The Diary: Life's a heckle, then you die on stage

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The Independent Online
Edinburgh Festival, day one. Life: you get used to it, then you die. Comedy: you die and get used to it. Boom boom. When the crowd gets behind you it means you are facing the wrong way. It's a marathon not a sprint. In fact, it's a dance not a race. Armed with these sayings and the bones of a show, I arrive in Edinburgh. Une fois plus, mes amis! The eternal flame of festival, carried in a thousand cigarette lighters around the globe, converges on the beautiful city of Edinburgh in August. Oh lucky city! Why am I here? Money - perhaps I have too much. Doing a show is as good a way as any to lose it. Career? Next stop Hollywood. In the end (but only in the end) the shows themselves aren't that important. It's how you are afterwards in the bar that counts. A wise old comic told me that once. He was drunk, of course.

DAY TWO. First show and I discover to my horror that my heart's not in it any more. I've bitten off more than I can chew. A revolutionary technological show with a free-form jazz flavour. Different every night. Themes, ideas, plans - but in reality a chore. On the back foot. The thing that makes comedy different from other jobs is that you have to enjoy it. Have to. Go on, try it - be happy now. Tricky, n'est-ce pas?

My opera singer lovely Lorrie Lixenberg and pianist/director lovely Richard Thomas pull the show through while I stand like a rabbit in headlights. I've been here before, surely, but I can't remember how I got out of it last time. Two arses sit yapping throughout - not paying attention, and then finding the show unamusing. I get tetchy with them. They leave, come back and then leave again. This irritates me to the extent that I run out after them with a clenched fist. They look frightened. I say "only joking" and return to the theatre. For the first time in two years I've lost my temper on stage. Show grinds to a halt eventually. Audience file out bemused and perhaps intrigued. Some say to me they'd like to see it again with a better audience. Naturally, I hit the turps.

DAY THREE. The reviewers were in last night. Oh well. I'm owed a slagging. Another show. Slightly better. But heart remains absent. A heckler with a pint of whisky yaps at me throughout - helpful things like "get on with it". I try and he interrupts again. God bless him. No one else will. Immune to put-down lines and the murmurings of the audience, he continues. "Your mother loves you," I assure him, "but she's wrong." Forty minutes in he stands up and pisses himself. Ten minutes later he vomits. Viva showbiz! Computer crashes. Thank you Microsoft. Naturally, I hit the turps.

DAY FOUR. I play my annual game of football with the other fools on the Meadows. Score two goals, one a classic. Collapse after 70 minutes with white dots before my eyes. Nevertheless some joy gleaned. Knackered at showtime, nevertheless magical Dr Theatre intervenes and lo! I love it. Lovely audience.

First good show. It's not what I want it to be, but then again it never will be. Such is the plight of the over-ambitious. Do Late and Live gig as well - insane cauldron at the heart of the festival. Deal with hecklers and tell jokes in the gaps. Goes well. Am happy. Naturally, I hit the turps.

DAY FIVE. Pangs of nostalgia for right now. This will pass, is passing. I think of the acts not here - Boothby, Locky, Malcolmy. Recognise the need for a finale in the show, create one. Show goes well for 40 minutes, slacks off for 20. Not quite up to speed as yet. Lovely audience. Naturally, I hit the turps.

DAY SIX. Reviews come out. Made to read my review on camera for Channel 4 documentary Edinburgh Or Bust ("and bust" surely?). Review is very good considering - four stars - but feel indifferent. Cannot muster a reaction for the camera. Notice am becoming increasingly terse. Started mumbling. If only Jesus had mumbled he'd have got away with it. Boom Boom. End up at The Penny Black 5am. Now the festival has begun.

No one should criticise the festival: by doing so you make a fool of yourself. It is practically infinite, like London, and therefore above criticism. Simply bow down before it and let it wash over you. For me it's a party that never ends. What's it all about? At the end of the day - love. "He who ceaselessly struggles upwards, him we can save"- Goethe. But which way is up? Maybe I should lay off the turps. I'll do that in September.

The League Against Tedium, Venue 33, Pleasance, Edinburgh, until 30 August (tel: 0131 556 6550).

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