I’ve been coming to the Edinburgh Fringe for five years, but this is the first time I’ve dipped my toe into the stormy waters of performing. My show Iain Dale All Talk is a series of 24 interviews with politicians, media personalities and, er, Christopher Biggins. As I write this, I’ve just compèred the last show of the run and can look back on 12 days of variety, headline-making, insight and laughs. What do I remember? Nicola Sturgeon in fits of laughter describing what it’s like talking to the Maybot; Jess Phillips telling me she’d run to succeed Jeremy Corbyn and forming her cabinet live on stage; and Dr David Starkey tearing up discussing the loneliness he feels following the death of his partner, James.
One of the earliest shows to sell out was John McDonnell’s. I had expected quite a leftie audience but he certainly didn’t get the kind of cheering Sturgeon received the previous day. His remarks on Indyref2 were diametrically opposed to Labour’s official policy, which, if I am honest, I had only a passing acquaintance with. Lucky for me, I guessed right. His remarks ‘committed news’ and they are still dominating the Scottish political headlines a week on.
Finding the right accommodation in Edinburgh is not always easy. I normally stay at the George Hotel, but when my promoter sent me a picture of a pleasant-looking apartment and told me it was at the end of Simpson Loan, I thought it sounded fine. My friend Gyles Brandreth said he stays in a flat on that road. What could possibly go wrong? As the taxi drew up to the address, I saw a sign saying ‘Unite Students’. Was I really about to stay in student accommodation? Was I actually about to pay rent to Len McCluskey? Yes and no. Unite Students apparently has nothing to do with Unite the union. By student accommodation standards it wasn’t too bad, but it was, shall we say, basic. No TV. One fork, one knife, no spoon. And then I find out that my guests are all being accommodated in rather nice hotels.
My favourite Fringe comedy show was undoubtedly Konstantin Kisin’s Orwell That Ends Well. Kisin is a Russo-British comedian who’s comparatively new to the scene. (He co-hosts the Triggernometry podcast.) He was recently asked to sign a ‘behavioural agreement’ before being allowed to do his comedy act at SOAS, which informed him that he must respect the university’s policies on ‘racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia or anti-religion or anti-atheism’. He had to agree to be ‘respectful’ and ‘non-abusive’ at all times. He refused to sign, and this is the basis of his laugh-out-loud act. He’s one of a new breed of anti-woke comedians such as Andrew Doyle and Leo Kearse, who also has a very funny show which I went to see called Transgressive. The Fringe is full of anti-Trump, Remainery comedians, so it’s good to see variety emerging at last.
My drama of the Fringe was a one-man play called Ripped, written and performed by Alex Gwyther. It concerns the subject of male rape and toxic masculinity — about as far away from comedy as you can get, and not something I would ordinarily watch. Having once nearly been the victim of a male rape, and once having had a boyfriend who actually was, I realise this is a subject which needs far more discussion and debate. I did a phone-in on it on my LBC radio show, thinking we’d be lucky to get a single call. Within five minutes the switchboard was full. If you’re in Edinburgh, and only watch one show, go and see Ripped. Alex deserves all the awards going.
I was not expecting to be heckled when I took part in an earnest discussion on tax at Panmure House, the recently refurbished home of everyone’s favourite moral philosopher, Adam Smith. I was wanging on about the opportunities Brexit offers when a gentleman in shorts in the front row started laughing. I asked him why. ‘Because 90 per cent of everything you’ve said is shit.’ Given this was a very polite, Radio 4-type audience, this was quite a surprising observation, even if it may have been true. ‘How rude,’ I said. Murmurs from the audience seemed to indicate they agreed with me. The organiser looked mortified. A lady then asked a question about the decline in public discourse. ‘Yes,’ I said, looking directly at the man. ‘People say things on social media that they’d never say to your face. Or at least that used to be the case.’ HarperCollins has just commissioned me to write a book on the subject called Why Can’t We All Just Get Along, which will be published next June. The gentleman in the front row has, without realising it, given me 90 per cent of my opening paragraph.