I've been in Edinburgh for a fortnight. I'm 39 gigs in and feeling on top of the world. There've been some good ones and some stormingly terrible ones where the best I could do was to hope no one in the audience was crayoning a review that would eat into my self esteem for the next 6 months.
I think, as a comic, a certain level of self awareness is the mightiest weapon you can have. You need to know whether you're good overall, whether you're good on a certain night, whether you're good with the front row you're chatting to, and whether you're good telling "that" joke and remaining morally sound.
In my opinion Edinburgh ever so slightly throws a lot of that self awareness into disarray, because people get very worked up over reviews. Myself included. Despite only caring about the opinion of about 4 reviewers out there, I am still lapping up the writing of every 19 year old given a Press Pass and a free ticket and sent to review the work of someone who's been on stages for longer than the reviewer (or myself) have been alive. It's a difficult time when the reaction of an entire audience of paying people is often seen as less valid than a solitary pen on paper. I've read too many negative reviews that seem to have nothing but bad to say about the show and then casually remark, "of course, the audience were loving it - heaven knows why." Perhaps because this comic knows their own audience and knows how to play to them? Because, it's sort of what they're professionally trained to do?
Anyway, that's enough of that. I don't want this blog post to be about reviews. Because, personally, I find Edinburgh slightly harder than previously because I am constantly comparing how I am getting on to other comics. More specifically, one other comic... the one I share my bed with.
No, I'm not just so hard up that I'm sleeping in a comedian commune (although I have done in the past), I am in a relationship with a fellow comic.
I find this a tough subject because I am so mixed up in my own head about why I behave the way I do with regard to our respective careers. I am a pathologically obsessive person, I'm highly strung, nervous and have a tendency towards despair. My boyfriend is perfect for me, because... well he hasn't left yet.
He (let's call my boyfriend Alan for the purposes of this blog because a) I like the name Alan and b) it's always been my brother's first choice of name for a dog which I find hilarious) is a much more successful comic than I am and this poses a number of problems for me because anything I achieve he has already done and better.
If I've managed to get on a particularly good showcase show up at the Fringe this month, he's done it once a week and kind of bored of it. If I've been asked to write a little thing about myself for www.nobodyseverheardofyou.com then he's being filmed for a TV piece for Somebody's Heard of You Sky TV Channel 936. If I'm writing what might turn out to be a drossy piece about an insecure comedian who wishes she was better, he's probably not. In fact he's definitely not. He's in the kitchen laughing with his friends about how flappy wafer thin ham is.
Please don't get me wrong and think I'm not insanely proud and respectful of him. I wouldn't want to take anything away from the success he's on his way to. It's just that I find it hard to hold our careers in totally separate comparison panels. Whilst I know this is wrong and I should never compare my creative achievements to anyone else's for fear of tainting what makes things good about my work, it's so SO hard not to feel downcast when you're the dull star in your own fairy tale.
It's largely how I know I could also never be a successful lesbian. It's hard enough living with the knowledge that my right breast is never going to live up to the precedent set by my left breast... let alone having two whole (you'd hope) other breasts in the situation to have to compete with. Sex is alright when there's a boy there because you're the only one supposed to be doing the girl moves - I can only imagine me hooking up with a girl is going to lead to increasingly more complicated efforts to be the best sexer until I'm dressed a bird of paradise, dancing on one leg and presenting her with a series of tin foil Karma Sutra mouldings.
I have no idea if it's the same for all careers (we're off lesbians now, by the way - in my limited understanding of lesbianism I believe it is the same whatever career path you choose. I've certainly not come across descriptions of corporate vs self employed lesbianism). Whether two lawyers in the same house compete over who's represented the biggest tosspot:
"See you later darling, I'm off to make sure Vodafone are squeaky clean for the 31st Jan."
"WELL FUCK YOU ASSHOLE I'M GOING TO MAKE SURE MY CLIENT PAYS NOTHING FOR THAT PARKING VIOLATION IN BRIGHTON LAST MAY. NOTHING, I TELL YOU! NOTHING!!!"
In some careers you might even think it was quite cute. I can't imagine a lady baker being able to muster too much fury when she's still on pain au chocolat and he's whipping up an olive focaccia.
It's certainly not uncommon for comics to pair up - there are a surprising number of comic couples out there. In a lot of ways the similar lifestyle and sharing your downtime with someone who understands your compulsions is incredibly satisfying. We're like addicts. It's hard to explain the buzz and the highs and the lows and the process to someone who finds it all a bit baffling and alien.
But back to the competitive element...
I think when you're trying to get somewhere in comedy, or acting, it can feel like everybody who achieves something who isn't you has used up one of the "success spaces" and has therefore made it that little bit harder for you to go anywhere. It's an absolutely horrible thing to admit but every time a sparky, young, female comedian achieves something newsworthy a little part of me feels petrified that she's just called dibs on all the work out there for comedians in our category. It's horrible, but that's the way it is and I'm sure I'm not alone in having those deep down feelings. It's not quite enough to just be repeatedly good at what you do in dark rooms across the country, if you're going to earn a sustainable living you need a little bit of a boost to get you going. The right award, agent, USP or press piece about why you're a quirky crowd pleaser who's broken the mold.
I've certainly in the past been turned down for a gig because they "already have a woman on that night" and I know of a comic who lost out on a representation deal because he bears a passing resemblance to another comedian.
Competition for work is fierce.
But when that competition is also your solace when you crawl into bed at night. What then? Well, thankfully Alan isn't a sparky, young, female comedian so I at least don't have that to worry about. He's also downright supportive, patient and an excellent person to bounce material off when I'm working on new bits. The hardest nights are when he's away gigging for a week at a time and I'm not so not only am I dealing with the fact that I'm not as in demand as I'd like to be, I'm also alone and dealing with fact that the love of my life is living my dream.
On nights like these I find an evening of too much mascara and weeping into the bath so that I can make tie dye patterns on my flannel are an effective outlet for bottled up emotion. Crying is excellent and I pity anyone who doesn't do it at least once a week just to let loose. I can now cry at anything from a lonely person on a train to a particularly well directed SMA advert.
All in all, competition is what brings out the best and worst in comedians and people (totally separate species). The entire Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Award Newcomer Festival Sponsored by Chequed Shirts and Bitter Lagery Tears is fuelled by competition and it produces magnificence. The quality of the shows on offer is testament to the peacockery and desire to have people love you and want more of you. Without it we'd all just make our own friends laugh and leave yours alone. But spare a thought when you're cackling at one star reviews and contemplating walking out of a Free Fringe Show 3 minutes before the end so you don't have to put your measly £1.50 in the bucket for that hours entertainment you enjoyed... you could have just come to see my show and not dealt with either of those eventualities.
Or something more poignant. Fuck it who cares. https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/aaa-stand-up-late