Thinking about taking a show to the Fringe? Sam Fraser recounts the story of her first Edinburgh venture…
During the final week of my first Edinburgh Fringe as a performer I began hallucinating. Everywhere I looked I saw pyjamas and scatter cushions.
I’d performed my show, Stand Up, Weather Girl! every night for twenty-three nights. I’d flyered the show myself, I’d talked to countless strangers and gone through fourteen pairs of tights and I was tired. I’d only been doing stand up since the summer of 2017 when I naively wrote an hour’s worth of material and took it to the Shaftesbury Fringe Festival, a couple of miles from my home. I didn’t realise that most comics spend a great deal more time learning their craft before embarking on writing a solo show, but heck, that’s me all over, leaping the five bar gate before I spot the latch.
If you’d told me back then that a little over a year later I’d be in Edinburgh with another show doing the full run I’d have laughed. Inside though, there’d have been a little ache and a voice saying, ‘Why not? Why not you?’ I’ve been suppressing comedy ambitions for a very long time. I’ve worked as a teacher, I’ve run a business and I’m currently employed as a presenter for BBC regional radio and telly. So I’ve had time to stretch my legs in certain aspects of performance and I’ve been writing unfinished scripts and novels for… ever.
Comedy though? That’s very different from sitting in a dark studio talking to an imaginary friend who already likes you. In comedy, you have to convince real, live, actual strangers they not only like you, but they think you’re funny and worth paying. After that initial hour, played to a packed delicatessen (what’s the worst that could happen? Falafelled off stage?) I knew I’d like to do more. By chance, I was offered a spot on a charity bill with Shappi Khorsandi headlining. There were 800 in the audience. The MC for the evening did his best to pretend I didn’t exist, which only served to fuel my performance. Which went really, really well, by the way. And then? Then I didn’t know how to become a comedian. I live in the rural back arse of nowhere. And by that I mean no mains sewerage, no fibre optic broadband, no street lamps. And certainly no comedy club.
So I read books. It was Viv Groskop’s manual, I Laughed, I Cried which sent me to Facebook seeking open mic spots. Ten minutes. Twelve minutes. Fifteen, twenty. I couldn’t get enough. I sent a script in to the Funny Women Writing Award as an exercise. It was shortlisted.
Self-belief has eluded me all my adult life. Brought up in a working-class home and a Catholic school I was programmed to believe the world of comedy was not for the likes of me, and neither was it something nice girls did. I’d long suspected I wasn’t a nice girl.
My show was easy to write. I’ve been working as a stand-by weather presenter for six years. There’s a ready-made conflict when my feminist self meets the fetishised role of the weather girl. I can’t bloody shut up about it. We’re a big believer in short-term achievable goals in our family. Why wouldn’t an Edinburgh run be achievable? I couldn’t find an answer to that question, so I applied to the Laughing Horse Free Festival. Alex Petty was brilliant. He took me seriously, advised me to do a full run and offered me a slot at The Counting House at 7.45pm.
I’ll be honest. It wasn’t always easy. It takes a lot of emotional resilience to get up night after night and persuade people to laugh. But performing at the Fringe provides you with an accelerated learning programme. By the end of August I’d performed my hour thirty times. And I didn’t die on my arse once. My final show was very different from the one I took to the Bath Comedy Festival in April. Brilliantly, I’d grown into a different performer. Christ, I’d even pay to see me now!
A week into the run and I was still too scared to stray from my story arc to play with the audience for fear I’d never find my way back. A tiny audience of four (the nightmare) one night, helped me get past that. The thing about Edinburgh is you can make a change and get instant feedback.
The loneliness of the responsibility of a show was mitigated by the support and embrace of my lovely fellow comedians working from the same venue. Knowing that everyone has a ‘meh’ show from time to time, or walk-outs or three-star reviews or mean buckets made me feel initiated.
Three years ago I went to the Fringe on a mission to watch only female comedians. I wanted to challenge any unwitting prejudice I might have myself. I sat in awe of Rachel Parris, Suzi Ruffell, Deborah Frances-White, Janey Godley, Kiri Pritchard-McLean and many, many more. I am dancing in their footsteps, inspired. Taking a show to the Fringe is, without doubt, the most satisfying creative thing I have ever done. I’d recommend it to anyone. Plus, it was bloody fantastic to be connected to mains sewerage for three weeks.