Letters To A Young Comedian

Monday 8 August 2005, The Stage

It is at this time every year that I like to play the game Numbering The Geniuses. It’s a pastime for anyone who knows how to read and count. Simply take the fringe brochure and go through all the entries in the comedy section noting down the acts that are described as ‘genius’.

The result is always impressive, given the supposed rarity of genius. In 2003 there were 12 geniuses touting their gags in Edinburgh while this year there are only seven. Of these, Roddy Fraser, Omid Djalili, Dave Skinner and Phil Nichol come under the category of “comic [or comedy] genius” while Janey Godley gets a more qualified and therefore modest “storytelling genius”.

I’m not dissing these acts, they are merely quoting what some journalist has written about them. I would point out though that surely one requirement of being a genius is originality and being a genius at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is not very original at all.

My award for Genius Of All Geniuses 2005 does not go to any of the above performers but to a man whose talent is so immense that he neither writes nor performs. He is a director and it is therefore probable that he himself wrote the fringe programme entry to the show in which his genius is proclaimed. It seems likely that Cal McCrystal has chosen to call himself a comedy genius.

Can this be? A quick Google throws up evidence. Here is McCrystal in 2001: “I’d like to do something at the National Theatre. I think it’s their job to give me a job.” He diagnoses in the same piece why a particular clown troupe failed on TV: “I wasn’t directing them. I know how to do it. I’ve worked on TV a lot. There’s nobody else with this level of experience.” Gosh. I wonder how such a wunderkind works? I Google on and find that he has directed Alan Bennett’s beautiful, funny play Kafka’s Dick where, “with an arrogance bordering on recklessness director Cal McCrystal has rewritten the beginning and the end of the piece”. I don’t know if McCrystal is a genius but he has made me laugh and I haven’t even arrived in Edinburgh yet.

So too has a comedian called Tony Litter who advises in his blurb: “If you’re looking for political correctness you’ve come to the wrong place.” I’m intrigued by this imaginary creature who is walking around going into rooms looking for political correctness.

And when I arrive in the city and smell again those hoppy wafts I shall find, I expect, more laughs. I saw the people on BBC2’s Late Review siding with Annie Griffin who has apparently made a film which makes you hate the Edinburgh festival.

Bollocks to them all. They are of course currently in Umbria, reading their friends’ novels and getting maudlin on expensive red wine. Let them stay there. It’s too hot and a surfeit of renaissance can make you sick.

No, it’s August so I’m heading north to the city of ideas where you turn another corner and there is yet another genius.

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