Conciliatory sweets

The Guardian Posted on Wednesday, August 11th, 2004

The human statues aren't too happy, but Alan Rickman and Michael Portillo are having a wonderful time

Conciliatory sweets

· Edinburgh is rainy. We’ve gone from drizzle to out-and-out monsoon. Turns out that all the summer dresses and flip-flops I’ve packed will go unworn, and I’ll have to sit around the flat in my pyjamas while the one jumper and pair of jeans in my suitcase get washed every other day.

It’s the street performers I feel most sorry for, especially the human statues. Imagine: you spend two hours at home in the morning painting yourself silver, then you leave the house, the rain comes pouring down, and you’re nothing more than a slightly grubby person standing very still.

As a stand-up comic, pampered with a microphone and lights and seats and a roof (at least at most gigs), I have nothing but admiration for street performers, and this is a great place to see them. The director of my stand-up show, John Fealey, worked for many years as a street performer (his shows at this festival with Eddie Izzard in 2001 are the stuff of legend), and he has taught me lots of useful skills.

The first night that my show opened at the Assembly Rooms, it was running a bit late because of all the delays that had accumulated in the venue in the course of the day (this always happens on the first night of every venue in Edinburgh). John instructed me to go and talk to the queue of people who were waiting for my show and tell them what was happening, and that we would be going ahead as soon as possible. I was stupidly terrified, because I’m used to dealing with people via a microphone in a properly set-up environment. But actually, talking to the crowd outside the venue – as I handed out conciliatory sweets – was a really fun thing to do. I’m considering phoning in hoax bomb threats to the Assembly Rooms every day so that I get to do it all the time.

The Assembly Rooms is a lovely venue to perform at: the crowds so far have been very nice, and I’ve spotted Alan Rickman, Michael Portillo and Rodney Bewes there. If you want to come and rub shoulders with celebrities such as these, as well as enjoying a fine night of stand-up comedy, may I suggest that you come to Stand-up for Freedom, the Amnesty International benefit that will be held on August 18. It’s hosted by Boothby Graffoe, it features an outstanding line-up of musicians and comedians and it’s a great excuse to come out and have a laugh for a good cause. And though, as a Wednesday this is technically a school-night, you might have a few drinks. It’s for charity. I intend to be so charitable that I need a long lie-in the next day.

· I’m also gearing up for my acting debut in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. As I write, we’re set to open tomorrow, as Christian Slater has thankfully recovered from chicken-pox. Even though I only have a few lines, I’m terrified that I’m going to forget them. I keep thinking about the story of the actor who had only one line as a French soldier in a play about the Napoleonic war. The line was: “Hark! I hear the cannons roar,” and he rehearsed it day and night, playing with different stresses and perfecting his French accent. On the play’s opening night he heard the actual – very loud – sound effect of the cannon’s roar for the first time, and his line came out as: “What the fuck was that?”

· I feel I should close by recommending some other shows from the fringe festival. In no particular order, I would advise that you see Jim Sweeney’s My MS and Me at the Gilded Balloon, Count Arthur Strong’s Through It All, I’ve Always Laughed at the Pod Deco, and Dirty Fan Male – The Show at the Gilded Balloon.

Sweeney’s show is a funny and moving description of living with multiple sclerosis. Count Arthur Strong is a theatrical phenomenon – shambling, inept, drunk and utterly hilarious. Dirty Fan Male is a selection of genuine letters that men have sent to female porn stars: occasionally disturbing and utterly compelling.

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