I’m sat on my fat arse on the train to Edinburgh and getting emotional. I’m going to the Fringe, my spiritual second or third home. Dewy-eyed, I eat a ham-and-egg bloomer, neck mango-and-apple drink and watch England’s over-hyped scenery whistle by. I devour a vegetable crisp. The train slows down. Peterborough.
If you have never been to the Edinburgh Fringe then you just must. An unhealthy, unwieldy slop of creative humans descends upon it each year. Artistes of all ages, weights and personalities offload their fruits and the city is transformed. Usually dignified, noble and Scottish, when August hits Edinburgh, it is defenceless. It drops to its knees in the face of theatre groups in pink T-shirts, hard smoking stand-ups and weightless dance-troupes and says “oh”. The splendid architecture and people of Edinburgh are quickly pasted over with posters and a new world is created.
Throughout August nearly 15 million shows are put on in Edinburgh, and three quarter of a million venues are created. Almost every room becomes a venue. The university is consumed, old libraries, rooms above pubs, below pubs, near pubs, sheds, phone boxes, taxis, hospital wards. Last year I saw a cow that had been turned upside down, fitted with a lighting rig and hosted comics from across the globe, telling their jokes between its flanks. Behind almost every door there is a beatboxer, a stripper, or a satirist. I always unscrew the urinal and prise it off before I go, just to make sure that, hidden in the cavity, there’s not a university production of The Dumb Waiter.
You know what’s wonderful about the Fringe? Your proximity to the stars! It’s perfectly possible to see Frank Skinner sucking on a wine gum in a souvenir store. Honestly. I once spotted Sarah Millican drinking pineapple juice inside a café and I have a friend who saw Paul Merton in a queue. These people walk among us. You can go up to them, too. They’re supremely unaffected people. Chat to them. Ask them how their show is going. If you are polite you might be able to photograph or even ride one. If that’s what you’re after, climbing on to a comedian’s back and urging him up and down Nicholson Street, then you need to get on the next train. You’ve missed this one – we’re already through York.
If ever I die, I would like to be scattered among the venues of the Fringe. I would be burnt first, of course, as opposed to being butchered and slung in clods. Or would I, in fact? Ashes is cleaner, but I quite like the idea of my thumb lying, leathery but dignified, by a sound desk in C-Venues. Or a chunk of my arse, dangling from the lighting rig in The Belly Dancer. And yes, thinking about it, it really does appeal to have my head pickled and mounted on to the wall stage right in The Pleasance Beside. A constant reminder that I once did an hour of poetry there in the early 21st century.
I wanted this column to be a eulogy for the Fringe. It’s transforming, though, into an open letter to those who survive me. While I’ve got you, I may as well give some pointers vis-à-vis my Edinburgh-themed funeral. I’d like it to be held in The Bedlam Theatre, please, throughout August. I’d like Mark Watson to MC and Tim Minchin can get busy on the organ, slagging off God and celebrating me. The League of Gentlemen could find time in their busy schedules to carry my coffin, and The Mighty Boosh could hand out badges as punters left in floods. Keep ticket prices low to ensure we fill it, and try to keep industry out. I don’t think I could bare some miserable arsehole writing my funeral off as being three stars.
We’re here now. Edinburgh. The stench of hops slaps me around the nostrils and I hear bagpipes. I spill out on to the streets. Paved with fliers, they are abuzz with the energy and optimism Edinburgh has subjected itself to by swinging open its doors. I keep typing and hail a cab. Dewy-eyed again, I am so happy to be back.
Tim Key’s ‘Work-In-Slutgress’ is at the Pleasance Dome, 14-24 August, 9.45pm