Start at the end: one of the things mooted by the crowd to fill the last five minutes of the is that we all sing "Watsonia", the anthem of the 24 hour shows, which I assume was written at during the previous years shows to fill up some time, and has become the subject of fan-love since.
Then back 48 hours, to midnight on Sunday the 12th. Despite knowing about the show for some time, I'd not managed to book tickets it. This is quite annoying because it's not something I have to juggle timeslots for. Most of the other shows are on at the same time every day throughout August, with one or two breaks (the 14th actually being one of the more popular days off), but the 24hour show, obviously, only happens once. Proper fringe tickets have sold out, but curiousbadger and drasticsturgeon, who organised a comedy night as a fund raiser for Mark Watson's Crap At The Environment, say they might be able to do something about it (a straw that I grasp at more than I probably should), so it's only now, 24 hours before, that I give up hope and start booking tickets: for Wednesday morning, for Tuesday (though only two, it is quite a quiet day), and a few for Monday afternoon (which you usually sleep through as much as possible).
Thus it was that I turned up to the Fringe Box Office at half eleven on Monday night to wish good luck to my friends, seven shows that day already under my belt (including the fantastic Gently Progressive Behemoth!), to find out that they were still selling tickets. It's sort of assumed that you won't turn up to the entire thing, so they are willing to slightly oversell, and when they get to one of the indoors venues, it'll be proper tickets then the magic list (mostly people who've been to both the first of these, four years ago, and the one the year after), then the midnight tickets. So I buy one, and we wait, and eventually the tall nervous figure of Mark Watson turns up, and perched on one of the bollards on the Royal Mile with a megaphone, starts proceedings.
He explains that we'll be heading down towards the first venue (The Stand) in a while, but first introduces his various supporting cast, his wife, his twin sisters, singles out people who've been to more than one of the shows (including one in melbourne!), the youngest attendee (a 14-year-old called Rowan) and the oldest (a lady who's name I've forgotten, 61), general getting-to-know-you stuff. One that that we'll have to keep an eye on, of course, is how people are generally doing, so we need some control readings so that we can try and get through the small hours. He picks 9 people via scientific selection criteria ("Hands up if you're wearing green"), and asks them for a score between 1 and 10, generally getting eights, nines, tens. The tenth person seems hard to find, so, spotting a girl to my right in a forest green coat who's trying to get picked, I raise my hand and point "There's someone over here...", at which point he spots me rather than her (in fairness the fact that my hair's a blue spike at that stage might have something to do with it), and asks my name, and how I'm doing. I'm about a six at that stage, and he seems quite concerned, and we enter into a two-minute conversation about why I'm a six, and swiftly why I've been to seven shows already - a conversation that the rest of the crowd can obviously only hear his side of.
Eventually we head off, a certain faction of the crowd conga-ing along the way, around St Giles, and down part of the Mound, to a raised area beside the Royal Academy, where we have our first stop, and our first casualty, after someone has an epileptic fit of some kind. The discussion, after he's helped off, is which celebrity we'll try to coax along this year. There are various suggestions of who might be in town and who might have a connection to them - Ian Thorpe! Matthew Kelly! John Leslie (not a particularly popular suggestion with the ladies) - but when someone says they have an actual phone number for Richard Dawkins, the die is set.
Now it's time to head to the first venue, The Stand. After the proper ticket holders and list members get in, it's "alright, anyone with a midnight ticket numbered below 20, get in", which as the holder of ticket 19, I'm quite happy to hear (though to be honest I'd have headed home happily at that stage). Once I'm inside, the show nominally starts, though it's not really that different from the two previous parts. The key is that it's not supposed to be laughter for 24-hours (who would want that?), it's partly blitz spirit and mostly (particularly the night-time section) like watching a teacher try to keep a class's attention without anything to teach. In this he's "aided" by Tim Keys on a laptop connected to a projector, and for the latter half of the show by Tim Minchin on the more conventional keyboards.
A list of things that keep us awake and entertained through the wee hours:
- 21 hour show.
- Taking a roll call of everyone who thinks they might make it the full 24 hours.
- Making a 71-word mnemonic to "help" us remember this list.
- Josie Long and Lawrence Leung trying to remember all the Police Academy IN ORDER
- Someone looking for their flatmate so they can get the keys and go home
- An enormous game of Guess Who to identify said flatmate ("Everyone with brown hair sit down!")
- Adam Hills arrives with pizza to feed the masses.
- The contortionist
- Being texted by.
- Gauging the mood of the crowd.
- Watching him divest himself of various layers.
- Watching him "adjust" himself more than once in a manner we were not looking for.
- Watching him try his starting patter.
- Chanting "BEND! BEND! BEND!" at him to get to the point.
- Watching him contort, including getting a terrified lady out of the audience to help him dislocate his shoulder.
- Weakly chanting "unbend! unbend!"
- Realising after he'd departed that there really was no reason for him to have taken his trousers off
- Being texted by.
- The stretching game! (basically following one of the co-hosts as he does head shoulders knees)
- Forming a committee to decide what we will text to Richard Dawkins, and when.
- Forming a rival committee when it turns out that we have Dawkins' email address
- A contest to determine which of two teams can find the bust bit of rubbish at five in the morning - the prize is won by catbo and 14-year-old Rowan, which cheers him up until he realises that this is the only hour of the show that his mum's actually come along to, so booze for catbo!
- A trip to XFM to sing "Walk This Way" on the air.
And during this, occasional checks by Mark as to how things are going. At 4.00, I'm sitting down with a vodka&coke, so I'm happy to say I'm feeling eight (actually it's a seven, but he seemed so disappointed the first time). By eight all systems are running down, so I report a six, then leave not that long after.
(During my absence the rest of the audience leave to plant trees. Well done, rest of the audience! Also they have one last sounding, and my absense is noted. By cheering, no doubt.)
When I get back at 1pm, the new venue (C Soco Tent, handily 2 minutes from my front door) has actually filled up, but fortunately they're about to head off to The Meadows for an outing, which involves getting people to volunteer to cycle around a small obstacle course. After a decent interval, I step up and am slightly alarmed to find that this is apparently my chance to turn "From a villain to a hero!". I place second, then more comedians turn up and do another round. All good fun and very visual and outdoors, which is quite nice at this point.
After we get back to the tent, more things happen involving comedians, a lot of them verging on "I would pay money for this anyway".
- Two of the member of Proper Serious Play "Breaker Morant" turn up in uniform (one of them in fairness is Adam Hills), to play a scene from it. Tim Minchin decides that this could do with being a musical comedy, so every once in a while (IE every two or three lines) he starts vamping on the keyboard, and they have to adapt the next few lines for singing. The sight of Adam Hills trying not to do anything which would cause him to lose his Australian Passport is one of the funniest things in the whole festival. Halfway through they take a mobile call from the props manager, wondering where the hell the costumes are.
- Steven K Amos turns up, starts to sing Ebony and Ivory (causing them to invite shewho on stage to show them how to do it right), then promises to bring them more rations when he turns up again.
- Andy Zaltzman and his sister Helen turn up, and a quick Family Fortunes is set up.
- Brendon Burns appears, apologizing for being late, but he's had a busy day, been "having fvckin' lunch and sh1t!", which Tim Michin sets to music and becomes a recurring gag of sorts for the rest of the shot.
- We recognise that Richard Dawkins may not be turning up, due to him not being in Edinburgh.
- Andy Zaltzman turns up again, so we start "The Ashes", a recurring grudge match between him and Burnsy. The first round will be: Stars in your Eyes, as Matthew Kelly has finally turned up!
- Andy Zaltzman makes an attempt at Bridge over Troubled Waters.
- Brendon Burns strips to his braces as preparation for Bohemian Rhapsody.
- Mark Watson has to explain to Brendon very carefully why the audience is shouting "BEND! BEND!".
- Brendon wins that, loses the stretch-off, a tie is declared in the act-off
- The tie is to be broken by a competition to see who can eat the most Nairn's Oatcakes (the rarely mentioned sponsor of the show) in two minutes, adjudicated by.... Sophie Aldred, who was more or less just wandering by! Matthew Kelly has gone home due to being completely p1ssed.
- The winner, by two oatcakes to one-and-a-half, is Brendon, who goes on to win the Perrier.
And then it's just a slow wind down to the finish, with 70-odd people making the full run, including a dozen or so who didn't initially think they'd make it. A big countdown, and enormous cheer, and it's over.
Mark Watson comes back on stage (IE in from the side of the tent) immediately, and says "Yeah, I think that went okay, didn't it?", and one of the multiple-lifers down the front says "Let's ask the guy with the blue hair!", so I get to finish by confirming that yes, that was a ten.