My first Fringe Festival as a stand-up comedian. In which I walk 8 MILLION miles more than the Proclaimers, tell jokes to 6 people who won’t look me in the face and don’t kill a man with a Werther’s Original.
Gig No: 43. (Edinburgh gig 1)
Where? Njambi McGrath & Guests @ City Cafe, Blair Street.
Why? A lovely comic called Pauline Eyre gave me her spot.
Who Held My Hand? My husband and his Scottish mate, Iain.
What Happened? This gig is at 12.45pm. PM. And it’s FULL. But then, this is the Fringe. People climb Arthur’s Seat at four in the morning. Weirdos.
I nearly lose this gig completely. I’ve tickets to see Jamie Allerton’s Quarter Final in So You Thing You’re Funny (AKA That Effing Competition) and haven’t time for both. I ask Njambi if I can do flyer duty another night. She’s not havin it. Fortunately, That Effing Comp is short (see previous post for results) so, half an hour later I’m flyering just off the Royal Mile. And the memories come SCREAMING back to me. Part of the Fringe experience is to be evil to street flyerers. People have become terribly good at this since I was last here. I instantly want to kill all people. I start shouting about Kenyan Comedy, telling no one I am involved. Many more people become interested.
As I said, I got this spot thanks to a comic called Pauline Eyre who saw me in Dalston and gave me 2 of her Edinburgh gigs. She did admit this was largely due to the 11.45 time slot… Anyhow, if it’s shit, it’s her fault. But Njambi and Guests and ME pull in a crowd and the first gig I do in Edinburgh is to a full house of about 70 people. 70 PEOPLE.
I do my new DNA material by request as my husband’s Scottish mate Iain wants to laugh at my husband (who it’s about). He does and it goes relatively well. I get an extra cheer at the end for telling people it’s my first Fringe. Look – while it’s true, I’ll abuse it.
It’s a mixed night. Njambi’s still finding her feet with the crowd work, she’s got 3 shows going this year. A lot of comics seem to have this guest spot thing going on. A great idea to multi-feature in the Festival Programme. Which, if you’ve not seen it, is bigger and heavier than Arthur’s Friggin Seat.
Gig No: 44 (Edinburgh gig 2)
Where? Daylight Robbery, Dublin Street.
Why? I had a tip off and begged.
Who Held My Hand? No one. Last minute gig.
What Happened? I did 10 minutes of material about DNA and Uniform Dating to 6 people, none of whom would look me in the face.
Yet another gig in a dungeon. This time, a Game of Thrones Themed dungeon. Surely the Scottish are the last people who need to know winter is coming?
This was a late Facebook tip off to contact a man called Adam Money who may have some gigs. He gets in touch last minute the day after my first gig. He’s a comic short, can I make it across Edinburgh for a 10 spot in a themed dungeon that has no guarantee of an audience?
Sounds like every other gig I’ve ever done.
Adam is plain speaking, easy going and massively funny in front of the 6 people present. It’s not the easiest of venues. The Game of Thrones theme tune plays loudly and punters are distracted by large screens that project far more interesting material than anything I’ve got to offer. But Mr Money is upbeat and hardy, he exudes WTF from every pore and it’s infectious.
I meet a nice Scouse comic I like instantly called Joey Cannon. He is great at chatting to the audience and sounding unrehearsed, he makes it sound easy. I follow him, nicely optimistic and confident and UTTERLY DIE ON MY ARSE. I actually embarrass 8 people in a dungeon SO MUCH, they can’t look at me.
I spend the bus journey home trying to give birth to dragons and turn back time with the power of my mind.
Gig No: 45 (Edinburgh gig 3)
Where? Daylight Robbery, Dublin Street. Again.
Why? Coz I’m THAT stupid.
Who Held My Hand? HAHAHAHAHA
What Happened? I haven’t birthed any dragons but I figure the only way to make a handful of people less awkward in small space with a female comic they don’t know or care about in any way is to address the horror directly.
This forces me to actually do crowd work, to actually talk to the people there – all 8 of them – and acknowledge what we’re doing: sitting in a dark basement together doing none of the nice things that other people are doing elsewhere in the building which is just weird. Turns out Fringe audiences like being talked to. They don’t like the smell of rehearsed material, it’s odd, forced, synthetic and they get squirmy.
I go for my newish Russian Headline: ‘Fat Women from Manchester Turning Men Gay’ set. I like this material, it’s hard-edged. It also allows me to say I’m from Liverpool and banter about accents. I manage to talk to 3 of the 6 people. They look at me mostly throughout and I even have a flirty-but-wrong chat with a woman and her son. I’m not Dara O’Briain but no one dies.
Gig No: 46 (Edinburgh gig 4)
Where? Pick of the Fringe, Cabaret Voltaire.
Why? I begged a man in Brighton.
Who Held My Hand? Did this alone.
What Happened? Little Miss Naivety didn’t realise the man called Alex Petty she met at her one and only gig in Brighton actually invented the Free Fringe in Edinburgh. Alex Petty is MR FREE FRINGE. And after pestering him with emails throughout June and July (he did say I could) he gave me 2 precious spots of 7 minutes each. If I’d know who he was I probably would have left him alone.
I turn up to my first and watch AGOG (first time I’ve EVER used that word) as 100 people queue up to see it. Pick of the Fringe gigs are popular as they’re free and people can shop around for comedy shows by getting a taster of a few comedians. There is nothing WORSE than showing up for an hour’s comedy gig and it’s shite. That hour can last your WHOLE LIFE. Ask 6 people who did just that in a basement North of the Wall the night before last.
I am SICK with nerves. Actually trembling. I decide on tried and tested Uniform dating and Mr Men material and it works nicely thank you. A girl in the front row (who I want to marry) is doubled over with laughter. I think she is drunk. It’s 4pm and that’s quite usual at the Fringe. I am quick to tell everyone it’s my first Fringe so I get my extra cheer at the end and finish with a new line about female comedians:
“I think we’ve all done very well. I know when they bring a woman on, there’s a shift in the room. You all get a bit frustrated, a bit suspicious coz the sexual tension goes through the roof. I’ve handled it well coz I’m a professional. You (pointing to front row girl) have been a nightmare but on the whole, you’ve kept it back and allowed me to do my job.”
A great finish and a ‘well done’ by the MC. And she’s back on track…
Gig No: 47. (Edinburgh gig 5)
Where? Nasty Women on the Fringe, The Newsroom
Why? A tip off and begging.
Who Held My Hand? I go it alone but the wife of a friend turns up with about 8 slightly underage teenagers. (It’s an over 18 show). Oops.
What Happened? I meet one of the most talented women I’ve even seen in Hannan Sedih who wears a Cookie Monster sweater, looks ridiculously young, plays the ukulele and sings reeeeally funny dark songs in a voice like Bjork. She is incredible. I’m in love.
The sound in the venue is awesome, you just can’t touch the mic as the connection is faulty so it’s my first gig static at the stand. But it makes me concentrate on using my voice and, apart from leaving the mic for one bit in order to get close to an audience member, I enjoy the sound I make. It’s also a raised stage which instantly gives me free staus. Afterwards Hannan says she loves my voice. I blush like a teen.
The night is hosted by the formidable Sajeela Kershi and is full of women obvs. I’m on after Spring Day who I saw finalise at King Gong once and is superb. Aside from one girl who insists on talking about pots and pans, the subject matter is strong and feminist. I stick to my Russian Headline stuff as it’s ballsy.
As I come off, Sajeela says nice things about me to the audience, praising my voice and asking what I’ve done before turning to comedy. “I’m a RADA-trained actress” I declare to the room and then wish I was dead.
Gig No: 48. (Edinburgh Gig 6)
Where? Pick of the Fringe, Cabaret Voitaire.
Why? As before.
Who Held My Hand? My friend, whose wife came yesterday with her students, popped along.
What Happened? I’m not shit but I’m nervous and I let 100 people smell my fear. Euww.
Again, this well known compilation show is packed out. A smattering of comics hang round the 3 downstairs venues, looking anxious, distracted, eyes everywhere – a look I’m starting to duplicate.
I’m not abysmal but I overrun by 8 minutes. The MC tells me afterwards. I did 15 minutes instead of 7. I feel bad. I use the same material as last night, Russian Fat Woman Headline but add some Scouser in Paris stuff too. Bad decision. I let the nerves make me flabby. There’s also no raised stage here so no instant status over the sea of heads.
I also realise Compilation shows are largely for comedians to push their solo shows and I don’t have one so I invent a new line at the end: “I’ve no show but I’m bringing one next year so remember this FACE as my FLYER.”
And leave fast.
Afterwards, my friend says: “well done, you should keep doing it” but doesn’t enthuse beyond that, adding that it’s been 15 years since his wife saw stand-up and that she said it’s likely to be 15 more after last night. I decide not to fire-bomb their house. They’ve got a son.
Gig No: 49 (Edinburgh gig 7)
Where? Mockingbird, miles up some road.
Why? Last minute offer from Kaviraj Appadoo.
Who Held My Hand? No one but lots of familiar faces.
What Happened? To be honest, I smash this one. It’s to 6 people and as many comics but A SMASH IS A SMASH. PEOPLE.
The ubiquitous Kavi has only just arrived in Edinburgh and is already dealing gigs. I snatch one up, having lost a handful when some guy gets his venue double booked and can’t quite recover.
Despite walking 500 miles back and forth across Edinburgh to get to all these gigs, and this one is practically in GLASGOW, it’s unexpectedly worth it. Kavi is filling a last minute cancellation and the 6 audience members who’ve turned up don’t mind. Feeling cavalier on gin, I ask one of them to choose what I should talk about: Uniform Dating, DNA or The Magical Powers of the Northern Woman. She chooses the latter so I do Russian Headline News in front of a small collection of fellow comedians, including Patrick McCabe, a guy I saw in London who is funny and different, in a tiny wee attic room.
For some reason, I am the Lord of all Confidence and have a blast with the small audience, saying all this shit as if it’s the first time.
It goes down a treat. Kavi says he’s not seen me for ages and my crowd work has improved. Patrick McCabe is really nice. It may not sound much but this is a group of cool male comics in a very exposed venue. More than one of them dies, one horribly and I more than hold my own. I don’t revel in this. One bit.
Gig No: 50. (Edinburgh gig 8) MAY I DRAW YOUR ATTENTION TO THIS MINI MILESTONE HERE AS I HAVE NOW DONE 50 GIGS – HUZZAH!!!
Where? Njambi McGrath & Guests @ City Cafe, Blair Street.
Why? Thanks again, Pauling Eyre.
Who Held My Hand? Desiree Burch, My Wino Director Friend and two of her mates.
What Happened? Yep. I wasn’t great. I am literally on a Scottish See-Saw of good-shit-ok-crap-great-kill yourself.
A reminder, this gig is at 12.45pm. The audience has thinned out considerably for this slot and Njambi is struggling to fill her rather large space. I mistakenly decide to let the audience chose my material again and a man called Brian chooses DNA which is great but I haven’t run through it in a while. Fucking Brian.
It’s not a laugh-a-minute set but it’s received with smiles, especially from some very posh private school teenagers on the front row who’ve had a bad time of it so far due to the sheer fact that they are what they are.
Desiree Burch is becoming a name and rightly so, her current show, directed by my Wino Director Mate, Unf*ckable, is excellent and I am in awe. It’s a shame she doesn’t see a blinding set but apparently she tells my mate that “a woman over 30 doing science stuff is good.” Over 30. Bless her.
Gig No: 51. (Edinburgh gig 9)
Where? The Breakup Monologues at The Counting House
Why? I saw a Facebook ad a while ago asking for breakup stories involving modern media. I answered it and heard nothing. Then I get a text saying would I like to be interviewed first thing in the morning about my story. It takes me a while to remember what the feck I said.
Who Held My Hand? Carlsberg.
What Happened? I have a few things to consider: this story involves my husband. Will I make my next gig in time and should I drink to give me confidence?
I decide not to tell him, yes I can and OBVS.
Beforehand, I pick up some flyers for the 2nd gig to earn my spot. Both gigs amazingly are down the road from each other so I stand on the cross roads, assaulting people with the usual mantra: “Fancy some laughs just down the road? Thank you anyway.” I am targeting older couples as this flyer has pictures of Werther’s Originals on it. Yes, I have been booked for a MIDDLE-AGED stand-up night. Coz I am waaaaaay over 30.
As anyone who has ever flyered will know, no amount of money is enough and I’m not being paid. I can flyer brilliantly when in the mood. I am not in the mood. After getting a “NO” from one man, I shout: “Rude!” It’s stolen from Miranda and harmless enough but he goes MENTAL. I find out later I’m supposed to have handed out Werther’s Originals with each flyer. Just think, I could have shoved one down his throat and choked him to death. It shouldn’t be my most missed Festival opportunity…
Then it’s time to be interviewed in front of a live audience. This is as glamorous as this years festival is going to get. And yes, I am calling this a gig or I will only have done 9 instead of 10 which sounds better.
I take my Edinburgh morning friend, Carlsberg, into the smallest room I’ve been in so far but it’s bulging with audience and with Rosie Wilby, an award-winning Radio 4 comic and author, whose show this is. She is lovely, comfortable in front of an audience and great at interviewing. I use my Uniform Dating material like I’m making it up on the spot. Shut up, they do it on Mock the Week, it’s allowed. Despite all 45 audience members looking at me like: “Who the hell is she, we thought there’d be famous people” I make them laugh and Rosie lets me go to me next gig when I’m done.
Gig No: 52. (Edinburgh gig 10)
Where? Laugh Begins at 40 at The Southsider.
Why? A lovely lady answered my begging email.
Who Held My Hand? No one even gave me a sweet.
What Happened? I am destined to finish my Fringe on a bit of a whimper. And lo and behold…
Behind a curtain in quite a busy pub is a small, long empty room. My hopes aren’t high but about 5 minutes before we start, a million old people turn up. The MC is lovely, in fact the 3 people behind this gig are really nice. The problem with old people is they’re a bit discerning about what they’ll laugh at, especially when they’re white and middle class and you do DNA jokes about maybe finding out you’re a bit foreign.
The guy before me is a Jewish club comic who is really funny and raises the atmosphere loads. Then I come on and scare them. One man to my right just stares at me with dead eyes. For a second, I think it’s the man I flyered come to kill me with his MIND. I battle through 5 minutes of amiable science which mostly goes over people’s heads, trip over 2 chairs on the way off and sit down on a box of Werther’s Originals. Oh THERE they are.
Afterwards, I stand by one of the better acts, trying to catch some of her glory as it bounces off. The dead-eyed man comes up to me. “That was great,” he says. “You were really funny.”
My train is 12pm on Monday. The couple I’m saying with have bought a 9 weeks old kitten. The night before I leave Edinburgh, it has a fit of sheer terror in the kitchen, squeals like it’s going to burst before shuddering violently then doing the smallest poo ever. It is a perfect analogy of my first Fringe as a Stand-up Comedian.