I’ve done some gigs in some unusual places, but today might just take the biscuit. It certainly has the biggest carbon footprint per minute of any comedy thing I have ever done. I was performing on a plane from Edinburgh to London and then again on one from London to Edinburgh. My sets would be ten minutes long and occur as people were being served their drinks. I would be at 30,000 feet and I wasn’t allowed to swear or make any jokes about bombs, hi-jacking or anything else too controversial. Which would make doing ten minutes quite tough for me.
I would be standing at the front of the plane, unable to see most of the “audience”, most of whom would not have known there was comedy on board today or want to be part of a captive crowd (is that a hijacking joke? So difficult to tred this line) and speaking to them over the phone used by the air crew to address the passengers. It had success written all over it, right?
All the conditions were so wrong for comedy that I wasn’t even nervous. I had the opportunity to be the weirdo who won’t stop talking for every single person on the plane and was conscious how annoying that 10 minutes of comedy from someone whose sense of humour you didn’t share would be. But it was only a short spot and I guess people could put on their headphones and ignore me. And this was a way of me off-setting a tiny slice of my Edinburgh loss, as well as being a brief escape from the Fringe.
I had a few jokes especially prepared. Along with the inevitable “I’ll know I’ve done really badly if I get any walk-outs”, I also tried my wife’s “I put my phone on Airplane settings and it told me to stop calling it Shirley.” And I claimed that I had been so delighted to be offered this opportunity that I had done the gig for free. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered I was joining the “smile-high club”. I did some jokes about Edinburgh and some bits from shows new and old. It was hard to gauge how it was going down as the noise of the aircraft and the spread out nature of the crowd meant I could only hear the response from the first four rows. It was also weird to be attached to the wall and have a phone in front of my face. And my hand got tired holding down the button! The gags that got closer to the line of acceptability (though I used only innuendo and changed sleeping with to “dating”) got the bigger laughs. The passengers leaving Edinburgh for London at 2pm were less up for it than those going to Edinburgh at 5pm, but perhaps that is expected. A gig in daytime and daylight is always weird anyway. And when you’re also in the sky then that’s even stranger.
I would say the gig on the way down was a narrow victory for me, but on the way back the laughter occasionally drowned out the sound of the engines. It was a very challenging environment, but I don’t think I ruined anyone’s day and there were certainly people who were glad I was there.
As expected being in London for an hour in between was strange and slightly unsettling, but I was happy to come back to Edinburgh to finish this possibly final tour of duty. Thank God I hadn’t had to do this yesterday when I felt like a zombie - today I was raring to go.
Back in town, Edinburgh did its best to remind me to do something else next August. The Heavens opened as I walked to the venue, leaving me and my modest (yet for this run, top 5 largest) crowd to dry out during the performance. Unsurprisingly this damp couple of hundred souls were the least responsive audience (the people on the flight back might even have trumped them), but despite my ankle slightly playing up (a decades old injury that flares up occasionally) and a bit of ear ache and fatigue I carried on with gusto. I don’t think I have had a Fringe where the level of my performances has been so consistent.
Then on to the Malcolm Hardee awards to take part in the annual egg roulette challenge. For the first time I was not knocked out in the first round, but for the second year running was defeated by Juliette Burton who went on to lose in the final, also for the second year running. Who knows if I had just chosen the other egg when we got down to the last two in the box I might have left the Fringe having won something. But Janey Godley, who seemed to have a bizarre fear of eggs. overcame this phobia to win. One of the funniest things I have seen at the Fringe was her proclaiming her toughness by saying “I am from the East End of Glasgow!” before tapping an egg on her head very gently and whimpering lest it should turn out to be a non-hard-boiled one. Luckily her egg-phobia was not put to the test as she always show hard-boiled. I left the event, as usual with the yolk on me. My head and clothes were covered with shell and albumen, seemingly way more than you’d get from a single egg. But how apt to cross the city having egged myself. It felt like a fitting denouement before the final curtain falls.