Monday, August 29, 2011

And then the last days

Here I am, back in London. As always, the end of a Fringe run leaves you with a feeling of emptiness, but I'm also very happy about the experience. The last three days have been very good, with audiences that really seemed to love the show. On Saturday we did the recording, my performance was a bit more nervous and imprecise than what had become the usual of late, but I got some big laughs. Yesterday before the show I had the feeling that it was probably a day too many, but the show itself went very well, it was a good way to finish. I think this year I learned a lot, in particular I developed my performance skills, becoming much more relaxed, free-form and interactive. I know recognise that the reviewer who last year described my performance as "stiff" might have had a point. Challenging yourself is a matter of balance, too little and you learn nothing, too much and you learn nothing either since you're too terrified to experiment. Last year I never felt free to try new things, which instead is something I did in abundance this year. And I was quite stimulated in terms of the writing too, in fact my set at the end was five minutes longer than it was when we started. Not forgetting that I really liked performing with Alice and Cecilia, who also really did very well. Yesterday Alice was suggesting the possibility of doing a London "postview", so maybe we'll do the show once more, but to be honest I think we all feel much stronger and ready for new challenges. My own challenge will be to try to transfer as much as I can of my newly found performing confidence to my next one hour show. For what the writing is concerned, I have a lot of ideas buzzing in my mind, I'll start trying them out as soon as I have a chance. And for all of this I need to thank again the fantastic audicence we had in the course this month, even when the numbers were small they were always ready to laugh heartly and to love this show. I love you too.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Strange days

Indeed they have been strange days. After two weeks of almost constant good audiences we have been hit by abysmal numbers, mainly due to the fact that we had finished the flyers. Yesterday we decided not to flyer at all in order to save the few remaining flyers for Saturday, when we'll record the show. As a result we had five people in, so today we decided that flyering was essential and we got 1,000 more printed at an extortionate price. I did a hour of flyering and the other two did the same, so we were quite shocked when only a couple turned up for the show. We were telling them that we were going to cancel when the Waitress arrived. I talked about her on Facebook, normally this blog is all about comedy, there is no reference to my "private life". Thinking better, this also happens to be true for my comedy. During this festival I had some emotional "turbulences" and, for the first time, I included some references to them into my set. I realized with surprise that this was an absolute first and how "disembodied" my comedy had been so far. I don't think I'm going to turn into a confessional comedian, but there is probably room for talking a bit more about what makes me happy or makes me suffer, beside what tickles my cerebral cortex. Moreover, it's very difficult to keep comedy and private life separate when you have only three audience members, one of which had been the subject of some semi-serious romantic fantasizing over quite a long string of traditional Scottish breakfasts. So we decided to do the show anyway, in my case mainly because I didn't want to disappoint her. She seemed to enjoy it and we had an absolutely lovely chat over drinks and a long walk to her bus stop, but she didn't want to come to dinner or to another show. To make things more complicate, I had started thinking and writing about her mainly as a potential source of comic material, intrigued by the idea of a "love story" where everything happens within the strict limits of an exchange of orders and food between a client and a waitress on one side and within the much less strict limits of the client's imagination on the other. The fact that she really came to see my show and that we went for a drink for me was already a cross-over between fantasy and reality almost as surprising as the one in "The purple rose of Cairo", if you have seen the film. Have the walls started to crumble? Is it life that is trying to get into my comedy? Or is it the other way round? I have done quite a lot of comedy this month, I'm afraid that "doing" a bit of life too will be the only way to find out.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Mid run blues

The delay in my upddates reflects the feeling that the last few days have been quite uneventful. When you do a long run the mid of it is probably the most difficult moment. You don't have the eagerness (and the fear) of the start nor the energy rush of the last days. The show is in its shape and although it can still get better the biggest improvements have probably already been achieved. What else can we get from this show? A second review would be nice, but free collective shows are probably at the bottom of every critic's pile. And Saturday we're going to record the show so a good recording would be nice too. And I need to remember that every audience members sees us for the first time, there is no mid run blues for them. I'll try to feed on that thought.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

A day with a sold out!

Apparently the God of the Fringe is listening to my prayers. I was hoping for a lesson on how to deal with a much bigger than expected audience and, hey presto, we had just that today. The content of the lesson, however, was a bit disappointing: apparently all you have to do is standing outside of the door during your show partners performance while turning people away, which of course was heart-breaking. I hope some of them will try again tomorrow, but doing my set in front of a packed and very reactive (although, thankfully, not in hacklery kind of way) Saturday audience was just great. They welcomed every single joke with big, warm, understanding laughs (yes, not just the pissed kind of laughs: I know what you were thinking) and they were very generous at the end with their applause, compliments and money. Yes, just great.

A day when nothing special happened (all details below)

Yesterday I felt highly energetic all day, maybe because it wasn't raining. I'm starting to think that the mood boost offered by the weather conditions is all relative: a covered day without rain in Edinburgh gives you the same boost as a sunny day in London or a pleasantly breezy day in Italy. I did a lot of flyering and at the end I was a bit disappointed by the audience size, but they were very appreciating and we had a good gig. Our performances seem to have become constantly good.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A day with a good audience and a relatively good review

My blog posts seem be to like our show, at least according to the review we got from ThreeWeeks: the title says it all. Yes, I know what you want to know: it's a three stars. As I said, it's relatively good one: Cecilia treats the audience with "some beautifully quaint and charming acoustic music", Alice is "exuberant and perfectly pitch" and my "academic" investigation into language is "at times fascinating". That's all I got: five words. And I find really strange that, out of the three of us, I was the one to get the adjective "fascinating". But we can't complain too much and the review refers to the second performance, while the show is much better now. And yesterday we had a very good audience in terms of size, at the beginning it was a bit silent but we managed to win them over at the end. Onwards and upwards.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A day of tiredness, rain and small audience

That was yesterday, I was even too tired to update the blog. Today instead I feel tired, it rains but I haven't done the show yet. It was such a change from the previous day. Probably the main difference it's that the rain didn't allow us to do proper flyering (which doesn't bode well for today). The title is really working, normally I get a big laugh with just repeating it, with 9 people out of ten thinking that they can be really original and witty by adding "You are the one from Slough, aren't you?". Sometimes it goes so well that I feel entitled to add: "If you are laughing so much now, think how much you would laugh at the proper show!". But all that is not possible when it's raining so we had six people plus my friend Adrian, who will never believe that I had a full house just the night before. He is here to share the flat with us for a week and I'm very happy about it, one of the reasons being that he was him who made me discover the Fringe (back then as a member of the audience and not particularly interested in comedy) five years ago. Considering that I was feeling tired and that I often don't deal well with small audiences I was really worried about my performance, but at the end I was happy about it. There was a moment when I let the show develop into a little discussion with the audience and it felt quite fresh and Fringy, if you know what I mean. Adrian found that I looked a bit pissed off about the audience size, but I was reactive and present and there was nothing of the "depressive" reaction I had on the first night so overall I thought it was a huge improvement. Can we move to the next lesson, Mr.Fringe? Maybe how to deal with an audience much bigger than than what you were expecting?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Two (days) for one (blog entry)

I know, yesterday I didn't update my blog, but the latest two days have been two tickets for one in the paid for venues so here is a two-for-one blog entry. Actually that was a concern in my mind as somebody running a free show. If you had a week or less at the Fringe, would you choose to see a free show, that is always free, over the rare opportunity of a two-for-one offer? Maybe you didn't think of it, which is exactly the reason why I'm mentioning that offer only now that is finished. It's all fine and dandy to bare my heart in this blog, but I need to ask myself: how is what I'm saying going to affect the show? Focused, I need to keep focused! Ok, now I'm exaggerating, but at least you understand how you feel when you are promoting a show at the Fringe. Fortunately that worry seemed to be unjustified, since we have a very good audience yesterday and a great audience today, with big laughs all the way through. Today at the exit a promoter from Wales asked me for my details, it was that kind of good. It was the "I wish there was a reviewer in the audience" kind of good (no, that review hasn't been published yet). It's my first year in Edinburgh when I don't have the impression of going in circles but I can see my performances going steadily better every time. It's too early to say that it's my best year, after all I can still break a leg due to the unlucky combination of well wishing friends plus a God that doesn't understand the concept of metaphor, but I can easily say that it's the best first week I ever had.

Monday, August 8, 2011

An (almost) perfect day

Was it really four days ago that we started the show in front of two people? Today I had to move twice to make room for more and more audience members. At one point Alice looked me and asked: "How did that happen?". You never really now, but it was probably a combination of the rain, the cumulative effect of the heavy flyering in the past three days, the festival getting into his full throttle and maybe a bit of word of mouth. And we didn't waste this opportunity, we had a very rewarding show. The day hadn't started that well for me. While having breakfast in a café I had bumped into a German comedian friend of Alice who had come to see us the night before, somebody who never performed here but apparently is big in Germany. I made the worst possible error a performer can make: I asked him what he thought of my set. First he struggled to say anything at all, then he just said that my attitude was "too aggressive", while failing to say anything about my material apart from the truly deflating "you'll get better lines during the run". Now, a "normal" person in a "normal" situation would have probably forgot the remark, but there is nothing "normal" about the Fringe. It's such a demanding experience that your confidence is constantly exposed to anything that might even vaguely affect it. More than one person told me that there should be a counselling service for performers, and probably there is, but at least we comedians have a great advantage over other types of performers: we can say whatever we want on the stage and we can make a joke of whatever happens to us. This year I have decided that whatever affects me will find its way into the show, not only because it's best way to deal with it, but also because it's the best way to keep the show "true" to how I'm feeling in the moment. So I cracked the quite easy but at the end very effective line "I have been told that my stage attitude is too aggressive... by a German", got a big laugh and, with it, a fully restored confidence. With a big "Fragile" written across it, just in case.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A suitably manic day

Today we had the best show so far. The audience was decent in number and very nice, Cecilia and Alice were in great form and I found the right level of energy. I interacted a lot with the audience, got some big laughs and really enjoyed performing. Strangely enough I think I was helped by the crazy way I had spent the previous four and half hours: queueing to spend 5 minutes with a journalist from the Scotsman! It was in fact the day of Meet the Press I'm not exaggerating at all: I joined the queue outside Free Central at 1.30pm, when inside I joined the Scotsman queue straight away and I finally had my five minutes at 6pm! I was of course tired and angry of the total pointlessness of all this, but at another maybe slightly masochistic way I really enjoyed the experience. It's just amazing to see so many people, some in their scene costumes, spending so much time to have their chance to explain, for instance, that "Hitler - The Musical" was really a good idea (I didn't make it up, they were in front of me). It's a spectacle to behold, something like the canteen scene in Star Wars. And the atmosphere of camaraderie among the performers was really very nice. With the show starting at 6.30pm I had to rush to the venue straight after my five minutes of press attention, so I did the show and I then rushed to see another show straight afterwards (the always brilliant Alex Horne). As a result I had the first food of the day at 10pm, apart form a cappuccino and a croissant in the morning and an endless string of cokes while queueing (and while resisting to the temptation of the free beer offered by a sponsor, which I knew would not be good for my performance but which never the less contributed to the general gaiety of the situation). Now I will need to understand how to keep that energy, or summon it at will, without having to stand for four and half hours and getting high on sugar and caffeine every day for almost a month. Or maybe not.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Two shows and two reviewers in one day

Yesterday I was wishing for more energy and more pressure and today my wish was granted. First in the afternoon I took part to Ivor Dembina's "Desert island jokes", a panel show about comedians' favourite jokes and what makes them funny. It was a very enjoyable experience, I particularly like the way the audience were involved in the discussion. In the audience there was a reviewer from ThreeWeeks, although I wonder how you can review what was just a discussion. Then I did a lot of flyering, helped but the good weather. And it worked: the audience's size was much better than yesterday. And fortunately so, given that in the audience there was a (different) reviewer... from ThreeWeeks! Are they out to get me? Weird being seen twice in a day by the same the same pubblication. ThreeWeeks claims to review every single show, I have always been sceptical, especially since they failed to review me two years ago, but now I'm starting to believe in their claim. My performance was much more focused and energetic than yesterday's, although some of the jokes got a smaller response than expected. It was some sort of highly demanding, slightly jaded festival audience. Oddly enough, at some jokes the critic was the only one laughing. I hope it wasn't some sort of very highly sophisticated double bluff, but it was a much better evening than the one they came to review last year (and Cecilia and Alice were very good too), so the only way is up.

First show done

Here I am, using a brief insomniac moment at 4.52am to catch up with my "daily" blog. So, after a very pleasant day as a member of the audience we had our first show. During the day I did some flyering, but I had nothing of the manic energy filled by fear and desperation that last year propelled me around Edinburgh like a crazy bullet. On one hand I was happy to have a more relaxed experience, on the other I was missing that energy. But maybe the God of the Fringe is already at work to find a solution. In fact, we started the show with TWO audience members! During the course of the show it went to NINE, a massive 450% increase. Both Cecilia and Alice did a sterling job with the human material at hand, to the point that when it was my turn I commented that if the Hammersmith Apollo had the same ratio of hilarity per person the theatre would literately crumble... "take that, Michael McIntyre!". They were both confident and focused and I was really proud of them and of the role I played in putting the three of us together. Unfortunately when it was my turn I had a lacklustre performance. It was a bit of a surprise since I was coming from three very good London previews. But in London we had big audiences, which always gives me a great boost. It's not the first time tI notice that I'm not that good at facing a small audience. After having seen a healthy audience in the same room at 2.45pm (so, no excuse there) I was really disappointed to see that our was much smaller and I probably never recovered from that disappointment. There are also some changes I can do to the material, in particular I'm getting too early into the language stuff, so I should introduce myself a bit more. But I'm very happy that Cecilia and Alice were in top form and enjoyed their gig and I'm even more confident that we have a lot of potential this year. And after this experience I'm pretty sure that, from tomorrow, that manic energy will probably be back.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The quiet before whatever will come

Responding to great popular demand (thanks, Adrian) I'm resuming the daily schedule of this Edinburgh diary. Here I am, in the city itself. After an uneventful journey I arrived at Haymarket station, where my showmate (and now flatmate) Cecilia came to escort me to our new temporary home. The flat makes a huge difference from the cesspit where I stayed last year, it's bright and feels very clean and fresh. We soon went to check out the venue and to verify that the posters and fliers had arrived as promised. The confirmation that they did came as soon as we entered the venue, given that the staff recognised us from the posters. We had a look at the room itself and I found confirmed all the drawbacks I remembered from watching shows there, above all the passage to the kitchen and the ladies toilet. Somebody from the stuff told us not to "take the piss" out of the people going to the ladies, which given my interest in idioms gave me a lot to think about. We also went to Fringe Central, where I met the always supportive Ivor Dembina, the first familiar face I have seen this year. He very honestly agreed with my analysis that last here I overstretched myself and I'm grateful to him for this. I have now come to terms with that recognition and I'm really looking forward to a festival in which I can feel more confident and relaxed. Or at least this is how I was feeling until I saw a HUGE poster of Frisky and Mannish, a duo that shared with me the stage of the Hackney Empire final two years ago. Now, I don't know why that should impress me, they were already big back then and as a cabaret act they are not somebody I can feel in competition with. But I couldn't help thinking that they probably don't have the problem of their room being crossed by the passage to the ladies toilet. For a moment I thought of Edinburgh as some sort of school reunion, where it's almost impossible not to compare achievements, disappointments and belly sizes. But it was just a moment. This year I feel that I have my strongest set so far and that I can both enjoy myself and demonstrate something to the others. If that requires a bit of staff-disapproved piss taking... well, let it flow.