. He has two this year. He must be doing well. He also even gets a little angry this year: see today’s quote!

Lastly I have another show at the Assembly Rooms: Skin of the Moon (Assembly Rooms, 23:15). I was reviewing this one but I’m not sure Steve is going to use the review so it’s not linked up. It’s one of those shows that’s in the comedy section of the Fringe guide but is so far from anything else I’ve ever seen I really didn’t have a clue how to review it. It was a vaudevillian burlesque show basically. Was it funny? Not really. Was it well done? I think so. Was it impressive? Yes. Did the girl’s arses look nice in just a thong? Hell yes. I don’t think Chortle would print that though. In fact, here’s the final thing I submitted as I reviewed it the only way I knew how: by admitting my ignorance and assuming a similar ignorance in my reader:

Dear reader, do me a small favor and ignore the star rating at the end of this review, as it is completely and utterly meaningless. Let me explain. The catagory that any given show is placed in within the Fringe programme isn’t a result of a select body of judges watching the performance then deciding where it best fits. Rather, it’s the result of the performers involved filling in a form and ticking a particular box, in many case before the show has even been written! At Chortle we review almost exclusively the shows in the comedy section of said programme, with only the occasional exception. Generally those shows are one of three types: stand-up, sketch or improv. On the fringes are theatre productions that are funny enough those involved decided to put them in the comedy section. And then there’s a few that are just weird, and possibly even out of place. As you may have already guessed, Skin of the Moon falls into the latter category.

It’s basically a vaudevillian burlesque show, and your reviewer’s prior experience with burlesque goes only as far as the Suicide Girls website. But if you’re reading Chortle chances are your knowledge of the subject is similar, or at the very least you’re not relying on us for your complex deconstruction and critical analysis of vaudevillian theatre. So having established my position of critical ignorance, on with the review.

Skin of the Moon tells a bizzare story of time travel, dangerous experiments gone wrong, and ape-human love. The story makes little sense, but that doesn’t really bother you, as the spectacle is stunning. The host provides welcome relief from the weirdness of the rest of the show by addressing the audience in a slightly more normal and direct fashion – his out of character asides in-fact provide a lot of the humour in the show, and also allows him to milk the three or four real jokes in the show a little bit more. There’s also a wonderful ad-lib where after asking the audience to hum the theme to The Southbank Show, which a few obligingly do, he tells us of for being “too fucking highfalutin” as the joke was based around no-one knowing it. One scene with a doll of a baby floating in ‘the void’ and chatting with the audience drags on a little too long, but perhaps that’s only as this particular crowed we so chatty with it. The dancers move with a practiced ease and make the show what it is, and there’s also some lovely moments of audience interaction.

So the show get three stars, as it’s very entertaining, but this is Chortle, we’re a comedy site, and it’s not actually that funny. But as I said at the top, ignore that and instead ask yourself what you want. If you want a comedy show from the afformented unholy trinity of stand-up, sketch or improv, there’s clearly no point in seeing this show. But if you’re bored of all that and want to try something that’s utterly different and experience something new, then by all means, take this as a hearty recommendation.

After that odd experience I was going to go to Late ‘n’ Live (late night comedy gig, starts at 1am, generally a bear-pit of drunken hecklers) with some of the Avalon folks but it was sold out so we couldn’t get in. Ended up going for drinks in Brooks Bar with them, and then later just Andy. We stopped until just before closing at 5am. Edinburgh is a city that has truly embraced not only the letter but the spirit of the 24-hour drinking law, with the last bars closing at 5am, and the first ones opening at 5am. We calculated how much money Avalon are making off of their flyerers as Richard Herring let slip on his blog they charge the acts £1000 each for their services. He also confirmed that Lloyd and Amy were dating and asked me if I’d told him that before. I clearly hadn’t, as until he asked me that I wasn’t sure myself. But he was convinced someone had told him before. In a slightly sexist way we both agreed it must have been Sophie that told us as she’d likely be up on the gossip.

Should I take a class, to get back my Brummie accent…

Writing about web page

So after 10 years of slowly destroying any trace of a Brummie accent from my voice so I can get laid once in a while it now turns out that it's the ideal accent for stand–up


August 17, 2006

Edinburgh Blog – Day 11 – August 11th

“You can’t high-five necrophilia!”

First show was Andrew Roper: ‘Cos I’m Free (Laughing Horse @ Jekyll and Hyde, 16:00) – another Free Fringe show at a rather weird venue: the Jekyll and Hyde, a goth themed Scream pub. The show is in the back room which isn’t really idea for comedy, as it’s L-shaped with the stage in the corner, and rows of small pews seating around 3-4 people each. Still, it was by far the best of the free shows I’ve seen, in fact I wanted to give it 4 stars as what there was of it was great, and it was free. Problem is it was only 35 minutes and after chatting with Steve we decided it wasn’t really fair to give it 4 as it wasn’t really a whole show.

I then spent around 2.5 hours traipsing around different press offices collecting and applying for tickets – the Assembly Room’s press guys were lovely.

After this I went to the Pleasance Courtyard and saw We Are Klang (Pleasance Courtyard, 20:40), who are a brilliant example of what a good sketch show should be like. If I’d been reviewing them it’d likely be the second show I’d feel was good enough for 5 stars (the other being Andrew Lawrence). Just wonderful sketches, fairly offensive but with a lovely upbeat sing-along ending. Only one bit, with Marek Larwood doing a Tracy Emin impersonation, seemed to drag at all. There’s also a bit when they ask the audience to insult them as part of an ‘insult olympics’ sketch. I got the impression that generally they just get normal swear-words and school-yard insults, but in this case they all cracked up when one woman said “Did you get that stubble rash when licking out your mom?”. It bought the show to a halt but was brilliant.

Spoke to Lloyd briefly in the Courtyard, turns out he only found out I was reviewing for Chortle when he was speaking to Tim Key who was complaining about their 2-star review for Cowards: “What, from Steve Bennet?”, “No, from some Dean Love guy”, “Oh, I know Dean…”. Still hopefully they won’t hate me now as Lloyd will have told them how I’m not a twat and helped give him his first breaks in comedy. He better! Amy (from Avalon) also told me she’d been reading my reviews and they were good – probably because they don’t represent anyone I’ve reviewed – which was nice. I guess all sorts of industry people are reading them, it’s another case of suddenly realising what an effect the reviews I write actually have.

Digression: (I seem to remember writing this before but I can’t find it so here we go again). Reviews are really important at Edinburgh and they really shouldn’t be. A review is just one person’s opinion at the end of the day – admittedly a fairly well informed person on that subject matter, but still just one person. And when they get a bad review many artists point this out and claim the whole system is flawed. But the problem is, as soon as they get a good review, it’s all over their posters, on display everywhere, they make it a really big thing. Even though it’s just the opinion of one person, now it seems to single-handedly justify why people should go to the show (clumsy sentence, but you get the idea). And that’s why they matter. If everyone would just ignore them, or treat them as the narrow viewpoint they are, it’d be much better. Apparently Steve at Chortle was thinking of dropping the star-rating system entirely this year, which would have been a step in the right direction – as if you read the actual review you can generally figure out if it’s something you’d like. Even my Cowards review made it clear what sort of show to expect, and if you like that sort of show you’d have gone and seen it. I don’t like that sort of thing, so it got a low mark). But I guess Steve figured out what I did: that if you don’t have a ratings system no-one will read it, and it won’t get stuck up on the boards at venues. I personally favour a binary system: 1 – it’s worth seeing, 0 – it isn’t. But that also has problems

Anyways, after this I went to see The Comedy Zone (Pleasance Courtyard, 22:45) which is 4 comics – 3 and a compere – doing about 20 minutes each. Lloyd (Langford) is one of them, and I’d seen all the other three before and they were all ace too. Great compilation show and worth seeing. I’d heard a lot of it before, though not having seem Lloyd in around 5 months about 50% of the stuff was new. Unfortunatly a lot of his new stuff isn’t as good as the old stuff, which is a tad worrying. Headed back home after this as a fairly early start tomorrow.

Edinburgh Blog – Day 10 – August 10th

"Fluffy had always been a rampant rabbit"

Went to see my friends' Owen and Jem's show over at The Laughing Horse to start with, Bitter and Twisted (Hollyrood Tavern, 17:00) is a lovely little show – not a comedy though it has funny bits, not a musical, though it has songs, just a funky well–told story of two orphans and the woodland creatures they befriend. Was nice to catch up with them after the show too, though not for long as I had to get to some far away part of town for the next show.

Patrick Rolink: A Bhoy From The Bush (Laughing Horse at Lindsay's, 21:00) is a decent if unremarkable show, except it's in this weird venue that seems to normally be some sort of working mens club, that's way north–east of Princess Street, headed towards Leith. I decided to walk there but at one point got lost and somehow turned around and finding myself back at Waverly. After finally getting there, I find it's in some weird residential street. I thought I'd gone very wrong till I spotted the venue. Inside it's a lovely place – it's one of the Free Fringe venues – and there's a lot less posing and 'schmoozing' going on there, which makes a nice change. Shame it's so far away.
After the show I head off to see Daniel Kitson's C–90. For the first time ever I get a bus between show venues, I should do it more often as I have a bus pass for unlimited travel but I'm trying to be healthy. Actually I think today was also the day I stopped off in Boots and got two different types of shoe insole and some protective bandage type things for my feet. I'm sure they're the only Boots in the UK that not only have an entire 4 shelves of foot–comfort related items, but also have them on 3 for 2 offer, the strange hilly place that Edinburgh is.

C–90 (Traverse Theatre 22:30) is a little disappointing, most likely as it has to live up Stories For The Wobbly Hearted, which is probably my 7th favourite thing in the world ever. It's not that good. It's not bad either, but with nearly all the stories being around the subject of retirement it gets a bit tired as they lack the individual creativity of those in the Stories… show. Additionally, as a show about mix tapes, it's crying out for some musical interludes between stories, but we get nothing. Stories… had videos with accompanying music in between it's stories which really helped break it up a little. I guess C–90 doesn't do this as it's much more tightly plotted, with the stories all feeding into the main story. The other thing that annoyed me about the show was the crowd. This isn't a comedy show – it has a lot of funny lines but it's not pure comedy. It's theatre. As such you should have some respect for the people around you. The vast majority of the audience where I was sat didn't – they laughed horribly loudly and longly at every vaguely funny line. "Waving to shop–keepers, Henry always thought, was a bit much" is a decent enough line but doesn't deserve a belly–laugh. And a theatrical story show like this doesn't have laugh–breaks after each funny line like a stand–up set was, so if people are laughing right next to you you're not going to hear the start of the next line. But you can't really turn around and tell people to stop laughing can you? It's doubly annoying when you think about it in more detail – the lines clearly aren't that funny so these people are just laughing as they know Kitson is a well respected comic and they feel it's appropriate to laugh at every line. In many ways this would be the case in an actual stand–up show – even I generally laugh at bad punch–lines (unless they're really bad) as it's a bit rude not to, but not as loud as these folks – clearly it's a matter of "look how funny I think he is, I must be really cool". In fact few line in C–90 are what I'd call laugh–out–loud funny – in that they make you laugh despite yourself. They're all just sheep–funny, in that people laugh because it's a punchline and everyone else does as it's expected. Except in Theatre, not stand–up, it isn't expected.
Stewart Lee was sat outside in the Traverse bar, on the floor, at the front of the C–90 show reading a copy of Uncut. When we went in he sat in the front row, centre. He didn't laugh throughout. Top man. Kitson also messed up and got two of the stories the wrong way round which was sort of amusing in and of itself.

Decided to go right back home after the show and checking the time–table at the stop outside the Traverse the last No.1 bus was still to come, which would take me right home. It arrived I got on it. Then I started to notice placed looked unfamiliar. Then I was sure they were wrong, so then I got off the bus, and saw it was a No.11, not No.1. I was about an hours walk out of the town centre. Thankfully the last No.11 going back that way was still to come, so I crossed the road and waited 5 minutes and got on that, back to the city centre, and finally got home.

Edinburgh Blog – Day 9 – August 9th

"Take your canvas bags to the supermarket (again)"

Bit of a day of disappointments this one really. Not to be too downbeat about it, many of the shows were good, just not living up to expectations.

First show is Wit Tank (Rocket, 16.50) which I finally manage to find only ten minutes late. A pretty good show but no review yet as they've asked me to go back and watch the first ten minutes as they feel it's one of their strongest bits. Funny thing is they're probably on 4 stars already and won't be getting 5, so the only thing that can come out of seeing that is a drop to 3 stars but, there we go.

After this is Andy Parsons (Pleasance Courtyard, 18.50) also known as "That bald one from Mock The Week" in Indoor Championship Moaning. He was alright but not as funny as I'd expected, and not half as funny as Frankie Boyle, the other one from Mock The Week. Incidentally I said a few days ago that Boyle's set was very old school and he seemed like an old hand at handling the large crowd he bought in. I'd assumed he'd been fairly big on the Scottish stand–up circuit and been playing theatre gigs there for a while, and Mock The Week had just bought him more exposure in England. Turns out he's been doing stand–up for a while but this was his first Fringe and he hasn't been doing these sort of gigs for years. As you can tell, you couldn't guess, which leaves me even more impressed. Back to Parsons, his audience participation at the end worked remarkably well but is damn risky – getting two of the more vocal audience members to have a 'moan–off' at the end, thirty seconds each. It could so easily go so very wrong but in this case it didn't.

After that it's onto That Canadian Guy (Apex City Hotel, 20.15). The venue is weird - a function room in a hotel. The guy actually talks about how it's really not a proper comedy venue so it sort of sucks, but it's what everyone else is doing so it's not so bad. Err, you're in a nice hotel conference room with air-conditioning, everyone else is in caves under the city library and converted skips, you should be happy! He's really quite poor but that's not the most shocking thing. The most shocking thing is he announces at the end he has CDs and DVDs on sale! Somewhere he's popular enough that he can make and sell CDs and DVDs of his stuff! Jesus wept/ It's not that he's particularly bad, he's alright, but he's clearly not that good. You can't even buy Brendon Burns DVDs or Robin Ince CDs, but you can of this guy? I worry that he's like some stand–up legend in Canada, as that removes one of the three 'potential emmigration locations' from my list I have for if things get any worse here, leaving just Australia and New Zealand. Because if a country is that out of touch comedically, I can't live there! That all said, the best selling comedy DVDs over here are Peter Kay ones so…

After this one I've really been looking forward to: Tim Minchin (Gilded Balloon, 21.30) with his new show So Rock. I guess with expectations high he could only disappoint but here's the problem: I thought last year's show was better, and I didn't even see it, I only heard it on CD. To break it down a bit more, the between song stand–up was probably stronger in this show, but he's still not as good at that as many other comics, it's truly the piano–based songs that mark him out as brilliant. And to be quite honest, overall the songs were probably even a bit funnier that last year. So what's the problem? The songs weren't as good. The piano parts seemed a lot simpler, perhaps even rushed, and they felt a lot more like your typical comedy song than last year, where they mostly felt like proper songs that just so happened to be funny too. The only real exception was the opening song, So Rock, which suffered from being mostly lip–synced and not done on piano, and Canvas Bags, which was kept in from last year. There was nothing that truly grabbed me like Dark Side and Rock and Roll Nerd did last year, and few that I'd want to listen to over and over again, and wouldn't skip if they came up on random shuffle on my iPod. It was still a great show, but if I preferred last years show, which I didn't even see, it must have been quite a dip in quality.

Was going to go to Late'n'Live with some of the Avalon folk but lost them so, err, didn't.

Digression: Hanging out at the Pleasance just before though I noticed something - ashtrays on the tables (the Pleasance Courtyard waiting area is mostly outside so the smoking bad doesn't apply). I had some rubbish, a paper bag that had had a sandwich in it. I crumpled it up and put it in an ash tray. Now I know you're not supposed to do that, that it's designed for ash, but screw-em, that ain't fair. Why should I, after having eaten, have to get up and walk to a bin to throw away my rubbish, while smokers get given a bin on their table just for theirs. Why shouldn't they have to go to a special ash tray bin to drop their ash in. It's one rule for one sort of rubbish, and a different one for all the rest. (By the way, I know the real reason is because smokers, inconsiderate by nature, would just empty their ash into a normal bin, or on the table, or on the floor, potential setting fire to something). Personally I feel all smokers should be forced to carry around a small metal tin which they can use for putting out cigarettes and storing their ash until they get home and can dispose of it - this would also get rid of that annoying thing where a smoker throws a cigarette on the ground then stomps on it as 'that's the only way to put it out'. Strange that once it's out they never pick it up again and put it in a bin. See it'd mean we could illegalise litter cigarette butts then, which would be great.

Tommorow: Kitson

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