My Edinburgh hell

Veteran comics of the Fringe recall some of the gigs they would rather forget

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The Independent Culture

Alex Horne

"In 2005 I took my third show to the Edinburgh Fringe. On about the 14th or 15th night we had what we still refer to as 'a problem'. It started with a noise. Then the hoot developed into a definite honk. Then more honks. And then these honks were joined by much flapping. Finally, a ball of feathers burst on to the stage: it was a goose. Someone had brought a goose into the show. We still don't know who, why or how – there wasn't time to ask."

Alex Horne is performing at the Pleasance Dome, 3-25 Aug

Patrick Monahan

"There was a power cut while I was waiting to go on. Not knowing this, I ran on, expecting the house lights to go up. I was left to blunder around in the dark. Luckily, a French guy in the audience offered me a lighter so I did the rest of my set with the lighter under my chin, as if I was telling a horror story."

Patrick Monahan is appearing at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3-28 Aug

Fiona O'Loughlin

"It was my opening night in Edinburgh. At about the 25-minute mark, I heard a sound coming from the audience. It became loud enough to mess with my timing. 'Is somebody snoring?' I asked. The culprit was in the third row, oblivious in his resonant slumber. I wanted to kill him on the spot. It was my husband."

Fiona O'Loughlin is appearing at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3-28 Aug

Isy Suttie

"My set was going quite badly. In the middle of a long-winded piece, a guy at the back shouted, 'Get off the stage. I hate you.' I did a song which he equally hated and he shouted, 'I hate you so much, I'll give you £20 to leave.' As I didn't think he was serious, I said yes, and then had to endure a horrible silence as this £20 note was slowly passed through the audience up to me."

Isy Suttie is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3-29 Aug

Shappi Khorsandi

"I was compèring the Edinburgh Waverley Care Gala in 2010. The day before, I had hurt myself badly and was in hospital. I took strong painkillers, which slowed my speech and made me feel that the world was made of marshmallow. I went on stage and introduced each act while wanting to hug the audience."

Shappi Khorsandi is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3-28 Aug

Matt Tiller

"My first solo show at Edinburgh, in 2005, was Matt Tiller... Ladykiller, where I had to convince an audience member to fall in love with me using ridiculous self-help techniques. To help persuade people to join me on stage I had some fizzy 'champagne-alike' to offer my victims/volunteers. Before I expected it, the cork shot up, narrowly avoiding my nose. I instinctively looked down and the fizz blasted up into my face. I was blinded, staggering around the stage, while the audience fell about thinking, 'This is a genius piece of physical comedy'. It wasn't."

Matt Tiller is performing at Just the Tonic at the Caves, 4-28 Aug

Bridget Christie

"One night in 2005 I had an audience of three – all of whom were Perrier Award judges. To make it worse, no one had opened the doors, so they had to wait out in the rain for 10 minutes. They were a kind audience but to this day I'll never know whether that was out of pity, admiration for me soldiering on or they actually liked it."

Bridget Christie is appearing at The Stand Comedy Club, 4-28 Aug

Josh Widdicombe

"Edinburgh, 2009. Stepping into the unknown can be exciting. However, if the unknown you are stepping into is a venue that you have agreed to perform in for the month of August, it can be soul-destroying rather than exciting. Particularly if that venue is on a quietest street in the quietest area of Edinburgh. Half the light bulbs were smashed and half-way through the run, a bowl of vomit appeared at the back (where it remained for two weeks). Spirits were low..."

Josh Widdicombe is appearing at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3-28 Aug

Mark Olver

"In 2007, I had some four-star reviews but my audiences were small. Really small. I would buy snacks for the audience, guessing how many there would be. On the worst day, I bought a box of six mini rolls. There were six people in: two diabetics, one vegan and someone who didn't eat chocolate. That was a low point."

Mark Olver is performing at Just the Tonic at the Caves, 4-28 Aug

Tom Binns

"When I was getting ready to go up to the Fringe in 2009, I had my entire show on a laptop. Thinking it was a bit risky to have my show on one computer, I bought another as a back-up. I put both in a backpack and chucked them in the back seat. Turns out, the backpack hadn't made it on to the seat and was, in fact, dragged underneath my car at high speeds along the motorway."

Tom Binns is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3-28 Aug

Wil Hodgson

"I used to have pink hair, which was a red rag to aggressive imbeciles. The worst incident was on the last day of the 2006 Fringe. I was walking down Rose Street with my girlfriend and Robin Ince and we passed a group of drunken thugs. One of them ran up behind me and grabbed my balls from behind and proceeded to call me a 'ponce'. I've never felt so angry and humiliated in my life."

Wil Hodgson is at The Stand Comedy Club, 4-28 Aug

Dan Antopolski

"Two friends brought Paul Whitehouse to see my show. Mid-song, the generator caught fire and the audience was evacuated, made to stand in the rain for half an hour, then re-seated, whereupon I resumed mid-song. My friends conveyed Mr Whitehouse's sympathies to me – he having taken understandable advantage of the hiatus to make good his escape – and I spent the rest of the night very, very drunk."

Dan Antopolski is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3-29 Aug

Matt Green

"During one show in 2009 a man decided to heckle me. I replied with a couple of choice words and thought that would be that. Then he decided to heckle me physically. From under his seat he produced a football and threw it at me, quite hard. Slightly shocked, I managed to catch it, then opened the fire door, threw out the ball and told him to 'fetch'! Unfortunately, he wouldn't leave and continued to throw other things. It was difficult to keep going under this assault, and security were nowhere to be seen."

Matt Green is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3-28 Aug

Roisin Conaty

"In 2010, I was trying out new material. An ex-boyfriend was in the audience, so I was very nervous. About two minutes into the gig I got lockjaw. The audience thought it was part of the act and was cracking up. I said, 'I'm not joking. It really hurts. I have to go now' to a very bewildered crowd. I got a text from my ex after that read 'Wow, very experimental, sorry had to dash'."

Roisin Conaty is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 3-28 Aug

Naz Osmanoglu

"My worst gig involved a resplendent buffet. So joyous was this gastronomic delight that the audience was not only unaware of the act on stage, but completely ecstatic about the food off stage. The buffet had a really good gig that night. I didn't die; I simply watched people make themselves more alive as they devoured an impressive selection of curries. Seventeen minutes of utter indifference is a fate worth than death. Especially when you're hungry."

Naz Osmanoglu is at the Underbelly's Pasture, 3-28 Aug

Hardeep Singh Kohli

"One night I was on my way to a show when a group of four guys approached me, one of whom threw his arm round me and shouted to his mate, 'Quick, take a picture with me and Omid Djalili!' Protesting that I wasn't Omid Djalili, it soon turned into a heated argument, the guy being adamant that I was him. I got so riled by this that I began using this anecdote in my show. What I didn't realise was that this story had made it back to London after one of the diaries reported it. Three nights later, I walk into the Gilded Balloon and there's Omid himself who promptly points at me and shouts, 'You're Omid Djalili!'"

Hardeep Singh Kohli is at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3-28 Aug

Kate Smurthwaite

"Last year, my show was on directly after a glamorous-looking cabaret show with a changing line-up. On the second day, local feminist and women's rights organisations came to see my show. Keen to enhance their festival experience, I urged them to creep quietly in the back and catch the end of the cabaret. The closing act was a 'burlesque' striptease artist – let's just say it was not the sort of thing the feminists and women's rights activists had come to Edinburgh to see."

Kate Smurthwaite is at the Ciao Roma, 6-28 Aug

Jason Byrne

"It all went a bit wrong when I picked a guy from the crowd to come up on stage. I popped him into a cardboard box, gave him a mic and told him to pretend he was five and make racing-car noises. Then I dragged him around in the box. After about a minute he started to weep quietly. I gently took him out and placed him back in his seat. No more was said."

Jason Byrne is at Venue 150, EICC 3-14 Aug

Milton Jones

"I'd just won Perrier Best Newcomer in 1996 and someone dared me to climb on to the roof of the Pleasance building to watch the fireworks. Dizzy with success, I figured that there was no mountain I couldn't scale. But I was horrified to be looking down on a 60ft drop to the railings below. I froze, spooked by every bang. I don't remember how I got down..."

Milton Jones is appearing at Assembly Hall, 9-11 Aug

Ed Byrne

"I remember in 1999 agreeing to appear at the Reading Festival at the same time as performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. This was in the days when I could get on stage in any state of drunkenness and still give a good account of myself. I checked in for my flight to Heathrow and made my way to the gate in a drunken blur, but, goddammit, if I didn't feel proud of myself knowing I had made my flight with time to spare. I closed my eyes and took a celebratory nap. Five hours later, at exactly the time I was due on stage in Reading, I woke up, still in Edinburgh, still at the gate, 10 missed calls on my mobile. Perhaps I wasn't as indestructible as I thought."

Ed Byrne is at Venue 150 at the EICC, 3-27 Aug