I am going to the Edinburgh Festival this August. That declaration could be said in a number of ways. Celebratory (unlikely). Showing off (possibly). Self-promotion (in there somewhere). However, I’ve been in comedy a while and have reached what my wife recently called ‘solid middle-age’, so announcing I’m going to the Fringe is more of an incantation: a chant designed to steel myself for a taxing endeavour.
Not that there will be much tax owing afterwards, I’m not likely to make much money. No-one in Edinburgh does as well out of the Fringe as some bloke called ‘Josh’ who rents you his airing cupboard for six grand.
I’m assured this year should be special, as the festival hasn’t happened (properly) since 2019. The ‘vibe’ is going to be incredible. However, ‘vibe’ could also mean ‘lots of competition’. Having extricated myself from happy family life for three weeks I need to sell some bloody tickets. I’m all for ‘the biggest Fringe ever’ but not if I end up earning less than my barely pubescant flyering team.
Furthermore, given my experience of post-Covid travel, what state of mind will this army of returning fringe-goers be in by the time they arrive in the city? (having spent £400 for a flight from Luton which eventually took off in Biarritz). What kind of appetite for comedy can I expect from someone who spent the sum of their monthly mortgage on a single night in an Ibis which still has those air-fix toilets? The ubiquitous jacket potato will cost so much that those kindly American tourists will reverse the usual trend and start mugging locals.
Given all this negativity, why am I even going up? It’s mainly because my show, ‘I Blame the Parents’, is the best tour I’ve ever done. This isn’t arrogance, I’m just saying it’s the best show I’ve ever done. In the same way Hugh Laurie’s jazz album was definitely his best album containing jazz.
The start of my Tour in 2021 was electric, though it’s possible the early adulation was underpinned by the enthusiasm of a recent jail-break; people had just been allowed out of their houses and gave big returns for someone able to point out humorous things about vaccines: ‘Yes Geoff, Astra Zeneca is like a British value range – a bit s**t but gets the job done.'
The pandemic and lockdowns gave comics something we thrive on: shared experience. Beyond going to school and diarrhoea, there are few things we all go through, but Covid was a universal reference point. You didn’t even have to say, ‘Have you ever noticed?’ because you knew dam well everybody had. The pandemic was the only thing to notice. Either that or admit that you and your wife had run out of anecdotes.
It’s a delicate thing to work out when routines are going past their sell-by date. You don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but the potential comedic stench of said bath water may ultimately be so foul that one or two discarded babies could be seen as reasonable collateral. Covid was a gift, producing some of the best material I’ve written and it wouldn’t be right for me to hope for just one more worrying variant to keep the subject live until the end of the Fringe. Would it?
Any show which started out a year ago will have also seen cultural and political changes moving at a faster pace than usual. When I started the Tour last September I had a routine about why Labour were so meh and why they’d never get ahead in the polls (in my defence, Labour still are meh, but the Tories seem intent on giving the opposition their own version of a windfall).
Even though Rishi’s approval numbers have since tanked like political Bitcoin, I still think the Tories should make him leader, if only to pettily take the high-ground in the diversity stakes.
By August, the Conservatives might be on their third confidence vote and the flights to Rwanda may have taken as many 12 people. I just thank god for the enduring nature of Prince Andrew’s unpopularity.
Even a subject like cancel culture has morphed. It was heartening to see Channel 4 stand by Jimmy Carr’s right to tell jokes (what with him being a comedian) and Netflix have started wondering whether a staff member ‘literally shaking with rage’ would constitute Dave Chapelle’s most objective critic. So the dial has moved a little bit, but if you’re arguing cancel culture doesn’t exist because globally famous gods of comedy have evaded it, you might be setting the threshold a little high.
So I’ve accepted I am going to the Edinburgh Fringe and the very least I can do is have some new things to say.
Maybe you’re going to the festival too. If that's the case I have some sober advice. When it comes to accommodation, book early and don’t rule out student accommodation. It may be basic, but if you can endure a shared bathroom and the lingering smell of skunk you might have just enough money left to afford one of those coveted jacket potatoes or, even better, a ticket to my show.
Geoff Norcott is performing at the Edinburgh Festival 12-28thAugust at the Underbelly with his show ‘I Blame The Parents’