AS A person who occasionally writes comedy for money, I found myself drawn once again to Edinburgh’s Big Showing Off Festival. For the sake of clarity, when I say I write comedy, I am not referring to these columns. These columns are not comedy; they are cries for help with the occasional joke.
This was my third visit to the capital of Scotland and the capital of people who can balance on sticks. This makes me an old hand and meant that when I arrived, I had already learnt the important lessons.
For example, I knew that you cannot pull a trolley suitcase through a bus shelter without enraging a local, that bagpipers don’t like it when you laugh at them, and that it would have been no loss if jugglers had gone out of business when we invented bags.
It also means that I know how the Edinburgh Fringe works. You have the normal Fringe, where you buy tickets for events beforehand, and the free Fringe, where admission is free, but you have to pay to get out, as they used to do in clip joints.
That is unfair. What actually happens is that the performer stands by the exit with a bucket and as you file out past him or her, you put in what you believe the show merited.
Now, technically you could walk out past the performer and put nothing in. But very few people are capable of doing that, and those who are tend to become right-wing radio talk show hosts.
Or you could drop 28p in the bucket. In many ways, that would be worse than just walking past the performer. That would be like saying, “It’s not me, it’s you. That performance was so abysmal, so lacking in any artistic merit, that I am paying you in coins so inconsequential that they will probably be abolished in the next four years. Watch as each of the five coins bounces grimly off the bottom of a bucket for which you will still be out of pocket at the end of your run.”
But you do not. You drop paper money into the bucket, because you are a human being who understands the torment of other human beings, and the choices that have led a person to stand in a small room in Edinburgh dressed in curlers and a housecoat, pretending to be their own grandmother.
Another thing about Edinburgh during festival season is that time has no meaning, and mealtimes happen when you are hungry, and so I was wandering along a street mid-morning, looking for somewhere to eat in a place where the Edwardian beard and tattoo count was acceptably low, when I was assailed by a woman bearing flyers.
But this one was unlike most other flyers distributors because she was also one of the two women on the flyers. “Please come and see us. We’re very funny and we’re not Frank Skinner,” she said. At no point had I even imagined that Frank Skinner was two women, but this was clearly meant to be helpful.
But when I looked at the flyer, it said Franks & Skinner – presumably their surnames – and I understood the potential for confusion. I had no idea what their show was about. Half of the sales pitch was explaining that they were not a male Brummie comic.
Their show was in 15 minutes’ time. “Yes,” I said, “As God is my witness, I will come to your show.” There had to be more to them than not being the man from Fantasy Football League.
But it was a Free Fringe show, and I only had 28p in my pocket. I had no choice. I had to find a cashpoint, for I am not a monster.
However, there was not a cashpoint in sight. Quickly I opened the maps app on my phone and looked for the nearest cashpoint. It was six minutes away. I could do this.
And so I tore through the always-uphill streets of Edinburgh, directed by my phone. Until I reached my destination. Where there was no cashpoint.
I thought I had learnt all the lessons about Edinburgh, but I was wrong. I had learnt three new lessons. First, always have a five-pound note in your pocket. Second, never promise anybody anything. And third, if you have a double act and your names are Franks and Skinner, and you are worried about the confusion, you should go by Skinner & Franks.