Surviving the only 'No' show at the Fringe
This is the time of year that you can find hundreds of comedians wandering aimlessly from pub to pub, looking like weary spectres of the men and women they once were before the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. These broken, broke souls spend much of September wondering whether it worth it all.
Just like nearly every comic that does the Fringe my run involved a battle for the right (or sometimes any) audience and the normal highs and lows of doing a show through the slog of rain and reviews (frequently both make you feel cold and wet).
Added to the mix this year I did one of the few shows on the Scottish Referendum. In fact, it appears to have been the only one to be against Scottish Independence.
How did the people of Scotland react to my sticking my slightly reddened comedy nose in? Generally, really well. I think the best day of the fringe was when a woman who works for the SNP came with friends that were No supporters (apparently that can be done - who knew!). She said she really enjoyed the show because they felt comfortable watching it together even though they disagreed on independence. And while she failed to give me any stars (because that’s what we all crave at the Festival) her comments were my favourite review.
I wanted both sides to enjoy the show and to find it interesting and funny. While I do have a view I wasn’t going to Scotland to evangelise. At the moment that’s not the type of comedy I want to do. Once you start to preach in comedy you end up with an audience that largely agrees with you - after going through a few that throw things at you.
I can’t think of anything duller than performing only to people who agree with you. Plus when you’re playing the crowd the jokes start to become singular, repetitive and predictable. The more people pick on Nick Clegg for example, the more I feel sorry for him. The poor guy is trying to do what he thinks is right - isn’t there a single comedian in the country that can give him a bit of credit? Give him a break. Watching Nick Clegg is like watching Bruce Willis in Sixth Sense. He doesn’t know he’s already dead.
There were times when my satirical sword could have been sharper. It was hard to know how hard to push. I did preview the show twice in Scotland but that still wasn’t enough time to develop more biting critiques without tipping into a voice of condescension. I knew I was on thin ice already as an outsider. My novelty as someone originally from America gave me an opening that would not have been afforded to me if I had a more received pronunciation. If I spoke like that I probably would have received a kicking.
Interacting with people on the Yes side wasn’t always as positive as my SNP friend. I think those who disagreed with me generally still enjoyed the show. Someone did inform me that the next time I’d visit Scotland I’d probably have trouble getting a visa.
I did have one stunned punter I found lingering outside just after the gig. He could not not fathom how someone from America (of all places!!) could not understand that independence from another country is the only way forward. I had that question a few times. People seemed to conveniently forget that while America did fight a war for independence we also fought an even bloodier one to stay together. In the Rock, Paper, Cannons of conflicts the US Civil War wins.
The strongest negative reaction was from someone who never made it to the show. He took a flyer and then said, "This has to be Yes, right?" When I said it wasn’t he dropped the flyer as if it burned his hands. He loved the idea of an independent Scotland so much, he's was willing to litter in it. He must have been a member of the SNP and not the Green Party.
Initially, I was slightly nervous handing out leaflets about the show. Luckily it did spark a smile most of the time but it also made a few people say 'Good God, no!' Clearly some people hope Scotland’s ‘Day of Destiny’ means a ‘Day of Decision’ but I suspect it will be more a ‘Day of Please Let Us Talk About Something Else’.
Throughout the month I sensed voter fatigue after the nearly two year campaign. It’s the same feeling I get now seeing Ice Bucket Challenges on facebook. Remember the days before the Challenge? Good times.
No matter what happens on the 18th September things will be different in Britain. Either because a Union which has lasted three centuries has come to an end or, even if the partnership is renewed, the political landscape of Scotland has changed for a generation. Hopefully the ones who win will be like the lovely woman from the SNP who took a moment to say she felt united, for a moment, with friends that she doesn’t agree with politically.
Having that connection is something that would be a victory for everyone. I’d give that five stars.