Fringe Factions: Scottish Comedians
"Fanny," says Daniel Sloss.
"Stramash," says Susan Calman. "If someone asks you how your show went at the Festival, and you say it was a stramash, it means it wasn"t necessarily bad, but messy."
"Pure," says Ben Verth. "I know it"s not really a Scottish word, but said with that urban vernacular - "It"s pure massive" – as if massive wasn't big enough."
Three Scots comedians, each with very different careers: Daniel, Fife"s enfant célèbre, with three years of sell-out Festivals under his low slung belt; Susan Calman, tiny Glaswegian ex-lawyer and panel show darling; and Edinburgh boy Ben Verth, jobbing comedian, writer and promoter.
I ask them, what"s funny about Scotland?
"We can take a joke," says Daniel. "It's hard to piss off a Scot. Scottish insults aren't really insulting, they're just a way of communicating. Like, if I didn"t call my friends cunts, they'd think there was something wrong with me. It's a funny thing, though. If you're, say, a Scouse comedian, people see you as a Scouse comedian, not an English one. But in Scotland, you're always a Scottish comedian."
Ben doesn"t entirely agree.
"I think our humour comes out of the everyday dialect from each of cities – they all have their own distinct speech patterns and brilliant turns of phrase. Like Chewin" the Fat, it's seen as Scottish, but it's really Glaswegian. Or Absolutely – that's definitely central Edinburgh stuff."
"Or the Scotland the What? Or Desperate Fishwives," Susan namechecks the Aberdonian revue and excellently-named radio show.
"I think we're always trying to laugh," she says. "Maybe it's the weather. We can laugh at ourselves, and it's as likely to be with some old guy at the bus stop as someone on TV."
I'm curious about their favourite Scottish venues outwith the Festival?
"The Stands," answers Daniel. "Both of them, Glasgow and Edinburgh – the definition of a comedy club. Purpose built, seven nights a week, they give young and new acts a chance, and they're very supportive. But best of all, no stag or hen dos. They don't let you in if you act like a cunt."
"The Glasgow Stand," agrees Ben. "The runway juts out into the audience and really forces you to up your game, to be more physical and energetic, move your head to make eye contact all round you. You can have a good show anywhere, but the best comedy nights are in their own proper cathedral."
"I've got fond memories of both Stands," says Susan, "But I love walking up to Bristo Square in Edinburgh during the Festival. My favourite place is probably right outside the Udderbelly."
"I love the Festival," she continues. "It's horrific. After 27 days working and drinking constantly, you're a shell of your former self. But nowhere else can you work and meet up with so many comedians. It's the only time I get to see some people all year. Of course, by the end I'll probably say I'm never going back."
"I adore the Fringe," says Daniel. "I'd have it on for three months if I could. It's like still being at school, and it's my summer holiday. Sure, I'm working every day, but you can"t really call it 'work.' Plus it's a huge piss up."
Ben agrees. "There's something really heady about it. If you were an astronaut, it'd be the time you were closest to the moon."
Do they think Scottish comedians find it difficult to get noticed at the Festival?
"I tend to do notably better," says Daniel. "I think it's because people see me as one of their own."
Susan has a slightly different take: "On the one hand, the majority of Festival audiences are still Scottish, and there are a lot of acts they want to see, rather than just Scots.
"However, there's also the fact that if you're a comedian in Scotland eleven months of the year, people in other cities don't know you exist, and it takes a while before they think you're important enough to go watch. I'm doing more and more TV now, and it's strange that people's expectations have suddenly increased. 'Oh she's on telly, she must be good.' As a new Scottish act, all you can really hope is that people will go to a lot of shows over the Festival, and if you build it, they will come."
Ben goes one further: "Free shows don"t often get reviewed or publicised, so in that respect new Scottish acts find it hard. Media infrastructure is based in London, and the people who can't afford to go, who have families, jobs or mortgages here, Manchester, Newcastle or wherever, don't have the same opportunity to parade their wares in front of the people who matter. People who are prepared to make some serious sacrifices definitely benefit from it. Basically, you've got to tap their door before you can get a lift home."
With this in mind, Ben and a group of others have created their own breakaway Scottish Comedy Festival at the Beehive this year, to try and get unrepresented Scottish talent noticed in its own right. "At the Festival, you get the chance to try your material out in front of Finns and Norwegians, Irish and Australians, French and Americans. It can make the most enormous difference."
Ben reels off a string of comedians taking part, Raymond Mearns, Keir McAllister, Vladimir McTavish, Stuart Mitchell. Then I ask, "And what women?" An expression of "Doh!" worthy of Simpson senior gawps across at me. "Er... er... er..." It transpires that Julia Sutherland is indeed on the bill, but I bet my bottom dollar there are more women next year.
Which acts are they looking forward to seeing themselves?
"Top would be Bridget Christie, this English housewife surrealist who makes me laugh like a drain," says Susan. "And then there's Mary Bourke, an Irish woman who's possibly the best joke teller in the world."
"Mark Nelson," says Daniel. "He's unforgiving and his writing is sublime. If I'm half as good as he is at 35, I'll be a happy man."
"Daniel Kitson, Stuart Lee, Richard Herring," says Ben. "I take every opportunity to watch shows over the festival. You don't deserve to be in this business if you don't."
Over the course of the Festival, Daniel will play the EICC, Ben will compere at the Beehive, and Susan will be "all over the place," from the Stand, to Bristo Square, to the Udderbelly – three different Festival experiences which they're equally excited about.
"It's the biggest comedy festival in the world, people travel from all over the world to see it. Any comedian worth their salt wants to gig in Scotland," says Daniel.
"It's unlike anywhere else in the world," says Ben. "When you're sitting in one of those cavernous Cowgate spaces, guffawing at some act from God-knows-where, and a little drip of slime from the ceiling lands on your lip. It's a real melding of Old Edinburgh and the Fringe."
"Haunners," chirps up Susan. "My new wife always says it if I'm about to go into a venue I"m scared of – I"ll go haunners with you. You know what it means, if you're Scottish. It means that someone"s got your back."