Reviewers are both the scourge and the salvation of comedians in Edinburgh. A single blessed five star review can catapult a budding gagster from being an empty-room nobody to being an overnight sensation. A bad report on a comedian's show can reduce his bank balance to zero and his credibility lower. The schadenfreude of your fellow performers is palpable when your career heads south and a seemingly happy community pick on the wounded like vultures on a desert road.
I chose not to list myself in the Fringe Programme this year and didn't even send out a press release to the suggested media regarding my appearance in Auld Reekie for this latest three-week marathon. The result? I haven't had a single reviewer in, half of my fellow comedians don't even know I'm here and I'm having a ball. Why? I'm relaxed. I'm safe in the knowledge that an undergraduate on work experience isn't in a position to make or break my summer. This is the problem with the reviewing system. Everyone listed in the Fringe Programme HAS to be reviewed by three or four publications. There are so MANY shows that this means the usual/experienced/knowledgeable guys are few and far between and the workload is farmed out to pretty much anyone with a pen who is prepared to sit and watch eight shows per day for a fortnight. Some are obviously very good but most are at best "hack". This mirrors the huge amount of comedians currently up here. A good ninety per cent probably shouldn't be for one reason or another. They however have taken their own risks and deserve to be masters of their own destiny. They're not though. They are beholden to the (unlikely) situation where someone will come to their show and give it an honest opinion. This year's batch of scribblers have two basic styles:
1. Completely destroy a comedian for being useles for eighty per cent of a review but then explain why they personally think said comedian is brilliant and give them four stars.
2. Completely hero-worship a comedian for eighty per cent of a review but then say they are rubbish and give them two stars.
This is no different from the plethora of new comedians who all feel the need to do a paedophile joke, a "ginger" joke, a midget joke, use the word "rapey" at some point in their act and refer to THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE SAID AS "The 'C' Bomb". The difference however is that these guys only have an effect on the audience in front of them, not a potentially paying public who do not yet know them. Our nascent reviewers are unleashed on the internet with only a modicum of experience yet can easily be put in charge of covering a comedian who may have (in my case) twenty years of experience.
Never mind the obvious age/culture gap, there's also something a little disrespectful (I feel) in getting a boy to judge a man's work. If this is over-simplified, a football analogy will ram the point home. The job of the England football manager is perhaps the most demanding in the modern game and is entrusted after great deliberation to the man most suited for the job, in the eyes of the F.A. This man, along with his advisors, picks the eleven players that he thinks will best represent the nation and are most likely to achieve success. What would we all think if the job was given to someone without any knowledge of the modern game and who had never kicked a ball in his life? We wouldn't be happy if it even went to any old professional manager. We would want the best. Don't our most talented performers deserve a similar respect? It doesn't take much internet research to discover that this Summer has already seen some established and even famous acts get utterly slated by reviewers who aren't really fit to lick their boots.
Anyway, gripe over. Now the good stuff. The other night I saw Hattie Hayridge in the GB loft bar. This was after a brief meeting with a hero of mine, Graham Fellows (He of 'John Shuttleworth' and more pertinent to me 'Jilted John' fame). THIS was after a return visit to 'Trattoria Italiana', a fantastic little restaurant on Buccleuch Street (just round the corner from my house) that somehow seems to survive with a single chef and a single waitress. The chef is called Salvo and a first impression of the man is that you can trust him with your food. Both of my visits there this year have featured the same conversation
Salvo: Hell my friend - table for three?
Me: Yes please
S: You want something to drink? Red wine?
Me: yes please
S: I bring you something nice. You want a starter? Bruschetta?
Me: Bruschetta would be great
S: How about for a main course?
Me: Bring me something you like to cook
S: I bring you something nice
One hour later I am drunk on fantastic wine and full of fantastic food, I'm drinking espresso and waiting for a bill that, when it emerges, is laughably small. The waitress has left and now it's just my table of friends and Salvo. Let me know when this gets boring because I want to go there every day.
Anyway, sorry about that. Hattie and I are old friends and as we chatted one of her older friends came over. Namely, Alan Davies. I've only met Alan a couple of times in twetny years and he barely recognised me but was civil nonetheless and we soon found common ground in football and a couple of other ex-circuit comedians. Alan of course has even older friends and it wasn't long before we were briefly joined by Lorraine Chase. You're going to have to look all these people up if their names aren't immediately familiar to you but suffice to say I was pleased as punch to meet her and what a lovely woman! Before you ask - no I did NOT ask any of them to 'Do The Tull'.
They melted off into the night like true professionals and I hung about with the rest of the bloody amateurs until God Only Knows what time in the morning. It was light anyway and I'd managed to agree to let a comedian called John Smith stay overnight on my couch (in exchange for him buying the beers - I'm resourceful when I'm broke). He was supposed to be staying with Lewis Schaeffer but Lewis had allegedly been kicked out of his flat. I am yet to find whether this was true or the reasons why. John proved to be an excellent companion and unlike my mate Steve didn't snore. The lack of sleep didn't make for a good time on Wednesday morning though and I'm afraid I was a little below par at both my shows that day.
The reason for me staying out that late was that Whitney (my flatmate) had his girlfriend Liz arrive at about half past ten at night. Wanting to give them some privacy and a chance to 'catch up', I stayed out of the flat until around 5.30am. When John and I eventually careered in, it was to an empty residence. They out-partied us by two hours, eventually rolling in at around 7am giggling and guffawing. My misplaced consideration had cost me around five hour's sleep, although I DID meet Lorraine Chase, who I believe may ACTUALLY have flown in from paradise.
I'll tell you about pretending to be called 'Richard' and gatecrashing a festival show in the next blog, which will also feature the delightful Anna Keirle, a ridiculous conversation with Brendon Burns and (hopefully) a couple of photos to brighten the place up a bit. Oh and my friend Harriet is coming up to stay tomorrow - she once went from entertaining the great unwashed in a Greek bar to becoming a full-time beekeeper in the Corfu interior within a fortnight. My agent Joss wants to have a conversation with her because she too wants to keep bees. I'm not sure how this is going to help my "career" but she delighted in telling me in Trattoria Italiana the other night. Her daughter is furious. She knows there ain't no money in honey. Maybe I'll get a five star review and everything will be all right.