Play fair, steps

Last day in Edinburgh for me, and the last of the Collings & Herrin Podcast shows. [Nice shot by Gordon Hodgson, above.] I must admit, it was a pleasure, for the first time this Edinburgh, to wake up in the morning and not have to think about doing Secret Dancing. After 16 consecutive shows, during which my life has hardened into a routine which allows for very little improvisation other than which outlet to sit and eat my mind-and-stomach-settling breakfast in (Foodies? Henderson’s? Black Medicine?), it was lovely to get up a bit later, take it easy, mine the papers a little more carefully for stories, and know that the only performing I’d be doing was the podcast, which by its nature can’t really be prepared for. (Ironically, I came to it armed with a lot more stories, but none of these really made it better!)

So, there we were, on the plastic chairs at the tin table for the tenth and final time this Fringe. Because Saturday’s, Podcast 130, was – by accident rather than design – my favourite, this final one had disappointment built in. And maybe the fact that I wasn’t energised by having just come offstage at my own show put me off my stroke. I was certainly not excited. And I was a bit irritable, which is no state to be in, as listeners to the live podcasts will know. Maybe ten is too much. Maybe the venue is too small and long. Either way, 131 was a bit strange, and not especially uproarious.

Still, it’s in the bag. You can download it here, and here is the official blurb:

In the final live Collings & Herrin Podcast from the GRV in Edinburgh, we go out in a significant lack of style. We should have ended it after 130, but no, it was almost as if we were committed to do 131, and treated it as just that: an obligation, with no joy or narrative denouement whatsoever, despite a big pile of prizes for the nicest audience members, including a Millie’s Cookies loyalty card, an Apostrophe (whatever that is) loyalty card, a McDonald’s loyalty card and a Piemaker loyalty card, as well as some Space Dust Which Isn’t Space Dust. Andrew gets booed again for mentioning the name of M*ddy – par for the course, now – Richard is sexually frustrated by the lack of women in the front row and is forced instead to imagine having a strawberry tattooed in a private place and smearing it with clotted cream, and we unearth a single X-Factor fan in our audience, and four Top Gear fans, one of whom is female. It’s either the best one yet, or the worst, and certainly our last for a long, long while. So tuck in.

And here are the final audience.

After the podcast, I went for Sunday lunch with my friends Tony and Helen. They made the lunch. It was tremendous, and a rare moment of civilisation away from the madness of the Fringe and grubbiness of the student living. Unfortunately, I drank a couple of glasses of wine and was so dozy could have fallen asleep on their sofa directly afterwards, which would have been impolite. Instead, I came back to the Young Ones flat and went to bed. I am exhausted. I woke up, too late to go out carousing on my last night, as planned, and instead finished my column – about the Fringe – for Word magazine, and sat around in the living room with Richard and Tom, half-watching The Xtra Factor. Actually, it was a sociable and low-key way to end the festival. (For me; all of my flatmates, who are comedians, have another week to go – in Richard’s case, his last show is next Monday, that’s eight shows away.)

Thanks to all who made the Fringe so much fun, and such a milestone: Charlotte, Mark, Frog, Theo, tattooed Chris and the staff at Bannermans, Lindz and the staff at the GRV, Lisa and Jon and all at the Five Pound Fringe, Peter, Al, Simon, Kate and all at the Free Fringe, Agent Kate, Robin, Carrie, Michael, James, Muki, Sarah, Gary, Tara, Carl, Jim Bob, Martin, Danielle, Foz, David, Emma, Dan, Margaret, Ben, Mat, Lesley, Al, Helen, Iain, Greg, Matt, Tony, Helen, all of Legge’s Lovelies … and especially, my flatmates Richard, Tom, Justin and, briefly, Vinny.

Now to catch my train.


Free, fringe

First, the important news.

Lovely Lisa Faulkner, with her tears and her neck and her lack of self-esteem, proved that she can act and cook on Celebrity Masterchef 2010. Because this year’s actually fed into my Secret Dancing show, which I have been performing in tandem with the final stages of the competition, the two will always be interlinked. And watching the semi-finals with Tom Wrigglesworth, and the final with Richard Herring, will also imprint them on my mind. It’s a shame I found out that Lisa won before catching up with the final last night on Sky+, but that’s the nature of the beast. I still enjoyed watching she, Dick and Christine cook up their last supper for John and Gregg. (And, yes, Gregg did use the phrase “Dick it up,” when describing Strawbridge’s propensity to match unusual flavours, right to the end.) Now, enjoy Lisa’s moment.

And while we’re here, perhaps you’d like to see if you can spot a theme running through the last three Celebrity Masterchef winners.

I’m saying nothing.

Last night, I caught up with Pappy’s at Pleasance One, the huge theatre space the popular sketch troupe played last year. Their ramshackle, good-natured, deceptively clever DIY tomfoolery was, a year ago, provided by four. This year, they have shed Brendan (don’t know enough about the politics to go into exactly what happened, but I don’t think any of them like to talk about it, except Brendan), and the Fun Club, and are streamlined to three. It is no comment upon Brendan, whose contribution was always essential to the dynamic and the spirit, but three is better than four. It makes the three – Matthew, Tom and Ben – work harder, and it just gives a nice symmetry.

Their new show, All Business, is only loosely themed around having to find a new investor for their sketch show. From here, they find ways of having Matthew play a dog, Tom play a cockney vending machine (“I’m out of order!”) and Ben a chicken that surely consciously echoed his popular dinosaur from last year. The props are even worse than Jeremy Lion’s, but do the same job. It’s impossible to stop laughing and clapping throughout; even when a sketch fails to quite hit home, the next one – a wordless one about a wardrobe clash – makes up for it. And they battled with a technical disaster not just valiantly, but creatively, turning the constant irritating buzzing coming through Matt’s headset mic into further comedy. I could easily believe that he got more laughs last night than on a night when the mic worked. That’s how they roll.

It was a pretty grim experience queuing up, as it was raining, the Pleasance Courtyard was packed (it was, lest we forget, a Saturday night), and the start time was delayed by almost 15 minutes, while Pappy’s wrestled with their sound problem. Also, because the queue, which snakes around the courtyard, had to be split into two, to allow passage for other punters, we could see people either inadvertently, or absolutely advertently, pushing in where the gap was, gaily unaware of their queuecrime. Even though we were all damp and cold and delayed, nobody pointed out their queuing “error.” Plus, when we finally filed in, the Pleasance staff decided to open the back door of the venue to speed things up and usher the back half of the queue in that way, which meant they got in first and we, who had been halfway back, had to make do with the back rows of the theatre. It was so unfair. Still, who can remain grumpy at a Pappy’s show?

I thought it brave of Tom to announce at the end that the show had been “a metaphor about us not working on the telly.” Last year, he had berated a TV commissioning editor in the audience for not putting them on the telly. It’s a constant theme. They did have a pilot once, but it failed to capture their raw, unpredictable energy. Maybe this really is a stalemate. Telly is not everything, Pappy’s! You are better than telly!

There seem still to be tickets for the rest of the run. Book them.

Baby, grand

Because I felt much better last night, I decided to go out and see a show. I really want to see Greg Davies’ first solo stand-up, Firing Cheeseballs At A Dog, but it is all sold out, so I tried the “text Greg Davies and beg” option. He couldn’t sort me out.Nor could he sort me out for tonight, Saturday. I can see it isn’t going to happen.

Because what we’ll still call the Perrier shortlist is announced next week, performers are now trying to stop themselves speculating about who might be on it, and whether it might be them. Gary Delaney keeps being mentioned on the grapevine, which makes me happy; so does Greg. (Some say it’s better to be nominated for, or to win, Best Newcomer, if you qualify for that category, and Gary does. Even though it’s Greg’s first show, he’s on TV and has been up many times as part of the Perrier-nominated We Are Klang, so loopholes may need to be sought.) I found myself at the Pleasance Courtyard at 9.30 talking about the spectre of the Perrier over pints we had idly planned not to have, with Justin Moorhouse and Andre Vincent, who’s back, but not at our flat this time. (He’s up for the Fringe Society AGM, as he’s on the board, and a very authoritative figure he cuts.)

Vinny was stung by the false hope and cruel inconsistencies of the Perrier in 2002, when his atypically personal kidney-cancer show, Andre Vincent Is Unwell, was seen as a safe bet for the prize, but didn’t even get a nomination. He doesn’t think he should have won, he just wishes he hadn’t got caught up in the hype. (Tom Wrigglesworth was nominated last year for his Richard Branson show – he is our most successful flatmate in terms of the fickle conventions of the Perrier award.)

Anyway, I kept it local and wandered up the road to see Sarah Millican, Perrier (as I still call it) Best Newcomer 2008, who very kindly put me on the door for her totally sold-out run of Chatterbox at the Stand. It’s pretty smart to do a space that’s too small for her growing reputation, in that it’s always packed, and at the Stand, that means people standing, aptly enough, which Sarah has found to be conducive to a good atmosphere for her kind of quite-rude but personable comedy. I really like the Stand: you’re never too far away from the action, and if you’re lucky, or brave, enough to take one of the tables or stools right up against the stage, you’re really up close and personal. Sarah’s skill is to deliver well crafted, carefully composed gags but disguise them as at-the-checkout gossip; warmth spreads through the room instantly.

I was between two notably “older” couples in the queue. The nice couple behind me, he dressed in his best white shirt, asked if there was a bar, which rather suggested they were not comedy club regulars. He ordered two glasses of Shiraz at the bar – which there was – and, on being informed that the Shiraz didn’t come by the glass, only by the bottle, he went mad and bought the bottle. I liked his style; he and his wife were up for having a lovely evening, and my guess is that they did. If you can appeal to an over-50s crowd, as Sarah does – the kind who I’m sure feel shocked by the bluer references and swearing but at the same time feel included by her friendly delivery – you’ve got it made.

I saw Sarah last year at the Pleasance, and perhaps as a result of the improved venue, plus an even more self-assured set, I enjoyed Chatterbox even more than Typical Woman. The response was so effusive and infectious. She is a natural. I walked up to the Dome with her after the gig, and she is clearly enjoying her Fringe.

I have enjoyed mine, too. This morning was the last of 16 performances of Secret Dancing. Although I am looking forward to laying in bed tomorrow morning, I shall miss my routine of going to Foodies for a leisurely breakfast of bagel, smoothie and coffee, and a go of their luxurious, fragrant toilet, then an unhurried walk back up Holyrood and Cowgate with the blackboard of Bannermans and an already-forming queue coming into view. I appreciate every single person who chose to spend 12.30-1.30 in my company these past two weeks. We had perhaps the longest queue of the whole run this morning, which I would have savoured more if we didn’t have a last-show tech emergency: the jack-plug adapter through which I play my music from the MacBook into the PA (and which Charlotte uses for her PowerPoint presentation in the show afterwards) had been half-inched during a gig by Lords Of Bastard last night. Tattooed Chris, who runs the venue – and plays in Lords Of Bastard – had to go out and buy a replacement. This introduced some unexpected tension into the pre-show period. But he was back by 12.20 and we opened the doors to my fullest house of the run.

I feel terrible for those that must have been turned away. It seems likely that I could have done all three weeks of the Fringe. But I wasn’t confident enough to risk it. Also, homesickness set in after a week – imagine how I’d feel in the third week!

A great show, with four volunteers, including Helen Arney and James Hingley, making a memorable climax. I went out on a high. Inevitably, I had no time to relax and enjoy the post-coital satisfaction of finishing my first solo Edinburgh, as I had to dash off to meet Richard Herring in Caffe Nero to spend out latest batch of loyalty cards. Then on to the GRV for the penultimate podcast show.

This is what Gordon Hodgson, our unofficial photographer, could see, because he allowed less obsessive people get in front of him in the queue. We really do appreciate his loyalty, coming to every single podcast, as has Cockbongo, bar about one. We got some stick from @liquidcow on Twitter about the apparent rustling and banging on the mics, but hey, this is what you get when you record them live. It’s as it happens, man! Deal with the truth!

Here’s the blurb, kids:

Family entertainment is the order of the day for C&H Podcast 130, live from the GRV in Edinburgh, where David Milliband’s banana is gazed upon with wonder and confusion. Richard Herrin was eclipsed by the much nicer Richard Herring, who was not only nice to the entire tattooed family in the front row [see pic below], he offered his own hand in marriage to their mum, Corinda, so that he could be a thoughtful stepfather to her children, especially her son’s girlfriend. Meanwhile, Andrew accidentally says the rudest thing, and is booed once again under false pretenses. (“Please make the pain stop.”) There is a scientific biscuit survey, an impression of a giant reading a tiny newspaper, and an impromptu version of Mr & Mrs, sponsored by Bose/Boze. It’s almost suitable for the afternoon. [see also: Michael Legge’s lovelies Nicola Woolhouse and H20Sarah in bottom pic.]

I like the idea of Michael Legge, the theatrical dandy, having an entourage/bevy of international beauties from as far afield as Finland, Canada and Yorkshire. When I texted him last night, he told me he was out with “celebs”, and proceeded to ignore my texts and messages. He’s changed.

It was one of the best podcasts, in my opinion, or at least it felt that way on the plastic chairs, largely because the audience were a bit noisier and feistier. Maybe the affection in Richard’s harassment was more apparent. Maybe the news was funnier. Who cares? Let’s not deconstruct it, we’re not Stewart Lee.

Cowed gate

I like this shot, taken today, by Susan Beattie. Mainly because in it I am alive and standing. Last night, I was worried I might be too wiped out to perform today – although not performing isn’t really an option. The show, as you may have heard before, must go on. I went to bed early, with only lemon and ginger tea, a simple penne arrabiata and a single spare rib from Tom Wrigglesworth’s surprise Chinese inside me. I wondered if my croaky throat might lead to a lack of voice this morning but it seemed still to be working when I woke up, well slept and well rested. Doctor Theatre would see me through.

For some reason, the venue staff wanted us to open the doors to the room where I perform at 12.10, rather than the usual 12.20, to clear some room in the pub, so we did. This meant that the room was full by 12.15. So, since we’d reached the fire limit, I thought I might as well start early, and give Charlotte, whose show is now directly after mine, a bit more time to set up. This gave me a little breathing space, but I didn’t go mad. I did the same show, with one extra digression, and still finished under time. I put into place the three tweaks Gary Delaney offered yesterday, and I think they helped, especially the one in my opening gag, which is site-specific and will never be of any use to me again after my last show tomorrow!

I did my third phone interview with Nemone, live, on 6 Music at 2.15, after a quick burger at the City Cafe, in which I was able to plug Gutted, and Mat Ricardo, even though he’s finished his run and will be on his way home by now.

And here we were again, at the GRV, making stuff up for an hour with little or no preparation for the seventh time this Festival and photographed before we take the stage by Gordon Hodgson. It’s been odd, albeit oddly enjoyable, to be sitting on those plastic chairs onstage with a tin table and a piano stool stacked with newspapers, with up to 80 people staring at us, seemingly baffled by what they have paid £5 to see, even though they listen to the podcast, and are getting more of the same. We had two more game couples in the front row; in the first pic [centre], you’ll see a lady with a bad knee and a crutch, and her jolly husband/boyfriend; in the second [far right], a couple who’ve been together for 13 years and are happy and healthy and handsome, and thus impervious to any insults from Richard.

In other news, I seem to have been mentioned by Bruce Dessau in a piece for the Guardian entitled Stand Up Comedy: Can Radio DJs Cut It? He very kindly suggests that maybe I can, which is nice, since I know he has seen my show.

I have one more solo show to go, and two more podcasts shows. I seem – fingers crossed – to have gingered and slept my way out of a potential health dip.

Pried of Scotland

Thanks to Gordon Hodgson for capturing this now-familiar sight from the GRV gents. At least, for the last two days, nobody has attempted to defy the clear instruction.

Secret Dancing was a joy, despite an encroaching sore throat, which may be a symptom of emotional exhaustion, or just spending too much time breathing in the latent smoker’s fumes of Simon Munnery and Stewart Lee at last night’s Silver Stewbilee after-show party. (I had to eschew the offer of a ticket to the 1,500-seater Festival Theatre to see a mixed, Stew-created bill including Kevin Eldon, Munnery, Paul Putner, the Frank Chickens, Franz Ferdinand, Bridget Christie and Richard Herring, because I had to write 670 words for Radio Times about Colin Farrell, which I managed to do by around 10pm. At which stage, pleased with myself but aware that my good health was on a social knife’s edge, I stupidly plumped to walk back up the hill and join Kate at said after-show, where I very much enjoyed hanging out with stars of stage, screen and radio, and podcast, and paying my respects to Stewart himself, flushed from performing a Mission Of Burma song onstage, the one his book is named after. But I should have been in bed.)

Gary Delaney and Sarah Millican very kindly came down to my show, and were extremely sweet about it afterwards, actually offering very useful tweaks on a couple of my jokes, which I was very grateful for. I wished I could have joined them for lunch, but I had a Caffe Nero card burning a hole in my pocket and some newspapers to tear up with Richard before our podcast gig.

If I’m honest, it was another weird one this afternoon. A strange, muted, on-edge audience who seemed, in some cases, to be paralysed by fear – I can’t imagine why! I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as some of the most agonising bits felt from where we were sitting, or at least, let’s hope not. A chap called Ronan came up to us beforehand in the bar – where, incidentally, another power failure occurred, but was fixed before it could jeapordise anything – and gave us a Mysoti Collings & Herrin t-shirt (“Richard Herring is a fucking idiot”) that had been sent out in the wrong size, so they sent him a replacement and allowed him to keep the original. I was very happy to be able to give this out as a prize to Andy and his mum in the front row, as they had borne the brunt of Richard’s playful yet sociopathic onstage persona. The blurb is here:

With podcast 128, recorded live at the GRV in Edinburgh in front of a mute and frightened audience, we attempt to bring the whole enterprise crashing down around our ears, in an elaborate and more esoteric version of what Aberdeen’s Dave Whitney did at the Canon’s Gait gig to a punter at the bar. With Richard now embittered into a perverse version of humility after being bullied by Stewart Lee in his silver jubilee year and Andrew shattered by Richard’s determination to break the first rule of improv and block any pathetic attempt at half a joke, they attempt to reintroduce a little tenderness into their relationship, with some casualties, notably those in the front row. Still, look at the size of that rat in Bradford! Only three more to go. It’ll be fine.

And the podcast itself will be, if it isn’t already, here. A nice drink with musical theatre’s Michael Legge and Jim Bob after the show – for me, one 4% proof alcoholic ginger beer, which the doctor might not have ordered, but the lavender-hankied showbiz ponce within felt he deserved one after two shows in less than four hours.

In other important news: I had my first review on Chortle, the exacting comedy website and comedians’ water cooler, and it was another “solid” three-star, in which Steve Bennett, the credulous boss of Chortle, described me as an “after-dinner speaker,” which I am happy with. In other important news, I am feeling a bit knackered and had to cancel all social and professional engagements tonight in order to take it easy and have a quiet night in. (I feel bad to have to pull out of Andy Zaltzman’s Political Animal bonanza at midnight, but I am to make it to the end of my Festival – two more Secret Dancing performances, three more stupid podcasts – I need to recharge my batteries in front of Masterchef and under my duvet, perhaps with some warming soup inside me.)

Tomorrow is another day. The end of Edinburgh is in sight. Just one final push. Alright two. Well, three.

Talented comedian and storyteller Tom Wrigglesworth has had a reasonably radical haircut in order to deflect facile comparisons with Leo Sayer, but it doesn’t fool us. We know it’s him, with his cavalier washing up rota understanding and perma-chilli in the bottom of the fridge.


Karaoke Circus returned, for one spectacular night only, to the Fringe. It started just before midnight last night, and ran until about 2am. It was one of the best. Held in its biggest venue yet, the Assembly Tent in Princes Gardens – which was, disconcertingly, not entirely sold out, but comfortably full of folk – the bill and the camaraderie and the judging and the playing and the joie de chanson grew to fill the space. Because Martin and Danielle and drummer David are relatively busy putting on a musical every night – that’s a musical – they didn’t have time to tailor the songs to the participants, and instead made us choose from the existing list.

It still meant that Al Murray could make his KC debut and rise to the vocal challenge of Life On Mars (previously owned by Ben Miller at the Albany), and Michael Legge and – cheating! – Jim Bob could attempt to wrestle Common People away from its rightful owner, Chris Addison (whose bad leg kept him away). Elsewhere, with occasional brass assistance from Steve Pretty, and a climactic appearance by my Edinburgh correspondent Tony as Brian May, the band were as fit as ever, and we enjoyed some spirited numbers, including a few other literal reprises: last year’s My Generation by Pappy’s (which was adjudged, with withering wit by Dan Tetsell, to have been “three out of four”, a sly reference to the fact that there are only three of them now, and were four this time last year), the Albany classic Nothing Compares 2 U by Josie Long, and Robin Ince turning Love Will Tear Us Apart into a tribute to Ian Curits, Morrissey and Frank Sidebottom, only two of whom are dead. Tim Vine did The Bossa Nova, and yes, made a pun about giving his boss a car. I attacked the Arctic Monkeys’ I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, which I am very familiar with, and allowed me the chance to do an impression, rather than sing. It was bags of fun, and I’d been drinking tap water in preparation, like a boxer. Good effort, too, by Frog Morris, whose Unwrong Quiz has just ended its run directly after Secret Dancing at Bannermans – he disguised himself as a member of the public, signed up in the queue, and fared well with Virginia Plain.

Quite a gaggle – or is that a clique? – of comedians formed around the booths on the right hand side, some performing, some not, all entering into the cheery spirit of the event, including various Penny Dreadfuls, Sara Pascoe, Justin Edwards and Lucy Porter, Justin Moorhouse, even Mark Thomas, who it is always a pleasure to see. Michael naturally broke the atmosphere in two by shouting out, “Alan is a cunt!” to a blameless member of the public called Alan. What I like is the fact that – despite the apparent interest of so many radio and TV people, who seemed to descend yesterday en masseKaraoke Circus can never be a TV programme. I’m glad to say – and I’ve said it before – you really do have to be there. (Thanks to Justin Moorhouse for the action shot above.)

Before the Circus, I met my agent Kate, who’s up for a flying visit, and after a drink at the Pleasance with Michael, Jim (a night off again for the Gutted cast), Tara and Carl, we went to see Jeremy Lion Goes Green. This is the third outing for Justin Edwards’ much-talked-about dipsomaniac children’s entertainer character, although it was my first.

If you haven’t seen him yet, you must. It’s a sensational piece of theatre, subtly performed to give the impression of a ramshackle disaster, but you can tell it’s done with incredible precision. The duff songs, the ropey props, the weak narrative premise of an ecological redemption via a time-travelling shed, all add to what becomes a poignant portrait of a man breaking down and, in the Ten Green Bottles show-stopper, just drinking loads and loads and loads of booze. I was naive enough to ask Justin later at KC how he apparently necks all that Special Brew, Malibu, Sol, Baileys and Advocat onstage, but wouldn’t let me in on the secret. It’s like a magician’s trick. Either way, you will be completely sucked into the drama, as it unfolds, and Lion’s life, and show, fall apart.

A frankly mediocre podcast gig this afternoon at the GRV, due to tiredness and some very dull news stories, which hadn’t really deserved ripping out at all, but we couldn’t allow the entire podcast to be devoted to the gentle harassment of David and Rachel on the front row. Anyway, here’s the blurb, and the podcast will appear here.

We’re back for the second of the two five-day batches of Collings & Herrin live podcasts from the GRV in Edinburgh, and what a return! Not only is Richard knackered after the excesses of producing As It Occurs To Me in “Jimmy hats” and a bath salts-insensible Andrew unable to make a single joke, even one about a man who is hungry living in Hungary, but Tony Blair’s blood advance proves a subject too serious to provide any humour whatsoever, and Cannon and Ball weren’t even to blame for making that Daily Mail reader late for work after this lunch. Thankfully, there is live Space Dust consumption, on mic, and a superb soap opera linked to the nice couple of postgraduates on the front row, whom you can see in the second audience picture. They paid five pounds. And all your Doctor Who trivia questions are answered.

Here are the audience, in two parts:

It’s Wednesday so I have to pretend I’m back in London and fulfill my Radio Times duties, so the rest of the day should be nice and quiet and at home. I’m very tired indeed. When will it end? (Something our podcast audiences have been no doubt wondering.)

Ban a man

Thanks to PB O’Connor for this nice in-queue pic from outside Bannermans (or Ban A Teenager, as I call it) today. Interesting: another full house, but noticeably less forthcoming with laughter today. They seemed happy enough at the end and applauded loudly at the Secret Dance-off demonstration, but many of my favourite lines elicited very little in the way of noise. This is not me being a spoilt brat; I just genuinely find it fascinating that a house can laugh or not laugh so pointedly. I still enjoyed performing the show, especially Masterchef and the birding ambitions, but fullness of house does not necessarily equate with loudness of reaction.

With no time to ruminate on this, I rushed off afterwards in order to arrive at Assembly – the Ballroom, again, my only Assembly venue this year so far – in time to be snuck in to my reserved seat in Row 3 for Richard’s big folly, As It Occurs To Me, written overnight and something of a headache he didn’t need. He turned the fact that I’d offered to help him write it into a section of the script, so in a way I did help him write it. I knew I was going onstage at the end, in a metatextual denouement based upon the reappearance of the fictional, tiny version of me in his fevered imaginary world, and my own appearance, as myself, accompanied by a lawyer and taking over the show. It was fun to sit the whole thing out as an appreciative audience member (it really was very funny indeed, despite the rushed genesis), but also get to go on and soak up some reflected – if distorted – appreciation. Richard had given me the script just before I left the flat at 11.30, and I didn’t have time to read it. Because I was sat in the audience, I didn’t want to wave a script around in my seat, for fear of destroying the flimsy illusion that I was there to spectate and not take part. So when I did go up onstage, I was pretty much reading my words for the first time as I “performed” them. I enjoyed the fact that I was reading words which had so obviously been put in my mouth by Richard Herring (“Richard Herring is my hero”). It’s a huge in-joke, AIOTM, and it’s fun to be part of, especially as it’s able to pull in about 300 paying customers without a stitch of advertising, or even being in the Fringe programme.

Richard should be very proud that he and TV’s Emma Kennedy can sing a racist duet of the theme from Dirty Dancing as Tam Dalyell and Susan Boyle, without even changing the words, wearing £2.99 “Jimmy Hats” and get laughs, in Scotland.

Although his imaginary girlfriend was leaving Edinburgh and he had to walk her to the imaginary station, he still managed to magnanimously buy us all lunch at Chez Jules: that’s myself, Dan Tetsell, Emma Kennedy and actress Lizzie Roper, who wasn’t even in AIOTM, but happily ate as much food and drank as much drink as she humanly could on Richard’s tab.

Here is a pic Gordon “Green” Hodgson took of Emma onstage, which presents her very much as the spectre of herself.

In other news, the interview I filmed for EdFestTV with host Richard Mackney last week is now online and available to view. It’s show number 6, which also includes Tom Allen and some nice harmony singers and a weird man. It’s all chopped together in a trendy way, but it’s flattering to be invited to be on it at all.

Having done my own show, then AIOTM and eaten a tiring lunch – at which Emma ordered a coffee with Cognac in it, but left it, and both Dan and I found ourselves independently putting our hands under a paper towel dispenser in the gents and waiting for it to start blowing hot air on them – I need a burst of energy in order to get my sorry arse back up the Pleasance, see Jeremy Lion, and prepare for an appearance at Karaoke Circus at midnight.

And I know how much Richard likes it when I put screen grabs of myself, but even he will not think it self-aggrandising if I post some taken from a tiny little internet TV show segment.

Can this be any way to earn a living?


Thanks to Cockbongo [above and below] and to Sarah [bottom, with bag] from Nottingham for these Secret Dancing pics, taken over the last couple of days. I can see little red lights blinking throughout the show, so I know pictures are being taken. I don’t mind, as long as you’re not flashing. It’s quite instructive to see how it all looks. (Pretty minimal as you can see from the pre-show shot above – just imagine it with great dance tunes of the 80s and 90s playing through the PA.) William Turrell very kindly sent me an audio recording he’d made a couple of days ago – I’m halfway through it, and it’s a useful tool for improving what I’m doing. I have now performed Secret Dancing ten times at Bannermans. Five to go. I expect no medals for this. Indeed, I take my hat off to those who do the entire run. It’s no wonder performers endure a “dip.” Without a day off, even for 15 days, it’s a pretty relentless way to live your life – in some ways, it’s more intense doing the show so early in the day, as you are literally thinking about it the moment you wake up. Ironically, I usually write this blog in the morning, in a coffee shop or eaterie, before going to my gig at just before midday. It helps to take my mind off the task ahead.

I had a good show yesterday, except for the prior embarrassment of my friend Mark Goodier coming along and not being admitted due to his son being under 18. Bannermans operate a strict 18+ policy on their door, which is the only downside to the venue. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have chosen it, as it’s a superb venue in every other respect – and the staff couldn’t be nicer and more helpful – but had we known of the age restriction we could have listed our shows more accurately. Unfortunately, during the day, people expect shows to be family-friendly, which of course mine is, but you must respect a venue’s door policy. (The irony is that Mark grew up in Edinburgh and spent his teenage years drinking in Bannermans!) Anyway, I’ve no idea why the show was so much better yesterday – not in terms of laughter decibels, but in terms of me enunciating confidently and clearly when the wording of a line is important. It’s not a scripted show per se, but I have to hit certain words and lines accurately, in order to earn the reactions. Another really hot one, but that goes without saying now.

A restful afternoon back at the flat, counting the loose change from my bucket and offering to help Richard with his AIOTM script but being rebutted at every turn. Towel juggler Andre Vincent went back to London and TV’s Emma Kennedy arrived. Although I think of the bathroom down mine and Tom’s end of the flat as “our” bathroom, she immediately had her eye on it, even though the spare room is down the other end of the flat. She obviously knows a clean, Herring-free bathroom when she sees and smells it.

Tonight, well … here’s why you shouldn’t stick to what you know at the Fringe. Mat Ricardo’s wife is up for a couple of days, and, after a pleasant Italian at Gennaro’s on Grassmarket, the pair of them took me along to see something I wouldn’t ordinarily pick: Tricity Vogue’s Ukulele Cabaret at the Three Sisters (there’s still chance to see it – it’s on next Monday). Mat and Lesley have strong links with the street performance and cabaret circuits, and seem to know almost everybody who appeared on the affable and confident, ukulele-hatted compere Tricity’s bill. Ukes were the linking device, with something like 16 acts doing a song on said tiny guitar, in order to compete for the Uke Of Edinburgh award – and Mat, who didn’t play one, but did juggle with three of them!

This is another free night of entertainment with an honesty bucket at the end, but you would have to be a complete misery not to drop in a note, as it lasts for two and a half hours, with interval, as Tricity and her glamorous assistant corral audience members to play the three X-Factor-style judges, while the scoremistress role is taken by comic songwriter Helen Arney, another acolyte from the Michael Legge/James Hingley entourage, but surely way too naturally talented to waste her time with them – her show is here, and the Countdown tune she played suggests it will be very good indeed.

A cabaret atmosphere was almost instantaneous, the bonhomie between the acts infectious, in a spacious, well-upholstered room spoiled only by the lack of a curtain to separate it from the main Three Sisters fighting bar, which actually had a football match playing on a big telly feet away from the mixing desk. Speaking of which, the tech did an admirable but patchy job of keeping up with the ever-changing carousel of ukulele-playing turns, some of whom plugged in, some of whom required a mic in front of their instrument, one of whom sat on the lip of the stage, and two of whom eschewed amplification altogether in order to gently work the crowd with their delicate folk whimsy, despite the noise overspill from the fighting bar: yes, it was Foster and Gilvan aka Foz and The Baron, usually to be seen under clown makeup at Karaoke Circus. (I freely admit, I didn’t recognise either of them until they said a warm hello. Their frilly shirts were my only clue.)

I was fascinated by a fright-haired, poker-faced American in a stripey suit (imagine a tubby Steven Wright) called Skip something who created truly stunning instrumental music using an effects box, a uke, a harmonica, a loudhailer and many other weird and wonderful items. He’s not appearing at the Fringe this year apparently, but he should be. I’d welcome his full name if anybody knows it? Revelation of the night – and the very reason you should go and see mixed bills at the Fringe, especially something like this – was Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer! Simplicity itself, but executed with surgical precision, he appears as a kind of moustachioed posh bloke from the past, but who plays and sings modern rave tunes on his banjo, and raps with utter, BBC-accented conviction. It’s captivating, and you could see older members of the audience enjoying the fun but simply not getting his very narrow musical references – early Prodigy, Orbital and so on. It was sublimely funny. He doesn’t have a solo show, but is appearing in a three-act cabaret called Me! Me! Me!, which I hope I can fit in as my Edinburgh clock ticks away.

Such a terrific evening, and only two pear ciders, so intoxicating only in terms of singalong energy. As I passed through the main bar, at around 11.30, a man dropped and smashed a full pint glass in an altercation with a security man, and I was happy to escape into the night, even though Edinburgh was having one of its downpours. As I walked down Cowgate I saw a noisily drunk man wandering down the middle of the road, singing and shouting, and a car had to skid, in the wet, in order to avoid running him down, despite sounding its horn and flashing its lights at him. The man then shouted abuse at the car. It’s the spirit of the Fringe.

When I got in at around 11.45, Richard Herring was still up, looking down the barrel of a long night’s scriptwriting. I made him a hot drink and washed up his cereal bowl. It was the least I could do. And then I left him alone. I’m not yet sure what my role in AIOTM will be, but there are still some extortionately priced tickets left. I can’t wait.

Lost and mound

Saw flatmate Tom Wrigglesworth’s show, Nightmare Dream Wedding, last night, at the Pleasance Above. Now, I never saw his award-winning, career-sealing, love-generating, radio-adapted show about Richard Branson last year, which I am quite ashamed about now. So this was my first Wrigglesworth extravaganza, and I really enjoyed it. Tom has been saying, back at the flat, that it’s not quite ready as a multi-media experience, but the raw material is, I can tell you. It’s simply that: the story of his actual Vegas wedding, after many years of engagement, to his now-wife Lulu, who is his real wife. In master-storyteller style, this true account is cleverly interwoven with either convenient mash-ups of truth and near-truth, or cleverly embellished with non-truths. This is all part of the fun. Because I am now washing up for and sharing a bathroom with Tom, I met him after the show for a drink (he’s not drinking – I’m telling you, it’s like prohibition in our house), and was able to probe him about what was strictly true, and what wasn’t.

Meeting up with Tom in the Pleasance Courtyard is easy. You can spot his giant frame with the “Leo Sayer” hair from a mile away. (He burnt his hand on the lightbulb in our stupidly high-ceilinged bathroom while taking off a hoodie. Mind you, it was hot because he keeps leaving it on.)

Anyway, the warm-hearted Nightmare Dream Wedding is so beautifully realised and woven and seeded, and the loose ends and themes and characters so neatly and satisfyingly tied up, I suspected a certain degree of fictionalisation. It doesn’t matter, and I’m not going to spoil it for you by revealing how much of it is gospel, and how much of it is based upon truths, rather than the truth. When the diary entries of an apparently real woman with learning difficulties called May whom Tom met in the audience of The Jeremy Kyle Show are read out, in darkness, you won’t spend too long worrying about their veracity or otherwise, as the words are so moving. It’s brave to drop these moments of poignancy into a show that’s otherwise driven by Tom’s hapless persona, and if it doesn’t all quiet fit together yet, it will. My favourite line? “Oxygen is brilliant!”

By the way, Tom experienced a technical meltdown before the show had even started, when the film that he’s made which literally sets up the whole show froze while playing off the computer, and he had to come out and apologise and explain, while his tech rebooted it. And then, when the film had played out successfully, Tom came back onstage to start the show, to warm applause, and the lights didn’t come on. He rose above it, but this was enough to throw anyone.

The Pleasance Courtyard excelled itself this evening in terms of throwing up a cavalcade of famous or familiar faces to gawp at, such as Omid Djalili, Stephen K Amos and Jonny Sweet, and friendly folk to have a drink with: Gary Delaney, who said he’d had his best show yet, as it was not quite full and allowed him to relax into it; David O’Docherty (whom I’ve never met before); and Greg Davies (giant star of The Inbetweeners doing his first, much-fancied solo show). It’s still weird to be there when the courtyard bars all close and everybody is herded inside to the not-big-enough indoors bar, leaving most people loitering in a lobby, which subsequently turns into a photo opportunity, as fans have snaps taken with, well, Greg Davies and Stephen K Amos. It’s the sheer proximity of comedy fan to comedian that makes the Fringe so special. It was, however, funny to see the focus shift from Greg to Stephen when he walked in. A hierarchy is a hierarchy.

My hairy friend Iain Morris is in town, all too briefly, to oversee a casting call for The Inbetweeners movie. He knows everybody in comedy, or at least everyone who’s ever been on Channel 4, especially the 11 O’clock Show, or Flight Of The Conchords, which is still quite a lot of people. So I took a break from the Pleasance and met him at the Assembly, where he’d just been to see San Franciscan comic Arj Barker. We had a drink with Arj (never met him before), as velvety smooth and laidback in real life as his velvety smooth and laidback stage persona. It’s sometimes hard to hear what he’s saying in a noisy bar full of performers showing off, but it’s usually something that makes him smile, so you smile along. His Canadian pal Pete Johansen also joined us – a really nice guy, whose Fringe show, Pete’s On Earth, is about hating babies and parents. Iain is another person who’d not drinking – due to having broken his wrist and being on prescription drugs – and Pete was drinking Diet Coke, having fallen off the wagon the night before and stayed up until 7.30am, so it was a pleasure to see Arj drink two gin and tonics while we were there.

On the way back to the Pleasance – I allowed Iain to get us a cab (my second of the whole Fringe so far) to save 20 minutes’ walking time, because he’s at work and can claim it back – we stopped to chat to Chris Addison and a post-show Richard Herring. It was also great to see the heavily pregnant Lucy Porter, and lament her absence in the Young Ones-style flat (she’s usually the one who books it). She promised to come round and fix the dishwasher.

A long night, but I was still home by 1am. Richard was still at the dining room table, sober for 35 days now, working on the script for As It Occurs To Me, which takes place on Tuesday afternoon. I keep offering to help him write it, but he is too proud and possessive to let me.

Oh, and I got my first four-star review for Secret Dancing, in what you might think of as the partisan British Comedy Guide, run by Orange Mark, who puts out our podcast. But he promises me that his reviewer had no idea of the connection when she filed her copy. I am prepared to believe him. The review is here.

Rest of the fest

Halfway there and still living on a prayer. It seems, objectively speaking, that I have a “solid” three-star show on my hands. Three stars are always prefixed by “solid.” I came here with manageable expectations (what a great lost Dickens novel that was), and have been pleasantly surprised. The Scotsman, as I have established, gave me three stars. Fest, the free listings magazine, also gave me three stars, and that review is now online. (It’s the one that mentions “the spectre of Herring,” which I still love.) Yesterday I got a three-star review, albeit the faintest in its praise of the lot, in Three Weeks, which is another freesheet and an email bulletin. The review is here. I’m obviously relieved not to have had a slag-off.

It’s hard enough to even get a review up here, what with the sheer volume of shows, especially comedy, and I suspect it is the fact that I am making my solo debut that has rewarded me with these reviews. In many cases, you need an angle to get noticed, and a debut will have to do with me. I won’t dwell on the actual wording of the critics, as that way madness lies, and I have seen enough comics with madness to wish to steer clear of that. (I get upset enough when people don’t like my books.) However, it’s funny that the Three Weeks man described my humour as a bit “Surrey-based-Guardian-reader,” which is at least accurate in one sense, or two in relation to the section in which I remember living in Surrey.

Another full house for Secret Dancing, on surely the hottest, sunniest, bluest-skied day of the Fringe. I had to personally turn a few people away, as I was doing my own door, Free Fringe style. I had a bottleneck of friends in today, whom I had to “walk in” – Mat Ricardo, his wife Lesley, Jim Bob and entire family, Justin Moorhouse and Iain Morris, who’s up to audition young hopefuls for the Inbetweeners film. This made me incredibly nervous. They were all very kind afterwards, and unlike Richard Herring, Justin actually gave me some useful, practical advice about microphone technique, rather than telling me I’m shit. If you come and see the show from tomorrow onwards, it will be a lot better, thanks to Justin Moorhouse. He is my new mentor. Herring is fired, and will have to say “I’m out” to HIMSELF.

A much better Collings & Herrin podcast gig this afternoon, where no microphone technique is required, due to them being on stands throughout that are set up by a professional tech, called Lynz. Don’t know why the show was so much better than, say, YESTERDAY’S (which, ironically, sounds OK on the podcast). Best not to find out why. The audience seemed more up for it, including one man in a suit who’d also been at Secret Dancing and frankly ruined the subtle drama of the bit where I show how to hold out my outstretched palm to attract a robin by shouting out, “Would it help if I said my name was Robin?”, which didn’t help. He came up to us after the podcast gig, and said, “I’m wasted,” but that he’d enjoyed it. Ah well. We enjoyed it, too and we were anything but wasted, unless you count the fact that Richard has a wasting disease judging by the way his suit is hanging off him.

Richard was videoing today’s show on a tiny but miraculous device that he set up on the lip of the stage, so let’s see how that came out – it may see the light of day as a DVD extra. Thanks to the keen photographic eye of Gordon “GoHod” Hodgson, you can see a preview here.

Anyway, here’s the podcast blurb:

In the fifth of our live Edinburgh podcasts, and the fourth that has come out – Podcast 126: Light Side Of The Poon – we recreate, in full, an entire episode of the American sitcom Friends. We also solve the blue towel mystery, improve Anglo-Australian relations immeasurably, rewrite the pronunciation of some popular names, recall fondly the occasional naked lady on the cover of the Sunday Times magazine and the half-inch of underskirt Andrew glimpsed when Sarah Jane Smith fell over on the Giant Robot episode of Doctor Who, defend David Beckham’s sister’s empty wheelie bin and mount our own version of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket scheme. And Richard unveils his new variety act: failing to identify audience members by their accents. Back on Wednesday, kids, with Space Dust action.

Right, off to see flatmate Tom Wrigglesworth now.