The Edinburgh Virgin – Diary of My First Time at the Fringe (Entry One – Early July 2012)

Me and a penguin. Outside Belfast zoo. I didn’t bother going in, because Belfast itself is a zoo.

After giving up an Engineering career, and then journalism, I decided to try the one thing I’d always wanted to. Comedy.

Mum said, ‘It’s wonderful that you’re following your dreams.’

Dad said, ‘Why didn’t you work this out years ago? Instead of paying for an education, I could’ve taken your mother to Europe.’

My girlfriend at the time said, ‘You’re very brave. Especially considering that you’re not that funny.’

Three months later she left me for an accountant. She said, ‘I’ve done the sums, and one day I want to live in a house, not a caravan.’

She’s very intelligent, but I’m sure she got some help with those sums.

So here I am, on my way to my first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Yet another Australian comedian. Two shows a night, for 26 nights straight. Two maxed out credit cards, just to get here and cover costs. Two dollars left, for spending money.

According to the Edinburgh Fringe society, last year the average attendance across all events was around 40. According to people who actually participated in the Fringe, the average was 38 less than that.

This year, there are nearly 3,000 shows. The population of Edinburgh is half a million. Most of those have rented out their flats to performers for extortionate rents, and will be spending August in Spain. Due to the global financial crisis, over there at the moment, one British pound gets you Majorca. Of those left in Edinburgh, half flip out in the first week, stab a flyer and get banished to Wales until September.

Based on those stats, there are seven shows per potential audience member, and for the whole of August, performers outnumber participants thirty to one. Maybe my ex-girlfriend made the right choice. I clearly don’t understand numbers at all.

Every year at the Edinburgh Fringe there are performers that break through. Due to hard work, talent and luck they manage to set up their careers and a living following their passion.

Will I be one of the lucky ones? Or will I spiral into an alcohol and fried food fueled cavern of despair? Will I lose my voice half-way through and have to cancel a bunch of shows? Will I get stabbed while flyering?

Most likely, my show will be attended by tens of people, and I’ll make a huge loss. There’ll be one decent review, enough punters will tell me they enjoyed the show, and the financial loss won’t be so horrendous that in six months I’ll convince myself to do it all again.

With such a poor outlook, why am I bothering at all? Well, I really like to gamble, and this biggest gamble I could find. Instead of putting a few thousand pounds on a hundred to one chance, I’ve decided to back me. Someone in a field of runners who are far more experienced and well known, a true thousand to one chance.

Luckily, that’s not all. I do comedy for a few reasons. Firstly, when a room of people laughs at something I thought up, it’s an amazing rush. As well as being addicted to gambling, I’m also addicted to that rush.

Secondly, with so much noise in the world, coming at us through so many different screens and speakers, it’s very difficult to break through. Getting people to laugh, well that’s one of the best ways to get them to listen.

We’ve become obsessed with ourselves, and don’t give a stuff about future generations, or anybody who isn’t one of our ‘close’ friends on Facebook. Except if that person is a celebrity we wouldn’t mind getting in the sack.

I think that the people are getting dumber, and that evolution is going backwards. Hopefully by pointing that out, people realize what’s going on and do something about it.

My two shows are ‘Binge Thinking’ and ‘News Smash’. Binge Thinking is set at a dinner party, where I argue with three self-obsessed middle class couples, who are represented by bottles of alcohol. It covers some issues, as well as backpackers, Shane Warne and dolphins.

‘News Smash’ is a late night show I’m hosting, that will feature a varying-line up of performers dissecting current events, getting political and hopefully being very funny.

This is a comedy campaign. This is like a war, without bullets and very little risk to life or limb. So not like a war at all. More like a marathon. Without the running. A marathon for the mouth and mind. So like, I don’t know. Maybe it’s like having a real job.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to it. What’s going to happen? It could easily go very badly. A lot of performers end up in some very dark places. Smiling at each other through grinding teeth and lies about having an audience.

Will I implode? Explode? Will I improve? Quit comedy completely? Get somewhere? Get nowhere? You’re welcome to come along for the journey. I’m going to be writing about it. All of it. The truth of it. Twice a week. From now. I have a feeling that’s going to be nearly as difficult as living it. Nearly.

Also if I get laid, or arrested, or have some other associated misadventure that involves fire and an insurance claim, I’ll make sure to mention that as well.

To prove that I’m not making it up, here are links to my two Edinburgh shows:

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Twitter: @xaviertoby