Taking a Year off the Edinburgh Fringe

As many of you already know I’m taking this year off the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Comedy Festival of Comedy. Firstly I want you to know that I’m sorry, and that it’s not a decision I’ve taken lightly. After close consultation with my extensive team of agents, managers, producers, therapists, wives and publicists; I’ve decided to pass the torch to another most ‘likely’ lesser performer. The last 8 years I’ve been at the Fringe have been an absolute joy, from taking acid at midday and climbing Arthurs Seat after being nominated for the Best Newcomer in 2010, to yelling at myself in the mirror for being a ‘fucking loser asshole’ in 2012 when not enough people came to see my show.

Taking a year off the Edinburgh Fringe is a serious business; it’s not something to be undertaken lightly. When I decided to take a year off you can imagine the internal uproar, all those around me wrung their hands and dashed themselves on rocks crying and shrieking, ‘NO, NO, NO!’ Just one year off without the proper reasons to explain ones absence can lead to a crippling back step and rumors of cowardice. All the momentum built up over years can dissolve instantly. If you don’t believe me try this: name one comedian you’ve not heard of, that has performed at the Fringe for some time, taken a year off and then come back? There is a system that must be adhered to, and even a small deviation can be catastrophic to the trajectory of a comedian.

As this years Fringe approached my news feed, twitter feed and Facebook timeline began to buzz with the impending gathering. I looked on from afar transfixed and nostalgic as people patted themselves on the back or set their faces in a steely mask in preparation for the battle ahead. Questions were asked, accommodation was sought and promises were made,

I’m not going to read a single review!’  Many said.

‘Off to Tescos to buy fruit and veges for the whole 4 weeks!’  Some said.

‘Just got my gym membership, who hasn’t got 20 minutes a day, WOOT!’ One said.

People wrote lovely descriptive things about the architecture; they even praised the food and the weather. Old friends met up and clutched hands on the cobbled streets; pints were emptied and drams enjoyed. Opening nights were ‘SOLD OUT’ or ‘pretty good’ or would most definitely ‘get better’ as the Festival progressed. Then the reviews started to trickle in, as many of you know reviews are sometimes more important than the actual show itself and whether good or bad need to be celebrated and hated with equal fervor.

‘** from The Scotsman! fuck them they’ve always hated me’ Some tweeted.

‘I got *** from some 17 year old media student from Korea, WTF!’ One Facebooked.

‘ONLY ***** 5 STARS FROM GOLF WORLD. WOOT WOOT WOOOT’ Many wrote.

From my 5-star Hotel Room at the Darwin Festival in tropical Northern Australia I looked on with bitter jealousy as I slowly realized the mistake I’d made taking a year off. Sitting there trying to enjoy the last remnants of my tropical in room buffet breakfast I felt alone and distant: like the last Albatross. The ceaseless flow of Instagram photos, reviews, humble bragging tweets and hung-over status updates only further confirmed my fear. People are right, life doesn’t exist outside of Edinburgh during August its grey and bland.

By taking a year off I may have catastrophically fucked my chances for people to see my shows ever again; but I promise to the people who are reading this article to its conclusion. I’ll never take another year off again, unless I get some more telly stuff or another tropical gig somewhere.

Miss you.

Love, Asher Treleaven. Xo

Twitter @ashertreleaven

www.ashertreleaven.com

 

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Melb Gigs and National Tour Dates

Hey Melbournians, 

                           Hope you’re enjoying this winter by doing as I do; staying indoors and lying over the central heating vents like an ageing tabby. For those of you getting the ‘cabin fever’ and heading out into the crisp evening air, I’ll be doing a bunch of gigs around Melbourne this week before setting off on a national tour.

  • Wed 10th & Thurs 11th: For the adventurous among you I’ll be guesting in, Maude Davey’s powerful, (yes powerful) and excellent: My Life in The Nude. Its playing at La Mama Theater in Carlton.
  • Thurs 11th: After Maudes show on Thursday I’ll be racing off to Smith St in Collingwood to headline, Commedia Dell Parte’snew room at Agent @284: info here. Its an awesome new room and this Thursday is also a fundraiser for David Quirks trip to Edinburgh this year.
  • Fri 12th: If you’ve never been to the Butterfly Club you’re missing out. It is without a doubt Melbournes best small venue. For years it was lodged in South Melbourne, but now thank god has moved into the CBD. I’m Headlining a MENSA run Comedy Night called (Brackets) All info here.

After my MENSA gig I’m packing my cases and heading off on a National Tour starting in Sydney. I’ll be playing the Bondi Feast Festival on the 25th, 26th & 27th of July, so if you know some Sydney people do them the great favour of casually alerting them to my show. Here’s a link to the EVENT site and the FACEBOOK event. Please send it out to at least 1 person to receive good luck for the next 24 hours or so.

After Sydney I’ll be stopping in at the Darwin Festival from 8th until the 11th of August. So if you’re going outback or in the witness protection progamme by then come see me!

Afterwards I’m coming home and teaming up with some of my fave peeps for a one off COMIC STRIP at the Newport Substation in Yarraville on the 16th of August. I’ll be joined by tall and pointy comedian DAVE THORNTON and laconic genius GERALDINE HICKEY. There’ll be bump and grind from GYPSY WOOD and AGENT LYNCH. Its a mix of bada-bing and boom ching, tickets here: TICKETS.

Thats about it. As usual please try to share this about and I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best

Asher

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Melb gigs and National Tour

Image
Bondi Feast
Darwin Festival
Gig Page
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Hey Melbournians,

                           Hope you’re enjoying this winter by doing as I do; staying indoors and lying over the central heating vents like an ageing tabby. For those of you getting the ‘cabin fever’ and heading out into the crisp evening air, I’ll be doing a bunch of gigs around Melbourne this week before setting off on a national tour.

  • Wed 10th & Thurs 11th: For the adventurous among you I’ll be guesting in, Maude Davey’s powerful, (yes powerful) and excellent: My Life in The Nude. Its playing at La Mama Theater in Carlton.
  • Thurs 11th: After Maudes show on Thursday I’ll be racing off to Smith St in Collingwood to headline, Commedia Dell Parte’snew room at Agent @284: info here. Its an awesome new room and this Thursday is also a fundraiser for David Quirks trip to Edinburgh this year.
  • Fri 12th: If you’ve never been to the Butterfly Club you’re missing out. It is without a doubt Melbournes best small venue. For years it was lodged in South Melbourne, but now thank god has moved into the CBD. I’m Headlining a MENSA run Comedy Night called (Brackets) All info here.
After my MENSA gig I’m packing my cases and heading off on a National Tour starting in Sydney. I’ll be playing the Bondi Feast Festival on the 25th, 26th & 27th of July, so if you know some Sydney people do them the great favour of casually alerting them to my show. Here’s a link to the EVENT site and the FACEBOOK event. Please send it out to at least 1 person to receive good luck for the next 24 hours or so.
After Sydney I’ll be stopping in at the Darwin Festival from 8th until the 11th of August. So if you’re going outback or in the witness protection progamme by then come see me!

Afterwards I’m coming home and teaming up with some of my fave peeps for a one off COMIC STRIP at the Newport Substation in Yarraville on the 16th of August. I’ll be joined by tall and pointy comedian DAVE THORNTON and laconic genius GERALDINE HICKEY. There’ll be bump and grind from GYPSY WOOD and AGENT LYNCH. Its a mix of bada-bing and boom ching, tickets here: TICKETS.
Thats about it. As usual please try to share this about and I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best
Asher
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June Blog

Hello Faithful Readers,

Firstly I must apologies for not keeping up the same regularity of desperate emails that many of you received during the comedy festival. I know how exciting it is for each and every one of you, to receive regular emails about the same thing but with extra ‘INSENTIVE’ & ‘NEEDLESS CAPITILIZATION.’

Since the Melbourne Comedy Festival I have been on ‘tour’ with the Comedy Festival Roadshow, visiting some of my favorite towns in far north QLD. The most exciting was of course, Mt Isa. A place I briefly lived as a child. If you’ve never been before just try to picture a magical pit mine surrounded by caravan parks inhabited solely by sex offenders! I enjoyed the delightful company of Colin Lane, Tommy Little, Dayne Rathbone, Cal Wilson, Tommy Dean, Xavier Michelaides, Claire Hooper, LoReTA MaiNE and Tom Deacon. 

Nazeem and I competed in ‘Roadshow Masterchef’ with our dish of Cyprian Cous-cous and interesting chicken, however we lost to Gideon James, LOreTTa MainE and Anthony Noaks Mexican/Chines Taco-choi-bao.Tommy Dean is by far the best person to go on Roadshow with, as he has the worlds largest collection of board games, and when you are in veritable fun houses like ‘Downsville and Mt Isa,’ board games are a fucking must.

I’ve decided to take a year off UK touring to spend some time at home; so to occupy myself I’ve booked into festivals all around the country so keep your eyes peeled and your social media share button at the ready. I’m taking my new show, Bad Dandy to Sydney, Darwin and Adelaide. All that info will be on the Gigs page of my website. For all you Melbourne people I’ll be playing all the regular rooms around town; Softbelly, The Butterfly Club, The Shelf and The Local so if you’re up for giggle keep an eye on my Twitter as I’ll no doubt be tweeting about it.

Still on the Melbourne front, I’ve a very exciting project coming up in the Melbourne Fringe called: The Experiment. It’s a kind of ‘anti-comedy comedy club’ with Carribean music, someone’s small dog and the best of Melbourne’s odd-ball (fuck I hate that word) comics. At the moment I’ve conscripted Barry Nominee – John Conway, Newcomer Nominee – Dayne Rathbone, velvet monkey Oliver Clarke, Geraldine Hickey, Rob Hunter, Madelaine Tucker, Randy, Sabrina D’angelo and fuckload’s more. The dream is to have the funniest weird comedy night in Australia. If there was a mission statement or an elevator pitch it would be, ‘Weirdo’s doing excellent weird stuff’ or ‘Comedians bravely going where none have gone before.’ It’s going to be amazing and I really hope we start something and make some history, there are so many fantastic unusual and interesting comedians out there and I want to give them a place to fuck around. The way I see it, Melbourne has the lion’s share of Australia’s best comedians, that coupled with the kind of crowds we have here should make for some unforgettable nights. I’ve been given carte blanche by the Melbourne Fringe to go all out, and by the fucking might of Zeus that’s what I intend doing.

Please feel free to let me know if my punctuation has improved as someone wrote back to me, (sorry I’ve lost the email) alerting me to my terrible punctuations and grammar. Fucking Public School education! Any and all suggestions are welcome for making the blog better.

Xo

Asher

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Fan Fiction Comedy

Here follows a story I wrote for, ‘Fan Fiction Comedy’ at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. The idea for a Fan Fiction Comedy show is simple, comics are asked to pen a story involving a celebrity then read it to a room of people. I decided to write about the ongoing identity dispute between Nick Nolte and Gary Busey, enjoy.

Gary Busey and Nick Nolte Mandingo Fighting

I was driving a car at high speed along the California Highway on a balmy Wednesday evening. The air was dry and heavy with the promise of a new life. I’d fled Melbourne in a haze of bad vibes, alimony and wife hate. I had rented a beat up car from the 80’s and decided the best way to escape my demons was to hit the road like Jack Kerouac or Bill Bryson or Hunter S. Thompson. I was somewhere near New Mexico when the engine started pinging and I finally stopped in a town called, Champagne. People say Americans don’t understand irony but that is only well informed speculation.

The engine was ranked and buggered in the guffle, there was steam coming out of all the things. I sat there on the side of the road holding my head in my hands; the weight of my failures sitting on me like a fat kid bully or an aggressive horse. I thought back to the life I’d left behind in Melbourne, the trail of emotional rubble and anger. I started to think about killing myself; but I knew that the only way to do it was to tie a noose around my neck and the other end to the steering wheel and throw myself from the car at 95mph and now the car was broke and I couldn’t even top myself like a fucking asshole.

Just then a man came past in a beat up ford pickup. He leaned out of the window and leered at me with his gigantic dry death, sliding from his lips like skin being removed from a potato. He said, ‘Hey buddy, whatcha doin?’ I told him that my car was broken and I was late for my own life. He laughed without empathy and then offered to give me a lift. I got in the car, and we lurched away. ‘Do you know the actor Nick Nolte?’ he asked, ‘not personally’ I mewed, ‘I’ve seen all his movies though’ ‘oh’ he said, ‘Well, would you like to see Nick Nolte fight Gary Busey in a mandingo fight to the death? Because that’s where I’m going right now.’ I said I would and he smiled that dry smile and we drove on in silence.

When we arrived at the fighting place, there were heaps of people there and also some celebrities. Mel Gibson sat unshaven and cat like at the front, his eyes glinting in the fluorescent sheen. Rick Gervais was there in a tight leather one piece number with a woman much larger than him and Eddie Murphy was sitting up the back with a large entourage of intimidating black men and not black men. The fighting area was a patch of oil stained shiny cement that looked as if someone was fixing a car on it.

Nick Nolte was sitting on a milk crate in the makeshift fighting area, the light was scurvey yellow and he was shiny with pre fight sweat. Gary Busey was bouncing around yelling at himself with a wild shock of hair; every now and then he’d look at Mel, who just  gestured for him to be ‘calmè, calmè.’ A small man strode to the middle of the ring and stood in the ring and gestured for the fighters to come to the center. He whispered to each of them and they returned to their corners; then he turned to us and shouted, ‘this is to finally settle the question, who is Gary Busey and who is Nick Nolte the fight will continue until one or both of these men are dead.’ Nick stood glaring at Busey, who spat and sneered his enormous teeth at him: ‘FIGHT!’

The two overweight men lumbered at each other, Busey swinging wild and vicious at Nick’s head. Nick ducked and moved with a serpentine grace his cellulite shuddering under the yellow glow of the lights. The sound of the crowd was deafening, a primal howling that almost drowned out the wet – thwack of Busey connecting a kick into Nick’s flank. This snapped Nick into action and he stepped left then right and grabbed Busey’s head and began trying to break it off. Everyone went quiet for a second, thinking that perhaps he might be able to accomplish what so many before had wanted to do. Busey’s eyes were wild with fear as Nick held him with a vice like grip; the only sound that could be heard was Eddie Murphy’s horselaugh and the hoots of Ricky Gervais. This seemed to alert Busey to the danger he was in and he struggled like a fat eel and drove a vicious punch into the side of Nick’s ear, which sent him reeling. He followed it up with a front kick into Nick’s stomach knocking the wind out of him and dropping him to one knee. The crowd were roaring again and my compatriot elbowed my gently in the ribs urging me to watch. Busey dove upon Nick, smashing his head into the hard cement and shrieking ‘I’m Gary Busey, I’m Gary Busey!’ Nick seemed to topple over his own legs, like a crumply wumply and the audience were on their feet as Busey began to stomp on Nick’s body. I turned away in horror but Mel Gibson screamed at me to keep looking at his special boy, so I did. Nick had come to, and was grappling with Busey, the two rolling across the floor. Then Busey’s head seemed to just come off, and Nick slid himself from the dismembered body, stood up, roared like a lion, then we all left.

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Is Melbourne the Funniest City in the Herald Sun

Hey you guys. Look, during the Comedy Festival I get all kinds of offers from newspapers to assist in the death of paid journalism, by writing for free to plug my comedy shows. This year it gives me great pleasure to announce that I’ve written a think piece for the ‘Herald Sun’ on why Melbourne is the worlds funniest city. Its written in direct response to a piece by Loretta Maine, (UK) who has decided to shit in the face of Melbourne by saying that it is not a funny place because we like coffee and have sunshine. I’ll allow you to make up you’re own mind, by only providing my argument below. xo

Melbourne is without a doubt the funniest city in the world. I can assure you of this as I have travelled to almost every city in the world, bar those engulfed in dangerous wars. Not one single metropolis comes close for hilarity. The list of funny cities in the world is divided into two different groups.

1 – places where funny people come from – Dublin, Glasgow & Boston.

2 – places that are funny – Tokyo & Montreal

One might assume that a city where some of the world’s funniest people come from might be the funniest place in the world. However when I went looking for funny in Dublin, Ireland all I found were investment bankers screaming in the streets and children dark from Guinness strapping flowers to guard rails as rain poured down 26 hours a day. In Boston, USA I thought I would discover the jackpot. Surely a city responsible in some part for the shaping of comedians Louie CK, Denis Leary, Steve Carrel, Steven Wright and Amy Poehler would be the funniest place in the world. But all I found were squinty eyed locals who whispered, “you’re not better than me” before climbing back into their brownstones. Boston it turns out is the birthplace of, Tall Poppy Syndrome not comedy. Then finally in Glasgow, Scotland I didn’t even get a chance to look for funny because, the moment I stepped off the train I was verbally abused by a man for the entirety of my three-day stay there.

The next destination on my search for funny was Tokyo, Japan. Surely, one cannot find a funnier and more bizarre city than Tokyo, with its LOLCATS and certifiably crazy dress sense Tokyo would definitely provide ample LOL’S.  Alas no, while there were oddities in abundance I could not understand anything happening there due to my lack of Japanese and the only comedy I could understand was about harpooning whales with a canon. Finally Montreal was the final stop, the home of ‘Just For Laughs’ and ‘Cirque Du Soleil.’ I tried in Montreal I really did. I went to see the biggest comedy in town, which was a man in a leather mask with a ponytail playing the violin but the only funny thing I saw in there was a man dropping a cup of tea at a bus stop and it was only a 3 star laugh if I’m honest.

Melbourne is the funniest city by far, sure the comedy festival is amazing but it’s the little things that make us the funniest. Like losing the title of ‘Capital City’ to Canberra in 1913 or naming one of our roughest industrial outer suburbs, ‘Sunshine.’

 

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3 Things You Might Want to Know

Hello Reader,

I’ve been a little lax since the Edinburgh Fringe with my blogging and left wing ranting as I’ve been pouring all my time into other creative endeavours at the moment, like my new Stand Up show for 2013. As I search the giant library slash toilet wall that is the Internet for ideas and inspiration I come across all manner of wondrous bullshit. At the moment I have an appetite for Ted Talks as they provoke marvellous ideas and inspiration when one is feeling a little bereft of the muse.

Here is a collection of three talks that blew my hair all the way back.  If you’ve not heard of Ted, check the website and the ‘playlists’ section, which is particularly helpful and interesting who knows you may discover you and Glenn Close have more in common than you think.

The first is by Paul Stamets and its called ’6 Ways Mushrooms can Save the World’ and its seriously fucking mind blowing.

 

The second is by Michael Specter and its called ‘The Danger of Science Denial’ Its one of the greatest anti-bullshit talks I’ve heard

 

The final talk is by Charlie Todd and its far lighter and more joyous than the previous two. Its on the ‘Shared Experience of Absurdism’ and I do believe it will brighten your day.

 

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Perfect Playlist

Chris Morris: Blue Jam, Unflustered Parents

The first time I listened to Blue Jam I was recovering from a very big night on the bickies and amble cakes and I was not in a good way. A friend of mine who was into spoken word and astral travelling brought over a CD that she had been raving about for ages.

She said that it was important to listen to this CD in the environment indicated on the inside sleeve. however when I checked the sleeve it was just a dirty torn piece of note paper with some drawings of knots and the name Blue Jam on it.

I didn’t really listen to it until the Suicide Journalist came on. Then I began to feel uncomfortably aware that this CD was a horrible, brilliant and hilarious masterpiece and my introduction to the dark recesses of the mind of a man called Chris Morris.

George Carlin: Life Is Worth Losing, Modern Man

George Carlin was a profoundly brilliant comedian. One of those comedians who occupies a sage-like place in American popular folklore. He wrote and performed 19 solo shows for television starting in 1966 and ending the year of his death in 2008.

He perfectly enunciated the frustration and anger of multiple generations and this little excerpt from his second last HBO special, Life Is Worth Losing  is one of the best opening routines I’ve ever seen. In a way it’s a summation of his life, a spoken word memoir or a jazzography and an excellent display of vocal versatility by the Godfather of modern stand-up comedy.

Dave Chappelle: Chappelle Show, Charlie Murphy’s Hollywood Stories

I’ve watched the Prince routine over and over and every time I watch it I laugh, the Rick James saga borders on the perfectly absurd. The content, the straight up way Charlie tells the stories and the ludicrous theatrical recreations performed by him and Dave are hilarious.

I believe that truth or the illusion of truth is at the heart of all good comedy and there is something so perfectly ridiculous and believable about Charlie Murphy’s Hollywood stories that the question of believability is irrelevant. The stories are too bizarre to be anything but the truth.

Sir Les Patterson: Clive Anderson Interview 1995

Barry Humphries is the greatest character comedian to have ever escaped Australia. Fleeing in the 70s like so many other great liberal luminaries such as, Germaine Greer, Nick Cave or Clive James, he allowed himself to rise above the vicious and jocular tall poppy syndrome that Australia suffers from.

If he had stayed in Australia he would most certainly have been killed in a field or relegated to hosting daytime cooking shows. Sir Les Patterson is a character that speaks simultaneously to the very heart of the Australian nature and to the beating heart of British-Australian prejudice. He functions best as a foil to work off in group interviews and this interview with Clive Anderson in the mid 90s is almost good enough to forgive him for the horrid folly that was Les Patterson Saves The World

Bernie Mac: Def Comedy Jam spot

‘You don’t understand.’ Bernie Mac repeats throughout this absolutely sterling piece of adversarial stand-up at the bear pit that is Def Comedy Jam. The legend goes that the previous act was booed off stage and that Martin Lawrence was having a hard time convincing the audience that he was anything more than a glorified silk glove.

The wonderful irony here is that a lot of us don’t understand everything Bernie says although he repeatedly asks us to do so, not that it matters. This to me, is a perfect example of a comedian’s victory against the angry hordes, the holy grail of combative stand-up. It’s something that so many comics seek when they go to perform at the horror show stand-up cock fights in clubs all over the world. Clubs filled with swarming punters out to destroy comedians in a Haze of self-loathing and warm beer. Before stepping into that bear-pit repeat the mantra of Mac, ‘I ain’t afraid of you muthafuckers!’

Stewart Lee: Stand Up Comedian, Princess Diana routine

I first saw Stewart Lee from behind the lapel of Robin Ince as he nursed and bullied me through nine months of Robin Ince’s Book Club. Stewart was a guest in Cambridge and while there he was performing a routine about the inherent sadness of a child’s ballet slipper he found somewhere. I really like the ballet slipper routine but I can’t find it anywhere and I only saw it once so I can’t really repeat it here.

However, The Princess Diana routine in Stand Up Comedian is an excellent example of Stewart’s pacing, theatricality, physicality and lying down. One of my favourite parts of any of Stewart’s routines whether it be about insects, death or sickness is his laying down, which I wish he would do a lot more of.

 

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Black Hat & Critical Thinking at the Fringe

At the Edinburgh Fringe a show can be made or broken by a good review. With over 2000 shows a day how do you make a decision, social media, word of mouth or a cunning flyerer? More often than not if the act is unknown you’ll decide based on a review and stars on a poster and it seems nowadays anyone with an opinion and an online soapbox can start throwing stars about willy-nilly.  I was curious to know what it’s like to be a critic at the Fringe. If you watch 10 shows a day how do you stay open minded? Is Twitter and the multi headed reviewer blog hydra killing the role of the critic, now that everyone’s a critic? Why work as a critic in the first place! and most importantly why do we need critics at the Fringe? I asked a couple of professional critics, Stephanie Merrit from the Observer and Julian hall from the Independent a few questions about working at the Fringe to find out a little more about why they do what they do?

Why work as a critic?

StephanieOn one level I realise it’s hugely presumptuous, the idea that my opinion somehow carries more weight than someone else’s just because it’s in a newspaper. Obviously the most important thing is to experience a work of art directly and form your own views, whether that’s a book, a painting or a comedy show. But sometimes we want to look a little deeper or just want a bit of guidance to what’s worth seeing, and that’s where the critic comes in. I’ve always loved live comedy and watched a lot of it, so I’d like to think that over the years I have developed an eye for work that’s original or different. I think the critic plays an important part at the Fringe because there are just so many shows; readers do want to be pointed in the direction of the good ones.

Julian - Performers don’t have the capacity to step back from their own work, we do that for them.  Essentially we are doing the job that directors do / should do (if there is one), but with stars attached.  (The star ratings make us the bad guys/gals but is a measurement that editors feel their readers want and by and large they are right.) So, we are serving a useful, constructive purpose and what we say can often shape the performer’s work.  That said I respect any act who chooses not to read their reviews – good or bad. On a practical level, the question implies that reviewing is a career, no critic (not even seasoned theatre critics) can survive on this pursuit alone and you’ll often find they engage with the art form in other ways, features, books, maybe even more practical ways, some have performed themselves, some might run a comedy night, or be involved with TV and radio projects with comedy talent.  I have given PR advice to acts I am not reviewing.

 Do you think the era of bloggers and twitter is diluting and damaging the role of the critic?

StephanieI think they occupy different spaces. To me, good criticism is as much about the way the ideas are expressed as the opinions themselves; when you read Anthony Lane’s film criticism in the New Yorker you don’t need to have seen the film or agree with his view, it’s just a great read. And a lot of bloggers are not professional writers so perhaps their reviews are not as crafted as a newspaper critic. It’s certainly noticeable at the Fringe in the past few years that some performers will stick 5 star reviews from just about anywhere on their posters – I guess it’s up to the public to judge whether 5 stars from a website run by some guy at his first Fringe is worth as much as a review from an established newspaper arts section. I think a critic needs time to establish themselves so that people come to trust their judgment, or at least have a sense of their taste. A blog can do that too, if it attracts regular readers. Twitter is different altogether; it’s a free for all where anyone can shout out their opinion to anyone who cares to listen, and I love it for that.

JulianYes, for one main reason – star ratings again.  It’s the obvious physical manifestation of a critique and in Edinburgh these manifestations are everywhere, to the point that there are so many journals giving out stars that your chances of getting a 4 star review are higher than they have ever been!

 Do you find it hard to go into a show with an open mind?

Stephanie - I don’t think so. I try to consider each show on its own terms; the main criteria is whether it makes me (and the rest of the audience) laugh, but I do also look at how it does that. The only thing that is sometimes difficult is if I’ve seen an act before and not liked their show, to go to their new show the following year without preconceptions. Sometimes people can really turn things around from one year to the next, but there is always the worry that it’s going to be more of the same. Also I think every critic brings their own sensibilities to their writing, and that does affect your taste. I’m a woman, and a liberal, so there are certain subjects I struggle to laugh at – male comics making rape jokes, as an obvious one.

Julian - No, not at all.  I go into every show wanting to like it and be entertained.  Why wouldn’t I?  I could be seeing as many as 80-100.

 Have you ever been confronted or abused by a comic at the fringe for a review?

StephanieNot really. I don’t tend to write bad reviews at the Fringe, because it seems more valuable to me to use the little space I have to flag up shows I want people to see. But I did once write a diary piece where I mentioned a show that all the critics I knew disliked; I didn’t mention the performer’s name or even gender, but the person recognized themselves and later sent me a long, angry letter telling me how they’d almost given up stand up because of it. I felt a bit bad about that, but this person then made it a mission to get me to like their work; for the next year, they obsessively sent me CDs, invited me to gigs, emailed me constantly and turned me into a kind of enigmatic love-hate figure on their blog. They later went into journalism, so…

Julian - Never abused in person.  Someone once sent me an email that read, “you’re a cock” because I didn’t like show that they had curated.  I’ve had a conversation with a comedian about frames of reference/comparative elements. But since they were talking about their own show it was never going to be the most objective chat.

 Why are critics important?

Stephanie – I try to see this from both sides. I’m a novelist, and when I read a review of one of my books by someone who has clearly read it and considered it thoughtfully, I do take on board any criticisms they make. So from the point of view of an artist, I think good critics are important because they can point out flaws we might not be aware of and ways to improve. We all want our work to be better each time. From a reader’s point of view, I think criticism is valuable because there’s just so much out there. And of course good criticism can get debates going because everyone will have a different view – I’m always happy if my columns get people talking about comedy, even if it’s because they violently disagree with me.

Julian - For the reasons above, but also they help to capture the essence of a movement or an era and make sense of the influences that stand ups are under rather than performers working in a perceived vacuum.

Stephanie Merrit is a journalist and critic for the Observer and Julian Hall is a writer and critic for the Independent.

 

 

 

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Yellow Hat Thinking, Talking Positive with Adam Hills

 The Yellow hat is the thinking hat of speculative positivity and it’s this hat that I struggle most with. Boundless positivity is an unnatural quality in a comedian, we are typically wingers, critics and smart asses who endlessly seek out things that irk and irritate to parody, satirise and attack. Socrates believed the heart of good comedy was surprise but I think the modern equivalent would be ‘surprise, everything’s fucked!’  Whether it be the burning fervent hatred of stupidity made famous by modern stand ups Bill Hicks and George Carlin, the combative front row sergeants like Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr or surrealists like Monty Python and the Mighty Boosh, whose absurdity can be seen as a ‘fuck you’ to manners and social normality. Are all comedians angry people?

Comedy is a tough job and the highs and lows of a gigging solo comedian can have the unfortunate effect of gradually causing a depressive personality. People either find you funny or not and if you bomb it’s awful. A comic’s material is such a part of them that it’s not just the jokes that fail it’s also the person; a bad gig is like taking a mortar and pestle to your soul. Contrastingly a fantastic gig can have the unfortunate side effect of a massive come down. The high is so high that sometimes life just can’t compare.

Freud notes that most people’s greatest fear is to, stand-alone on a stage being laughed at by a room full of people. Each night of the Fringe comedians seek this out, then throw themselves body and soul into it and try to control it, no wonder some of us are a little damaged. The stereotypical comedian is a manic personality suffering from huge highs and lows, drinking constantly, unable to switch off, jealous and driven, but is this true? Are we all attention seeking manic-depressives screeching for attention from the stage each night?  In an environment with very clear parameters for success and failure surrounded by critics, colleagues and judges how do comedians at the Edinburgh Fringe cope with the pressures of the job? I sat down with one of the shining lights of comedic positivity, Adam Hills to talk about bringing joy to people, staying positive and the Muppets.

Adam Hills starting doing stand up at age 19 and brought his first show to Edinburgh in 1997. Since then he’s been nominated numerous times for the Perrier and has built a reputation as one of the most celebratory, ‘sun drenched’ life-affirming comedians working at the Fringe. I wondered whether Adams positivity was a choice or whether it was a natural progression over time. He told me that the progression began early in his career, he started to notice that hostility created hostility and he realised he wanted to leave the room filled with happiness and joy not angry upset hecklers. Adam says he just began to change small things in his jokes. “I remember re-writing one of my jokes about hating Americans, because they name their children after personality traits that they wish they will grow up to have, Faith, Hope, Charity etc. I thought you know what I don’t hate Americans at all, hate is such a strong awful word to use and I rewrote the joke, ‘You know what I love about Americans, they are the most optimistic people on the planet they name their children after traits they wish they had’… it’s the exact same joke but you don’t feel so dirty afterward’

This is a perfect example of Adams attitude to stand up, rather than talking down to people, attacking the room and leaving a hostile snake pit behind him he has a rare ability to be leave an audience feeling laughed out and joyous. This year he was at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival and had the great honour to be part of a gala show hosted by The Muppets. The Muppets are the original Joymongers and there are few groups that can bring the kind of exuberant happiness to an audience like Jim Henson’s furry troupe of puppets. Adam had planned to do a set with material about the Swedish Chef so he was placed in the running order accordingly. As Adam was waiting to go on the Swedish Chef was creating chaos on the stage utensils flying about, meatballs all over the place. Suddenly a wooden spoon flew through the air and landed near his feet in the wings. He looked at the spoon nervously and asked the backstage assistant if he could take the spoon on. After much tooing and froing, checking and radioing the assistant gave Adam the go ahead and he walked onto stage with Swedish Chef’s spoon, held it up and then to the delight of the packed crowd mischievously slid the spoon into his jacket pocket, the crowd erupted into cheers. He then did his set, improvising and cracking jokes about his love of the Muppets and upon exiting almost bumped headlong into the Swedish Chef. The Chef reached into his jacket removed the wooden spoon and banged him on the chest with it then held up the spoon looked at Adam, said, ‘ok’ and gave it back, Adam then high fived Kermit, hugged the puppeteers and got a free ride home on Snuffaluffagus.

In the press the next day a critic noted that Adam was the only comic to capture the celebratory nature of the night. In the maelstrom of press, competition and criticism that comedians receive at the Fringe it’s easy to lose sight of what we are here to do and lapse into a fug of self loathing and negativity. All of us in our own way try to go out and make people laugh and feel better about the world. Perhaps we need to be reminded that its not daddy issues, attentions seeking or an addictive personality that drives comics to dive headlong into one of the most psychologically terrifying atmosphere imaginable its just a genuine desire to spread a little laughter, mirth and positivity. In the famous words of the Muppeteer himself, When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for having been there. ” Jim Henson

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