The Edinburgh Fringe heightens one’s feeling that you are the victim of a hybrid between Candid Camera and the Truman Show. Maybe it is that. In which case, you must be laughing doubly hard at me now. But I didn’t get into this business to be laughed at. The Truman Show director’s decision to give me a great early review in the Scotsman (that I unusually get to hear about before it was published) on the first weekend, giving me hope that ticket sales might be boosted, only for it not to appear in the actual paper is a genius bit of psychological torture. There have been some good reviews, but some annoying ones too. I had hoped that I wouldn’t get accused of putting my stand up jokes in the play this year and that I might get judged as a writer, not a comedian. But most of them can’t resist pointing to a few gags that they think would appear in my set (none of them actually would, or they’d be in the stand up show). All of them seem to have honed in on the joke about the muff-servant, which employs a casual double entendre (my act is much more fond of the single entendre - it’s not a joke I would do myself), but is in the play to highlight the difference between the world of the journalist and the aristocrats. It’s very much a throwaway thing, more about reaction it gets from each character. Another journalist seemed upset that I had had a dig at journalists, but again I was not having a dig at journalists, the characters in the play are suspicious of journalists and afraid of being misrepresented. These aren’t my jokes. These are the characters' jokes. There is still hope that the more serious theatre critics might come and see the play and see beyond the night job of the person who wrote it (I deliberately didn’t cast myself in the play in an attempt to distance myself from the play in the minds of the audience). I’d say what was remarkable about the play is how different it is from my other work, but I think to an extent critics are coming with an idea that they are looking to confirm.
Obviously critics have to call it as they see it, but it’s a shame when it feels like all the months of hard work from everyone involved is getting obscured by prejudgement. Audiences for both shows are much smaller than they need to be for me to escape with a loss of a mere £20,000 (which I had hoped would be as bad at it got). Hard work, it turns out, is not its own reward.
We’re only a third of the way through and there’s lots of time for recovery (and most of the reviews have been good for both shows already), but this Fringe has always felt like it was going to be a game changer one way or the other. Whatever happens I need to regroup in September and work out what I should concentrate on. Annoyingly my commitments to my wife mean that suicide is no longer the option that it was back in the dark days of the noughties. What a kick in the balls that is.
The cobbles of Edinburgh are littered with the broken dreams of hundreds of people who have worked their heart out all year and who have far less recognition and far smaller audiences than me. I know how lucky I am. And every day I meet at least one person who my shows have made a massive difference to (a man came the other night who had flown in from Turkey especially to see my stuff, which is just crazy). My appeal may be limited, but the it’s quality, not quantity and the audience I get are the coolest bunch of tragically uncool people you could ever hope to meet. Let’s keep this party going and remember to keep the secret to yourself.
I had a lot more energy today, with an enjoyable trip to the gym, followed by a fun and sociable birthday lunch for a friend. Towards the end of my show my energy dipped for the first time all day, but I pushed on through. There were only about 60 people (not too bad for Black Wednesday, but still, I think pretty poor compared to recent years) in and it’s not an easy task to keep them all focused and laughing. I had a fun heckler during the international women’s day bit, when a woman took exception to my claim that 24 hours was too long to celebrate the achievements of women. I told her to wait and see if there was maybe some irony being deployed. I said, “I’ve just done a bit about me being moved by dancing disabled children, how likely is it that I am about to follow that with a diatribe about me hating women? Let’s see if it’s going to turn around in a minute.” Given that the routine is partly about the way that sexism and ironic sexism can be so hard to tell apart it was a perfectly timed interruption.
Afterwards I went home and watched most of the third part of Star Wars, which I’d never seen before, which made me realise that good writing and commercial success don’t always go hand in hand. Though it’s quite tough to build up any real jeopardy when your audience already knows pretty much everything that is going to happen and certainly who is going to live and die and who is going to be turned into a Darth Vader. But amazingly the special effects aren’t much better than the ones in Drop Dead Fred from 1991, which was last night’s post-show viewing. Hope this blog doesn’t make George Lucas feel too bad for having his hard work on the film dismissed in just one paragraph. I suspect he will get over it.