So, one of Richard Herring’s Tweets made the Guardian today. Who needs a five-star review, when your sober tappings on Twitter feed directly into a national newspaper? Not only that, the national newspaper all comedians read, grudgingly, when they are not flicking through Esquire to see photos of themselves. Here is the Tweet that made the national news:
@Herring1967 The 2004 me would be appalled to discover I am spending 1st fringe Saturday in my flat alone drinking herbal tea
I came in at about 12.30 last night to find Richard Herring watching TV, playing some game on his iPad and drinking herbal tea. I had drunk three pints of lager and probably seemed like a cartoon drunk man to him, in his pious, sober state. There’s nothing worse than being sober around even the moderately drunk. I have done it many times. There’s also nothing more self-conscious than being moderately drunk around the sober. I hope vice does not drive a wedge between us. I am used to Richard lording it over me with his superiority about being scientifically rational but I’m not sure I can take the shame of being the non-sober one. I may start drinking herbal tea exclusively.
Last night, my fourth gig in two days (get me), I found myself on the bill of Al Cowie’s LLAUGH show in the unlikely environs of a sort of glass shopping centre on Leith Walk which was until recently, according to my local guide Tony, “all fields.” The eccentric, absent-minded, name-forgetting Al Cowie has, via the imagination of PBH’s Free Fringe, secured the Walkabout bar for the duration of the Festival, putting on a variety of acts, some Free Fringe, others offering their services as a way of driving traffic to their ticketed shows. This sort of set-up goes on right across Edinburgh every day and every night. If you’re prepared to take a punt, either with your time, or your money, you can sample all sorts of comedy in one go.
For instance, those choosing to sit in the surprising comfy leather armchairs of the Walkabout for an hour and a half last night would have seen Ava Vidal for free. (She’s at The Stand if, like me, you are drawn to her full show, Lessons I Should Have Learnt. I have, this year, actually been working with Ava – among other writers – on a sitcom project that cannot yet be spoken about for fear of jinxing it, so was happy to see her last night.) She was, for self-evident reasons, supposed to “headline” – if “headline” is not too grand a word for being the last of six performers to talk through a microphone only intermittently working to an audience who are better lit than the performers – but was tired and keen to get away. So I went on last, by which time a number of the already compact, but comfy, audience, had left, leading me to compare them to the characters in a disaster movie. One man actually left while I was talking, not something it was possible to do discreetly as the Walkabout was so brightly lit throughout, but he apologised and said he had a bus to catch. (The three young women who had left before him explained that they were heading off to the cinema.) So at least we were left with the image of the audience being trapped in a sinking ship or a stricken airliner, with we, the performers, trying to guess who would go next, and who would be left at the end to sacrifice themselves in order to save the others from death.
Because Al didn’t know the names or, in Norwegian Dag Soras’s case, the nationalities of the performers he had booked – unless this was part of his charming eccentric persona and secretly he did know all of our names and was playing mind games with us – I can’t tell you the actual names of the second and third men who went on, one of whom Al introduced me to as Massoud, but was called Johnny. Johnny had assumed I was called Massoud. Nobody was called Massoud. Johnny’s jokes either played with black stereotypes (he is black) or confirmed them. Dag Soras is making his debut at The Stand, and his confident political material was probably a bit too hard for the audience of the Walkabout, especially his virulently anti-Israel and anti-Obama stuff. I think it was an error to admit that he was used to playing to audiences in single figures – even if this is true, it seems self-defeating to mention it to an audience in double figures. The audience were, by the way, amenable and attentive and enthusiastic and forgiving, but happy to allow Al to interrogate them and spin delightful surreal connections between all their jobs. (My local guide Tony had turned up, with a friend called Helen, who was unemployed. On discovering this potentially troublesome piece of information when asking, “And what do you do, Helen?”, Al got us all to clap her unemployment, which was a very funny way out of the hole.)
The next man on was a character comic (I apologise for not remembering his name) who imagined what Jesus would be like if he was interviewed by a sports reporter, but the subtlety of his voices was somewhat marred by the stuttering mic, removing key syllables from his carefully prepared dialogues. He seemed literally to flee the building afterwards, but he had more immediate worries of his own, as two out of the four members of his sketch troupe had not turned up in Edinburgh, which puts your problems into perspective.
Ava brilliantly eschewed the dodgy mic and performed her set acoustically, which her voice was able to cope with. Her material is very strong, as is her smooth, professional delivery, whether riffing on race, motherhood, or a visit to Israel (her observations on this prickly subject were much more balanced and personal than Dag’s, and come from her current show). She was superb, tired or otherwise. And the Walkabout crowd made their appreciation felt. I know comedy has an unsavoury bearpit reputation, which Stewart Lee discusses in his bible, sorry, book, laying the blame for the laddish stag-party development of clubs like Jongleurs at the feet of Fantasy Football, but many comedy audiences are out to enjoy themselves and will give comedians a chance. Thank God.
Anyway, the tiny band of survivors left at the end were sympathetic to my Three Birding Ambitions section, and we all parted amicably, and Tony and Helen took me for a drink in a normal pub with Scottish people in it, where I rather marked myself out as a Southern ponce by ordering a Perroni, which was served in one of those vases. But who is the real ponce? Me for drinking out of a vase, or the pub that serves drinks in vases? I think we know the answer.
My only ambition left this Fringe is to have a Tweet in the Guardian, obviously. Forget everything else.