Welcome to our Fringe Debuts series, where comedians taking their first show to Edinburgh Fringe will give you a little taster of what to expect, an insight into their world, or really super weird musings on something equally bizarre — to be honest, we just let them run with it. If you’re readying yourself for a giant lol injection in August, now’s your chance to find something NEW to add to your list.
Vix Leyton, who is very courageously doing two shows a day, is performing More Fiction Than Girl, a show examining the multiple roles you play in your life and what happens when you break out of them. Here, she shares the lessons she’s learned from performing comedy.
I started in comedy later than your average person, at 35. This meant I had a different perspective coming in, over a decade of experience in a completely different career and a different understanding of risk. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see how this whole three years has probably seemed like a midlife crisis that has got out of hand to an outsider. It also goes against several adages I’ve basically lived by for the majority of my career and seem like common sense. Ahead of my first run at Edinburgh Fringe I thought it would be fun to look back on some of my preconceptions, and how they have been challenged and changed in three short years.
If you’re good at something, don’t do it for free.
Unpaid internships are largely gone in the PR marketing industry I am from, and rightly so. I would be the first person in line to counsel a friend or family member to ask for payment for their skills - whether it be the ‘quick coffee to pick your brain’ that is actually full on consultancy dressed up as something more casual, to contributing articles to newspapers. This all goes out the window with comedy, where the only route to being paid is a huge amount of free work to establish yourself and learn your craft, travelling miles, at unsociable hours, with no guarantee of an audience to perform to.
Working in the arts is glamorous
See above. For every photo on my instagram of a bulb lit mirror in a dressing room, there has been a chair at the back of the room/broom cupboard/murdery basement toilet with a cracked mirror to put lipstick on in. You also get used to coaches and trains and the associated catering available. I can do eyeliner on a fast moving train and I eat so many Mini Cheddars. Some of my best friends are the magical trolleys on late night trains back to London, appearing like a chimera in the desert with a precious coffee (gin and tonic) One of the most profound acts of human kindness I’ve experienced was when my card declined on a train home while I was working on a presentation for my day job for a 9am deadline, and the angel in charge of the trolley just quietly laid the wine in front of me and moved on. Whoever you were, I love you.
Practice Makes perfect
Okay - this one is more complicated. Stand up comedy is unique in that it is one of the few things you can never truly prepare for until you literally start. It’s the biggest jump into the deep end. Presenting a perfectly crafted set to your nonplussed cats, having gone over and over your lines into your hairbrush on your own is no guarantee of success. So many people, and the majority of them women, seem to believe they should be more prepared before they put a toe out onto the stage when actually the reality is the quicker you start, the faster you’ll progress. You can read all the books, watch all the videos online, and have a word perfect set of things to say and still tank; that is the horror and beauty of comedy. It’s what you do next that shows whether or not comedy is for you. You’re editing constantly and in real time; based on vibes, the other comedians and what they have said, what worked and what didn’t. You are learning all the time, adapting to the mood of the room, the venue, the things that worked yesterday, the things that didn’t work yesterday but might work today. You’re always practicing, and it will rarely feel perfect.
Don’t worry about what other people think of you
You live and die on what other people think of you. In that room, in that moment, your first order of business is to connect with the audience, and the hope is you make enough of an impression for them to want to stay in touch - it’s like speed dating to a whole room full of people at once.
Comedy is easy
Yes, on the surface it’s just a mic and your thoughts and that is perhaps one of the reasons it doesn’t get the gravitas afforded other creative art forms. But it is no less challenging. It’s not just the 5/10/45 minutes you’re on stage that you’re performing; you’re constantly going through mini job interviews with new promoters and influential people that can help you. You want to shine in the green room, you want to make a good impression with the other acts. Before you even step into the venue, you’re not just looking for inspiration for writing new jokes, you’re hustling people to come to the shows, making social media posts, learning how to edit photographs and make posters, wrangling with podcast editing software, pitching for gigs. Like ducks gliding on the surface of water, gliding through a seamless set is the result of kicking like mad when no one can see.
Comedy is hard
When you take the time to explain the rigour and process of what goes on behind the scenes to get the acts to the stage to spend those minutes with you as an audience, people wonder why you would do it. And that one is an easy one to answer; it’s a real cliche to say do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, and that is bollocks. What is true, is if you’re doing something you love, you always know - even on the bad days - that the work you are putting in is worth it. I’ve never worked harder in my life, but I’ve also experienced some of the best moments of my life through comedy. If I finished today, they would remain some of the best moments of my life; things beyond my wildest dreams.
When I was just starting out in open mic in 2019, I went to Edinburgh as a punter and sat through five shows a day starry eyed and giddy. At the airport waiting to come back home I texted a very good friend in comedy that I wished I could be part of it. He said ‘do it.’ And I had a good laugh and compared it to someone who likes to sing saying they wanted to be Beyonce. Three years and one pandemic later, I’m running two shows in August - a 45 minute work in progress and a panel show from a podcast that wasn’t even an idea at that point. It’s been a balancing act making it work with a full time job, mentally and physically, but I cannot imagine doing anything else.
Vix Leyton: More Fiction Than Girl runs from Aug 4-28th, 2.40pm, at Just The Tonic Mash House. Tickets here
The Comedy Arcade Panel Show, based on the podcast of the same name, runs from Aug 4-28th, 11.20pm, at UnderBelly Bristo Square. Tickets here
Vix is on Twitter and Instagram as @vixleyton and the podcast is available wherever you find podcasts
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