Monday, 18 June 2018

Sunday at the seaside at Hastings Fringe

Hastings Fringe is now in its third year. With a small but passionate crew of volunteers at its core the fringe runs for five days across a bunch of venues in the town ranging from pub rooms to makeshift stages constructed especially for the event. At a fraction of the price of Brighton Fringe (£35, including posters printed on behalf of the acts) the organisers have created something with the spirit of Merthyr Tydfil but the audience of more established events.

A two hour drive from our East London home and we were walking along a grey seafront. Soon enough, however, we'd entered the old town with its vintage shops and cosy cafes. Stopping by the purpose built Comedy Cabin in a courtyard off the high street to give Aaron Simmonds a nod, we then continued to our more conventional venue - the upstairs room of an unassuming pub called Jenny Lind. The room was packed but then it should have been, the act was a Radio 4 regular and had a sizeable following. We dished out some flyers and took a walk around the local area giving out more bits of shiny paper and taking in a pizza from a cute little diner.

7:15pm rolled around and we were back at our room. Now empty, save MC Bill and another volunteer, we crossed our fingers and set up the disco light. 7.30 hit and we had eight people. Not ideal. We kicked off regardless and found our small number keen and with the energy of many more. Sunday evening was never going to be the white heat of the fringe so it wasn't that surprising. What was surprising was when a good deal more people turned up midway through the first song - plus the now obligatory dog we always seem to get.

From here things got really good and the set shot by. The singing was loud, the laughter was unreserved and the dog even got repeatedly lifted in the air during Clicking Like's middle 8 - "A photo of a dog, a photo of a cat..." With one mic between us, Anna and I really hammed up the battle between rapper and backup dancer with regular bouts of wrestling over who got to hold it. When the last strains of West End had sounded out, the back of the room started shouting for an encore and we obliged with a somewhat rough and ready Selfie Stick. Money-wise the hat took the equivalent of £4 a person, which is pretty good going and ensured that we actually turned a tiny profit.

Of all the fringes we've done so far this one is going top of our return-to list, hopefully with a 2-3 night run and a children's version of FWP in tandem earlier on the Saturday and Sunday. 

What's next? Well here's the list in the run-up to Edinburgh and our escape to life up north...

19.07.18 - FWP @ The Leyton Star (Festival Preview, final Bear Jokes & Farewell to London Party!)
24.07.18 - FWP @ The Star Inn (Guildford Festival), 7.30pm
02 - 26.08.18 - FWP @ Espionage Kasbar (Edinburgh Festival), 2.45pm

Monday, 4 June 2018

Thoughts on the Brighton Fringe

Last weekend we performed the final of our four shows at The Temple Bar in Brighton as part of the fringe. A sunny day awaited us, as did two guest spots sandwiching the main event.

1pm saw Anna and I literally out on the street on a pavement stage in the Fringe City area of town. A magician ripped up and reassembled a newspaper to thirty polite onlookers and then dispersed as we set up for our turn. Drawing on my limited knowledge of street performance I turned on a backing track and called out at people wandering by until we had a young family, an older man with a camera and a smattering of students willing to stand and watch us. A clean-edit version of Selfie Stick later and we'd amassed something of a crowd and One Shot got some brave souls (and wonderfully non-self conscious under eights) shouting along. Would anyone come because of this foray into a world usually occupied by fire jugglers and human statues? Probably not but it was one more to chalk up on the experience wall. 

It was a hot day. Too hot. The Temple was empty. For a few minutes it looked like we'd have to give the couple who had turned up the option of sending us home early but at the last second we'd swelled to six. Which, as anyone who's ever heard anything about Edinburgh tell you, is the average turn out at a free fringe show. So we did it and it went surprisingly well. When numbers are this low the audience do have to fully commit and, to give them their due, they did just that. One member even performed her trademark house party dance move for all of us. Somewhere between 1992 and 2018 the swan dive has been rebranded the worm. Not a profitable show but enjoyable and slightly educational.

A few hours later we were back in the venue for a busy-ish final Laughing Horse best-of show and found a reasonable response to what had gone down a storm the previous time we did it at the same time in the same place. Proof, if needed, no two shows are ever the same.

With total outgoings for Brighton Fringe sitting close to £400 including train fares and total income at approximately £140 you don't have to be an accountant to see this wasn't a money spinner. However, we hadn't expected to make any money as we'd have needed to make £100+ per show. Optimistic by anyone's standards. 

So what did we gain? Well, the new set is tighter than ever and we've even added a few new touches - including a very emotional narrated musical interlude from Anna J. There's also the bonus of spending sunny weekends by the sea rather than grim old way-out east London.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Brighton Fringe Show 3 was Hot Hot Hot

After a weekend off to recharge we found ourselves back at The Temple Bar on a boiling hot Saturday afternoon to deliver the third show in our four show run. With the temperature approaching thirty degrees we figured we'd be lucky to get double figures. It doesn't matter how good the comedy is - when the sun comes out you're basically ruined.

However, my pessimism was dealt an early blow twenty minutes before showtime when a taxi of four pulled up and told me they'd come for the show as I handed them a flyer. Brighton's Fringe Guide is a pricey beast to be listed in (£140 regardless of the number of shows you're doing) but it is effective at getting the people in. By the time I'd hit play on the intro track we had 25 or so bums on seats.

Performing in a sweat box is hard and, having found out how to make the spotlights work, we were melting from the off. The crowd were up for it though and joined in enthusiastically from the first hand clap. For an afternoon show there was a surprising amount of smut and drug talk from those watching but it was good natured and we kept things rolling. Anna and I got a good few improv'd one-liners in off the back of the crowd chat and even the two enormous dogs who were sat with their owner in one of the booths seemed to like it.

Fifty minutes later we we delivering our bucket speech with a degree of what some might call professionalism and sure enough most of what went in folded and we made more than with the capacity room two weeks ago. They may have been collapsing in the heat but they clearly enjoyed themselves.

Next Saturday is out last show of this fringe and it's sandwiched between an appearance in a church (yes, really) and the Laughing Horse comp show we've done twice already. We're in Hastings just over a week after that and we've just announced our London preview this evening. All is looking good for Ed this summer.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Brighton Fringe - Show in the rain

There's nothing more glamorous than standing in the rain for an hour outside a pub giving people soggy bits of paper with the words, "Musical comedy at 2.30," on repeat.

There's nothing more satisfying to be setting up your show an hour later only to find there's a queue snaking down the staircase waiting to come in. 

And so it was that Anna and I performed to a full house on a wet Saturday afternoon with a crowd so warm and friendly you'd happily take them all home for cookies afterwards if you could. Our theatrics went into overdrive and our "crew" became tighter and tighter as the hour wore on. "Airport" finally found an audience comfortable enough to recognise and laugh about the primary effect of global terror being minor inconvenience before boarding a plane and the Brightonians related readily to "gentrifried" chicken. We concluded with a rousing rendition of "West End" (there really is a club out there called Revenge) and the bucket rustled nicely rather than jangled.

A few hours later we had a great ten minute spot at the Laughing Horse pick of the fringe show alongside a bunch of other thoroughly talented acts. Flyers were duly taken in tandem with nice comments as the assembled departed. This was only topped by confirmation we've been booked for an actual tents and everything festival this summer!

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Saturday at Brighton Fringe

Last year's Brighton Fringe consisted of two Sunday lunchtime split shows with Andy Onions. This year we upped the ante somewhat by not only booking 4 Saturdays for First World Problems 2018 but also taking on a heap of guest spots. Already £200 in the hole (assuming we ignore the £21.50 daily returns for Anna and I every time) we definitely wrote this one off to getting good experience and fine-tuning for Edinburgh rather than any actual financial return.

The first order of the day was to head to the Family Picnic Stage for 1pm (pictured) to do a short spot to promote our full show later that afternoon. Lined up alongside a school choir, a man wearing a furry octopus and a pantomime dame it was the first time in the life of this act that we could have been accused of being the most adult thing on the bill. Well aware we were probably going to secure no bums on seats from this later due to the average age being seven, we just had fun. "This one's about coffee! Which you can't drink! But it does involve lots of shouting!" Anna pandered spectacularly to the horde of tiny people at the front with multiple high fives and once we hit the second chorus we had a sizeable audience shouting along. A children's version of FWP is most definitely on the cards for 2019.

Our show at The Temple starts at 2.30pm. Not ideal on blazing hot Saturdays where everyone wants to sit outside and bask in the the rays with a beer or cocktail. Still, despite doing almost no flyering thanks to our primary school outing we had a nice little audience for the show who'd seen us in the program. The new show involves "recognising" multiple members of our crew throughout the hour and getting them to play along with the introductions to whatever problem/song is coming up next. This worked well alongside our more narrative driven links that probably make TOWIE appear well scripted but when you present as East London's Premier Rapper of First World Problems and his Lead Backup Dancer it's already so surreal you have to go big or go home.

Afterwards, feedback was good with plenty of positive remarks on the between song blither and audience participation. More to do though, not least remembering the bucket speech props and the whistle for Airport (thanks local hiking shop for having one in stock.)

After a few drinks with friends we were back in the room for the 6.15pm pick of the fringe show with Laughing Horse. Filled to capacity and with LJ Da Funk on MC duties we squeezed our way onto the postage stamp sized stage and delivered a couple of tracks to an audience that certainly had its fans but also a good number who looked slightly puzzled we weren't standing with a mic telling jokes for ten minutes. 

It's experiences like this that we actually need more than anything. What works in its own fifty minute context does not necessarily work when you're clock watching and have about ten seconds in which many people will make their mind up about you. We're rewriting our delivery for this spot next week (same time, same place). Could be great, could be a car crash, that's what it's all about right?

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

FWP in Wales

When people mention the words "comedy festival" they usually first think of the Edinburgh Fringe. For those in the know they may also think of Bath, Brighton and even Camden.

What they are unlikely to think of is a small town in South Wales best known for having an unusual name and close proximity to some good countryside. However, who knows, in years to come maybe the words "Fringe Festival" and "Merthyr Tydfil" will become totally synonymous.

Merthyr (as all the locals tend to shorten it to) is an ex-mining town with fiercely proud (and generally quite fierce full stop) locals, more pubs that you might expect and one extremely active comedian-turned-promoter, Drew Taylor. Not for Drew the idea of starting small and growing year on year, instead the first ever festival of its kind in the town stretched across seven venues - albeit for a single Saturday.

We arrived a couple of days in advance and did our bit on the first night by drinking with the handful of locals we found in our venue, The Brunswick. Tales of all kinds followed and we somewhat inevitably saw out the night in the local nightspot, The Vulcan Bar. It's been a while since I've seen so many incredibly inebriated teenagers stumble about to music that included a dance remix of Stand By Me and a DJ who merrily shouted over pretty much every track. Craft ale was out. Cans of Carling for £2 were in.

And in the case of many of the attendees, back out again shortly after that.

The following night we watched the opening event at the local labour club. The acts were good and it was handy I was able to flyer the assembled in-the-know locals. Could we possibly pack out our modest little pub space?

The answer to that, as you may have guessed from the photo, was no. Despite flyering the town centre market for two hours beforehand we peaked at six people - all of which were either pub regulars or related to Lisa, our bubbly landlady. We performed like we were at Wembley regardless and took a better bucket at the end than Bear Jokes usually does. 

As a practice-run to the larger festivals it was invaluable too. There's nothing like trying to keep a verging on paralytic local who keeps making "jokes" about Syria in the flow whilst balancing this against the needs of someone's thirteen year old son. Anna J's dance routines stepped up another level and were bigger and bolder than ever whilst the new songs slotted in comfortably with the tracks which to us now feel like old standards.

Post-show we dropped our stuff off back to our very nice B&B before watching Andy Onions work his Powerpointless gold to a family of four and the now even more disinhibited local. Following that it was over to the back room of a pizza restaurant to see Aaron Simmonds and then Adele Cliff before finishing up at the closing show at the Redhouse Theatre to see Norman Lovett, Simon Donald and Barbara Nice.

Was our trip a roaring success by regular standards? Probably not. But when you've spent three days in good company seeing through a decent preview and not been choked by the toxic air of Waltham Forest it's been well worth it.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Freedom Fridge @ The Rose and Crown

Andy Onions always looks to put on a good show and so with a bank holiday spring in our step Anna and I headed to deepest darkest Kentish Town to try out a new song and our new somewhat theatrical links between tracks. If you haven't been before, the Freedom Fridge is based in an unassuming little cellar under a pub now embellished with a massive lit up sign that says "Me" on the back wall. Which is nicely in keeping with the vibe of stand-up.

Act-wise there were plenty of newcomers feeling their way through their first five minutes plus some experienced hands topping and tailing the sets. David Tsonos did some sterling work around cats and Dave Green had a good chair story. Onions himself presented a section of his rebooted Powerpointless with extra lemmings and someone did a rap about Whatsapp groups. We came to the stage in the second half fairly relaxed to an audience that was clearly keener on the occasional laugh and a polite round of applause at the end.

Following an in depth chat about being a Facebook legend with a random member of the audience, Clicking Like hit the spot as it usually does and we were into a link about house parties that worked well enough. New track, Gentrifried, then got its first airing and I forgot one and half lines in total. A new record for me given every time I've debuted a track before I've usually lost half of them before I even get to the chorus. The reaction was varied, people a little more self conscious about having to actually sing rather than shout or make noises but at its core it worked well and probably needs a couple of minor tweaks before next time. There's no rap in it. Possible signs of a change in direction post-Edinburgh this year.

Come half ten the show was over and it was up to the bar for a chat and a pint before the long and winding Uber home. Merthyr Tydfil in two week's time. We're looking forward to it.