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Thursday 3rd August 2006

WeÂ’re off!
Having been cocooned in my flat trying to finish my Channel 4 script under threat of broken legs from my evil manager Jon Thoday, I still felt oddly disconnected from the Fringe for most of the day. I had a little bit of time to look over my running order, but didn’t really have time to have a think about the bits in the show that needed work. But I decided that was probably a good thing if I wanted to keep the delivery naturalistic and improvisational. I knew there were enough gags to keep people happy and that a few more rambling bits would be a positive rather than a negative. My ultimate aim with this job is to be able to go on stage and talk about anything without more than a few basic ideas. But when you’re learning to skate it’s hard to let go of the side (in this metaphor skating equates to free flowing stand up and the side equates to the script – I haven’t just gone mental and started talking about skating for no reason).
Nerves started to kick in mid-afternoon and I tried to work out what I could drop if I was over-running. I played round with the running order a bit and considered how short a time an hour truly is. Once again I had aimed to have a show of about 55 minutes long, allowing me five minutes to piss about with something if the mood struck me. But I reckoned I had about 70 minutes of stuff that I really wanted to do and itÂ’s really hard to work out what to cut. I decided that the cats and dogs joke was probably the obvious casualty. ItÂ’s been going really well, but itÂ’s slightly hard to place and doesnÂ’t link in to any later jokes unlike quite a few of the bits which have secured their continued existence by shackling themselves to another piece of material later in the show. Even though the initial joke itself may not get the biggest laugh, if the later reincorporation results in one of the biggest laughs in the show, then the seemingly weak gag can survive. ItÂ’s the law of the comedy jungle.
But itÂ’s nice to have too much stuff. It means I can dick around with the show at a later date and keep it fresh for myself.
I had some pasta and then walked up to the Underbelly, aiming to get there an hour early so I had time to get my head round the fact that this was all really happening. The first worry of whether anyone would turn up was assuaged when I went into the box office to find that I’d sold 104 tickets with still time for more walk up. Now all I had to do was make them laugh. I pootled around, preparing my few props and wondering if the flowers in a vase next to my spot in the dressing room were actually for me. There was no note. Two years ago there had been a bit bunch of flowers in the dressing room on day one and I had assumed they were for Jenny Éclair. They remained in the same place for about two weeks, slowly rotting and dying until someone bothered to tell me that they were actually mine. Today I decided to leave the flowers. If they were mine then the dressing room is as good a place as any for them to slowly decompose. If they’re not and the person they belong to leaves them there then I can still pretend.
I needed a toilet. Nerves will do this to a man. This used to be much worse for me in the old days. When I was doing the Oxford Revue I would go for a poo maybe five times in the hour before the show. The Underbelly only has one gents as far as I can see, which is in the bar, right by where my audience queue to come in. It’s always a bit strange to have to be seen by your audience before you go on, but this is the Fringe and such things happen. As long as they don’t actually all jump up on the cubicle and watch you do your business then there is still enough mystery left for you to entertain them. Only two or three people came and jumped up on the cubicle and they were unimpressed by the show. “It’s been done before” said one.
“This stinks” said the other.
“It is shit!” chimed in the third, but the other two looked at him with disdain.
“We both thought of doing that heckle but thought it was a bit obvious mate.”
“I was being post-modern” claimed the lambasted one in desperation.
“Don’t use that tired old excuse” said heckler two, relieved that his borderline “stinks” line had gone unchallenged.
“Let’s get him and kill him” shouted toilet heckler one and they tore the hunter became the hunted as they chased him from the scene.
None of this happened. It is a metaphor for the Edinburgh experience. I did do a poo though, that much is true and is not at all metaphorical. It was that rare thing, a non-metaphorical poo.
So I went up to the venue, stood in the little entrance out the back and waited for the people to come in. There must have been some walk up on the night as the place looked pretty full and there were at least 120 in, which is a very promising start and it all went off pretty well. They were a bit unsure of my first joke (though I knew when I brought it back later they would find it highly amusing), but after a slightly unsure opening thirty seconds we all relaxed and everything whizzed by. Pretty much everything worked as intended and after about 65 minutes I wrapped it all up and show one was done.
ItÂ’s probably the most assured first night I have ever had in Edinburgh, which is weird because itÂ’s the show that in some ways I have put the least effort into. ThatÂ’s maybe unfair on the show. Usually I spend all of June and mainly July struggling to get a show finished, but with this one I have been working on the stuff in clubs over a period of at least six months and so havenÂ’t had to have that crazy panic. ItÂ’s amazing how much it developed during the stage time of the previews. I hardly ever sat down to write anything. I just let go of the sides and attempted to skate (again I donÂ’t mean this literally. It refers to the metaphor I made above. The one about skating. Not the one about shitting).
However itÂ’s come together itÂ’s turned out to be a good show. I hope it will get even better, but this is a great starting point. Having been pregnant with hope I have started giving birth to something that looks like fulfilled hope. But so far only the head is poking out of the vaginal canal. It might be something with the head of fulfilled hope and the body of mediocrity and disappointment. I will still love it the same as a child with a head and body that matched, maybe moreso, but no-one would wish for such progeny.
And after the show there’s the afterparty. Well not for me. I was completely drained and knackered by the experience. The emotional investment in doing a show up here is huge and it’s easy to forget how exhausting being on stage for an hour can be. And I am not a young man anymore. In the old days it would have been down the bar to get pissed and fuck tomorrow’s unimportant second show (the one that all the critics come to – now I understand why my reviews have rarely matched up to how good the shows really are). I had one glass of wine and then felt so zonked out that I had to make my way home.
Maybe this isnÂ’t such a disaster. It makes me feel my age. The stage version of Richard Herring might be hoping for wild nights of drug taking and three in a bed sex, but the real version just wants to get back to the flat and talk shit with Sarah Kendall.
Maybe there will be time for cavorting like a loon half my age later in the run, but there is still a script to be written and I want to do the show well in the hope that people will acknowledge what I am starting to finally believe: I am not too bad at this stand up lark. Maybe even quite good.
Now all I have to work on is my defecation.

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