Alan Sharp – Debrief Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Alan Sharp

Edinburgh resident and comedian Alan Sharp gives his views on the 2011 Fringe. Alan wrote the 7th funniest joke at the fringe according to TV channel Dave.

What are you overall feelings about the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

This was my fourth time at the Fringe as a performer, and I was doing two shows every evening, so it meant that I was unable to see many other people’s shows. I probably went to less shows this year than any other year. So for me, it was hard to judge. I spent a great deal of my time hanging around one area, the area around Niddry Street and the Cowgate, and socialising with other people doing free shows.

I find there is a great camaraderie among free show participants despite the politics between the two organisations. It doesn’t really matter among acts which venue you are with. The only time I set foot in one of the big four venues this year was when I was doing guest spots, in fact I never went to the Pleasance Courtyard once. I’ve never done a paying show, but I imagine that same camaraderie can’t be found there, when the stakes are so high and the potential to lose money so ever-present.

Talk us through some of your favourite moments?

Obviously my favourite moment had to be getting included on Dave TV”s list of the ten funniest jokes of the Fringe. That put a spring in my step for a couple of days. I hadn’t even known I was among the nominees until they published the winners. The downside, of course, is that it was one of my favourite gags, and I pretty much have to retire it now as it’s been in all the newspapers.

The strangest thing was that the night after the list was published, I had a packed house, and as I started the routine “I used to be in a band” I could physically feel everyone in the room hold their breath thinking “here it comes”, and then when I arrived at the punchline they actually cheered. It was a surreal moment, especially knowing that the majority of people in the audience that night had come along specifically to hear me do that joke.

Another favourite moment was having a guy in the audience that, all night long, I kept thinking I knew him but couldn’t think from where. I thought he might speak to me on the way out, but he didn’t, so I still couldn’t think why I knew him. I was half way home when it suddenly occurred to me that it was Andrew Clemo, the captain of last year’s winning University Challenge team.

How well do you think your show went?

I was happy with it. I had full audiences most nights, and the majority of nights they loved the show. I got lots of positive comments on the way out, and a lot of people came via word of mouth from people who had seen it and recommended it, so that has to be a good thing. Of the 22 night run, there was only one night where I was actually unhappy with how the show had gone, so I think that’s a pretty good winning margin.

Getting a two star review from Chortle was a bit of a downer, especially because I don’t think it was deserved. Not that I disagree with anything Steve Bennett wrote in the review, but because what he failed to reflect was that the show had gone superbly well that night. In fact, there were a group of students sitting just in front of him that I was worried would do themselves an injury they were laughing so hard and so loud. I had about fifty people in that night, and 49 of them thought the show was superb, and the fiftieth was the one with the pen in his hand. I wasn’t surprised, I know I do “audience pleasing” comedy, and I know Steve Bennett doesn’t like that, but I thought he should have reflected the reaction of the rest of the audience in the review.

What did you think you learnt from the experience?

For the second year, I’ve done a solo show and a multi-act show that I hosted. I’ve learned not to do that again. Both years the second show was for the purpose of trying to become a better emcee, but I’m never going to be great at it. I can do the job, but that’s about as far as it goes, and I think I should concentrate on becoming better at the things I am good at than trying to become better at something I’m never going to be more than competent at.

What would you differently next time?

Concentrate my efforts on my solo show next year and not dilute myself with a second show. Concentrate on plugging myself with guest spots elsewhere instead, as I was unable to do very many this year because so many shows with guest spots clashed with the one I was doing. The other thing I will do differently is the structure of my show. I enjoyed it this year, but to be honest the show was little more than an extended club set. Next year I want to do something properly themed and structured. I’m already working on it.

What was your biggest challenge this year?

Being a quite low down the ladder act, I hadn’t managed to preview the show before the Fringe this year. So for the first week or so, the show was changing night by night as I tried to find the best way to make it flow. That was difficult. Other than that, just the usual Fringe fevers and fatigues. Like most acts on the Fringe, by the last week I was surviving on pills and alcohol.

What mistakes do you think you made?

Leaving it too late to get all the material for my show together. I had a lot of ideas, which when I tried them out at various new material nights turned out not to work as well as I’d been hoping. As a result, the longest routine, and the one that Mr Bennett criticised the most heavily in his review, was actually written just over a week before the first night of the Fringe. As such, I was still working the kinks out as the month went on. By the end it was a lot better than how it had started out, but I fully admit it was never a great routine and I doubt anything more than a couple of the gags from it will never see the light of day again.

How do you think the fringe could be improved?

The Fringe has become far too corporate. The Free Fringe is chipping away at that, and The Stand are also making successful inroads. I think that the Fringe needs to be run for the benefit of the performers and the audiences, and at the moment far too much of it is still being run for the benefit of big businesses.

What were your thoughts on cockgate?

I thought it was fucking hilarious. I was doing my show just down the road from The Hive and was getting regular updates from Bob Slayer on how things were progressing, and every day it seemed to get a bit more surreal. In a way I can understand the fuss, but, juvenile though it may be, I personally think that there is nothing in life quite so funny as a well placed cock and balls, and that anyone who doesn’t find that funny probably shouldn’t be in the comedy game.

Did you have any experiences that made you think “only at the fringe?

Every day. I saw a zombie have a stand up, fall down argument with a fairy.

What were your favourite places to drink, eat or hang around?

I live in Edinburgh year round, so the places I drank, ate and hung around were the places I always do. Piemaker, Mosque Kitchen and Tempting Tattie are, of course, always Fringe favourites. The Free Fringe club at Bannermans didn’t really work out as well as it should have. It was a good idea, but it needs to be done in a place where it is easier to socialise without disturbing the acts on the stage.

Did you keep any souvenirs or mementos of your three weeks?

A large pile of foreign coins and shaved down washers retrieved from the bucket. One of the disadvantages of a free show is that some people actually want it to be free.

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