Posted on August 26, 2012 by Xavier Toby

Chipping Off Little Pieces of My Soul (Ed Fringe Diary – Wed, Aug 15)

I really hate it when people hand me stuff on the street. For the last two weeks, for at least three hours each day, I’ve been handing people stuff on the street. The fake smile, pretend enthusiasm, poor attempt to cover the desperation in my eyes, looking for an in with people you know have been approached already that day by countless other self-important ‘performers’. I hate myself.

Yet, it’s necessary. There’s still no better way for an unknown comedian to connect with a potential audience. In Edinburgh, it’s the done thing. As I’ve mentioned previously, every performer does it. Award winners, big names, and me.

Last year during the Melbourne Comedy Festival, I was flyering outside the Melbourne Town Hall next to Dave O’Neil. When he interrupted the punters I was trying to tempt into my show, I didn’t tell him off. I nearly asked him for an autograph.

You don’t interrupt people. That’s a rule. Yesterday I nearly came to blows with this American moron, who started selling to people with who I’d started a conversation. As our argument became more heated, I realized two things. I could kick the shit out of him, and I just didn’t care. In terms of this festival, I was very nearly out of caring.

These people didn’t speak much English, and were probably going to use all the pretty pieces of paper they’d collected as postcards, and thought the Edinburgh Fringe was a hairdressing festival.

Moments later, still seething from being told to ‘step off’ by a scrawny little rat of a human, I started talking to a local Edinburgh couple. They asked about my show, seemed generally interested, and told me that it was a great and noble thing, to be mixing comedy and a deeper message. Getting people to laugh, in order to have them engage with more meaningful issues. This short chat took me from considering jumping in front of the next London type black cab, back to believing a little in myself.

I asked them what they did for a living, and if they’d seen anything decent. I make it a point to ask people about themselves. They’re nice enough to listen to me, it’s rude not to ask about them. Flyering is a conversation, not a one-sided speech. That’s what the hour long performance is for.

They were so nice, I organized them two complimentary tickets to my show that day, scheduled to start only 10mins from that moment. They didn’t turn up.

I might be annoying people on the street, similar to those selling pay TV subscriptions, paintball tickets and gym memberships, but at least I’m selling something I believe in. I’m not saying those other people are not, but really, they’re not. So that’s exactly what I’m saying.

Another way to attract an audience is through reviews. To get a review, you need the media. So I turned up to media day, where queues of hundreds of desperate performers, filled with thoughts of the thousands in cash they were watching disappear as they played to under ten a day, all waited their turn to pitch to journalists.

Each member of the media was plastered with the same smile and feigned look of interest common to teachers, at parent teacher nights. ‘Yes of course I care what you think Mrs Jones. Yes, your son is special and talented. Yes, I am taking a particular interest in him, and am paying close attention to everything you say.’

Really, they’re sitting there thinking, ‘It’s not my job to turn your little terror into something that might one day be part-capable of interacting in society and avoiding jail. That’s your job, you lazy slob.’

Journalists are no different. ‘Yes that sounds interesting.’ That means the exact opposite. If it was interesting, they’d ask about it, and wouldn’t say, ‘that sounds interesting’. It’s the new nice. You don’t say nice any more, because people know it means, ‘I don’t care enough to use a real word.’ Instead, you use interesting.

‘Have you met John?’

‘Yes, he’s interesting.’ (He was so boring that I started wishing I’d have a small stroke, just to avoid the rest of the conversation.)

Who did I meet on media day? A journalist from the Huffington Post and Vice. Who was just plastered, and abusive. Later I found out he sexually harassed a few of the performers, and it turned out he wasn’t even a journalist. Just a blogger. I also blog for them. I’d lined up for an hour to meet a rubbish version of me. Maybe a future version.

In the line a little man covered in tattoos, piercings and make-up handed me a flyer, and encouraged me to attend his cabaret show. I looked it over. Again, and again. I couldn’t find the time. I pointed this out. On his 20,000 flyers, he’d forgotten to put the time.

It’s strange watching someone’s brain melt. He started to twitch, and blink, and blink, and blink. After a phone call, he told me it’d be fine. He didn’t look fine. I felt that by pointing it out, I’d sort of caused it, and felt terrible for him.

The next day, my fliers finally arrived, ten days after the start of the festival. Not ideal. They clearly stated the wrong time. That same day I ran into the funny little tattoo and piercings man. Using a tippex pen, he’d stayed up all night and added the time to each flyer. It looked good. My fliers? I just kept handing them out, hoping that nobody would notice. Nobody reads the useless things anyway.

Every night, it’s strange looking out on an audience of people you’ve given complimentary tickets, just to get any audience, wondering how bored they are, how little they care, and why you should keep on breathing.

That said, after each show at least a few people come up to me and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed it.

Oh, and another strange thing. I’ve had a fair few homeless people in on complimentary tickets. They’ve really enjoyed the show, and afterwards often had many kind words for me. Maybe that’s my target market.

I have 13 shows left. There is very little chance that this is going to end well. However, I’ve spoken to a few fringe veterans, and some very big names. According to them, I’m actually doing well for my first time, if I’m getting any audience at all.