First of all – thanks for participating in yesterday’s debate on what should be done about an unpleasant comment left on the site, and, by extension, a huge number of far more unpleasant comments daubed - like so much birdshit on the windscreen a Fiat Punto - over my Yahoo! blog.
(I don’t know anything about cars so I feel a bit of an impostor casually namechecking the Punto like it’s meant to mean something. I just wanted a car which I imagine to be fairly minor, cheery and inoffensive like me).
There were some very nice comments – particular thanks to Megan for introducing the wonderful insult ‘asshats’, which I assume is a North American thing – and a pleasing lack of mob violence. And there’s a semi-happy end to the story because Dave Fields, the author of the mildly upsetting remarks that triggered the blog, not only entered the conversation himself but ended up sending an email to my agent apologising for ‘breaking protocol’ and wishing me a successful career. I think this proves that Mr Fields was merely someone who doesn’t much rate my writing – which he’s perfectly entitled not to do – rather than one of the faceless freaks who lurk in the seedier neighbourhoods of the internet. The problem of those sub-human, invisible hecklers remains. But it’s a problem with the World Wide Web as a whole, or to fair a problem the world as a whole, and I should probably get some perspective and not allow it to feel like a personal vendetta against me. Good.
And speaking of paranoia: Edinburgh is approaching. Although it’s not until August, tickets for my show went on sale this week (at www.assemblyfestival.com/ , plug fans). And this is only the latest of series of rather dizzying milestones which ensure that the process of doing an Edinburgh show is always slightly ahead of you. The show’s on sale before you’ve finished writing it. The posters are made before you know what you want them to look like. The blurb is on the Fringe website and in the brochure well before you’re remotely confident that your show will, indeed, be ‘AMAZING – ***** (The Guardian). The name of the show has to be decided some months before you know what it’ll be about. And so on. Essentially, Edinburgh is an exercise in making a load of promises you’re not sure if you will be able to keep. In that respect, I guess it’s quite a lot like parenting.
The importance of the festival as a means of ‘making it big’ as a comic is often exaggerated. People like Michael McInytre, Rhod, Russell (I’m so cool I’m on first name terms with these guys) have tended to become famous by establishing themselves on TV; the bulk of their live following comes from that, however hard they’ve worked as fringe comics. Russell and I played the same, 100-seat, room in 2006, for instance.
But what Edinburgh does do, more surely than any other event in the comedic calendar, is test you as a comedian. 27 shows in 28 days take a surprising physical toll and a far-from-surprising psychological one. You’re reviewed constantly, many of the reviews having the potential to make or break your ticket sales, all of them having the ability to make you cry (only happened once to me last time out). The entire comedy industry – agents, PR, promoters, producers, TV executives, and assorted arseholes - decamps to the normally-beautiful Scottish capital and hangs out in bars, weighing up comics against one another, preening and fussing and comparing and bitching like those women in Sex And The City (except the redhead, I like her). And all the time, it is raining. Raining, raining, raining, raining, raining, raining. Some years it rains slightly more than that.
Why do it, then, especially if you’re one of the 95 percent of acts who won’t make a profit? The answer is that it’s still the best arts festival in the world, for all its many injustices and miseries; still the greatest measure of a comedian’s mettle; and still one of the only mainstream festivals where you can pull off ridiculous nonsense like, say, a 24-hour show (I did also do that in Melbourne, but those are probably the only two), or The Hotel, or the thousands of not-by-Mark-Watson oddities which cram the Fringe every year. And it’s pretty much the only place where for a whole month, an act like me can play to large-ish audiences of genuine comedy fans, and, moreover, exist in an atmosphere where comedy feels like the biggest thing in the world. So that’s probably what it’s all really about. Comedians are attention-seekers by definition. Edinburgh is Attention Central, for better or worse.
Unless nobody comes to see you, of course. But I’ll save my observations on that experience in case it happens this year and I have to blog a month’s worth of bitter rants. Until then – if you’re planning a visit to the Fringe, do click on that link and buy tickets, go on. Whatever my other deficiences, I do a pretty mean Edinburgh show if I say it myself.
There we are, a bit of optimism at the end of a rotten week. My ten-year vow is still alive. Battered, but alive. Like comedians at the end of Edinburgh. Bring it on. I think.