Edinburgh Fringe Diary Vol 2: Sambucca, Sleep And The Second Week

15 August 2012 | 4:13 pm | Tomas Ford

They stay for half a song, realise I'm not a comedian and fuck off to where they came from. This leaves me with two nice middle aged men to perform for.


This hangover is hell and Edinburgh is bereft of decent coffee. It exists, but it's very far from my house. It's raining. I go out flyering, putting a dignified brave face on and some nice threads under my transparent raincoat. I look pathetic and passers by take every flyer I offer them out of pity.

The show is struck by a serious case of the Mondays. Two people turn up initially, which is fine by me as this isn't an uncommon experience at the Fringe. I run upstairs and grab down a few more punters. They stay for half a song, realise I'm not a comedian and fuck off to where they came from. This leaves me with two nice middle aged men to perform for. Luckily, they're a lot of fun and completely onside. At least, I think they are, until I turn around to load up the next batch of songs on my laptop and one of them sneaks out the back door. The final man, a friendly hippie, asks me if he can smoke. I tell him he can't, as the venue staff can see into my room from the bar. He decides to go outside.


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I grab as much Sambucca as I possibly can from the bar and head back onstage. Luckily I am working on a  show for fun at the moment, full of Radiohead cover versions. I crank up How To Disappear Completely, knock back a couple of shots and exorcise myself in solo cabaret karaoke mode. I am totally zen. It is an unexpected, near-perfect Fringe moment.

I then realise I have left all my clothes at home and everything is covered in water. I walk home, freezing in my house coat (see above).


I should be taking notes each day, but I'm not. In the flurry of Edinburgh, there's no time to sit and reflect on things. One of my many housemates, Nelly White is one of the most hilarious people I have ever met and is an evil genius when it comes to distracting me with YouTube videos, dirty stories and ice cream. The tour blog takes all day.

Once I've emailed it off to theMusic, I head to my other house mate Abigoliah Shaumaun's show. It's always scary when you head out to see a new friend's comedy show for the first time; it's not like with bands where being a bit shit is acceptable. Comedy is such a personal artform that it can often tell you a lot about the performer and it's hard not to form an opinion about somebody based on that*. Luckily, Abigoliah's show is as hilariously filthy as her conversations. Her honesty about her sexual eccentricities is refreshing and where that kind of stuff can sometimes feel smutty for the sake of it, this is pitched in a much more personal way. It's the kind of show where everybody wants to be her best mate when the curtain goes down at the end of the set.

I race across town to my show, where I have a lovely time playing for a friendly crowd. A nice long-haired gentleman is back for his third time and everybody seems to enjoy themselves. It's a relief after last night's weirdness.


I head into the venue early to see the show before me, James And Amy: Dysfunctional Legends. They've been packing in crowds and I'm curious as to what it is they actually do. It turns out to be a pretty straight two-hander stand-up show about their lives in the dating game, but it is nicely executed. The two play off each other well, and it feels like they are warming up for careers on the panel show circuit. 

After they finish up, my show is electric; it's a fun crowd comprising the Frenchmen from last week's nightclub adventure, a random Spanish couple and a handful of English speakers. It's not the first time I've performed for a crowd where the majority of people have little idea what I am singing, as punk rock PA's don't allow much intelligibility, but it is a unique challenge. They respond well to my physicality and the pair of pop covers in the show. It turns out that the emotional flow of my character is pretty easy to follow even if you don't know what I'm saying. This is good news, as I really want to take the show to Europe.

My French pals cement this desire to tour; I join them in the Jekyll & Hyde's main bar for rounds of scotch and they serenade me with boisterous drinking songs. It seems that up in Lyon, drinking is generally accompanied by loudly shouted and obscene folk songs. Eventually we head to a children's playground, where they produce a bottle of some kind of home-made schnapps. Apparently it's common for people to make their own schnapps in the French countryside, and it is very strong. It smells and tastes more like mentholated spirits than any kind of fruit-flavouring. We get completely maggotted together and smash out a few songs on a children's guitar, before they head off to crash into bed and I struggle to figure out where I am and if there are kebabs nearby. There are.


Today, I decide to see three shows. I saw New York comic David Mills smash a five minute guest spot at the press launch of the Free Festival last week, and I'm very excited to see what he's like when he's got a whole hour to play with. His show David Mills Is Smart Casual does not disappoint. It is one of the tightest fringe comedy shows I have seen, simultaneously intimate and spontaneous, but with a very slick polish. It's the kind of show you feel like you should be paying a lot more money to see, especially as it's part of the Free Festival.

In the next room is Perth-based comedian John Robertson's show The Dark Room. John is doing two shows this year; his main one, The Old Whore, is up in a lovely new venue Assembly have put together and seems to be having a tricky fringe so far despite glowing reviews. Everybody is this year – the Olympics have taken a large chunk of the Fringe's audience and numbers are down across the board. John also brought along a show based on his hit YouTube game The Dark Room, and it is absolutely destroying the festival, garnering five star reviews and the kind of fervent following performers dream of. He has taken his YouTube parody of early 1980s text adventure games and turned it into an interactive live show that is an absolute blast. When he's not terrifying willing audience members, he's quick with improvised quips and a master of audience manipulation.Tomas Ford flyers in Edinburgh

As I do every day, I flyer for a few hours. It's hard work tonight, as it's quite out and everyone is very grumpy. I start to think of possible flyering gimmicks. I figure there must be some way of giving out these bits of printed paper on my own terms. It's not right for me to be walking around, all chatty and friendly, given the kind of show that I do.

 I'm still getting around all my friends shows at the moment, so after I hand out a processed forest worth of flyers, I head to my pal Bonnie Tessa-Davies' I'm High On Life (What Are You On?). It is a very personal storytelling piece about her family home as a child. Her parents were social workers who would take in all kinds of people to help them get back on their feet. Bonnie's background is as a standup, and she's seemed initially nervous about doing a more story-based show at Fringe, but on-stage she has a conversational quality that really sells the material. It's less like a comedy show and more like being part of a really awesome deep and meaningful conversation. It's funny in parts, but the honesty of the piece leaves her so exposed on stage that I find myself getting quite emotional by the end of the show.

Still in this state, I leave the venue only to discover I have no idea where I am, except that wherever it is, I am nowhere near my venue. My brain is not working, so I start running up a road in the hope of coming to a familiar landmark. I don't, but there are more people here, so I keep running. Eventually I get to Bristo Square, a hub area where the Gilded Balloon and Underbelly reside. At least now I know where I am, but I also know I am about a twenty minute run to my venue, and I have ten minutes before my changeover. I run to the taxi rank, but Edinburgh is not the kind of place to let you cut in line, even when you are in dire straits. I shout something inappropriate at everyone when this becomes clear and continue running. I eventually get to my venue, covered in sweat and five minutes behind schedule. Miraculously the gig starts on time.

I completely destroy it, even if I do say so myself. The small midweek crowd is completely onside and I try out a few new tricks, as I'm getting bolder with what I can get away with in the show. I'm all over the audiences' tables and chairs, like I am in my pub shows; it's never worked in theatre gigs before, but there's something about this room that lets me get away with murder.

Despite totally killing it, on the way home I become a bit frustrated. The show is consistently slamming it here, and I've just come from an amazing Australian tour where almost all the shows were amazing. In both cases I can't seem to get press coverage to save my life. I feel like I'm shouting into the void and it is driving me completely fucking nuts. I get home, have a bitch to my housemates and start sending out a thousand emails. If media won't accept my polite publicist-style invites, I'm going to be the most annoying guy in the world. I'm not sure if this will work.


Today is pretty unremarkable as I was up until dawn last night. Morale is low. I've lost all enthusiasm for flyering, as I haven't been seeing anybody I remember from flyering in the audience each night. To shake my funk, I head out to see one of my favourite comedians, ex-pat Australian weirdo Nick Sun at The Hive. His shows are often somewhere between comedy and art; he has a talent for channelling his extremely self-aware anxieties into a kind of absurd chaos. His comedy is not designed for the masses; in anyone else's hands it would be wanky bullshit, but if you let yourself adjust to his wavelength he can have you in stitches.

I go onstage on Friday night and absolutely smash it again. When I come home, there's an email from Time Out saying they'll be in to see the show over the weekend. I am slightly delighted, and celebrate with deep-fried Mars bars, disgusting late night pizza and lashings of whiskey.


I wake up. I fall asleep. I wake up. Fuck. No. I don't want to. I fall asleep. My alarm goes off. I put it on snooze. I fall asle... I wake up. I reset my alarm for an hour and try to go back to sleep. Now I can't sleep. I get up. I do not feel awesome.

This is not a great mindset to be in when you're going to see a serious drama. One of the last of my housemates' shows to see is Ali Kennedy-Scott's The Day The Sky Turned Black, a one-woman show based on true stories from Australia's Black Sunday bushfires.

Ali's play is as intense as expected; the grim reality of the bushfire is rendered in five characters including a grandmother, schoolteacher, reporter, a little boy and most affectingly, the mother of one of the arsonists responsible for the fires. It doesn't take any cheap emotional shortcuts, sticking to the shocking reality of the situation. It's devastating. I couldn't hang around afterwards to congratulate her, as I had to go sit at home for an hour and piece my brain back together.

While I reconstruct myself, I get a gold piece of card, some silver cord and a sharpie to create a sign reading “I Only Give Flyers To Cool People”. This is a flyering strategy that could potentially backfire hard. I combine this sign with a silver tuxedo, glitter tie and aviators to bring fierce cool-guy realness. Later I take it for a test run on the Royal Mile; not only do people now seem to consider receiving a flyer to be some kind of badge of honour (!) but I am constantly approached by people wanting a flyer. Human beings are hilarious.

Once I'm finished my arts and crafts moment and am back to being a person, I head across town to see the only other act in the fringe who are operating in a similar area of performance to mine. Eccentronic are a duo comprised of John Callaghan (ex-Warp) and theremin player Hypnotique. Flicking through the Fringe program, I'd spotted them early on as like minded folk. My judgement proves correct; their show is musical comedy anarchy. They play acid squelching covers of 90's alternarock songs and some of their own amusing material, around a loose theme about their failed attempts to write a commercial hit musical. It's so nice to see something fantastic that makes me feel like I'm not the only person on my wavelength. We meet afterwards and get along famously.

The show tonight is huge. The room is packed out and completely onside. My call and response audience work gets such a loud response, it feels like I must be in a much larger space. As I walk home, I am so ecstatic, my smile is plastered across my face and I can't sleep until 4:30 am (again).


Bed is a difficult place to escape again this morning, but I must. Today is the big test of my stupid sign flyering idea, and it continues to work perfectly. I go through so many flyers so quickly that I am back home within an hour for another batch. I feel like a genius.

Tonight I decide to treat myself to a couple of shows that I haven't been able to get into back home in Australia; the slow ticket sales at this years' Fringe mean it's easy to get into anything I want to see (except Daniel Kitson). First stop is Barry Morgan's World Of Organs and it does not disappoint. Though it seems like he's on a similar journey to me in terms of trying to translate his antipodean following to the UK, his show is an idiosyncratic thrill. If you haven't seen the show, the Barry Morgan character is a 1970's Adelaidean organ salesman. I'm a man who listens to old Moog records he finds in op shops a bit more than I would like to admit, and it feels like watching one of them come to life.

After that, I head around the corner to see Australian cabaret siren Ali McGregor's new show Alchemy, as it's had a bit of buzz around town. This kind of traditional cabaret gig is very much outside of my comfort zone. It takes me a while to relax into the show; once I do, it's easy to see why she is doing so well. Her voice is honey-smooth and her rearrangements of '80s and '90s pop songs in a cabaret style show flashes of genuine genius. The show peaks with Foo Fighters' Best Of You, one of my least favourite songs of all time, re-imagined as a slow burning torch song. It's one of those moments you wish the band themselves could hear, if only so they would never play that  piece of shit song ever again.

I stop by my accommodation, where my flatmates are watching the Olympic closing ceremony, which doesn't finish until halfway through my show. I hadn't even noticed it was on and I realise tonight's show is going to be a small one.

It isn't just a small crowd, it's bizarre: they are terrified of me before the show even starts. I've never had a crowd look so scared of me and it feels like everything I usually do to reduce the awkwardness in these kinds of situations is backfiring. It's hilarious. There's a woman in the second row with her hand over her mouth for the whole show, and another lady up the front who spends my whole show determinedly staring at my video screens. I'm in the right mental place for this kind of gig though and so I find it hilarious. Every time I have a moment to myself, I allow myself a few giggles. I'm having a truly horrible show, but it's so much fun.

It's just the way the Fringe is, sometimes audiences adore you and sometimes they look at you like you are violating them. The following show is usually the complete opposite. I laugh all the way home.

* I recognise that by this theory, I must appear to be a psychopath. I'll take that hit.

An Audience With Tomás Ford plays at the Edinburgh Fringe at The Jekyll & Hyde (Hanover St) at 11:50pm, from August 2-26. His new album of the same title is in stores now and online at http://music.tomasford.com, iTunes and Spotify.