FEATURE: Reflections Of An Edinburgh Fringe First Timer by Julian Lee | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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If you know any comedians you will have seen countless reflections on social media over the last few days. The Fringe, by its very nature, being so physically, emotionally and creatively exhausting, lends itself to this. It may be the largest Arts Festival in the world but it is also a gruelling unforgiving endurance challenge that stretches you as an individual. Or as you might more accurately call it, A Really Expensive Vanity Project. All vanity projects need a conclusion and that’s why we stand-ups feel so drawn to them.

I had previously been to the Fringe in 2015 and 2017 (fact fans may like to know that I had also planned to go in 2016 but I missed it as I ended up in hospital due to a heart condition) but these had been for 2-3 days at a time and while I thought they had prepared me for the ‘Fringe Experience’ they most definitely had not. So this was my first ever ‘full run’. Foolishly, I did not choose the usual option of first timers, the two or three hander with other comics you know, so you not only have less material to write but you have the comfort and support of those sharing the show with you. No, I decided not only to do a 50 minute long solo show, Jokebox, but to also book, run and MC a second compilation show, Delegation. With hindsight, I would not have taken on Delegation. Apart from the extra stress it created and less time to switch off, essential if you are to survive the Fringe, it also meant less time to do guest slots. You’ll hear a lot of talk about flyering, posters, social media, word of mouth etc. being the best way to advertise your show, and all of them have their merits, but I think you cannot overlook the right guest slot to get people into your show. For example, on one day alone I had four in from a guest slot I did at The One Liner Show the day before, a very successful show run by one of the nicest guys you’ll meet at the Fringe, Masai Graham.

Yes, yes, so you did something a bit selfish that was way harder than you thought. Do you want our sympathy? No-one made you do it. Which is a fair point. However, in my defence, there is something irresistibly seductive about the Fringe to a stand-up comedian. If you’re not there it always seems that everyone there is having a great time and smashing gig after gig. Or they’re drinking shots with some TV comic you saw on Apollo just the other day. Or even worse (we’re basically all bitter and petty people) someone you think is not as good as you is getting 4 and 5 star reviews. Surely not them. So you feel you have to go to be able to move to the next level, or to make sure you swap tequilas with someone who was once on Mock The Week, or, to get your overdue 5 star review from Chortle and The Scotsman. There’s a Catch 22 feel to going or not going which is the eternal dilemma of the Fringe.

It may be the largest Arts Festival in the world but it is also a gruelling unforgiving endurance challenge that stretches you as an individual. Or as you might more accurately call it, A Really Expensive Vanity Project

Amid the undulating hills that are your highs and lows, there will always be a couple of things that stand out and you will never forget. For me, the late night gig I did to a crowd of predominantly under 25s at a night called A.C.I.D. (the A and C stood for alternative comedy, not entirely sure what the I and the D stood for) was the closest I’ll ever get to embracing the anarchic spirit that maybe the festival delivers less and less as it becomes bigger and bigger. I stood there, prepared for the biggest death of my comedy career, but then thought…well, you can guess what I thought (it begins with F and an I), and just went for it. And they loved it. What a great feeling! I also loved the fact that the show I’d ‘patched’ together, Jokebox, hoping I could get away with it, was actually an entertaining and funny show. Yes, it could’ve done with some tighter editing but all in all it went down well and audiences on the whole really enjoyed it. MC-ing the Best Of English Comedian Of The Year was also a high point and will look great on the old Comedy CV.

Just to prove I can represent balance, kind of, the lowest points were, in no particular order, the first Friday when I only had three in for Jokebox, after a good day the day before, and found out my flyer people were taking liberties. The late night compilation show I did, my actual sixth performance of the day, more than 12 hours after the first, when I may have been a tad curt with a female member of the audience for talking during my set, which made the rest of the audience hate me for the remainder. And a big ‘thank you’ to the Glaswegian lass who, when I was attempting a music related gag where I have to sing, one that I’ve bottled doing for the last five years but finally plucked up the courage, decided to join in with the singing thinking it was some kind of karaoke, therefore not allowing me to finish the gag. Thanks pet.

By the way, NARC. asked me to write a reflection of the Fringe after reading my daily posts on Facebook, which I started just for my own entertainment, as an honest but light-hearted summary. This piece may have been far from light-hearted, so apologies for that. However, just for the record, here is a statistical summary of my Fringe:

Shows: 41 (21 of Jokebox, 20 of Delegation – we had to pull one as no-one showed up)

Total attendance: 231 at Jokebox, 282 at Delegation (Before the Fringe I was talking to a more experienced ‘Fringer’ than me and when I said, “If I can get an average of double figures for my show I’d be delighted.” He told me that I would have every right to be delighted as the average Free Fringe audience was four per day. Well Jokebox averaged 11 per day – colour me delighted)

Guest slots: 46 (these range from five minute slots to being on stage for the whole time at quiz/panel shows or to MC-ing other gigs). To everyone who gave me a slot I say ‘cheers’

Shows I went to see: 11. The best one was Scott Bennett. If you get the chance to see him then I urge you to go

Most pretentious thing I heard: “Did I tell you I went to a Dostoevsky themed acrobatic show?”

I also set myself a target of 500,000 steps during the Fringe, which I achieved. Okay, I may have done three and a half laps of the local village on the last night and then walked in a zig zag manner back to my digs to finally achieve this, but achieve it I did. Wow, you must have lost loads of weight after achieving that? I lost two flippin’ pounds. Half a million steps and I only lose two pounds.

So will I be taking a show up next year? No, I don’t think so. Too exhausting and too selfish, if I’m honest. On the other hand, however, I do have an idea for three shows that I think will work…

For those wishing to take the plunge next year, here are my Edinburgh Fringe recommendations:

* Treat yourself to a breakfast at The City Cafe. You won’t regret it.

* Believe it or not I found a smoothie place I liked. Morning Glory was my choice of smoothie, Frisky the name of the shop, just along from the George IV Bridge.

* Eat at BRGR – cheap burgers and a bloody lovely Oreo milkshake. On South Bridge.

* Look up now and then. Edinburgh is such a grand city with buildings galore that take your breath away.With the beach and hills only about two miles away in various directions don’t be afraid to take a little trip out of the city centre.

* See as many shows as you can. There are hundreds and hundreds to choose from.

* Find a nice coffee place that you can sit down and switch off in. Alternatively find a bench or a park or a nice little spot where you can have a bit of a ponder.

* Try and pair up with someone and meet up for a chat/coffee/pint every other day.

* Data coverage is awful in Edinburgh and the venues’ wi-fi is not much better. I may have blamed Kevin Bacon’s network for my awful coverage but if I’m honest I think all networks suffer. I know that’s not a recommendation but it is a very important point.

Julian Lee hosts Red Raw at The Stand, Newcastle on Wednesday 12th September.

Julian Lee _ LIVE at Hot Water Comedy Club from Julian Lee on Vimeo.

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