Four days at the Edinburgh Fringe: Day one

The scene on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh during the Fringe; Sunday 21st August 2016

There was a pleasant contrast in transporting from the west coast to the east on Sunday afternoon.  As I was leaving Oban the clouds were grey and grumpy, the rain was falling and I was sober; by the time I arrived at Edinburgh Waverley nigh upon five hours later the clouds were white against a warm blue sky and I was mildly inebriated.  This is my favourite weekend of the year, albeit this year it is going to spill into midweek.

I adore the Edinburgh Fringe.  The manic mayhem of absurd street performers on every turn, the thousands and thousands of shows from international stars to free acts in the dark basement of a bar halfway down one of the Old Town’s many steep cobbled hills.  The pop-up bars and pop-up pizza trucks and street food of all stars and stripes.  It is mesmerising and breathless.

Having checked into my hostel on Blackfriars Street I made my way through the throngs of people snaking slowly along the Royal Mile in every direction, dodging between face painted street performers, acoustic musicians and fliers to Brewdog for a pint of hipster craft beer and an opportunity to construct a plan for the night ahead.  I realised upon walking down the exceptionally steep Fishmarket Close that, certainly when drunk, it is much easier going up those cobbled streets than it is walking down them.  My footsteps were loud and a whole lot faster than anticipated, and fortunately the whole thing didn’t end in farce.

Wings on Fishmarket Close is very much a restaurant which does what it says on the sign. If you enjoy chicken wings this is the place to go.  They only had outdoor seating available on this occasion, so I was able to enjoy a pint of Black Isle Blonde whilst watching a series of tourists attempt to negotiate the tricky cobbles.  I felt an amount of empathy with their ordeal.  The menu in wings consists of various different offerings of sauce and spiciness – which are rated 1-5, with five being the hottest.  There are dozens of options.  I ordered three portions, with each portion having around six chicken wings, which I feel is enough for any man.  The “slow burner” is always my favourite.  It is one of two 5’s on the menu, and always tastes better at the time than it feels the next day.

I had two shows booked on Sunday night.  The first of which was Darren Walsh:  S’Pun at Pleasance Courtyard, which is one of the busiest hives of the Fringe with many bars and venues.  On my first day at the Fringe in 2015, whilst standing outside at this very venue, I was approached by Darren Walsh as he was handing out fliers for his own performance.  He handed me one and asked me to give him any word and he would make a series of puns based on that word.  Looking around I could only feel inclined to remark on the cobbles, at which he “cobbled together” a few puns which were impressive enough for me to vow that I would go and see his show.  I never did — and Darren Walsh ended up winning last year’s award for the best joke of the Fringe.

So I was intent on making amends this year and ensured that his was the first show I saw. As much as I adore puns – and anyone who has ever spent any length of time in my company will know this – an hour of them is pretty difficult to endure, particularly when only around 30-40% of them are funny.  There were some neat visual aides in this show, though the game show aspect of it was a little overdone and wasn’t worth the pay off it was building to.  I left with a sense of what it must be like for others to be in my company, where every sentence and every word has the potential to be a pun.

If there is one thing I excel at in Edinburgh it is getting lost.  I booked to see Chris Gethard: Career Suicide at the Pleasance Dome in the mistaken belief that the Dome was mere yards up the hill from the Courtyard.  It isn’t.  I followed the instructions of Google Maps as best I could to get to the Dome in the small half an hour window I had between shows.  These things are rarely straightforward for me as I have a terrible understanding of directions, especially in Edinburgh – and seemingly with this venue in particular, because I recall Bristo Square being a real ordeal to locate a couple of years ago.  But I found my way to the Dome with around nine minutes to spare – enough time for me to go to the Blue Moon stall and ask the barmaid if she serves Blue Moon, because I have been thirsting for that particular pint.  She said I was in luck because they do serve that beer.  It was stupid, but it got a laugh and that’s all that mattered.  Apparently Blue Moon is enhanced by the addition of orange peel, which she placed pecariously over the edge of my plastic tumbler.  It’s difficult to tell whether it really did enhance the taste, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Chris Gethard’s show is literally about suicide.  It’s a tough hour, and laughs are hard to come by with such a serious subject, but it is bold and it is heartfelt.  His personal experience is numbing as he talks about therapy and anti-psychosis medication and the moment he first told his mother that he was having suicidal thoughts.  The jokes tend to come with the side effects of his medication and his reliance on The Smiths to see him through tough times in his life.  There is, apparently, an interesting contrast between American and British audiences whereby they tend to find the story of his realisation that he is an alcoholic and his seeking help for it uplifting and applause worthy, whilst we barely flinched.  We also seem to regard Morrissey as “a bit of a cunt.”  If you have ever listened to and enjoyed Gethard’s podcast Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People, as I do, then this show makes a lot more sense.  I never thought that I would leave my first night at the Fringe enjoying and hour of suicide and depression more than an hour of relentless puns, but that is what happened here.


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