Comedians in Edinburgh
Getting Chai Lattes (series two)
Originally not aired on 02/07/2019
Okay guys, fair warning, this episode might be a bit sloppy, a bit rough around the edges, a bit of an unstructured mess, a bit shit, a bit more for me than it is for you, a bit of a waste of time that will leave you feeling conned, making you angry and resentful of the fact that you were stupid enough to put your faith in me to produce something that would take you out of your destructive thought patterns for a brief amount of time – and that’s because today’s episode is an EDINBURGH PREVIEW.
That’s right, the good news is that my unrecorded podcast, “Comedians In Edinburgh Getting Chai Lattes” has been renewed for a second series. I’ll be going up to the Fringe in August for the full run and I’m going to be having some of the most riveting non-taped conversations you could imagine. I have venues sorted, guests lined up and I’m excited to announce some big TV comics have already declined to take part.
The downside is I’ve only got a few weeks to prepare and I need to figure out how I’m gonna do this shit. For those of you don’t know how it works, by the time a show is taken to Edinburgh, it’s already been performed a bunch of times. It’s been tried and tested. Honed. Worked on. Finessed. This is what’s known as the preview process. During this process, the comedian – or in this case unrecorded podcast host – only has a rough idea of how their show will work, and they put it together by trying it out in front of an audience they don’t care about.
It can be a nerve-wracking process, and despite purposely picking someone who I don’t respect enough for their opinion of me to matter, I still felt extremely anxious when today’s guest Adam Beardsmore rocked up.
“Just a warning, Adam. This is a preview so I’m gonna be looking at my notes a lot. Is that okay?”
“Yeah that’s fine,” he said.
“Awesome. Also, I might stop the interview every now and then to ask you which bits are working and stuff.”
The moment of truth had arrived. For logistical and financial reasons, I had to not-record this preview in Birmingham, rather than Edinburgh. Luckily, we were in Starbucks, and because of their brand consistency I was able to block out the background noise of Brummy accents and economic frustration and imagine we were at a Starbucks at the Fringe, a place where real people are side-lined for a month to make room for a largely middle-class group of performers to process their childhood traumas through shows filled with puns. The Fringe in general I mean, not specifically Starbucks at the Fringe.
“Hi, how are you Adam?” I asked, reading the script in front of me.
“I’m sorry, Adam, can we just stop a second? What did you think of that first line? ‘How are you?’ I dunno if it’s too obvious. I’ve been thinking of cutting it for a while and then I thought, nah I’ll give it a try. But it just feels a bit clunky.”
“I think it’s fine, mate.”
“Okay and umm… how did you get into comedy?” I asked, referencing the script.
“Well, I’ve basically always wanted to do it but put it off for years and—“
“Just a second Adam,” I said, interrupting. “Shall I put a green tick next to ‘how did you get into comedy?’ I think it’s a good question, I just wonder if there’s a more interesting way of asking it.”
Adam didn’t look happy. As his day job he works in animation, and I was worried the more I kept stopping to ask him how the podcast was going, the more animated he would become, until eventually he hit me over the head with a rolling pin.
Does that joke work? Sorry guys a lot of this isn’t polished yet. I was trying to reference like old-school Tom and Jerry cartoon violence. I promise when I take this thing up to Edinburgh I’ll have it worked out.
“Can we just get on with it?” Adam said.
I looked at my notes, trying to figure out where to go next in the interview. I had it all memorised before, but I could no longer recall any of it.
“I’m falling to pieces,” I said, referencing The Script once more. I felt like going back to the corner where I first met Adam and starting all over again. The Man Who Can’t Be Moved. Breakeven. For The First Time. The Script the band.
Is any of this landing???
“Listen, can you just talk to me without using your notes?” Adam said. “We can do this another time if you’re not ready.”
“Yeah… I mean… Uhm… It’s just…”
I was flailing for words to say. All of a sudden the agitation made me lose control and I knocked over my delicious Chai Latte, completely ruining my notes, covering them in hot milk infused with tea and the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. A Chai Latte, the drink featured in the title of the show, was now playing a key role in the actual narrative arc of the show. Nice.
There’s a bit in every Edinburgh show where we realise, that for all its funniness, something about the comedian’s current worldview is trapping them. Normally about three-quarters into the show, a key piece of drama – i.e. a chai latte being spilled – leads to this worldview being challenged. The comedian then finds a new way forward, and spends the rest of the show evangelising about it. The audience is inspired. Reviewers start to pay attention. Award nominations come through. Glory.
I think this is what was happening for me. After my notes got ruined, I had to start improvising. I had a rough idea of the questions I’d prepared, but with no script, I started to riff around those questions. The conversation felt so much more natural. We got into all sorts of stuff about Adam’s past – where he went to university, how he met his wife, what inspired him to get into comedy. All of his responses are too dull to reproduce here, but the point is the initial awkwardness of the conversation had vanished.
“I feel like I’m getting a lot more of you now, Eric. You’re actually really genuine and a great interviewer when you relax and stop thinking about how it’s supposed to be going,” Adam definitely said.
That’s when I realised this profound universal thing about the human-condition. The thing is, we’re all a work-in-progress. And we all have these scripts we think we need to follow. Go to university. Get a job. Find a life-partner. And a lot more on top of this depending on the culture you were involuntarily thrown into and the upbringing you had. It’s like we’re working towards this thing, this finished product. But we’ll never be polished enough. Never be finished.
We need to let go of that idea of perfection, and just be ourselves, start to improvise more. After all, “human being” literally comes from the Latin for “work in progress”. Well, I dunno if it does, but the fact that I’m not sure only proves my point further. Once we let go of The Script and the idea of being in some sort of Hall Of Fame, then we can actually be free.
So I don’t care anymore that this is supposed to be a preview. I’m not gonna apologise because it’s not “ready”, whatever that means. I have a lot of things about myself that I wanna fix; we all do. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t be working to get better, but whether you’re an Edinburgh show or a person, you don’t need to be “ready” to be loved and appreciated. You just need to Be.
I said my goodbyes to Adam, and as I walked through the streets of England’s second city, I thought about what just happened.
Funny jokes. A sad bit. Character development. Meta references that alienate a general audience. Uplifting ending.
I think this thing’s ready for the Fringe.
Can’t wait xxx
Originally not aired on 06/08/2019
They say life is all about the journey, not the destination, but I’m sure this “they” have never been on a 5-hour train journey to Edinburgh. Wow…talk about the state of British transport. No seriously, talk about it. Let’s get a dialogue going, see if we can shift policy a bit.
To start with, I spent the best part of £200 on train tickets. Well, they were £50, but that is my favourite part of £200. And what did I get with that £50? I got to sit next to some creepy-looking guy with a complete lack of basic personal hygiene. I was totally beside myself. Also, the toilets on trains annoy me a lot these days. Have you ever been on a Virgin train where they have toilets that talk to you and try to be funny? Like they say stuff like “make sure you flush me – I used to be a public toilet and let me tell you, that wasn’t a pleasant experience.”
Bare creepy. Never makes me laugh.
About 3 hours into the journey, I remember just thinking, What the fuck am I doing? I was on a horrible train on my way to an over-hyped festival that makes me mentally ill. Neither the journey or the destination are gonna do anything for me.
The only thing I really enjoy about Edinburgh is my unrecorded podcast “Comedians In Edinburgh Getting Chai Lattes” but I know the industry are gonna ignore it yet again. I sent out press packs and everything and the only publication that got back to me were The Skinny to say, “I think you’ve misunderstood what a podcast is.”
I think they’ve misunderstood what art is.
The thought of my podcast really made me crave some sweet sweet Chai. When the man came by with the drinks trolley, I made my move.
“Any drinks?” he said.
“Excuse me mate, do you sell Chai Lattes?”
“Ermm… are you sure?”
There was a weird silence.
An old man in a cowboy hat sat across from me looked at me as if to say, Ain’t nobody ordered a Chai on this train for a long long time, son.
I turned back to the trolley guy.
“Yeah I’m sure. Why? What’s the problem?”
“Erm… there’s no problem.”
The trolley guy scrambled around at the bottom of the trolley until he came back up with a tub of Chai powder. His hands were shaking as he cleaned the dust and cobwebs off it. He proceeded to steam some milk and make up the drink. When he passed it to me, the old man in the cowboy hat got up and walked away, like he couldn’t watch what was about to happen.
“Why are you guys being so weird?”
I took a sip. It was fine. Better than fine – it was lovely lovely Chai. My favourite. I took another sip. Still fine. I kept sipping. Sipping away and loving it. Until eventually I’d smashed through the whole thing.
Five minutes later, I felt something weird happening in my stomach. Oh God.
I rushed to the nearest toilet. It said “currently engaged” so I congratulated it and headed to the toilet on the other side of the train. The other toilet thankfully wasn’t engaged, and I liked it, so I put my ring on it.
I don’t wanna go into details, but I did my business and it was disgusting. When I finished, the toilet piped up.
“Make sure you give me a flush.”
Not this, I thought.
I stood up, pulled my pants up, and flushed.
“There you go, mate,” I said to the toilet, mocking the whole idea of a talking toilet by continuing the conversation. Even when no one’s there to witness I still like to find interesting and funny ways to play around with society’s new conventions.
I turned to wash my hands.
“Thank you, Eric.”
“Huh,” I said, not sure if I was still playing with conventions or absolutely trippin’ balls.
“I said: thank you, Eric.”
“Okay, Virgin Trains, you can stop now, you win, technology is the future, AI will soon be better at small-talk than humans. Now can you just fuck off and let me take a shit without creeping me out.”
I started to wash my hands. I dunno why I even bother washing my hands on trains. I never do it properly; I just splash some water on there. No one’s even watching, but I feel a compulsion to make sure I at least pretend to be hygienic. I dunno why. It’s a bit like me talking back to the toilet to be funny even though no one’s watching. I guess it’s because even when we’re alone it kinds feels like someone IS watching. It must be a product of evolution that we need to believe in something bigger than ourselves, that we need to feel someone is watching us and that our actions have meaning.
There is a God – and we want him to think we’re funny and that we wash our hands.
“I’m just like you, you know, Eric.”
“Oh God, this again,” I said, trying to appeal to that higher power.
“You know, Eric, I’ve always wanted to do the Fringe.”
“Right this is getting weird now…why would they program the toilet to know I’m doing the Fringe?”
I decided to just go with it.
“Go on then,” I said, “Why mate? Why on Earth would a Virgin Toilet wanna do the Fringe? I don’t even wanna do the Fringe. It’s hard work, dead expensive, and ultimately soul-destroying.”
The toilet went quiet. I carried on.
“Oh NOW you’re giving me the silent treatment.”
The toilet sighed.
“You know, Eric, the Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, and you might think I’m full of shit, but that is something in itself. You get to be part of something huge. I’ve been a comedian my whole life, and all I get to play is this room. People complain about their venues in Edinburgh, but try being delivering your best lines to people who just want to drop a big juicy turd in your mouth before pretending to wash their hands. I’ve never got a single laugh. The Fringe might be expensive, but at least you get to make proper art.”
“Hmm, I suppose when you put it like that.”
“I like your stuff, Eric. I’ve seen your Hot Water video and that bit where you ask the audience about fingering gets me every time. Every. Single. Time. I’d be surprised if you didn’t get signed off the back of this Fringe. So go up there and smash it, mate. Do it for me.”
“Wow… err… thanks. That kinda seems very accurate. Maybe I should just smash it.”
“No worries mate,” the toilet replied. “I love your unrecorded podcast by the way. Maybe I could be on it one day.”
“Maybe you could, mate. Maybe you could.”
I dried my half-washed hands, said my goodbyes and returned to my seat. The whole incident had really given me a shift in perspective. I felt more determined, more confident, more satisfied with my physical appearance (I really like the mirrors in train toilets).
Mostly, I feel like I finally understand what this “they” mean when they say it’s all about the journey.
Because sometimes the journey really is the reward.
Sometimes on that journey a talking toilet will talk to you and tell you exactly what you need to hear.
See you next time xxx
Originally not aired on 09/08/2019
Right then, Chai Warriors, we’re about a week into the Fringe and after all the stage time I’ve been getting, I’m feeling so comedically sharp that I’m genuinely worried I’m gonna rupture someone’s spleen with a perfectly timed pull-back-and-reveal one of these days.
Walking down the streets of Scotland’s capital (Edinburgh) on my way to meet this series’ first guest Jamie D’Souza, I kept thinking: just keep yourself to yourself Eric, don’t say anything too funny. Now, I don’t know if you losers have ever been to Edinburgh, but the streets are full of mad shit happening. There’re so many strange looking characters that it feels like you’re walking amongst the Chinese alphabet. It’s impossible not to think of something funny and potentially racist.
Keep it to yourself, Eric. Keep it to yourself.
“Jamie, how you doing mate?” I said, now with a Chai in my hand, having successfully made my way to the café without causing an accident.
“Who does this go out to?” Jamie said. He was kinda shaking as well.
“Like do any agents or promoters listen to this?” He asked.
“You mean read?”
“Yeah read, sorry. Whatever, I keep forgetting it’s unrecorded.”
Jamie seemed agitated. Before we’d even started, he’d already texted me twice asking about how this was gonna advance his career. I wasn’t sure if this was another symptom of being a week into the Fringe, or if he’s genuinely just a bit of a shithouse.
When I first met Jamie, it was in a competition called “So You Think You’re Funny?”. To be excruciatingly precise, it was the final of that competition. We were both young, dumb and wearing black-and-white striped T-shirts.
“Oh, are you guys like a mime double-act?” The other acts would ask us in complete seriousness, and we couldn’t even deny it because we were both too busy trying to escape from the invisible boxes we were trapped in.
Two years later, and sometimes I worry we’re still trapped inside an invisible box of sorts. When you’re doing those competitions, it’s kinda drilled into you that comedy is about something more than making people laugh -- it’s about agents, it’s about impressing promoters, it’s about reviews.
What happened to just keeping it real and being funny? Honestly, if Peter Kay knew what was going on with the current state of British comedy, he’d be turning in his gravy. (I imagine he bathes in gravy).
“What made you want to do comedy, Jamie?” I asked, trying to snap him out of his insanity.
“Ah, yeah, a backstory,” he said. “Agents love people with a good backstory.”
“Forget about the agents for a second.”
“Well, okay,” he said. “So basically, when I was 14 my mum used to sneak me into comedy clubs.”
“Sneak you in?”
“They were all 18+ venues, you see. So my mum would put me in my Dad’s coat and buy me a beer from the bar, then walk with me into the venue as if I was her husband.”
I laughed. The story was wholesome. Good stuff.
“Aww that’s well cute, mate.”
“The only problem was, she took it too far. She got really mad at me one time when I couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Well, I had to spend a week on a mate’s sofa, but then eventually she calmed down a bit.”
We got chatting some more about Jamie’s early days watching comedy, and I could sort of see it was having an effect on him. He seemed less agitated, more warm and bubbly -- like the conversation was reminding him that comedy is something he loves, not just a vehicle for social status. If this podcast can do anything for people, then I hope it’s that.
“Eric, this might just be the chai talking, but I don’t even care if an agent reads this or see’s my show anymore.”
“Yeah exactly,” I said. “What does it matter?”
“It doesn’t. It really doesn’t.”
At that moment, Jamie’s phone went off.
“Hello,” he said (to the phone, not me, we’d already said hi at this point). “Yeah, it is Jamie… What? Right now? Hmm… Nah… you know what, go fuck yourself. I’m not interested. I don’t need you anymore.”
“Who was that?” I asked.
“My letting agent,” he said. “Apparently my flat’s been broken into or something, but you know what, I'm done with these people now - thanks to you, Eric."
See you next time! x
Jamie put the phone down and smiled at me. There was an awkward pause; I felt maybe he’d taken this too far.
“Was that an agent?” I asked. “Did you just tell an agent to go fuck themselves?”
He smiled even more.
“No,” he said. “It was my mum.”
“I don’t need that backstory anymore, mate.”
See you next time! x
Originally not aired on 13/08/2019
Okay, I’ll admit it: I got drunk last night. Big deal. So what? Who cares?
Not me. I certainly don’t care. I absolutely don’t feel incredibly guilty for getting wasted on Vodka Chai’s when I should’ve been getting an early night and keeping myself at the peak physical condition needed to tell my dick jokes effectively.
It’s hard up here. You get sad, you do your show, then you feel a bit better but still a bit sad so you drink. (Btw I get the pronouns “you” and “I” mixed up a hell of a lot). Then once you’ve drunk, you buy some chips and curry sauce, then you get the bus home and the next day you feel hungover and sad and then you do your show again and drink some more and you get stuck in a cycle.
Last night I really smashed my show, so when I came off stage I felt handsome and sexually powerful. The crowd were buzzing, I was buzzing and my phone was buzzing. The twitter notifications were going crazy after my set. Well I say that, it was mainly stuff like “David Mitchell tweeted after a while” but I was just happy that the lad’s putting out content again.
I also love that feeling of milling around in the venue after the show’s finished and the audience start to trickle out in their half a dozens. It’s a bit cheeky, but I like to stand near the exit so they can give me praise as they walk out. It’s a bit like fishing for compliments but worse. I’m kinda poaching for them, laying down a trap on a patch of land I know they have to walk past.
“That’s the guy from the show,” I heard a couple whisper (not great whisperers) as they came out. “Excuse me,” they said. I knew what was coming; I braced myself for some validation.
“We’re looking for somewhere called Underbelly on Cowgate – do you know where that is?”
Brilliant stuff. These guys obviously loved the misdirections in my set so much that they came back for more – so I sent them to the wrong side of town. After the excitement, I got a bit sad again because my brain ain’t wired no good for happiness, and so I went out for a few drinks.
But now, in the cold light of day, I just feel shit.
“Why do we do this to ourselves?” I asked Jem Braithwaite, today’s guest on the hit podcast Comedians In Edinburgh Getting Chai Lattes.
“What on Earth do you mean, Eric?”
Jem has a funny and unique way of speaking that mirrors his approach to comedy. Gracing the stage in a cape, Jem isn’t a superhero (far, far from it), he’s just one of these “alternative comedians” who replaces punchlines with acts of randomness, and I for one am a fan of his work.
“Well, Jem, in comedy, we have these big highs, but they’re followed by crushing lows.”
“Well, is it worth it?”
I looked at Jem as he took some time to think about his answer. “I’ve got a face that needs explaining” is the opening line of his set, and I found myself getting lost in this face. There’s something about that line that explains why comedy is important. Someone who views themselves in that way has no option other than to do stand-up (apart from maybe undergoing therapy, but fuck that shit). But that line expresses a truth – it says “we’re all fucked up and I’m brave enough to say it out loud”. If you have that bravery, then you need to use it, because it helps us all. Sure, there might be big highs and crashing lows, but maybe it’s better to have these extremes than to live in an emotional comfort zone. Humans were built to feel, and no one feels more than the stand-up comic.
I could see Jem had formulated his answer.
“No, it’s probably not worth it,” he said.
We talked for another 20 minutes, and by the end of the conversation Jem had decided he wants to train as a data analyst, starting from September.
Good luck, Jem!
See you next time x
Originally not aired on 14/08/2019
This series of the podcast has been a bit of a sausage festival so far, and I’ve really been struggling to change it. For some reason, when I sidle up to a female comedian at a gig with my characteristically hunched posture and whisper into their ears about how I’d love them to be on my unrecorded podcast, they get a bit creeped out.
“Come and meet me for an off-mic chat over a Chai,” I say.
“Fuck right off,” they reply.
I get it. I really do. You hear some horror stories in this industry about men wielding their power in an effort to exploit women, and someone with a platform as big as mine has to tread carefully and be a bit more sensitive to how things could come across. These women are thinking: yeah I could go on his podcast, get myself known by his dozens of fans and then bask in the fame it will bring me, but what’s he gonna want in return.
Nothing. I want nothing. I just want a Chai with my favourite type of person to discuss the human condition with: a stand-up comedian.
Today’s guest, Freya Mallard, is someone who – just like me – wants a comedy industry where women don’t have to constantly be vigilant against threats. Freya used to be a cheerleader, but now – again, just like me – she’s first and foremost a cheerleader for women in comedy.
“I just want women to feel comfortable,” Freya told me.
“There’s no one who wants to make women more comfortable than me, Freya,” I replied, loving that I was talking to someone that gets it.
“One time my sister stayed round my house and I let her have my bed while I slept on the sofa, so that’s the kind of guy you’re dealing with.”
“That’s very good of you, Eric.”
What I didn’t tell Freya was that after about an hour I texted my sister to say my back was hurting and then we switched. But Freya didn’t need to know about this. Besides, it’s all about intention.
“Who are your influences?” I asked. “Who made you want to get into comedy? Who are your guys? Or girls, obviously. I use guys in a completely gender-neutral way. I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. I’ve always really liked Josie L—“
“Long. Josie Long. Love her. Fantastic comic.”
“Yeah. I’d say probably her and Fern Br—“
“Brady. I love Fern Brady. Love what she’s doing for comedy. Big influence. When I first saw her, it didn’t even occur to me that she was a woman. It’s like with you, Freya. My first thought was: get her on because she’s talented. Then much, much later, I thought: oh yeah, I suppose she is a woman.”
There was a long pause while we both thought about how unjust the industry is.
“What do you think of these bloody panel shows, then?” I said, sighing. “It’s like – ‘can we get some representation PLEASE?’ In fact, I’m done with asking politely. I honestly think that if they don’t change, we should just refuse to even be a part of th—“
“Eric,” Freya said, interrupting me (which is obviously fine considering the amount of mansplaining she must have to deal on a day-to-day basis, not to mention the UNPAID emotional labour women have to do as the result of men not being able to work through their feelings properly). “I’m not enjoying this at all. I came here for a chat about stand up, and so far you’ve just been a total weirdo. I’m gonna leave, and I suggest you don’t ask me to do your stupid podcast ever again.”
Freya picked up her stuff and left.
A woman that knows her own mind. THIS is what we need in comedy.
See you next time! x
Originally not aired on 16/08/2019
Quick question: in Edinburgh, do we watch Fringe shows, or do Fringe shows watch us?
Something to think about init.
I’m not even being ironic. Is ironic the right word? But I mean like I’m not writing with that tone I write with where I’m mocking the idea of saying something profound. You know – classic Eric Rushton. I’m properly being sincere this time. Sometimes when a show is so well written, you can feel “seen” by it, if that makes sense? You can feel like it taps into your concerns: the way it explores class, discussing how underrepresented working-class people are in an arts festival that prides itself on showcasing the “fringe” of society; the way it deep dives into a personal story of heartbreak, teasing out lessons about the importance of self-love; and finally, the way it wraps things up with a positive vision for the future while at the same time managing to be fucking funny.
I’m still reeling from what I saw, and that’s why I’m proud to introduce today’s guest Scarlett Dobson, who sat next to me during James Meehan’s show, Never Better.
“That was great, do you think you could ever do anything that good, Scarlett?”
“Well, I’ve actually got a show up here as well,” she replied.
“That’s cool. Anyway, I really loved how he was unafraid to explore personal stuff that most people would be too embarrassed to admit. I just wish more people were doing stuff like this.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” she said. “In my show, I’ve got a bit about when I was in my early 20’s and- “
“And the whole framing of it,” I said, keeping the interview on track, “with the dating profiles - it really added structure but without being over the top and overly contrived. You know what I mean?”
Scarlett sighed. I imagine she was sad that the show was over and that we’ll never get that experience of watching it for the first time again. I could feel her pain.
“Do you fancy coming to my show tonight?” she said. “It’s got a lot of stuff about relationships that I think you might like.”
Not quite understanding her joke, I moved on swiftly.
“Do you know that’s only his third solo show? I can’t wait to see what he does next year.”
“Eric,” she said. “When are you gonna ask a question about me? I thought that’s what this was.”
“Oh… right… ermm… how long have you been doing comedy for?”
“Around two years?”
“Cool. Right, shall we wrap this thing up?” I asked.
“Okay… could you at least do a plug at the end of the interview?”
Scarlett left, and all that was left for me to do was to write the podcast up and do that plug.
James Meehan’s show Never Better is on at 6pm every day at Cabaret Voltaire in the main room. Can’t recommend it enough!
See you next time! X
Originally not aired on 23/08/2019
Once I finish writing this podcast, things are gonna be good for me.
That’ll be one more to add to the collection of podcasts I’ve done. One more that will help me get to the next level; one more that increases my reach on social media; one more that develops my brand. I’m really starting to build up a nice portfolio for myself, aren’t I? Eventually I should be able to get famous people on this show, like Graham Norton for example. I’ll be on the Graham Norton Show; he’ll be on my show. Stuff like that. Proper big time.
It’s the same with my stand-up. Sure, right now I’m playing small, sweaty rooms to small, sweaty people. But if I keep smashing it, soon I’ll be playing big, well-ventilated rooms to big, well-ventilated people. It’s all gonna happen in the future, and I’m excited about it.
“What’s next for you then, Chelsea?” Was my opening question on today’s episode of everyone’s favourite legitimate podcast, Comedians In Edinburgh Getting Chai Lattes.
“Well, I’m probably gonna flyer for my show after this and then—“
“No, I mean: what’s NEXT? Like where do you see your career going after this?”
I stared at her very intensely after saying this. I guess I wanted to see the stars in her eyes. The dreams she has. The life-story she’s given herself that helps her get out of bed in the morning.
“Oh, like I’ll probably book in some more spots when I get back and just take it as it comes, really.”
“You’re not getting it, mate,” I said to the 28-year-old from Oxford (I’m bad at slipping in details about the guests in the show). “What will you be doing in a year’s time, two years’ time, 5 years’ time – where’s it all going?”
This is where, for the first time, the interview got interesting. It turns out that before Chelsea ventured into stand-up comedy, she had another dream, arguably one more pathetic than telling jokes to strangers in dingy pubs.
“Eric, this is something I don’t like to talk about a lot, but I used to be a plate spinner in the circus,” she told me.
“Okay… What has this got to do with anything?” I asked, because I wasn’t quite sure what it had to do with anything.
“Well, ever since I was a kid it was my dream to be the most famous plate spinner in the world. I tried and tried, trained every day, and in the end I just felt like a failure.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“To put it bluntly, Eric,” she said, “the plates kept smashing.”
“Oh, that’s not good.”
“And now I realise, the reason it was so difficult was because the whole time I was spinning an extra plate, called ‘Expectation’.”
“Why were you naming your plates?”
“No, it’s like a metaphor,” she explained.
I didn’t understand what she meant at first, and I know the vast majority of my readers haven’t studied English, or indeed have any formal education at all, so I think it’s best I clarify here. I think what Chelsea is trying to say through her overly complex metaphor is that the pressure she put on herself to be successful actually undermined her ability to do the thing she wanted to do.
“Spot on,” Chelsea confirmed, looking over at my laptop to see what I was writing.
“So now,” she continued, “I just take everything as it comes. Focus on the thing I’m doing right now, it’s much more fun, and the opposite approach just drives you crazy.”
It’s a message I need to bear in mind. I think I’ve been getting carried away with my future, and I’ve neglected the present. All I should be doing is making each episode I write and each stand-up set I perform as strong as possible, then see where it goes.
When I get Graham Norton on, I’m gonna ask him what he thinks.
See you next time! x
Originally not aired on 25/08/2019
They say don’t meet your heroes, don’t they?
The reason they give: you’ll be let down. They won’t be the person you think they are. The image you have of them is just that: an image, a projection of what you want them to be. In that image, you’ve stripped them of their humanity, because here’s a secret about human beings that they don’t teach you in Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, GCSE or A-level: they have flaws. Humans are selfish and spiteful and egotistical. They’re insecure. They’re malicious. They hurt others for no reason other than to make themselves feel more powerful and well endowed.
And I know you’re thinking, “But Eric, I did learn about this in GCSE, probably even in Key Stage 3. Like we learn how flawed people are in books in English Literature and also History, thinking about it.” But this is just another example of what I’m talking about, your ego coming into play, trying to undermine me, trying to make this unrecorded podcast all about you. People are absolute shitmunchers.
What I’m saying is: your heroes are flawed too. And when you meet them, you’ll see this, and it’ll be awkward and you’ll have to make up an excuse and leave.
But what if you knew your hero before they became your hero? What if they became your hero because of the way you admire how they carry themselves in the real world, how they never complain, how they keep their integrity in a world that’s gone absolutely flipping MAD? What if you’ve seen what they’re like as a person and that’s exactly what inspires you?
At this point, most people reading this will be like, “Oooh, I know what you mean, Eric. My Mum’s my hero too.” Fuck that shit. I’m not talking about my Mum.
My hero is a man and a Brummie and a comedian called James Cook. Luckily, he’s also today’s guest on the unrecorded podcast, Comedians In Edinburgh Getting Chai Lattes. An absolute VETERAN of stand-up comedy, in James’s 20+ years of performing he’s gone so under the radar that his career is now being looked at closely by intelligence agencies.
“They want to know how it’s possible to go so unnoticed,” he explained. “They think it could potentially help them in future stealth attacks against foreign dictators.”
“Fascinating stuff,” I replied.
In terms of profile in comedy, James is a household name, but unfortunately for my hero, only when followed by the surname Acaster. In fact, the only time you’ll hear the words “James” and “Cook” expressed together in a household environment is when his wife resentfully demands that he turns the oven on and makes himself useful.
“When we first met 20 years ago, I promised her I was gonna be a star,” he told me. “Now the only thing keeping her from going is the fact I can make a mean lasagne.”
“But the thing is, Eric, you’ve got to adapt, learn new things. That’s what I’ve done. Sure, I’m not a star, but I couldn’t cook for shit when I was younger, and look at me now.”
I’m not quite sure why James isn’t more appreciated by the industry. In my eyes, he’s an absolute master of the form. He’s a complete natural. The best comics don’t spoon feed you their jokes, they disguise them, and James is such a pro that he dresses his up as confused, incoherent rants with no discernible punchlines. It’s brilliant to watch and I feel like I learn something every time I see him perform.
“What keeps you going, James?” I asked, admiringly. “Why don’t you just give up, call it quits, chuck in the towel, admit to yourself that it’s not gonna happen?”
“Well,” he said, “I love the circuit, Eric. And as long as I can contribute to it, I will. Trust me, I’ve tried being bitter. I’ve tried being resentful and mad at the world for not giving me the big breaks. Maybe it’s an age thing, but now I’ve come to realise that life is about just being a good person. Doing what you can do, helping where you can. I spend every day trying to be a better person, and it’s much more fun than the alternative.”
This is the main reason I love James: he’s a wise-ass motherfucker. And when I think about the Birmingham circuit, where James and I are both based: everyone loves James. I’ve never heard anyone have anything but respect and admiration for him. He’s always got time for anyone, whether they’re a big-time pro comedian or someone who’s just started. If you’re worried about something, he’ll give you advice and maybe even a few sweets. He even runs comedy courses for new comedians in Birmingham, and the acts that come through his courses help keep the local scene alive.
When I think about my own life and career and aspirations, I look at James and think: man, it would be cool to be like him.
See you next time! X
Lauren from Big Value
Originally not aired on 29/08/2019
So that’s it.
I’m back at home, and my job now is to wrap things up. Yeah, that’s right, I’ve just landed a new role in a packaging warehouse and I’m ready to give it my all. Just kidding, that sounds awful and I feel for anyone who has to do something like that. But then maybe if it’s that bad you should have tried harder at school rather than throwing increasingly larger chunks of rubbers at my head during English. I’m talking to you, Josh Williams. Nah, he had a tough home life; these things are very complex and bullies aren’t created in a vacuum and let’s talk about this on another unrecorded podcast.
What I’m actually tryna say is, I need to conclude this series of the podcast.
How do I do that? How do I do justice to what has been my and any sane or even insane person’s favourite series so far?
Lesser podcast hosts would go down the route of getting a big celebrity guest, maybe a TV name that could get people’s attention, but I’ve always tried to do something different with this show - that’s what makes it so hilarious and unique and important. Besides, I spent half the month trying to get Nick Helm to do this show and it didn’t work out and I didn’t come up with a back-up plan.
So for this finale, I want to celebrate a group of people who are often underappreciated at the Fringe: the venue staff. Apart from the performers who spend hundreds if not thousands of hours honing their craft and material for often very little financial benefit, these are the real people that make the Fringe happen. That’s why today’s guest on “Comedians In Edinburgh Getting Chai Lattes” is Lauren, the stage manager of the Big Value Late Show that I ripped to pieces every night. I ripped the gig to pieces, I mean. Not Lauren. Obviously.
“Thanks for coming on the show, Lauren.”
“Delighted to be here,” she said. “Is there anything I can get you? Do you want some water to go with the Chai? I can flash a light when you’ve done 20 minutes, if that will help?”
“Relax, Lauren. I’m fine.”
This is classic Lauren. She’s always looking to make sure the people with actual talent are looked after. There were four of us on the Big Value Late Show, and managing four comedians over the course of a month is no mean feat. It’s actually quite a kind feat, and it requires a kind and understanding person to do it.
What the audience gets from a comedian is a very polished, very contrived performance. Even with me, who plays around with the form, appearing to be both high-status and low-status, confident yet insecure, polished yet scrappy – I very much know what I’m doing. Off-stage though, it’s a different story. Off-stage we’re moody, arrogant, egotistical, moaning gobshites. We’re impossible to be around. But Lauren seemed to just take that in her stride. If any of us needed her, she’d stop whatever she was doing and drop everything. This led to quite a few broken glasses over the course of a month but who needs unbroken glass when you’ve got unbroken hearts.
“I guess when you guys were down, I just wanted to make sure I reminded you why what you were doing was so important,” she said, sipping on one of the two remaining Chais of the series.
“Important and unique and hilarious, you mean?” I said, sipping on the other Chai.
I remember one particular night when I was completely sick of the whole thing. The Fringe, stand-up comedy, Edinburgh’s terrible phone signal – everything. I was backstage telling all the other acts that we were wasting our time and that we should just quit comedy and our mobile phone contracts and move onto something different. I was being a knobhead. But Lauren calmed me down. She went out and got a bag of Minstrels for me and we talked it through. When you’re having a meltdown, it’s so nice to be with someone who’s totally unfazed and unjudging; simply trying to make you feel a bit better.
I’m back in my favourite place in the world now (Kings Heath, Birmingham) and I feel very happy. But I’m looking ahead at my commitments in the next few weeks, and I’ve come to the realisation that, really, the Fringe never ends. Really, our whole life is a show. Our whole life is a performance. We constantly have to adopt roles, present carefully constructed versions of ourselves. At work, we have to be professional and organised; in social situations, we have to be chatty and charismatic; on dates, we have to pretend we’re interesting. It never ends. And now, with social media, we constantly have to perform and present our best selves. It’s exhausting.
But I guess what I wanna ask, as a final thought to this series, is:
Who are the people backstage in your life?
Who are the stage managers that look after you?
Who are the people that don’t need you to perform for them? That just want you to be okay? That just want you to be you?
Find them. Cherish them. You may not realise it, but they’re the best type of people.
See you next year! X