Standing-Up (16): The Last Laugh – Edinburgh Diary (Part 1)

I have shelved my attempts at ‘comedy’ for I-don’t-know-how-long and am in hiding and entrenched with writing yet another (final, final) draft of ‘the novel’. But as the Edinburgh Fringe draws to a close today, I thought it was time to at least also start updating my blog with my Edinburgh Diary to conclude the journey of my stand-up ‘experience’ over the past ten months. So here goes. It is partly scribbled, unedited present-tense notes from during the week itself, and part reflection and research afterwards, trying to put it all in to perspective. Let’s start at the end. My last night. And with Terry Alderton …

Thursday 15th August

Terry Alderton, who is 10 years younger than me (let’s not forget that), has just invited me to his show. I know nothing about him, although I have since found out that …

Terry Alderton is an award-winning comedian, actor (Waking The Dead, The Bill, Holby City, London’s Burning), former TV presenter (National Lottery) and even a former goalkeeper (Southend United). As a comedian, in 1999 he was nominated for the Perrier Comedy Award. He has been seen on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Dave’s One Night Stand, Let’s Dance for Sport Relief, has performed ‘smash hit shows’ in Edinburgh in 2009, 2010, 2011 & 2012, has sold out ‘hugely successful national-tours’, and was also voted as The Sun’s Comedian of the Year 2011, and twice as Best International Act by the New Zealand Comedy Guild. Eddie Izzard, who described Terry as ‘brilliant’ and convinced him to go on tour, also told him back in 2008: ‘No-one can do what you do, I can’t do what you do – that is the brilliance of it.’ Just a few days ago (23 August) it was also announced that Alderton is to join the cast of Eastenders for a year as cockney cab driver Terry Spraggan, and will be Bianca Jackson’s (Patsy Palmer) new love interest.

Terry’s show starts at 8pm, at Pleasance Courtyard, but I am exhausted already (today was my own last lunchtime ‘performance’) and I’m not sure if I will get there in time as I don’t even have a ticket yet. It is already 7.30pm and I have just seen Mick Ferry (also seen on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and John Bishop’s Only Joking) at the Gilded Balloon’s ‘Balcony’ room in Bristo Square. I am not sure if I can handle any more comedy, either – or ever. But the review on Terry Alderton’s flyer by Broadway Baby states that he is ‘the sort of comedian that will delight the more jaded comedy fans amongst this year’s Fringe crowd’ and that he is the ‘ideal antidote for act-weary comedy fans looking for something new, and will provide an eye-opening experience for the more casual audience member. If you don’t sit down with an open mind, he might just prise it open for you anyway.’

So I should go. I am alone. I have nothing else to do. And I have an open mind.

A mutual friend (actor and comedian James Redmond) has highly recommended that I see Terry Alderton, and through an exchange of frantic last-minute text messages, Terry himself kindly tells me to quickly come to the main door. I arrive at Pleasance Courtyard by taxi just five minutes later – ten minutes before it starts – and there is already a long queue outside the Cabaret Bar waiting to file in. I feel guilty going straight to the front – being ushered in like some VIP – seeing Terry (bald, loud, charming), jumping around on stage and doing some final sound checks, yet calling out my name and finding the time to personally welcome me in, and – without really thinking – I decide to sit in an aisle seat in the front row. As Terry then disappears behind a curtain, the queue starts to follow me in, until the 175+ venue is at full capacity and the lights are dimmed.

At last I am at The Pleasance. Whilst my own Free Fringe venue at The Three Sisters had been described as the ‘Free version of the Pleasance Courtyard’, I feel I am really at the hub of it all now …

I’d been re-reading Frank Skinner’s On The Road book whilst in Edinburgh, which starts with him recounting (in August 2007) his two-week run at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar (where he’d also held his Perrier Award-winning show in 1991), exactly where I am sitting now, waiting to see Terry Alderton. Skinner described it as, “a black box of a room with a piano on a low stage in one corner, and a bar, closed during the performance, in the corner opposite. Cosy, with a capacity of 175, and smells, inevitably, of stale beer.” It is exactly that. He also wrote that there is, “A tiny dressing room, separated from the stage by only a thick black curtain. There’s no room for pacing. I [Skinner] sit amidst the racks of costumes and boxes of props from a dozen other shows that are on before or after me. The walls are covered in old posters and publicity shots, including a fat-faced me from sixteen years ago.” This is it. I am here. This is the Fringe. Then Terry Alderton comes out on stage …

Terry’s Edinburgh show has been described as a ‘spellbinding combination of noises, voices, incredible physicality and a mind-blowing insight into the inner workings of a fantastic comedy mind’. Terry has been described as a ‘master of microphone manipulation’. In Steve Bennett’s excellent and spot-on Chortle review, Terry creates a feeling of ‘bedlam’ in his shows – ‘as if you’re walking the corridors of a mental asylum with a cacophony of voices babbling away, sometimes violently, sometimes softly, but all with a terrifying belief in their own misplaced reality’. He goes on to describe it as ‘both wonderfully fluid, yet tightly executed’ – ‘a fast-paced ballet of the bizarre, sometimes literally as he carouses around the stage, carried away with his own madness’.

I cannot improve upon any of these descriptions. In my opinion, the show was brilliant and Terry Alderton is a genius. Suffice to say that I cried with laughter – literally … until he dragged me up on stage at the very end …

Sitting in the front row at any stand-up comedy show is a risk at the best of times, but I thought I would be safe. As the Chortle review continues, ‘[Alderton’s] relationship with the audience is as schizophrenic as [his] madness would suggest. He has an evil but mischievous look in his eye, as if deciding to fuck us or kill us.’ I wasn’t the only one who was picked on – in fact I got away with things lightly in comparison to those sitting alongside, and at least he didn’t try to continually kiss me. There was a joke about my hair, if I remember (there always is) – but then when I was asked what I did for a living and I replied ‘journalist’ (It’s true enough and I didn’t know what else to say – I didn’t want to admit I was an unemployed tubby magazine publisher or wannabe/blogging stand-up from Spain) – I was then subjected to a volley of noises, voices, sirens and explosions to find out if I was really a war correspondent. At the very end, whilst the crowd were applauding and cheering, Terry dragged me up on stage and behind the black curtain with him …

Terry has stripped off his T-shirt. He is laughing, pouring with sweat. I am still wiping away the tears of laughter – but I am shocked. I tell him he’s brilliant. We hug. I can hear the crowd cheering, shouting for an encore from him. He goes out on stage again to take another bow. I hear them clapping and cheering even more. Alone, briefly, I look around the tiny dressing room area. It is exactly as described in Frank Skinner’s book. I try to find his poster, but Terry suddenly comes back through the thick curtain. Again, I tell him he’s brilliant. We hug again. ‘Go out there again,’ I tell him, ‘they’re shouting for you.’ ‘Naaaah,’ he says. I almost offer to go out there and lap up the applause for him. It is a very bizarre situation. I feel I am seeing the Fringe for real, very real – backstage – hearing that crowd shout his name. I can see, feel, hear and even smell what it’s like for him. He is very pleased with the performance, I can tell – but he’s not going out there again. There’s a very quick exchange of mutual friend-type speak. He offers to come and see my own ‘show’ but I tell him not to bother and that it has now finished, anyway. He’s a great guy – charming, really charming – to find time to speak to me whilst the crowd are still cheering for him. He asks me if I want to escape ‘quietly’ out of his stage door. I explain that I have a bag under my front row seat, and so I have to head out onto the stage again myself to leave with the rest of the audience. There’s a cheer from the straggling crowd as I reappear. It is probably the best cheer I receive all week … (To be continued)

 

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