So far at the Edinburgh Fringe, the show I have seen with more laughs per square minute is Matt Price’s The Maryhill Dinosaur and that was despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he did not start the show for about 15 minutes. He just interacted with the audience, who were encouraged to participate with what was, on paper, a narrative monologue not an ad-libbed jazz-like free-form hour of comedy. But Matt brilliantly interwove his (mostly) planned story with ad-libs and diversions which actually added to the show’s theme which was, basically, about his insecurities over the past year.
I saw The Maryhill Dinosaur yesterday.
Other people in the audience included British Comedy Guide boss Mark Boosey, comic teller of horrific true stories Njambi McGrath, podcaster Ewan Spence and docu-comedy writer-performer Juliette Burton with her musical director Frankie Lowe.
The Grouchy Club is hosted by me and by The Scotsman’s most feared comedy critic Kate Copstick.
The aforementioned British Comedy Guide boss Mark Boosey does not like people to know who he is and does not like to have his photograph taken so, obviously, I immediately took a photo of him. If he does not give me chocolate, I will post it online.
Why does Mark not like his photo taken?
He said to Copstick: “I don’t suppose there’s an act out there who doesn’t know who you are so, if they spot you in the audience, it will change their performance.”
“There was a PR,” admitted Copstick, “who told me You’ve got to come and see (a particular comedy act)… I said: I saw them last year. They were absolute shite. I went to see them because you persuaded me and I was wrong to be persuaded. She told me Oh, yes, yes, but there was a reason. When (the main performer) knew you were in the audience, he spent the show vomiting backstage. She said that (the performer) forgot half his lines and the other performers were so worried about the guy vomiting that they were put off their stride and, basically, their bad performance was all my fault.”
“What are they going to be like if they play the London Palladium?” I mused. “They’ll be puking up all over the place.”
“I was on Pop Bitch once,” said Copstick, “and somebody wrote: Fuck! Why doesn’t someone just stab the bitch in the eye?”
Martha McBrier and Matt Price were sitting in the front row.
“This is a woman,” Copstick said, pointing at Martha, “who I went to see in 2006 when she was doing a Fringe show in Leith in one of the skankiest basements I’ve ever been in – and I have been in quite a few skanky basements at various times for various reasons.
“I went to see her show because I thought I was going to hate it and I was gearing myself up for a vicious, typically-Copstickian attack on some blonde woman who thought she was a sex kitten.
“Among my many bugbears,” ranted Copstick, “are people who do shows that say Gosh! I’m really rude! when they are as rude as the Salvation Army… And women who do shows saying This is really full-frontal stuff all about sex! when it is actually a lot of girlish giggling and shite…”
“My show,” said Martha, “was called Sex Kitten/Corpse. I was teetering. I felt I was teetering between the two.”
“By the end of the show…” said Copstick. “Well, I say show…”
“Fair do’s,” said Martha.
“Quite a lot of it,” said Copstick, “was Martha showing every individual member of the audience to their seat, getting their life story, chatting… So before the show even started… Well, to be fair, the show never started.”
“I hadn’t time,” said Martha.
“She’s a very ‘giving’ performer,” said Copstick, “and she spent so much time ‘giving’ at the beginning of what, eventually, was not the show, that there was no time for the show… However, there was not a dry pair of pants in the house, male or female. It was the most genuinely funny thing I have ever seen in my life. At which point, I did what turned out to be a not-very-helpful thing… I gave her a 5-star review.
“It was brilliant. Brilliant. Genuinely from-the-bone hysterically funny. But I didn’t think it through. I just rushed home and wrote the 5-star review. So, from then on, the basement was jam-packed not with the kind of people who go out to find great, unusual, weird comedy, but with the kind of people who see 5 stars in The Scotsman and take their sorry, sad, lazy, not-really-comedy-fan asses along to see it simply because it is a 5-star show. And they are not Martha’s target audience. So I think I probably made life a lot harder for her.”
“We,” said Matt Price, “just didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t understand the comedy industry stuff. All I heard was that this Copstick woman was really angry because the show started ten minutes late and Martha had a double brandy…”
“Because,” Martha interrupted. “Because the show in front of me over-ran a wee bit. They said: It doesn’t matter, because you’re the last show, so it doesn’t matter if you finish late. Then one of the bar staff said: Oh my God, Kate Copstick’s here! Do you know her? I said: No. He said: You’re fucked. You might as well take the blind cord and wrap it round your neck. Do you want a brandy?
“I thought to myself: If I’m fucked, que sera sera.But actually I wasn’t fucked. ScotsGay gave me 5 stars too. It was a very eventful year; it was very interesting.”
“Your venue was absolutely jam-packed after that,” said Copstick. “You put on extra shows. And then Marshall Cordell, multi-millionaire of this parish, went down and saw you and produced you for the next year, didn’t he?”
“He did,” said Martha.
Copstick continued: “With people who are not very experienced and have not done loads of stuff before, 5-stars is what they think they want. But be careful what you wish for. You go back the next year and expectations are massively high. If you don’t get 5-star reviews again, then you have failed somehow, because people in the comedy section are terrible star-watchers.”
“And,” said Martha, “the other kids won’t play with you. When you get 5 stars, they think: Who the fuck is she? She came from nowhere. She’s nothing. She’s got this yadda-yadda. There was a bit of that.
“The next year, my show was in The Caves. That was great. I really enjoyed that. But that’s when I started going deaf because of the brain tumour. One of the things I did a lot was interactive banter. That’s kind of my thing. But then I couldn’t hear people and then I went What? and people thought I was playing for time. And I wasn’t. I just couldn’t hear.
“So the next year I was performing in the Gilded Balloon and, at the last minute, my room was changed. I was going to be in a wee room but they put me on a raised stage and the audience were miles away, so I couldn’t hear them. I went from getting 5 and 4 stars to 1 star from The List.”
“How is your tumour?” asked Copstick.
“We’ll find out in December if it has shrunk,” said Martha. “but so far so good. Their microwaving seems to have done the job.”
Next year, Martha McBrier will be back performing an adult comedy show on the Fringe. She is currently in the middle of a 13-day run of a children’s show: The Very Scariesome Tooth Fairy.