Of Books and Melons

Edinburgh Fringe 2023: Diary Entry One

Driving up to Edinburgh with my fine ally, Trent, I notice we travel close to Corbridge and so we make a detour to Forum Books and surprise the booksellers there.

It is a delightful bookshop where the pews of this former chapel are now shelves and you deliver your talk from a pulpit which has a vast font underneath where Ann Cleeves may or may not have committed murder (for the purposes of publication). 

I am staying in a friend’s studio on the Lothian Road. Living alone, you won’t find me partying in the artist’s bar, I will be flitting between the wild gregariousness of performing and the hermit life.

Our tech run at The Museum of Scotland follows the tech run of a big musical with many cues, so the technician is relieved when pretty much the whole of our tech is me merely asking, “Have you got a table?”

My tech run for MELONS at the New Town Theatre is predominantly about what form of detergent we will need in a bucket to clean the tropical fruit detritus off the stage after the show. 

I wander to the Cameo Cinema’s bar. 

My first preview of Weapons of Empathy is fine. I am neither happy nor unhappy with it. It feels a little more mechanical than I wish it to be. It is odd that I can throw myself into almost any room or tent fully formed on a daily basis, but the psychological pressure of the Fringe, the strange knowledge that I will not be on another station platform every day, can lead to you dipping your toe in the water with a little more temerity than usual. 

Actual melons do not seem to be readily available and I can only find a watermelon, a dangerous weapon, as I can’t find the more reliable Galia. Fortunately, Trent finds a better stocked greengrocer and the watermelon is now destined for my tummy rather than my fist. MELONS is my curate’s egg of a show. It was inspired by the Linda Smith Lecture I delivered a couple of years back, It has a beginning and an end, but the middle is still forming. The themes are what can be achieved from what might appear to be a shameful failure and also the story of my love of comedy and what it can do at its best. I must remind myself that should MELONS fail, I have merely fulfilled some sort of prophecy. After the first night, we received a complaint from the first performer of the next day that the stage was sticky and so we seek new detergent. 

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I amble around a few bookshops seeing if they would like to take some of my bookmark flyers, but many aren’t keen (but you can find them in Portobello Books, Lighthouse Books, Main Point Books).

Every day, I have decided to walk a different route to the Museum of Scotland to browse and pick up some books to give away. I have found a large number of Bunty, Debbie and Tracy comics from the late 70s and hand out some Stevie Smith and James Baldwin too.

At the end of the first night, Trent and I find a quiet pub for me to worry in. My lilo deflates and squeaks over night, so I decide that I am going to sleep on the floor instead – years of touring has meant that the floor is still comfortable for me, I have found the perfect earplugs to defeat construction noise too.

I have already seen the first performer crying (not the Twitter sensation, but someone who was overwhelmed during the tech run). It is important to watch out for everyone here, whether performers, flyerers or venue staff. We have to be ready to catch them should they fall (which I am told is the ethos the punk mosh pit).

Many have been dreaming of this for months, they have imagined the praise and sell outs and new career, and the moment that the dream does not match the reality, a breakdown can start to rear up. This is the inebriated boot camp of show business.

Weapons of Empathy is on daily at 1pm at Gilded Balloon at the Museum and MELONS: A Love Letter to Stand Up Comedy at 8:35pm at The Stand at New Town Theatre. Tickets for both shows are here.

Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster.  As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Prof Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London. His latest books are The Importance of Being Interested and Bibliomaniac.

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