“I’m an Edinburgh virgin,” he told me last week. “I’ve never even been there as part of a show. I went up to visit maybe ten years ago, but I’ve never even been part of a package show.”
“You did your first paid comedy gig at Malcolm Hardee’s club Up the Creek in Greenwich?” I asked.
“Yes. When I was 19, in 1992. I had been doing street entertaining by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich for about three years before that. I started doing street entertaining when I was still at school. I did my first show when I was doing my GCSEs. Then I did an Art foundation course at St Martin’s in London, while doing street entertaining in Covent Garden. Then I moved to the University of Brighton, but I would come back to London at weekends to play Covent Garden to pay my way through my degree, which was in Visual & Performing Arts.”
“So,” I checked, “you never had to do anything other than performance because you were always able to support yourself?”
“That’s the thing,” said George. “I came out of university without any debt and never had to do an office job or anything like that. Do you remember Brian?”
“Do you remember Brian?”
“As,” I asked, “in used-to-live-in-Malcolm-Hardee’s-house Brian?”
“Yes. I saw him last month, backstage at Glastonbury. He still does Covent Garden and does the new street entertaining pitch in front of Tate Modern. He was an absolute inspiration to me when I started – surreal, prop-based. He had a chicken on a pump-up rocket… You know when you get a Coca-Cola bottle, fill it with water and then pump it up with a bicycle pump and it flies up in the air?”
I nodded as if I did know.
“Brian’s finale was that,” explained George, “but with a rubber chicken on it. And he used to attack a music stand with nunchucks and just smash it to the ground. Really surreal stuff.”
“And this,” I asked, “inspired you to even better things?”
“Yes. He told me I should play at Up The Creek and, for about three years, I only got booked there because other clubs said my act was too odd. But I was earning so much doing street entertaining it didn’t matter. When I was working at Covent Garden, I knew loads of people who went up to the Edinburgh Fringe for the summer and came back loaded with money – while all the comedians who went up there lost loads of money.”
“What was your street act?” I asked.
“Magic. I used to do the razor-blade eating, then bring it all out threaded on cotton. And the nail-up-the-nose trick. Then, when I started getting more contract stuff and festivals abroad, I did the thing with the coat hanger, which Malcolm mentioned in his autobiography.”
“Remind me,” I said.
“For my finale,” George explained, “I used to put a coat hanger through my ear lobe and hang everything on it – my pants, socks, the works. So I am naked. But they’re all hanging down the front, so it’s quite modest. As I walked off, people would catch a sight of my back naked.”
“But your Edinburgh Fringe show this year,” I said, “is not that?”
“No. The show is called Anarchist Cook. I’m genuinely passionate about cooking and, doing the comedy circuit and staying in hotels for weekends all over the place, I never wanted to spend money on hotel food – it’s overpriced and rubbish quality – so I started seeing what I could cook in hotels using just their irons, kettles, trouser press and so on.”
“What did you do with the trouser press?” I asked.
“You’ll have to come and see the show,” said George. “It stimulates every sense. You can smell the show when I’m cooking it. You can see it. You can hear me talking. You can touch and taste when you eat the food I cook.”
“Any sixth sense?” I asked.
“It stimulates your sense of humour,” George suggested.
“You could be in line to be a TV chef?” I asked.
“Well,” said George, “I do a food blog online. I got an agent about a year ago and she’s set me up with loads of meetings about TV things, but there’s always this sense I’m not normal enough for them. They’re friendly and then nothing comes of it. They want it all to be conventional and accessible.”
That was George Egg, surprisingly doing his first ever show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
Andy Zapp, musician-turned-comedian has performed at the Fringe before, but is not going this year. Instead, he going on a Center Parcs holiday with his grandchildren and daughter.
“I took out my one-man show in January,” he told me. “That went alright. It was a work in progress. Didn’t have a title. I need to get more on the emails and do more schmoozing, but I’m a bit too old for that at 67. I gig a lot. I’m still trying to get a sense of who I am on stage. Been doing bits of writing, connecting with who I am, but it’s a slow old game. I’ve been doing comedy four years now.”
“Are you still doing music gigs?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m struggling with how you incorporate the music into the comedy; trying to get a club set together – you can’t sing with a harmonica in yer mouth.”
“I see you,” I said, “as an ageing Mississippi Blues man. Pity about the colour, but you can’t have everything.”
“Well,” said Andy, “an ageing Polish Mississippi Blues man born in Wales. That’s maybe my unique selling point. I’m still working towards pushing the boundaries.”
“You should,” I suggested, “do the autobiographical heroin show.”
“Yeah, but it’s more than that, isn’t it?” said Andy. “If the audience likes me, I can get away with murder. A couple of weeks ago, I was doing stuff around fisting. It just came out of the conversation and got quite ridiculous, really. It went from I’m a GILF – Good In Lots of Fings – to Grandad I’d Like to Fist and we were on a roll after that. About 23 minutes of ad-lib there, so that was good.
“I did the Palace Theatre with Russell Brand – where Les Misérables used to be – 1,400 people – and that was a really lovely gig. It was a fundraiser, a really great experience. When the jokes land, the laughter comes rolling down. He’s a nice bloke, Russell. Helpful. Puts his money where his mouth is. Helps people. Very kind. Very approachable. And the shit they write about him in the papers is just that – shit. He just tries his best.”
“I’ve never met him,” I said, “but I like the way he seems to love the English language.”
“Though words change,” said Andy. “I was on-stage in Southend and I mentioned ‘plating this bird’ – cunnilingus – and they’re all looking at me and loads of them got their iPhones out and are looking up the definition of ‘plating’. And they go Earghh! Because, on Google, ‘plating’ is now squatting down on a sheet of glass and doing a crap while someone is looking up from underneath the glass. So no wonder they thought I was disgusting.”
“That,” I suggested, “could be your angle. You are old enough to have seen the language change.”
“I’m just trying to be more consistent, really,” said Andy. “I’d like to get better; I think I’ve got something to offer; I’m enjoying it.”
“Edinburgh next year,” I said.
“Definitely,” said Andy.