Posted on November 2, 2012 by Xavier Toby

Diary of an Edinburgh Virgin – The End is Here

Can you see my flyers on this table? Can you see any? Do you know where these flyers went after the fringe? In the bin. Every August, there are thousands of tables just like this all through Edinburgh.

Final Diary Entry from the Edinburgh Fringe (End of August)

With one week of the Edinburgh Fringe to go, I’ve bottomed out in a way that I never have before. Each morning for three weeks I’d ridden my borrowed bike to the city with an enthusiasm I’d been digging out from I don’t know where. Then every day poor tickets sales, a lack of media coverage, tepid to cruel reviews, the snotty arrogant attitudes of many venue staff, and the general disinterest of all but a few wonderful people at both of my shows, and each night I’m left broken. Trying to find comfort in drink, and I knew it was a lie but still better than nothing.

That sounds quite dire and at the time it did feel seven types of hideous, but in retrospect I know people didn’t hate me, they were just really busy. Everyone was overworked, most under-experienced and all doing what they could in extreme circumstances. I didn’t get enough press, audience numbers were poor and I didn’t receive enough attention from my venue, but I still got a lot more than many others.

There were stellar people at my venue all through the fringe who did believe in me and help as much as they could, and to them all I can say is, I hope we can work together again. You’re a superstar and deserving of much more respect and gratitude than you’ll ever get.

It’d be nice to point people out, however by doing that, all the rubbish humans know that I think they’re rubbish, and there’s no doubt they’re the ones I’ll have to work with next year. In Edinburgh, everyone knows everyone, and most of the time, they’ve also shagged them.

Hang on a second. A point of order. All fringe I heard about the huge pot of sexual debauchery that was supposedly oscillating between simmering and boiling all fringe every fringe. This is something else I missed out on. Not fair.

Oh, and ‘next year’. How could I possibly be considering next year? Well I don’t want this thing to beat me. It’s an ego thing. I want to win Edinburgh. More importantly, I want to make it as a professional comedian, as I still believe that I’ve got something original to say, and that there’s an audience who wants to hear it.

Apparently you build up to a successful Edinburgh, sometimes after years of trying. My massive disappointment with the experience was probably to do with unreal expectations built up by myself and others.

At worse, I expected to break even for venue costs, and have to cover my own travel expenses. I had the support of the venue, an attractive hire rate and a show that many told me would sell reasonably well. That didn’t happen. I lost so much more than I’d anticipated. Therefore, I was shattered. I tried altering and lowering my goals on a daily basis, but it’s very hard to tunnel through rock bottom.

I also blame the stories that we humans choose to tell. With Edinburgh, it’s mostly success stories. You’re sold on what could happen, which turns out to be the one percent. Very few mention the 99% who have an average audience of eight over the month long run, lose thousands of pounds, cancel several shows and leave shattered. How some of these people manage to remain in good spirits and are on the whole positive about their experience I’ll never understand. I have no idea how they sell themselves such monumental lies, without ending up in some sort of institution. Whatever pills they’re taking, I want heaps.

Prior to Edinburgh, I felt like I was building towards something. That I was special. During it, I didn’t feel special at all. In the aftermath, I realize that I am special. As special as every other performer at the Edinburgh Fringe thinks they are.

During the Fringe, I felt like I was being ignored. Now I realize that I was one of thousands talented people and there just isn’t enough spotlight to go around. That to get anywhere you don’t need a lot of talent, and a little luck along with hard work. There’s no special formula. You need heaps of talent, heaps of luck and to continually put in heaps of work. Which I was doing, and I thought it was going to get progressively easier. One day it might, but for now, it’s only going to get harder, and the disappointments pile up and it’s only the very lucky survivors who get anywhere.

In case I haven’t properly illustrated how hard this whole experience was, here’s a typical mid-festival day. Keep in mind that at this stage audiences were supposed to be growing, and things should’ve been getting a touch easier.

So here’s a day. Wake up 9am. Eat a banana and a punnet of lovely fresh Scottish strawberries provided by Mrs Fenton. Festival highlight right there. Have a great chat with Mr and Mrs Fenton. Second highlight right there. And then…

Send out around thirty emails to journalists, usually following up on other correspondence. Get one reply. An ‘out of office’. Write an article, send this around to appropriate media. Hear nothing. Die inside a little.

Numerous Facebook and Twitter interactions result in no ticket sales. Tweak material. Arrive at venue. Organise line-up for late night show ‘News Smash’. Discover the media guest has cancelled. Hurriedly try to get another, with help from the amazing Sheridan Humphries, along with filling any spots left by late cancelling comedians.

Look at ticket sales. Die inside a little bit more. Print off free tickets. Go out for two hours of flyering, maybe at the Half Price Hut with all the other desperate, spent and broken acts, where the performers outnumber the audience two to one, and the vast majority of people are watching the street performers tell terrible old jokes and juggle three random objects, all stretched over 20 boring minutes. Die a lot more.

Rush back to venue for half an hour handing out twenty free tickets with help from the magnificent and tireless flyerers Jess and Will. Get a drink. Start the show five minutes late, as the people with free tickets who bother showing up, often don’t show up on time.

Sweat while performing to some teen number in a room of fifty. Watch audience members nod off, check their phones, and whisper as if you’re television. I’m not television. Try to good-naturedly indicate that this is not cool. Do some hilarious audience interaction that gets everyone’s attention. Watch as, while you talk, they quickly lose interest again because it’s no longer about them. Die some more.

Stress the whole time that the audience suspects you’re as shit as that one reviewer from The List thought you were. Reflect, while still performing, that really 70% of the people here (that’s fourteen people) aren’t distracted at all and are laughing and paying attention the whole way. Finish. People clap. Stand awkwardly, not confidant enough to bow. Apologise and say goodbye. As I pack up my props between one and five congratulate me on being one of the best, if not the best show they’ve seen so far during the fringe. Realise that the reviewer didn’t turn up. Either did the prospective agent, and manager.

Eat something.

Notice the huge crowds continually filing in and out of the Free Fringe venue next door.

Start flyering for News Smash, the late night show I host and produce, while dealing with more act cancellations. Half an hour before the show, hand out free tickets with the wonderful Will. The acts start arriving, and I now realize I have one too many. Get them drinks, organize a line-up and walk in their friends, while still flyering.

Do the show to twenty something people. Half the audience are confused by the interview with the journalist, although it’s mentioned on the flyer, poster, in the guide and I talk about it at the top of the show. Die even more inside. The rest love it, and both I and the journalist have a great chat.

Show ends with huge applause from the fifteen still there. Drinks with acts. More drinks. 1am. Maybe a pie. Bike ride home down Leith Walk. Die even more. Sleep.

Okay so it’s now November, and I’ve come back to Australia, and since performed at the Melbourne and Sydney Fringe Festivals, and plenty of gigs in between. I’ve been told by friends, repeat audience members I’ve never spoken to and random others that after Edinburgh, I’m a much improved performer. So I suppose I got that out of the whole thing as well, and I made it. I survived. I deserved a t-shirt.

Never cancelled a show the whole of August. Have I mentioned that? Well done me. Finally, a little bit more alive inside.