Standing-Up (17): From Edinburgh back to Barcelona …

My last blog about stand-up comedy was supposed to have been exactly that: my last blog about stand-up comedy. It was also an attempt to start writing up my ‘diary experiences’ from Edinburgh. An attempt to close the chapter on my attempt at stand-up comedy. But last week I was persuaded to do 5 minutes at the Ice Bar in Barcelona – my 27th ‘attempt’. I enjoyed it. I felt relaxed. People laughed. Last night, I went along to the presentation launch of the Barcelona International Comedy Festival, and to watch some friends perform. It wasn’t planned that I would do anything at all – I had nothing ‘rehearsed’ – but I was invited up to do 4 minutes, which became 6 minutes. Again, I enjoyed it (in fact I enjoyed it so much that I think I will never ‘rehearse’ again but try to ‘be myself’). Again, I felt relaxed and people laughed. And I have now also been persuaded to participate in the festival’s ‘Funniest FICER competition, with the big first prize for whoever wins it being to support Marcus Brigstocke in his closing show on 19th October. Which made me recall seeing Marcus Brigstocke in Edinburgh, on crutches (him, not me) …

So here we go again. One year on. The very first stand-up blog started after I’d been on Logan Murray’s weekend comedy workshop, for one of his ‘Stand Up & Deliver’ courses, this time last year (he’ll be here again next week and I envy all those who will experience it for the first time). From Barcelona to New York, then Madrid, London, Edinburgh and now back to Barcelona, I have learnt a lot about the ‘craft’, a lot about myself, a lot about audiences, a lot about the business of comedy, a lot more about writing, met some great new friends, pissed myself laughing, and cringed (often) when no-one has laughed at or with me. By observing and now participating in the Barcelona International Comedy Festival again (where it all began), it will give me a chance to reflect on the year, conclude my Edinburgh diary, and share my experiences from ‘here and there’ over the coming weeks.

For example … and it’s not rocket science … but I think I felt relaxed at the Ice Bar last week, and at Carder’s last night, because I’d done 4 consecutive lunchtimes of 40 minutes in Edinburgh during August, to an audience of approximately 50 each day (with my ‘warm-up co-pilot’, Chris Groves). So all the comments I’d heard about the more you do stand-up, the easier it is … must be true. At some point I think I blogged that someone (Logan?) had said the only difference between a stand-up and someone who is not a stand-up, is that the stand-up kept on going …

Edinburgh … Friday, 9th August 2013 – diary notes:

I’ve never been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before, neither as a visitor and obviously not as a participant – so I have no idea what to expect. In fact I’ve only ever been to Edinburgh once, for a few hours, for a business meeting. First impressions? Edinburgh is one big hill. The people are very friendly. Despite landing after 11.30pm on a nightmare Ryanair flight to ‘Edimburgo’, even the passport control officer has a really welcoming smile – as does the taxi rank staff, the tax driver himself, and then all the hotel staff.

We pick up a Fringe brochure at the airport and then again at the hotel. My ‘show’ is not even listed in it – one of the problems I have being registered late. It is 394 pages thick, cabaret, children’s shows, comedy, dance, physical theatre, events, exhibitions, musicals and opera, spoken word, theatre … someone had told me not to worry about not being in, but it bugs me. I am on the Ed Fringe website but not the brochure. Someone also told me that no-one is ‘going to go out of their way’ to see me – and to expect an average of 12 people each day.

We’re staying at the Premier Inn in Morrison Street – just for tonight. There’s no food at the bar when we check in. But they go out of their way to order us something from a nearby takeaway, and they keep the bar open, and they pile us with more Fringe programmes and catalogues … all the time smiling. I wonder whether I should leave some of my ‘flyers’ for my so-called ‘show’ (I don’t know what else to call it – ‘performance’?) alongside the Fringe catalogues at reception – but I don’t. Just as well. I soon realise I have a lot to learn.

I’ve been reading the reviews and hype on Edinburgh on my way over here. For comedy fans, the festival is offering the ‘traditional combination of hyped newcomers, household names and squabbles about who’s best preserving the so-called spirit of the Fringe,’ writes Brian Logan in The Guardian. He writes that the ‘latest bunfight’ has been triggered by Foster’s Comedy Award chief, Nica Burns, stating that many shows under the Free Fringe and Free Festival banners are ‘not good enough’ and offer audiences ‘an absolutely terrible experience’. An increasing number of comics ‘are staging their work for free on the Fringe, though … and this year’s crop includes Phil Jupitus and Harry Potter star Jessie Cave …

Of course there is no mention of yours truly. But I am also on the Free Fringe. The Laughing Horse Edinburgh Free Festival, which runs parallel to and is part of the Edinburgh Fringe, charge performers little or nothing (an admin fee) and, in turn, the performers do not charge audiences (although they welcome donations). As explained in Mark Fisher’s excellent The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, ‘the system is possible because the venues, which are usually pubs, agree not to charge rent in return for getting increased custom at the bar, bringing as much as £10k across the month at a time of year when many people are being lured away to the many temporary bars around town. By 2011, Laughing Horse Free Festival was running 32 spaces in 15 venues and presenting over 300 shows ….

I don’t sleep so well at the Premier Inn that night. I keep trying to remind myself about the tips I’ve learnt since last October. ‘Have an attitude, a point of view, an originality. The material is almost incidental. When the audience walk out, do they remember the joke or the person?’ And: ‘Strip yourself bare; self-analysis and self-expression is your goal.’ Suffice to say it’s a restless night.

Barcelona – today – 26th September 2013

I am now off to Las Cuevas del Sorte to watch the first heat of the Funniest FICER. It is a tough heat. Kayleigh, John, Donnie and Dani are all excellent – I have performed alongside them all and I have great admiration for them. I wish them all the best of luck. This time, I can sit back and enjoy it with a glass of Rioja. Or two …

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