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From the fringe: Week 3

Tuesday 19th August 2014

For the next four weeks, comedian Joseph Moore is performing in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, with FanFiction Comedy. Here’s the next installment of his weekly blog documenting his “experiences, creative highs, and no doubt psychological rock bottoms at this bloody draining festival”.

I spent a lot of last week struggling to maintain my veganism in Scotland. I thought I had been beaten, that there was nothing for me here – eat cheese or starve, Joseph. Then at the end of last week, the barista at my local café said to me apropos of nothing, “Our avocado on toast is vegan”. What? “I read your blog. Our avocado on toast is vegan.”

She read my blog! They have The Wireless in Scotland! I ordered it and have been back there heaps since. (Café marketing tip: Read a lot of blogs in the hopes that the writer names their dietary preferences and then happens upon your café a few days later.)

A picture of Joseph Moore with a World Cup commemorative beer
Joseph Moore: A sucker for commemorative World Cup merchandise

Photo: Supplied

High on a combination of wholegrains, natural fats and performing in a moderately successful comedy show every single day, it’s easy to say I’m doing pretty well over here. But any sense of satisfaction at the Edinburgh Fringe hangs around about as long as the two vegetarian pies they make every day at the local bakery. I should be drowning my sorrows in cheap novelty booze, and asking soul-searching and rhetorical questions about my life and choices thus far. Ideally in front of an audience.

One night I walked home after doing a fairly decent show, sat alone in my shitty flat that costs four times as much as my shitty flat in Auckland, opened a novelty-sized beer with a picture of the World Cup on it (further marketing tip: I will buy any product with a picture of the World Cup on it), and asked myself: Why am I here?                 

Is it to further my career in comedy? I guess so. But I have a career in comedy! It’s all the way back in New Zealand, and until I left three weeks ago, it was going great!  I write topical jokes for other people, and it pays for my rent and the occasional trip to a fancy delicatessen. Someone else has been filling in for me since I left for Scotland, proving just how expendable I am down at the joke factory – while, here, I perform to somewhere between 30 and 80 Scottish people a day, only like five of whom have followed me on Twitter.

A friend suggested we were here for “networking” – but if only it were that easy. At other comedy festivals, like New Zealand and Melbourne, just performing in them at all makes you instantly something of a VIP – you get a free pass to all the other shows, and are invited to the private parties. I met Tom Green in the performers-only bar in Melbourne last year. We had a chat about comedy and that, which was cool (it wasn’t. Tip for meeting Tom Green: Do not be very drunk and yell “Charlie’s Angels!” in his face).

Here, it’s very different. Bloody everyone is a performer. Your pass gets you into shows at the venue at which you’re performing alone. The famous people are kept as separate from fellow performers as they are from the punters, presumably in some magical golden private bar made of six-figure television deals, on foundations of the public’s adoration. My closest brush with celebrity since arriving in Edinburgh has been with Colin Mochrie from Whose Line Is It Anyway? at a bar. I tried to take a photo of his shoe.

A picture of FanFiction Comedy at a castle in Scotland
FanFiction Comedy, spending a rare day off at a castle, tolerating Joseph Moore’s quoting of others comedians’ shows

Photo: Supplied

Then I read Charlotte Graham’s piece on the progressive acts she saw at the Fringe (they have The Wireless in Scotland!) and quickly realized how to go about furthering my career. I’m surrounded by artists creating some pretty incredible and forward-thinking work – I needed to see them and copy all their jokes! Well, be inspired by them at least…

So for the last five or so days, after my show I’ve hung up my performers’ pass, put aside my pride, and become a bloody punter like the rest of them. Naturally the show about genital mutilation has been far too popular for me to be able to get tickets to it, but I’ve still caught an incredibly diverse range. From Nish Kumar satirising our generation’s five-minute attention span, to Suzi Ruffell’s recalling a horrific encounter with a homophobic audience member, to Steen Raskopolous getting audience members to rub sunscreen into his back – all of these acts have made me want to be a better comic.

I’ve seen some beautiful and challenging work, but it figures that my favourite act of the festival has probably been the dumbest. I have seen Australian sketch troupe Aunty Donna perform three times so far, and quote them so regularly I ruined a trip to a beautiful castle on FanFiction Comedy’s only day off from performing. It’s just cool to be this excited about comedy again.

I’ve also had some less inspiring experiences. I spent heaps of money to see the original Whose Line Is It Anyway? line-up, only to have happy memories of childhood ruined by an hour of racist Japanese accents and Rolf Harris gags.

I’ve also witnessed just how awful and unforgiving a drunk crowd on a Saturday night in Edinburgh can be, even for the most magnificent shows. My friend and fellow Kiwi comic Brendon Green made an offhand reference early on in his set to “the next 50 minutes”. A lady yelled, “Fifty more minutes of this? Fuck that!” before picking up her purse and climbing over everyone in her row. New Zealander Trygve Wakenshaw’s award-winning mime show Kraken was interrupted by a drunk dude straight up walking on stage and mime-shooting him in the head before walking out. How much do you have to hate something to walk out?  Once you’re in, you’re in, I reckon.

Either way, my last few days have found me living this festival not in the moment but in the future, as I make half-formed plans about how I can incorporate these new ideas and ways of thinking into my own act. I’m starting to think already about what show I might bring here next year, and stressing over which jokes the audiences will like and which will make them yell “fuck that”. I haven’t even written the jokes yet.

I was talking to another friend, a UK-based comic who’s just started breaking into the mainstream, having already sold out his entire run of shows. But when I asked him how it was going, he replied “Bad”.

“Why bad?”

“The wrong people are coming.”

This is Scotland, you can’t be happy. Another 20 years of this? Once you’re in, you’re in.

Cover image supplied.

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