It's been quite a varied seven days. This time last week I was at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, knee-deep in the paranoia, the competing ambition, the unpleasant hum of hundreds of comedians all vying for a limited amount of attention. A week on, I find myself at the Edinburgh Fringe, where… yes. As I say: pretty varied.
But actually there's nothing to compare with Edinburgh. It is the original festival, the best and – depending on how things pan out – also the worst. Its programme has expanded each of the 17 Augusts I've been coming here, and is now bewilderingly huge: it takes three normal-sized people even to lift it. For a comic, it represents unlimited opportunity, in the form of a double-edged sword: there's the opportunity either to give your career a boost, or to waste thousands of pounds having your ego squeezed out like a sponge into one of the ancient city's dreams.
I once had a gig abandoned because the promoter had a mini-breakdown midway through
All this means that the opening few days of the Fringe are pretty fraught. There are technical meltdowns (shows on the first night were kicking off up to an hour late) and psychological ones (I once had a gig abandoned because the promoter had a mini-breakdown midway through and threw everyone out of the building). No number of previews can prepare you for the moment I had on my opening night in 2014, when it turned out someone in the audience had Tourette's and would be shouting ‘biscuits' several hundred times over the course of the hour. (Of course, what with it being Edinburgh, she herself had a show at the Fringe).
The sound of bagpipes will stalk you through your every waking moment.
So far this year, I've managed to avoid major incident. The key to a period as long as the Fringe is to maintain some continuity from day to day: exercise, eat healthily, make your peace with the fact that the sound of bagpipes will stalk you through your every waking moment. I've been for two runs, seen a couple of shows, avoided major alcohol poisoning. But all Edinburgh participants know this first few days are the calm before the storm. It's in a couple of weeks that these healthy resolutions will start to disintegrate, along with your career prospects and bank balance. Your only consolation, then, is that outside this square mile, the vast majority of the British population doesn't even know – or care – that all this is happening.
See Mark Watson: I'm Not Here at the Pleasance One, 3rd to 29 August, 9.00pm. See Mark Watson's Edinborolympics at the Pleasance Beyond 18 to 27 August, 11.00pm. For tickets to both visit www.edfringe.com
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