The ‘Day Off Dilemma’: a mid-way diary of The Pursuit Of Crappiness at The 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival
August 18, 2015
To rest or not to rest? That is (not even) the question. After 12 arduous but wonderfully whimsical performances, I’m finding that there is far more to 24 lonesome and show-less hours than simply detaching and resting….
First, an open apology to any readers of this Crappiness blog: this is the first entry since the (now distant) general election…since I’ve essentially been living a 12-week blog entry in terms of Push Talks mayhem juggled with research, development and preparations for ‘The Pursuit of Crappiness’ live – a comedy lecture of sorts, where I present the findings, musings and chortlic ponderings of eight months’ research into my unique theory that crappiness really is the true route to happiness. All my blog articles since January have helped lead to the 23 performances (of which I’ve currently undertaken 12). Every single literary sprawl on this page has helped lay the cobbled and soggy foundations (we are in the rainy Land of Lothian, the Fantasy of Forth) that lead to ye olde Niddry Street. It’s a funny old place: a cobbled right-angled lower-street off The Royal Mile - where I pitch my crappiness theory to an average of 25 people a night (with some wonderful spectator spikes of 40 and 65 on both Saturdays, respectively). Firstly, a huge thank you to any people who have attended thus far; since this is a show where the participants (or “live research subjects” as I like to call think) help develop the show deeper each day, with their truly brilliant (and often hilarious) mid-show shituations – which we alleviate collectively and vocally (crappiness is about connecting people), followed by applause and crucially a damn good dishing of mirth by running through my (often worse) shituations, all affirming my claim that “crappiness is happiness”. A lot of comedy shows come up to Edinburgh with a funny (or punny) title first, with a mad dash to but together a 1 hour show that fits the headline. I've been in shows where I've felt this, and I've spoken to comedians after gigs who have admitted this. It's not a bad challenge to take up - an inspiring title can pop into your head months and months before the festival, and it doesn't help that venue applications have to be done as much as 10 months before. I wanted this show to be different though - a punny title yes, but one that came after a feeling deep in my bones that has been, if we're being honest now, bugging me not for months...but for my entire life. Happiness is boring. It's transparent and fades away quickly without challenging you.
Crappiness on the other hand makes you question a situation, it makes you analyse and think, it makes you get off your backside and change things. Think about it: even when you're happy (perhaps sunbathing in Turkey or having a nice moment in a cafe), your eyes start creeping to social media - essentially one big conveyorbelt of the world's crappiness that they crave comment on. If that glance down to your smartphone doesn't do it, a weird noise or odd activity in your peripheral will do enough to snap you out of a boring happy state, and feel that zany rush that comes from a little shituation being sprinkled over your present-mindedness. It makes us notice things, and it makes us laugh. Comedy is never about the moment, it's about the milisecond just ahead. I went to a brilliant talk up here on how audiences are engaged, and it only ever comes from 2 things: what is coming immediately next, and what might go wrong. I update the powerpoint each day with ever-new crappiness poll results - thanks again audience – you've now got it up to 127 entries with every single one an incredibly valuable insight into the theory of crappiness. Fascinatingly, I’ve found that pre, during and post-show, crappiness is a visceral thing that brings people of all backgrounds together, far more than a live show about that much-maligned word: happiness. Let's face it, it's just not that interesting listening to a comedian, no matter how good, expressing for an hour how happy they currently are with their situation and their life. As a few different groups of audience have mentioned to me - crappiness, shituations, and how to change the world (or at least really question it) makes for far more interesting storytelling...which is what great comedy is. And if you want minitiature plastic proof that crappiness brings happiness, look no further than the picture below...
Were you fooled? That is indeed Edinburgh Castle, but hopefully the Magic Eye-trained lot amongst you have enough corneal skill to observe that this is in fact the LegoLand Windsor version. It's a gloriously crap site, hallowed turf I'd failed to pilgrimage to in exactly 29 years - until my wonderful girlfriend surprised my the day before my birthday with 2 tickets and a weird card of a cat. I knew that no matter what my experience of LegoLand would entail, I would jot down the experience for my show (it was around the time of undertaking live work-in-progress nights in London). The place, for adults like me who loved and still love Lego, is a wonderful place: full of miniscule brick creations. The joy actually comes from the fact that as an adult who is now used to Thorpe Park or Alton Towers, you wouldn't touch any of the (seriously) kiddy rides here with a Lego bargepole. The joy, for me anyway, came from a reminder to treasure the glorious crappiness of one's childhood - in the things you see, the way you act and equally the things you produce (drawings, poems, short stories) which you unleash carefree on the world. The adult eye notices the crappiness you never saw before, but does so in a way which doesn't insult your childhood but actually enhances the memory of it: it was a time of glorious crap creations, and the problem is that we lose this as we grow up. LegoLand is carefree crap, and that's the key message of my comedy show: relish and own the crappiness of everyday life - go back to your childhood and find your old notepads and books. Crappiness is essentially the joy in knowing that any situation will eventually turn to shituation - and that there's incredible human unity, personal development and mental strength to be found in that. I did leave Legoland that day with a severely overpriced Ecto 1 Ghostbuster car to sit next to this wonderfully crap drawing I found in preparation for the show (drawn at age 5) which brought me, my mum and my dad an incredibly night's laughter...
May goes quick, and August comes fast. Audiences are discovering that this crappiness project isn’t just my current annual lark into the world of funny: it’s now turned into an ongoing social research project that will form the key message and basis for all future comedy projects I undertake. It’s a theory I truly believe in, and not only will it form an article I will write after the Fringe, but may also shape the foundation stone in what I hope will be a PHD one day into the thesis of life’s shituations being a key route to good health (universities: if you’re reading this, I’m now open to bribery, or funding, or both). As I mention mid-way through the show each night, The Pursuit of Crappiness has been built on an unexplanable feeling since childhood against happiness, plus two thirds of a year’s research compiling blog musings, findings from 10,000 students at the not-for-profit social initiative I help run in school and universities, and the creation of a crappiness poll on survey monkey. I pitched this social research to Ipsos Mori, they said no and get out of reception (more on this later). The survey monkey poll is a brief 10 questions, designed to make it quick for audience members rushing to do it before or after the show, but also because if I designed more than 10 questions I would have had to pay (even my flyers are 1 sided – ie. budget blown). I blame my adopted stray cat that I miss deeply right now, since the little headbutting fiend costs more in pet insurance than a regular non-FIV cat and is a monthly drain on finances – he is however, golden proof that crappiness really does bring happiness. I miss the morning headbutt, but more importantly the effect stroking his fur can have on stress that so often riddles a performer’s daily doings. A solo show like this really throws up some curveballs (or hairballs), in the fact that to take this ‘stress-reliever on four paws’ with me for 4 weeks would in one way be utter karma, but at the same time where the hell would he stay? One option was to make him endure 4.5 hours of train hell on Virgin East Coast then house him at my girlfriend’s mum’s boyfriend’s house and feed him twice a day – but if you’ve got to describe a plan of action with 3 apostrophe ‘s’, it’s in all likelihood going to go tits up.
I am currently sat (cat-less) writing this in Portobello’s swimming baths (not literally – I’m sat in the café). A charming little (if overheated) coffee-loader on the 1st floor overlooking the misty rain-sodden seafront of what I’ve told by my girlfriend’s Morningside mum is the ‘Edinburgh-on-Sea’ (more on life with her later). I find myself doing all the things a performer is meant to do on their “treasured day off”: peppermint tea mug-mountain to my left, weird overpriced juice concoction to my right which not only promotes flavours on the front that should in all likelihood never be mixed together (blueberry, kale, beetroot? spinach?!) but also possesses a brand name ‘Super Blue’ which sounds more like a type of potent STD-guarding condom than a something which you consume - not that I’m saying one cannot, should they choose to, consume a rubber sheath (I’ve seen acts close to this in previous Fringe magic shows). Oddly, as I write this, I can see a man to my far-right deep throating a ‘Super Blue’. Even with these two superheroes stationed on either side of my table (acting like some kind of Avengers Assemble for your rest day’s health), I am aware of the leader of the gang: a Mac Book Air proudly taking centre stage: ultimate proof that even on a rest day a performer would rather write his musings on the glorious torture of the festival so far, instead of glancing just over the imbedded webcam on the top of the screen to see the unfolding of the real world which gives a comedian like me so much material (we’re essential thieves of the comedic life of others, and a good thief always take his headphones off and listens to the world’s crappiness). It’s extremely hard to be present-minded during these three weeks of intense performance. I’ve got to know the wonderful techies, box office and front of house staff at my venue over the past 16 days, and one mentioned that he had downloaded a meditation app to help him navigate the daily rigors of running a venue. He vouched for my claim that present-mindedness is a hard task – since even when you’ve a day off, it’s hard to resist the creative bee buzzing around your head collecting comedic pollen from the flowerbed of questions deep in your field of waking dreams: “are my audiences getting the show?”, “what needs changing?”, “am I finding my true comedic voice?”, “do I believe in the message of my show?”, “why have a drunk so much water?”, “do zebras’ stripes make it any harder for predators to catch them?”. Ok, so that last one has been buzzing around internally since I was 5, but my point still stands: it’s damn hard to switch off from your show. But actually, why should you? From attending some incredible free talks up here with comedians, performers, marketing and PR professionals, and even reviewers, I’ve come to a simple conclusion that you to switch off from your show is to switch off from a quest for truth and real life.
The majestic comedian (and bloody nice guy) Jody Kamali admitted during an EdFringe Central 'Comedy: In Conversation With...' talk to having a breakdown during his 2012 show (whilst half the audience walked out of his Free Fringe show each night), gave some wonderfully simple advice to those, like me, who may have found their first Edinburgh Fringe solo show a crash course in PR, motivation, marketing and mental health. I’ve performed 6 different years up here in other people’s shows, but this is my first stand up show, and within 24 hours of performing my show I had been dealt a serious blow in terms of my flyer’s content, the price I had set for the show, and my malaise at getting press releases sent out early if at all (I had 1 person down to my first gig, than 5 at the second, then 40 at the third). Jody and Sam Wills (or ‘The Boy With Tape on his Face’) insisted to “be here for a reason, know that reason and believe in it…and don’t let that reason be to be famous or found”. Sam also held the door open for me on us exiting the event - a decent chap (and incredibly funny), and I wish him well with his personal goal of "getting to a point with comedy where I don't need to do it, so I can open up my book store". He then followed this, importantly for us caffeine lovers (ie: 99% of performers) that "there'd be coffee available, but a time limit on how long people could stay in there. It's a small place". Jody, post talk, also showed me pictures of his fish and chip "detachment day" in Portobello (albeit he went on a day when you could actually see the sea) and he promoted the benefits of “escaping the bowels of the fringe even if for a few hours”. He didn’t mention however, that when you get tired and listen to too much BBC Radio 3 whilst eating dinner post-midnight, you risk catching Mike Oldfield’s spooky Exorcist-remixed ‘Tubular Bells’ just before bed then having carb-fuelled nightmares of a young Linda Blair twisting her head round like an owl and vomiting all over you (one of the low points of the festival so far). Joe Cauldfield, the comedian and Graham Norton Show writer, warned during the talk that “the festival is designed with it’s huge billboards splattered in reviews and stars to make you feel shit, so just keep your head down, stay around the people who know you”. She then added the most wonderful five words of advice for the Fringe: “eat fruit...at some point” (although perhaps not taken in a Super Blue condom concoction that currently sits beside me). I should also point out an incredibly useful and deeply meaningful meeting I had with Chris Grady of The CGO Surgery: an hour long one-on-one personal coaching session specifically targeted around one's show, and developing a personal mindset for your creative goals. I have therapy monthly in London, and whilst I respect that practice immensely to help keep me mentally balanced with the wider aspects of life (even when completely fine, the ability to talk to a completely impartial voice in confidence is a wonderfully cathartic process), Chris' session was something else entirely: an hour to stop and reflect on your professional direction and what success means to you. I can’t thank (and recommend) Chris enough, and I’ll be sure to book in some more once I return to to hell, or to the leman: London.
As is always the case if you speak to comedians at the Fringe, will tell you how much their live show differs by the last day’s performance, compared to the opening Edinburgh previews. Mine has gone through the ringer, and then some – the ringer being a deadly creative cocktail of stress, self-doubt, consistent self-analysing (it’s ok if you’re just handed a script and “vision” from a director or writer) plus a little squeeze of confidence and a huge dollop of belief. There’s also quite a sprinkling of “hell – let’s just go with this and see what happens”, as there really is no creative force like a live audience. It’s an arena in which the comedy gods (again – the audience, not an awards panel) will judge your fate as to whether every single little word that comes blurting out from mouth to microphone to amplified voice is funny or not funny. That’s why although audiences can be scary (as well as equally lovely), they’re essential and just as much a part of your material as you are. It’s essentially a marriage, with the show being your kid: with you being one parent, and the collective anonymous masses who come to see you each night being the other. Doing a show so intensively over a month allows you to meet some incredible people before during and after a show, as well as all the other surrogate fathers who make it the show a real symbiotic relationship. My audience highlights have included an employee of social research institute Ipsos Mori throwing his business card up to front of the stage in response to my nightly live plea that “Ipsos Mori like their statistics, and statistically there'll be someone in from there - and since I’ve 'stolen' the slide templates from google images, I better ask: there’s no one in from Ipsos Mori is there?” (on this occasion, to extreme hilarity we stopped the show and corroborated the information on the card to the other 64 people sat there…including the employee’s girlfriend),
As I say – the audience really take the show in their own direction each night, and if Saturday 15th’s direction leads to a prison cell for me, then I take full responsibility. However, I should highlight that if I were to go to court for faking (I repeat - faking their images, not actually stealing...how could I when the receptionist wouldn't let me past her?), I’m not sure who’s paying – since I’ve blown any and all potential court fees for the libel case on the budget of this show. Granted, it’s early days, but 'Ipsos Mori versus Moj Taylor’ may have to wait for the full Hollywood treatment (or at least the title of next year’s Fringe show), unless the Chief Executive Ben Page - who tweeted me two days later to say he is “coming to have a look at this” for all is 24.8K followers to see (plus the very creepy kid on his twitter profile page who I feel is my judge, jury and executioner) – is somehow going to (non-ironically) see the funny side of my research and witness my protestations live that “I took this crappiness social research project to Ipsos Mori and they told me 2 things: no, and get out…so I stole their slide templates”. If he films my live admission to this, then I’m pretty much finished in court with conclusive evidence by the prosecution, and since the birth of Ben’s tiny but potential hugely ramification-filled tweet, I’ve started expressing to the audience that if they’ve anyone who wants to come and see this show on a future night, they better well do it quick since I’m not sure how long it will be until I get shut down. At least I’ll have other audience members to back me up, shouting from the rafters in court for the phoenix-like rebirth of The Pursuit of Crappiness, from the Ipsos Mori pyromaniacs who turned it to ashes. One girl who will almost certainly be waving a pro-Crappiness banner in court will be a girl who told me post-show that she “loved my powerpoint screenshots of the angry tweets I have sent to train companies and the 'through-gritted-teeth-hilariously-polite' replies they’ve sent you back”, to which I said “why thank you, they are indeed way too polite”, before she then turned and said (before vanishing forever into the haze of the festival) “oh – just so you know, my full time job is that I am one of those people who works for a train company and replies to all the tweets”. She has since followed me on twitter. I might complain to her (don't worry - she's not Becci)...
My other audience highlight has been the collective confusion around the strange man in my poster, who apparently looks absolutely nothing like me. Firstly, the box office staff at Just The Tonic were convinced the man in it was Luke, my wonderful general manager (on the left in this blog article they posted about me - I'll leave tou to judge his likliness...all I can see is skin and beard colour). Yesterday I overheard a couple muttering by my poster outside the entrance to my venue, stopping to ponder the show and discussing the title ‘Pursuit of Crappiness’, to which I timed my entrance to sell the show to them and introduce the face that had been staring cheekily at them for the last 45 seconds. As I started talking about the show, it took less than 10 seconds for the man to interrupt me and admit “oh right, that’s you? I thought it was your fatter, older brother”. To which I replied, stunned, “it is me, but at least I came out on the right side of this insult” (apologies to my poor obese older brother, he can take that kind of abuse…since he’s imaginary). Another woman admitted to me after the show that she’d thought I was the warm up act for Nick Helm, who she had paid to see based on the poster. In her post-show state of confusion she said “oh, well I thought you were a great warm up act, I just kept expecting Nick Helm to come onstage”. At least I warmed up the crowd for a much more famous comedian who most likely has no idea who I am or what my show is (yet he’s welcome to come and give performing the show a go to this woman). I asked the lady “so how long until your mind clicked that I was not warming up for Nick Helm?”. She replied “at least a good half hour…I got really suspicious of Nick’s laziness around the 45 minute mark.” Nick, I love you and your act, but I fear our (never as of yet) proposed double act will only serve to confuse the general public who see me as your fatter, older (and more Asian) brother – I appreciate your reply to my tweet about it though (see image below).
This Helm-induced yarn whilst great, will still remain in second place for the Fringe run as of 18th August, since it simply cannot top a 20 minute set from I did last week for a lovely venue that shall not be named, in which an audience member started to heckle not me…but another audience member. You’ve truly not lived as a comedian until you’ve experienced cross-audience heckling. It had nothing to do with my material, and simply involved a charming young chap from Durham who really wanted to listen to my set, and an old man with a crutch in front of him (and his extremely embarrassed teenage son on the other side of him) who had no idea who was performing on stage…simply because he was so out of it on alcohol or a more mind-bending hallucinogenic that he had no idea where he was, who he was, or what the hell he was even watching (it can’t have been comedy in his mind). His son was half-laughing at my material, half-crying of embarrassment and was miming to me “I’m so sorry, he’s pissed and he’s just had a stroke”. The mind-bended father then shouted to me that he was a doctor (as if I had to lose any more faith in the NHS), and threatened to wallop the “Northern c*nt” who had literally committed no crime except to laugh at some of my criminally bad new jokes. It was the oddest (and admittedly funniest) experience I have ever had as a comedian on a stage: I essentially got to chair a riot between a young Labour supporter and a drunken old Tory. I just leant on the microphone stand feeling like David Dimbleby, internally chuckling to myself that “I’m the one who doesn’t usually get to watch and laugh during comedy”. I should end this story by pointing out that the two did agree to shake hands: the Durham lad with a brick, and the High Barnet OAP GP with a wet foam sponge (an odd counter-weapon of choice) – whilst I simply put the microphone back in it’s stand and said “well that’s all from Question Time this week, next week – we’ll be in…Edinburgh again”.
The final 12 days and 11 performances at the Fringe will throw up some interesting things, some joyful and some most likely challenging, but I at least (like the performers in the 3,313 other shows up here) feel that the last 16 day’s mental chiseling has allowed me to somewhat shape a piece of comedy I’m proud to show (and I’m immensely honored at the number of strangers and friends who have already come to see the Pursuit of Crappiness). The only downside is that I’m not able to see as many other shows as I’d like. It hasn't stopped me seeing two incredible shows: Dead Ghost Star; a trip into space described on the poster as "Spike Milligan on MDMA". Throw in some Mighty Boosh, and some mighty-fine clowning from a seamlessly hilarious double act of Donal Coonan and 'CheekyKita'. The other show is Neil Henry's Magical Mindsquirm, at the Pleasance (Ace Dome) - the less said about a magic show the better. I wouldn't want to spoil the incredible tricks - just go and see the thing. Perhaps with a producer on board for next year’s show which is already on my notepad (all I’ll say is ‘Postcards’ and ‘Projector’) then I’ll be able to spend less time marketing and flyering, and more time being inspired by other people’s work. Having said that – there is something incredibly personal about a show like this, where it’s hard to relinquish responsibilities to another person to promote your show. There is a real buzz in pitching your show to strangers on the street – and it’s something I’ve only truly fallen in love with since flyering my own show…which is why you’ve really got to believe in the message of your show (and be able to express it in 30 seconds to a passerby). Each flyer given out serves as an opportunity for a mini-performance of your show, which is not only crucial in helping you see whether an audience member connects with your ideas (and finds you instantly funny), it also reinforces your show’s message over and over in your own head: perfect preparation to then go onstage and express the idea over the ever-so-slightly longer format of 60 minutes.
If you’re reading this whilst up in Edinburgh, or in preparations for coming up, and you are able see the Pursuit of Crappiness before the run finishes with the final show on Saturday 29th August, I’d truly love you to be part of my ongoing research into the joyful world of Crappiness. If you’re not able to attend, then please take two minutes out of your day to take my crappiness poll. It's getting stronger and more potent in it's results with each passing day, and the beauty of modern technology is that even if you're 500 miles from Leith (sorry Scotland, I couldn't help it), you can still feature in tomorrow’s show since I update the powerpoint each morning with the poll comments of the night before. And if you really don’t believe me that the audience shape the Pursuit of Crappiness each night, just go to my twitter @mojtaylor and hashtag ‘#pursuitofcrappiness’ and ‘#shituations’ and see how many wonderfully crap tales from deeply share-worthy audience members I’ve received…which surprisingly, also feature in the show (in an aptly named 5 minute section ‘#shituations’). I’d love to tell you my #shituations to wrap up this article, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to come and see the show. Right, I better get back to speaking to my girlfriend’s mum – I’m staying with her in Morningside without my girlfriend there. She makes me dinner each night and gives me fresh towels....I’m starting to question which relationship is better (only joking Sophie). And before you think I’ve let slip and just told you a shituation, it’s anything but. Now all I need is my cat and Nick Helm’s number. Anyone?