Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

August 04, 2012

Paul Merton on Edinburgh

from the Daily Telegraph

Edinburgh. Auld Reekie. Athens of the North. And home of the world’s greatest arts festival. Where better for a hungry young stand-up, with a few gigs for southern softies under his belt, to properly launch his career?
At least, those were my thoughts back in the summer of ’86, as the InterCity 125 hurtled northwards from King’s Cross towards the city of my dreams and my dreams of comedy stardom. Except it didn’t quite work out that way. My earliest experiences of the Edinburgh Fringe were studded with accidents and terrible events. Most of them life-threatening.
For as long as the Fringe has existed, it’s been de rigueur for performers, desperate to fill the 25 bum-numbing seats of their tiny, hidden-away venues, to race around between gigs plastering every inch of available wall space with posters. Thus, soon after I arrived in 1986, I found myself somewhere off the Lothian Road, helping a friend put up ads for his show. It was about midnight.
Suddenly, a bunch of guys came around the corner and decided they didn’t like the look of us. I was knocked to the ground and somebody started kicking me in the head. Mercifully, whoever it was was wearing trainers and no serious damage was done, but it was a horrible experience, and I still felt pretty shaken up as I went on stage the next day.
What happened the following year was even worse. I was doing a one-man show, and the opening night went pretty well. Then, on day two, I went out, played a game of football, fell over and broke my leg. They took me to hospital, put my leg in plaster and discharged me. But, of course, the place I was renting was five floors up with no lift. So I had to go and stay with a friend in his ground-floor flat.
And still the fun wasn’t over because I then contracted hepatitis A. Later, the doctor said: “To be honest, you probably caught it off the food in here.”
Whenever you go to Edinburgh as a performer, there’s always a chance that you’ll “die” on stage, as they say; I’d never imagined I might literally die there. Still, those intimations of mortality didn’t put me off – we’re a tough breed, comedians – and I go back every year.
Since 2004, I’ve been taking a show called The Impro Chums to the Fringe. There are five of us – Richard Vranch, Lee Simpson, Mike McShane, my wife, Suki Webster, and me. I love the camaraderie of working in a team like that, and going on every night for two or three weeks to do improvised comedy is great for me because it keeps me match fit for things like Have I Got News for You on television, and Just a Minute on Radio 4.
And, as a performer on the Fringe, it’s wise to keep yourself in reasonable shape. My advice would be always to ensure you’re less drunk than your audience – and to get enough sleep.
We’ve been recording episodes of Just a Minute at the festival every year since the early Nineties. Once we were due to do a show at 11am, and I made the mistake of taking the sleeper train from London the previous evening. The compartment was too small and I got no sleep at all, with the result that, when we began the recording, the voice in my head that usually says “shut up now” wasn’t there.
I started doing a lot of strange stuff, and at one point I attempted an impression of my fellow panellist Clement Freud, who was sitting next to me, even though I was fully aware that he didn’t appreciate that sort of thing. Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter and I just ploughed on, doing a bizarre impression of Clement singing Robbie Williams’s Let Me Entertain You. I’m not sure he ever quite forgave me, but the audience loved it.
My advice to Fringe “virgins” would be: don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer number of shows and don’t try to see everything. Be adventurous, take risks, pick up on word of mouth.
Even if a show isn’t great, it might well be memorable. I can still recall a midnight sketch show I saw in 1980. It was terrible. In one scene, there was a girl standing there, telling the spotlight operator: “Can I have a bit more yellow light? A bit more red light? A bit more blue light?” This went on for about a minute until finally she said: “I always wanted to be in the limelight.” And the bloke sitting next to me, who had been a perfectly ordinary, polite member of the audience until then, blew the most enormous raspberry, which just started everybody around us laughing.
From then on, this wonderful camaraderie spread through the audience as we sat there watching these spectacularly bad performers dying on stage. It’s stuck with me ever since.
The Edinburgh Fringe is the best comedy festival in the world: I can’t imagine not going up there every August. It’s great for audiences, and, if you’re a talented rising comedian, it could well be the making of you. If it doesn’t kill you, of course.

and here's the extract referred to, from a 2003 Just A Minute

PAUL MERTON: Legends is a night-club in Streatham. And I was there recently to see Sir Clement Freud's one man tribute to Robbie Williams! It was a fantastic night out! For me the highlight was undoubtedly (in very good impression of Clement Freud's monotone) "let me entertain you". (normal voice) I thought this was a wonderful piece of music... 
PM: The crowd was stunned, it was fantastic! The dance routines, I've never seen anything like it, break-dancing's got nothing in it, oh it was...  


Anonymous Perra Dox said...

Aaah...that episode (Breaking Records, 2003) is a classic and a personal favourite, the let me entertain you bit was sublime

5:17 pm  

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