Posted on August 16, 2012 by Xavier Toby

Edinburgh Fringe Diary – Who Does A Gig During the Opening Ceremony? This Idiot. (Entry Three, Monday July 30)

Look! It’s me at the Olympics! Look how happy I am! If you think I haven’t shaved since the start of this mini-holiday, you are correct.

Right now I’m in London, doing a few gigs before Edinburgh starts on Thursday, August 3rd. So far I’ve sold a total of 40 tickets, across 25 dates. That’s nearly two people per show. Wow!

It’s okay, I’m used to the small crowds, I’m a North Melbourne supporter. Go the mighty Roos.

Please, hold your words of sympathy or abuse, I’m only a little worried. In the last year I’ve performed this show, ‘Binge Thinking’ at the Melbourne Fringe, Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne Comedy Festival. At those three festivals, ticket sales prior to the opening night were just as poor. Through flyering, ticket giveaways, positive reviews, pleading with friends and family, and great word of mouth, I ended up selling out half the shows at all those runs in venues of 30-60 seats.

Unless you’re a big name, it nearly always starts off slowly. Not many people are going to take a chance on someone they’ve never heard of. It’s the same with live music, and picking up at nightclubs. Most humans are creatures of habit, that’s the only way to explain why anyone still sees Adam Sandler or J-Lo films. It’s certainly not for the laughs or insight about relationships.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they won’t take a chance on an unknown comic because they saw one once, and they were rubbish. So never again. Does anyone give up on alcohol after they spit out their first drink? No. You learn to like it. Okay, what about sex? How many people give up on that after one poor experience? Well I suppose there are priests, but not all priests.

If you see six films, and two are rubbish, you don’t write off films. Apply the same rule to comedy, and any art. Every show is not for everyone, maybe that show just wasn’t for you. Or maybe it was shit, all I’m saying is just don’t write off an artform because of one bad experience.

I hate admitting it, but out of all the people who’ve been to see my show, not everyone loved it. As long as they’re in the vast minority, and the audiences keep building, I’ll keep at it. When the people in the audience who don’t like it far outnumber those that do, it’s time to quit, and move into ticket inspecting, or politics. Where those sorts of numbers seem to be a necessity.

Anyway, as I’m said I’m in London. With the Olympics happening, one thing I wanted to be certain of was that I had a place to stay. Which I thought I’d organized. Then on the train from Cardiff, I got a message. ‘Mate, I’ve decided to stay in France for an extra week, so you’re going to have to find somewhere else.’

That ex-friend of mine, I didn’t even know he was in France. If I did, I would’ve organized a back-up plan. You know, the same way you’re also really into American basketball, if you support North Melbourne. Or if you’re English, you try and marry someone Australian. You know, so you’ve got options.

In London, there was nowhere else. Well nowhere that I wanted to stay. I found a bed in a sort of halfway house. The type of place a person in a movie ends up when they hit rock bottom. The type of place where they also set horror movies, and from all the stains, I still don’t think they’ve cleaned up after the last one. The guy who took my money and gave me a key could only do one of those things at a time, because of the bottle of wine glued to his other hand.

To be honest, I can’t stand London. You know in Melbourne, that bit of Swanston Street near Flinders Street, where there are those thrift stores and fast food places, and it always feels a bit scummy? The Sydney equivalent would be George Street, near the cinemas. Well those little grey pockets of sadness, that’s London. Since I’ve been here I’ve seen one tree and one smile, and that was from a toothless guy who asked me for change, then tried to sell me a ticket to the Olympics.

My first London gig was on Friday, July 27. Anything else happening that night? Oh that’s right, the opening ceremony. However I was getting paid, so I did it. The audience, I don’t know what the hell they were thinking. Maybe I’m cursed. My first New York gig was on September 11.

Despite there being only 30 people in a venue meant for 400, all the comedians put in, and the audience were subdued, but laughed enough and were lovely. There was a heckler who kept shouting irrelevant bits of garbage, which gave me an opportunity to riff on his stupidity. If you’re going to heckle, don’t. Every decent comedian can chew you up with ease, but it’s not why we’re there.

Well it’s not why I do comedy. I’ve worked on my routine, and I’ve got things I’d like to share. Taking down hecklers might seem like an amazing skill, but its just craft. You practice it, you get good at it and you can do it whenever. It’s exactly like learning to change a tyre. The routine is where the creativity is at, so unless a comedian asks you a question, please just shut up. Some hecklers claim that they’re helping. You’re never helping.

The next night at the same venue there were around 200. All smashed and there for a variety of celebrations including birthdays, bucks and hens parties. Other acts did sensationally, I did okay. Funnily enough, people who’ve been drinking for eight hours straight, with the comedy club being their stop between paintball and a strip club aren’t interested in jokes that don’t contain genitals and human waste, preferably interacting.

It’s not that the audience was rude, they just didn’t seem to be up for anything that took more brainpower than lifting another drink to their lips. That said, I started strong then drifted into longer jokes that didn’t work as well.

Really, I should’ve stuck with my short, sharp bits about iPhones in toilets, misspelled tattoos and couples who use the baby voice, leaving the jokes with messages for another night. Gigs like that are necessary for comedians who aren’t on television and want to make a living out of it, so I’m looking forward to another crack in a similar environment.

So how did I handle it? Went to a bar down the road, and drank away my wages trying to deaden the knowledge that I could’ve done better, and the memory of the indifference from a room full of men in dresses, and women drinking through penis straws.

Sometime after midnight, when I’d drunk myself to the level of stupidity of my earlier audience, I actually fell into a conversation with a bucks party. I told them what I did, did an impromptu performance on a bar stool, and had ‘em laughing their heads off. Even got a couple of drinks out of it.