Letters To A Young Comedian

Monday 23 August 2004, The Stage

It is three o’clock in the afternoon and I am enjoying my first coffee of the day sitting outside a dour-looking church that is currently a venue presenting “an international celebration of dance and theatre”. It is August and I am, of course, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, although mysteriously the sun is shining.

It is very easy to feel old here, especially if you are old. Many of the earnest Scandinavians at neighbouring tables were not born when I first appeared on the Fringe. You can be cynical about their naive enthusiasm or you can be invigorated by it. When I arrived I felt jaded but now I have been here a few days I feel excited and energetic, the reverse process from my early visits here.

It is hard to believe that in 1977 there was no stand-up comedy at the festival. There were revues and comic plays of course but this was before the opening of the Comedy Store in London transformed what was then known as light entertainment.

There has just been a round of applause for some young Polish chap who is part of a show called Chronicles - A Lamentation. Having asked about it, I have now agreed to see a show of Swedish dancing.

Now there are nearly two million stand-up comics in the city and every room in town echoes with their tales of masturbation and farting. Every year commentators bemoan the plethora of comics and predict that the bubble will burst but I see no sign of it. Audiences in Edinburgh are more knowledgeable on the subject of stand-up than anywhere else and they turn up to watch it in ever-increasing numbers.

Yesterday I went to see Gavin and Gavin in Our Funny Bones, a double act comprising two bickering sisters who can do accents and dance but were principally put upon the earth to make people laugh. Too often I have seen female acts where the desire to get an Equity card seems to override the need to get laughs. Not for Gavin and Gavin who are natural comics - charming, scurrilous, sharp and with enough confidence to ad-lib their way into unexpected areas. Someone needs to give them a TV show I think.

After the Gavins I caught up with Mike McShane the Canadian comic and actor who was a stalwart of Whose Line is it Anyway? back in the days, when I used to watch it. He is the eponymous hero of Fatboy by John Clancy, a freewheeling gross-out attack on the US and its need to eat the world. Mike told me proudly that he used the word ‘cocksucker’ 86 times during the play - although the script is much wittier than this makes it sound.

And now it started raining and my second coffee is finished. Time for breakfast but first I have a date with some Swedish dancers. They are young and I must drink their blood to stay alive. A round of applause for summer, although it was rubbish. Let’s hope autumn does better.

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