If you happen to pop along to the Pleasance Dome of an evening during the Fringe, and manage to bluff your way into the slightly exclusive performers' bar, you will discover an intriguing crowd of people whiling the night away. Some of them are quite well-known, usually for their involvement in the field of comedy.
Others are young hopefuls who naÔvely believe that by chatting excitedly to the 'personalities' around them they will open up opportunities for themselves in the comedy world. Of course, said personalities are there only to get pissed, and in the morning won't remember a single thing about the fresh-faced youngsters they've been talking to. Even the ones in the Cambridge Footlights.
I fall somewhere between the two categories. I'm certainly not stupid enough to try to further my career by engaging a pissed comedian in conversation. Neither would I put myself in the same bracket as those with recognisable comedy faces. Not even after having my photo in Fest twice in one week. All the same, when I experienced this exciting melee some of the young hopefuls decided to chat me up anyway, presumably just hedging their bets - and I was more than happy to oblige them by promising to put in a good word for them at the Beeb if they bought me a pint.
Not having any ulterior motives for conversing with people, I was at liberty to talk to who the hell I liked, and even to insult some people. (No obligation to pretend I thought the Ealing Live people are funny, for example.) (Since they all clearly think so themselves, there's definitely no need for ordinary folk like myself to bolster their delusions.)
I ended up spending some time chatting with the people in Population:3, whose 'The Wicker Woman' is one of the best things I have experienced at the Fringe and probably the most inventively staged comedy show I have ever seen (on at Pleasance Courtyard for just a few more days). Their new show, 'The Elephant Woman', is a slight disappointment in comparison with the brilliance of the former. I wonder if the problem lies with their subject matter - 'The Elephant Man' isn't exactly known for the strength of its storyline, after all. Could it be that their titular gender-swapping requirements have created an unwanted restriction?
Maybe you think it looks easy, simply finding a feminine counterpart to a well-known film title. But the options aren't as wide-ranging as they may initially seem. I had conversation with Paul Carr on this subject in which he suggested 'The Invisible Woman', but I was forced to question exactly how different an invisible woman would look from an invisible man. The image on the poster has to be considered.
I brought up this issue of titles with the lovely Population:3 folk and they reassured me that they've covered all the possibilities. 'If you can think of one, we'll have heard it already,' I was told.
That sounded like a challenge to me.
Within minutes I was offering the suggestions 'Dame' (the feminine equivalent of 'Fame') and 'you've Got Female', neither of which they had come across previously.
It leads me to believe that there must be a whole goldmine of less obvious names that Population:3 haven't yet considered. But they are incredibly busy, and it would surely be a great help to them if people with more time on their hands were to dig deep and come up with some suggestions. If you have any bright ideas you might like to email them to Population:3 (email@example.com) - just remember, they've already been through all the DVDs in HMV, if it's in the least bit obvious they really will have thought of it already.
The occasion of my visit to the elite of the Pleasance Dome was the aftermath of 'Mark Watson's Overambitious 24-Hour Show', something which certainly deserves to go down as one of the great Fringe triumphs of recent years. It was impressive not just because the idea, insane as it sounded, really worked, but also because it so easily could have failed. And it didn't. Somehow, Mark Watson's attempt to do a show lasting 24 hours caught the imagination of enough people in Edinburgh to turn it into a genuinely thrilling event - people sat through the entire 24 hours, comedians such as Adam Hills and Stewart Lee turned up to lend their support, and everybody in Edinburgh was talking about it. At least, everyone I was talking to.
Nobody could have been more surprised than Dara O'Briain. O'Briain, the large Irish comedian who you sometimes see on television, apparently turned up to do a quick stint for Watson in the early hours of the morning, and spent most of the time saying how rubbish he thought the whole idea was. Watson was clearly bothered by the experience, as he continued to tell his ever-changing audience about it.
Throughout the next day, O'Briain was pestered by people who had heard all about how rude he had been to Mark Watson. There must have been a dreadful moment for O'Briain when he realised that it hadn't merely been any old shitty gig at six in the morning.
Because of having my own show to publicise and perform in, I only managed to see the last two hours of the show (apart from a bizarre half-hour earlier in the day when Mark was mainly discussing the problem of buying enough pizza to feed everybody). But I felt genuinely cheated of the rest of it - given the chance
to go back, I'd cancel my show and sit through the whole lot. Because the bit that I made it to was one of the most enthralling things I have experienced.
It wasn't just that after 22 hours on stage Mark Watson was still as sharp and funny as ever (if a little more weird, in an adrenaline-fuelled hyperactive sense). It wasn't even the onstage reconciliation with Dara O'Briain, or Mark's last-minute marriage proposal, which made it such superb entertainment. Ultimately the show's success was down to the fact that Mark Watson is one of the nicest people in the world. The whole project was suffused with an incredible sense of goodwill, something which is lacking from a lot of comedy these days - and nobody could feel in the slightest bit envious of Watson for pulling off such an incredible stunt so successfully, because he is so very very nice.
Obviously, the show was a one-off, and I can't imagine any future shows with the same concept recapturing the magic of the original. But Mark Watson is performing for the remainder of the Fringe in 'Stereocomics' (the Edinburgh Comedy Room, the Tron, 9pm).
I haven't actually seen that show, but as I say, Mark is an incredibly nice person and an unbelievably gifted comic.
It seems almost churlish to mention that the issue of Fest that gave three stars to 'Stereocomics' gave my own show four stars. It's not as if it made me a personality in the Pleasance Dome. Whereas that night, Mark Watson most certainly was.