I first went to the Edinburgh Festival in 2002, before I'd properly entered the role of stand up comic. At that time I was, more than anything, just a 22-year-old attracted to anywhere that had public toilets older than my country. And what greater public toilet than Europe?
Edinburgh was a stopover on a backpacking trip across the continent and the U.K., and I was having a great time. There is little more a 22-year-old party animal enjoys more than hanging out in a public toilet, the hotbed sex and drugs that they are.
I was hired to work as "FOH" at the comedy venue conglomerate The Gilded Balloon, juggling my time between venues such as the Caves, the Peppermint Lounge and the Teviot.
This job was something I fell into, and I was ill-suited for it, to say the least. In that, I didn't know what FOH stood for, and when I found out it meant "Front of House," still didn't fully understand or care enough to encourage my neurons to work out. I was concentrating more on sneaking in to watch the shows, and gobbling the infamous British ecstasy pills I had seen mythologized in the Irvine Welsh books I devoured with equal enthusiasm.
The fact I was rubbish at my job did little to affect the careers of the unsuspecting acts performing shows in my venues. To think now of those I haphazardly FOH'd, watched night after night, and tried to insinuate myself into the company of: Andrew Maxwell, Sarah Kendall, Glenn Wool, Rhys Darby (whose then girlfriend/now-wife was my erstwhile manager) and, with their Edinburgh debut, the Flight of the Conchords.
So obviously this was a special time. Between the sex, drugs, Silk Cuts, and Iron Bru's, I was also gestating my inner role as comedian and trying to piece together how I would fit in to this whole comedy equation.
There were two acts in particular from whom I learned lessons which would color my perspective for the next 10 years. Irish storyteller Andrew Maxwell presented to me a comedian archetype I didn't know existed. He was cool. Interesting, intelligent, a boundary-free conversationalist who smoked weed and listened to rap -- at a time before everyone and their hipster dog pretended to like "urban music."
And, as you can imagine, I learned a huge lesson from the New Zealand duo who went on to win the hearts of an arguably joy-starved world. They had come over with a small handful of co-conspirators, flyers containing one lone quote from the NZ Herald (I believe it was something like "highly engaging" or "personable demeanors"), and gone from a near empty house to a packed cave -- its supply of oxygen made even more sparse by rapid guffaws, punters and fringe performers alike all clamoring to see the miracle of their act.
I saw that doing a great show trumps everything. To throw your hat in the ring on this scale means you need to be ready to do your best. All those other factors like luck and marketing mean nothing when compared to consistently doing something that's entertaining and resonates. You will fill a room if you are good.
Which is of course the most difficult bit, and why its taken me 10 years to man up and have something I'm confident in doing 25 days in a row, and that I know is half-decent.
Having said that, I'll do my best to step back from the 70-odd stand-up, music, kid's theatre, and improv gigs I've booked myself into this month and let you know how it's going. And hopefully see you at one of them. I'll be here anyway, making an effort.
Follow Mike Sheer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@mikesheer