It has now over two months since I finished my run at this years Edinburgh Festival and I have just about recovered enough to write about it, so here goes.
My show this year was called Sex, Drugs & Marriage. It was my attempt to tell the story of my life from the age of 15 to the present day. The reason I chose to go with this idea was because I started dating Ellen, an American Opera singer and as I was telling her the crazy stories from my life she suggested I put them in my Edinburgh show this year. I thought that it would make a change from just rehashing the same shit I’ve been peddling for quite a few years now so I went along with the concept.
Ellen had also saw some of my Nob Stewart videos from last years festival and said I would be better off just being myself and not hiding behind a character. I agreed with her on that one as being Nob for three whole weeks was more than enough for me to get that out my system, even though I did quite enjoy it at the time.
Ellen has performed in many high quality productions over the years so she encouraged me to write and prepare the show in good time this year, instead of doing my usual and panicking at the start of July because I have to perform an hour a day and still haven’t a clue what I will do.
So I went to work writing the show and she helped me in the editing process. I went through the material from a rough draft with no jokes, to the twelfth draft which was was about an hour and forty minutes long. I never managed to get it down to an exact script perfected set to be performed every night.
The reasons for this are because there are no comedy clubs in Turkey to try out any material and I know in myself that I don’t like to do the same script every night as I get bored saying the same thing and I believe the audience would pick up on that.
Now bearing in mind that I hadn’t been on stage since last years Edinburgh Festival you could say that performing an hours worth of mostly untried material every day for three weeks was a bit of a challenge.
Before the festival I was actually quite tense as I know how hard it is just to get people into the venue, never mind performing for an hour, to between 2 and 15 people every day. In the past I have had flyers and posters printed but this year I just got business cards done.
I had some posters in my mothers house from when I performed as myself in 2009, so I cut the bottom part off them and stapled my card to it and put a few of them up around town, even though I look completely different in it and it had a different title to my current show. Better than nothing, I thought.
I was going to advertise in the free festival brochure but every time I applied to do that the organiser said someone had beat me to the empty spot, so I figured I would just staple my card to the brochure and hand them out, as most people are more likely to want one of them rather than a flyer for a specific show.
I did actually do that one day but for the rest of the run I didn’t flyer anyone outside the venue, instead I just handed out my card to people in the venue and for the last week I didn’t even do that. I just announced the show would be on in five minutes and however many people came was fine with me.
I didn’t even promote my show by doing open spots on other people’s shows which is one of the most effective ways of getting people to see you, not to mention networking with other comedians.
I guess I was just concerned with trying to get my show right and didn’t want the stress of having to please other promoters and audiences. In hindsight, this wasn’t a very wise approach and I should have made the most of my time in Edinburgh by doing guest spots here, there and everywhere.
For the first couple of weeks I was taking it fairly easy because I know how much of a marathon the festival is and if you go out partying the show can suffer. I wanted to take it more seriously than previous years. If I didn’t do well then I didn’t want to have cause to blame myself other than just not being good enough.
So other than going to see the odd show and performing a few poetry open spots I was practiclly living like a monk. I was even getting up early and going on daily bike rides around Dalkeith Park. I couldn’t resist a shot on the swing at the end of the circuit.
At this point I would like to say a big thank you to Craig Duffy, who runs Hello Poetry and who very kindly offered me use of his apartment in Dalkeith for the duration of the festival.
I went out a couple of times for a beer in Dalkieth and let’s just say the people there were what I would call ‘aggressively friendly’. In the first bar I walked into, a guy jumped in front of me and start raving and telling me to ‘fucking dance’. The normal Scotsman reaction to this would be to head butt him but as I was a stranger in town I thought it better to play along, at least until he was appeased and I could slide past him and order a beer.
A lot of people were drinking pints of a luminous green liquid so I had to ask what it was. The guy said ‘It’s a MacMaddo’ which I think is the best name for a cocktail I have ever heard. Then he said ‘You should try one, it gets you fucked’. Aye, no doubt pal. I guess that explained the state of most of the clientèle.
Another time after returning from Edinburgh late at night, a very drunk girl starting talking to me at which point a psycho, who I soon learned was a former boyfriend, came across and started quizzing me intently. After a minute or so he said ‘Aye, you’re cool. You want some hash?’ That was the last outcome I was expecting of that particular exchange, so I appeased him by relieving him of a fairly minute piece. I said “Thanks pal” to which he replied “Don’t call me pal”. Fair enough, and so I bolted while the going was good.
All in all though, I quite liked Dalkeith and especially the park. It was great to get some exercise by cycling around it and when Ellen came towards the end of the festival we took a walk around it.
I wish they had put signs up though that the fence had fucking electricity going through it cause I shat myself when I got a very large bolt as I was trying to feed the horses. The horses also shat themselves when I screamed with shock but at least they didn’t need to change their underwear.
I had seen a picture of Highland Teddy on my friend Phil Skyes flickr page and thought to myself if I see it in town I would have to get my photo taken with it. Low and behold I bumped into it in the Grassmarket and so approached for a photo only to be told by his handler that it would cost a £1. You get nothing for nothing these days. I paid with good grace though.
After the photo was taken Teddy whispered something into his handler’s ear and he relayed that Teddy would give me a blowjob for a fiver. I had a good laugh with them about this, thinking that was one seriously cool Teddy to come away with a joke of that nature. Or maybe it was a homo inside and just wanted my cock in it’s mouth.
As I walked away though, the Teddy shouted ‘Billy!’. I was stunned at hearing that but it explained the joke, in that the person inside obviously knew me. It turned out it was my friend Norm who was making as much money as I was losing by being at The Fringe. Now, why didn’t I think of that one.
So, anyway, the shows themselves were going reasonably well. Typically for the festival a few went better than others but after a while I was getting bored with telling the same story every day. I like to be in the moment and be forced to work the audience as it helps me be creative, or perhaps I knew the material was shit and I knew I had to do something to make it work.
Actually, during my third show an audience member dis say I was ‘a bit shit’ and so that made me come out of material mode and be more spontaneous and after speaking to him and his girlfriend afterwards, they said it was better when I wasn’t trying so hard to be funny. So that gave me some encouragement to relax a bit and play with the audience a bit more.
I also learned that even though my show was called Sex, Drugs and Marriage, some people are not ready to hear descriptions of hardcore sex acts at 6 o’clock in the evening. So, sometimes I would do parts of the story knowing that some people would be walking out as soon as I mentioned ‘shaved pussies’ or indeed, said the new C word….Cancer.
About 10 days into the run a well respected comedy writer called John Fleming came to see my show. You can see me interview him in a previous blog about the Malcolm Hardee Awards that he runs every year.
As it turned out the day he came to see me was about the worst show I had done up until that point. Some things can change a gig around and that is what happened that day. I was doing reasonably well when a group of middle aged women walked in. I found that when people walk in during a show it is quite a difficult thing to deal with because it totally changes the vibe in the room and then you have to try and incorporate the new people in the show and bring them up to speed.
That particular day I had just been establishing a rapport with the fairly small crowd and then when they came in I decided to start telling the story of my life as I felt I’d better do some kind of proper show now. I started with my ginger pubic hair bit and it was downhill from there. The women didn’t like the porn stuff or perhaps the material is misogynist and they don’t like that much either. I was just being honest but apparently there are a lot of fragile ego’s out there who can’t handle raw truth. Either that or it was about as funny as dogshit on your shoe. It’s difficult to tell when you only play to on average 6 people every day.
Anyway, they left which created an awkward atmosphere which I found hard to turn around and then other people started to leave until I was left with four people and John. As everyone is leaving I am thinking to myself ‘Typical, the day anyone with any clout comes to see me, I fuck it up big time’. That is par for the course in my life.
It got to the point where after desperately trying to get the four people onside with a poem which was evidently failing miserably, I couldn’t take it anymore and threw my poetry book down and went into a big rant about life, the universe and everything else that pissed me off which as it turned out included the Fringe itself and some, if not most, of the comedians in it. I didn’t care about punchlines at this point as the show was already in the shitter.
Still, two more girls left because they said they had to meet someone but the other two audience members who stayed to the end said they enjoyed the show. As I said, my act isn’t for everyone.
At the end I had a wee chat with John who said that he thought I should do more of the ranting. He told me how Stuart Lee had told Janey Godley not to try being funny but rather just be herself onstage and let the jokes come by themselves.
That appealed to me greatly because when I first started comedy that is exactly what I wanted to do but the promoters want a ‘tight five’ on a consistent basis before they will give you more time. I was on the bottom rung of the comedy ladder for quite a while as I liked to experiment quite a lot in those days and when I did do material it felt contrived, or at least, to me it did. I guess the trick is to convince yourself that you are saying it for the first time. Doug Stanhope uses alcohol to achieve this.
There are a lot of issues I would like to talk about but I am conscious of the need to get to some kind of punchline otherwise obviously I would be better suited going into politics but I guess but I would be an outsider there too, no doubt….as I don’t care much for raping children.
So, after letting off some steam during that rant, I felt it was greatly freeing and I thought I could just say what’s on my mind from now on, knowing that I have enough material on the back burner to throw in now and again if I need to try and appear like I know what I’m doing. I went into my next gig with the intention to rant as John had advised.
I thought the show went quite well and even though I had the worlds most annoying audience member I still dealt with him quite well and was getting laughs all the way through the show.
My friend Fahad from Glasgow, had seen my show the previous Saturday, which he enjoyed, but after this one he was obviously much more enthused, although you can’t tell from this picture. 🙂
After the gig we had a drink together and he was comparing me to Bill Hicks (not that I was as good as him but in that I had something to say) and I explained like Hicks I consider myself a preacher or even better a Shaman.
However, it turned out there was a reviewer in the audience and she obviously wasn’t as impressed and gave me 2 stars in a review in the Skinny. Delusions of grandeur indeed. Lol.
I thought that review quite strange though as I thought the show had went quite well. I thought I had found my style and the rest of the run would be plain sailing. Never get complacent is the first rule of comedy but at the same time, who gives a flying fuck what a reviewer thinks, unless they are someone of the calibre of Lester Bangs, then maybe you sit up and take notice.
I hadn’t yet seen the review yet and so the next day I thought, ‘Ok, same as yesterday. Get your ranting hat on and away you go.’ However, that days gig didn’t go nearly as well as the previous two star review one did.
Before the show had begun I had established that there was a reviewer in the audience. She was a 20 year old from Essex. No doubt been sent by Three Weeks to use me as a Guinea Pig so she could learn to write reviews. I asked her if she was a typical Essex girl to which she replied ‘definitely not’. ‘Oh Shit’ I thought, ‘you are in for a harrowing experience and this will be a shit review in the pipeline.’
In fairness, this time I think I did deserve a shit review. The weird thing about this one was that apart from one couple, all of the crowd stayed to the end even though they were hardly laughing at all. Mind you, I probably didn’t endear myself to them too much by calling them ‘humourless cunts’ and ‘sheeple’ on more than one occasion. Ok Billy, back to the drawing board.
That’s the weird thing about comedy when you are still learning the ropes. Just when you think you have found your method the next crowd decided that they want to boil you alive. What do you do? Do you abandon your principles or keep on being an obnoxious bastard just because you think you’re funny.
It turns out she may have been too disturbed to write it or Three Weeks don’t give negative star ratings and decided not to publish because I eventually found a Three Weeks Review and I have no idea what day that guy came on.
He may have looked up my website though or done some background check on me before writing the review as he said ‘Material this graphic and unbelievable requires a comedian who can make the audience truly think the ludicrous stories are genuine.’
I had to laugh at that. As if I could make all that shit up and more to the point, why would I create a show about a false life and advertise it as being true? Maybe I was overly salacious, I’ll give him that.
I decided to go gentle for the next gig and had a lovely time performing to 5 young women where I talked a lot about humans sexuality and explained my strategy for world peace, which is that basically women should fuck more, especially to the guys who aren’t getting any. Put it around a bit for fucks sake, then everyone would be a lot more chilled. They took to this idea better than some other audiences that I tried to make that point with as I had time to explain what I meant in more detail. Sometimes I do say things that technically, in this politically correct world that maybe you are not supposed to say, but I was quoting back up arguments from a book I was reading at the time because I feel it is good to share different perspectives.
At this time I was feeling that it was more important to make some kind of connection with the audience rather than just try to make them laugh. I was trying to transcend my material to take the show where it couldn’t have went without me going off on one. Well, that’s what I told myself in order to justify the lack of laughter. 🙂
I read a Lewis Schaffer blog post recently whereby he talks about the need for comedians to take risks. Well, that is the type of comedy I like to watch and also attempt.
Unfortunately, the next reviewer who saw my show a couple of days later thought that I was being incredibly sexist and indeed racist and gave me a one star review.
Now, granted she probably had a point with regard to the way I talked about my first girlfriend, taking her virginity on her 16th birthday as if she had no say in the matter probably was a bit insensitive. I should have made it more explicit that she did in fact have a say in the matter. We did actually wait until her birthday so that she wasn’t under-age so in reality I was a gentleman.
In fact, I am willing to admit that most of the show could be taken that way but I was just talking from my perspective and of course I am not like that all the time. I exaggerate certain things on-stage just for effect or to try and get some kind of punchline out of a story which is in a lot of ways quite dark. A lot of women said they liked my show but not all of them did, which is understandable. Not every guy who saw it liked it either. See, I’m not sexist after all.
The thing about this reviewer though, was sat there with her notebook in her lap, which for a performer is a little off putting. How can it be a fair review if the performer knows there is a bitch taking notes on his every misogynistic comment? (yep, that was a joke too).
Then, when I said that ‘something like 100 million American housewives are on antidepressants’ she blurts out in horror, ‘Oh, so now you are being Racist as well as Mysoginist’. Thus, planting herself firmly as the moral guardian of the show and making sure I take her standards into consideration for the remainder of it. Way to go, sweetheart.
I explained that I wasn’t being racist, I was stating a fact (ok, technically it’s probably a bit lower than 100 million but not much) but she like most people has trigger points planted in their brain and when they hear certain things they act emotionally rather than logically.
I also done a bit where I call Turkish people retards because they don’t speak English, they expect you to fit into their culture and learn their language. Quite clearly I am taking the piss out of myself on this but apparently that was racist as well. She even had the cheek to rename my show Sexism, Drugs and Racism.
She did help the show when she said ‘at least you’ve not been blasphemous yet’ which gave me some scope to go into my anti Catholic Church rant, so I’ll give her that one. That’s the only one I’d like to give her. Yeah, I said that for effect as well, just call me Frankie Boyle the second. 😉
Actually, these days I’m probably Frankie Boyle the five thousand and sixty seventh. To me though, comedy needs a certain amount of shock factor, not just for the sake of it but hopefully with a valid reason which can illicit a laugh. I aspire to that but probably don’t get there much of the time.
The thing was that the rest of the crowd seemed to be enjoying the gig, including a girl who I spoke to afterwards but apparently that doesn’t count if this particular reviewers personal feelings get tampered with…maybe she has a history of older men tampering with her and that’s her problem.
See, now that one I know for sure was over the line and not very funny either. I did try and refrain from that level but maybe I set the bar too low. I was never very good at being clued into the particular level of brainwashing currently in place in general society. I tend to speak my truth and in truth maybe that’s where the problem lies.
Don’t get me wrong, I will take what she has to say on-board, but a bit more objectivity wouldn’t go amiss. Still, most people are brainwashed to very high degree these days and if the PC crowd had there way comedy would be banned altogether. Or maybe I just need to tone my material down to be bland enough to get a three star review from a website who nobody gives a fuck about. Whoopee Do! Then I will have arrived on Broadway, Baby!
Broadway Baby Review Highlights
Here are some scenes from the show so you can pick up the vibe. 🙂
I preferred Fahad’s review which he posted about a year later on the Broadway Baby review.
I did perform the odd open spot at some comedy gigs. Here is one I did for a Scottish based organisation called Inky Fingers.
I was happy to meet my friend Viv Gee again who was the headline act that night and put in a great set which I enjoyed immensely. She knows what she is doing for sure although she wasn’t ‘fucking flawless’ as Henry Rollins had called her because she did forget a poem or two and had to get her little black book out on occasion but it never detracted from her performance.
Speaking of Henry Rollins I bumped into him at the Queens Hall a few days later. He was signing autographs after his gig there and I got there early for the Barb Jungr concert.
Although I hadn’t seen him that night, I cheekily approached him for a photo saying just that and then told him I saw him in 2003, recalling his story about his adventure on the Trans Siberian Express, so he knew I was a genuine fan.
For some reason, that was important to me. It’s like when people see your show and don’t even put 50p in the bucket even though they may have hated it, I just find that rude.
So, I performed my show a few more times but to me it was getting a bit stale. I thought I needed to try something different and so taking inspiration from the mad mentalness of Bob Slayer, Doug Stanhope and Phil Kay I decided to get a little intoxicated before my next gig and see how that panned out. If it’s good enough for Phil, then it’s good enough for me. 😉
The gig went pretty well indeed. Ok, so there were only five people in the audience but I thought I managed to work them quite well and I came up with a few bits through improvising. I thought that was the way to go. At last, I though I had found my mojo.
The next day my American girlfriend Ellen arrived. On the one hand having someone to support you during the festival is a good thing but on the other she was a little bit too close to the material, as she helped me edit it and so when she came to see the gig, I felt like I was on trial.
I recognised him from hosting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award Show that I filmed the year before so I approached him for a chat. After just meeting Henry Rollins, he told me that he interviewed him on Radio in London and we both agreed that he was cool but’intense’.
He knew Barb personally and I told him I was hanging around to meet her because I was in the front row and I had videod her entire set and wanted to tell her about that. He introduced me to her and since then we have been in touch a few times and she kindly gave me her albums for free. I told her that night that her vocal performance was in my top three of live female singers that I have witnessed, the other two being Sinead O’Connor and Emmylou Harris.
I went along to video David’s show a couple of days later and he came along to support me a few days later. I appreciated that because out of all the comedians I have videoed over the years, most avoid my show like the plague so at least he was a true gentlemen.
That particular show had went reasonably ok considering I was fairly stoned and had my girlfriend and another comedian in the crowd. It can be off putting when there is only about 4 other audience members.
As it turns out I had another one of my meltdowns at the end of this gig.
I had ran through the story of my life and still had 15 minutes left so I started talking about the Olympics, one thing led to another and before I knew it I saying words to the effect, that because we take orders from the Vatican we are vile pathetic scumbag maggots.
I know, not exactly crowd pleasing stuff eh? lol.
Again though, I felt it needed to be said and as my girlfriend said, I had earned the right to get a bit heavy for the last 20. Fortunately I dug myself out the hold with a poem which at least left the gig on a bit of a positive note.
My girlfriend came to the next show the day, when it was just her and three women in the audience. I decided that I needed to do the remaining gigs without her in the crowd as it was too stressful with her being there with such small crowds as I had to include her in the show, seeing as how parts of it were about her. lol. But she was kind enough to take this photo of me with the other ladies, so it wasn’t all bad.
I was now in the habit getting stimulated before gigs. I am not sure if it was just because I was mentally exhausted and needed something to perk me up or that I was insecure of my material because no matter how good a comedian you are, trying to make 4 people laugh for an hour is a difficult task and it can make you doubt yourself.
One day I reverted back to being sober and I felt the show was a bit of a damp squid although maybe I should cut myself some slack as I performed the first twenty minutes to just one lady before a young couple came in. So for the rest of the run it was get smashed and see what happens.
One night after my gig Ellen and I were walking in Princess Street Gardens when we heard loud drumming at The Mound so we went to check it out. It was a band called Clanadonia who wear old Scottish dress and there are 4 drummers and a piper.
There was a crowd of about 200 people in a semi-cicle watching them and I asked one of them if I could dance to which he replied “Nobody is stopping you”. Fair enough and with that I took off my jacket and performed a mad shamanic type dance for about 5 minutes which nearly killed me. Afterwards the band gave me a free cd for my efforts while I struggled for air.
After about 20 minutes I was able to consider walking again when another band turned up, tuned up, plugged in and started playing. They said “Feel free to dance” and so I did. About a minute into it I was joined by a beautiful young french woman called Cecilia and so we milked it for a bit before looking for a way to exit stage left.
After the dance I chatted to Cecilia and her friend Irine and they told me they were from France and that they absolutely adore Scottish men! I gave them my business card flyer and invited them to my show the next day but they never showed up. They must prefer all over gingers.
The band members were not too happy at my stealing their thunder though and for the next song said “Feel free to dance but not as crazy as the last guy”. Charming.
On the last Friday I had intended to go to the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award show at The Counting House but got sidetracked by a Vietnamese bird and ended up going with her to Shaggers. Around 1am when the award show was due to finish I turned up to see if there were any people I knew hanging around.
I met and chatted to a couple of friends but the most pleasing thing was that the barman working there had seen me perform Suspicious Minds on the Karaoke two nights previously and said that it was the song of the night.
He said most people just go there to audition for Stars in Your Eyes but I took karaoke back to it’s roots by totally murdering it and taking great glee in doing so. So, at least somebody got it.
Ellen, who as I said is an opera singer was holding the camera and she did nothing but grimace all the way through but fair play at least she didn’t run out the pub like my mother usually does whenever I attempt to sing in public.
She said she had seen lots of free shows and so I mentioned to her that I was too nervous to send her details of mine but she said ‘don’t be silly’ and promised she would come to the show the next day. I even said I would donate all the bucket collection at the end to her Kenyan charity, Mama Biashara. Mind you, I don’t know if the average £1.52 would make that much of a difference.
So I was really shitting it for what was my last official gig of the run but that didn’t stop me getting wasted. As it turned out though she never turned up and in a way I was quite glad as it was probably the weirdest gig of the run. It had three parts to it. The first part was when there was quite a lot of people in the room and I started telling the story of my life but quite a few walked out. We were down to about 9 when I completely changed tack and said that I am not stuck on the material and went on another one of my rants.
I don’t think the rants are that funny but I enjoyed doing them and they certainly get people’s attention. Like the other gig, to get myself out of my rant hole I recited my Plane Facts poem. A women down the front said to her partner ‘that was actually quite good.’ Obviously up until that point she hadn’t been that impressed.
On hearing that I decided to change track again and read some poems for the last 15 minutes which went down really well. Sometimes I feel I am trapped between two genres. I think my comedy isn’t funny enough for me to say I’m a comedian and my poetry isn’t dynamic or good enough to call myself a performance poet. Maybe I should just be a writer, or give up altogether, who knows? 🙂
I got some positive feedback after the show so perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. It’s just a struggle when I know beforehand that most people in the crowd won’t like my brutal honesty or lack of social etiquette.
Anyway, I had managed to get to the end of the run but was actually too exhausted to party much on the Saturday night as I usually like to do. I knew the room was empty on the Sunday and I wanted to perform a gig without the expectation of chasing a laugh every 45 seconds so I announced on Facebook that I would perform a spoken word gig that day.
This meant I didn’t feel the need to get mashed or to put on an act to get laughs so I turned up with the intention of just relating to my audience in a much more cool calm and collected manner. As it turned out only two people showed up but the gig went quite well.
I told them the story with my wife without trying to be funny and then I talked to them about things that I think about without the need to go into a mad rant about it. Then I read some poems and even sang one of the songs I have written to finish with. The couple really enjoyed it and I felt like I had left the run on a good positive note.
I have edited edited videos from each day’s performance and realised that the reviewers were probably right and I should either give up or change tact. lol.
I will be posting a day by day account of the fringe with clips of my gig that day and some videos and photos of my other activities but I thought I would post this one as a general one first.
Please feel free to leave a comment.