It was less than a month ago, yet the Edinburgh Fringe already feels like a dream from the distant past. Especially for the shellshocked performers, writes comedian Andrew J Lederer
THERE'S an expression that goes something like, "If you want to get something done, give it to someone who's busy." It's based on the notion that people who do a lot of things are capable of doing even more, whereas wastrels and layabouts have their hands full just attempting to do nothing.
For a performer, the Edinburgh Fringe is proof of this notion. Full-length shows, guest spots, promotion, celebration. Each day seems to expand beyond its normal capacity and somehow allows you to fit into it the undoable number of things you need to do. And then it's over. And you have nothing to do. So, you can do nothing.
One often hears about how the city of Edinburgh, post-festival, goes back to normal. How people who only visit in August don't know the true nature of the city. Locals and those who linger see giant cows being dismantled and magical wonderlands being turned back into halls of academe. But who even thinks about the cows being dismantled inside the Fringe performers' hearts.
Underutilised. That's how I always feel. September days are so damn long. And empty, no matter how much I have to do. Did August even really happen? What was it for? What's the use? It's called "fringe malaise" and it strikes both the mighty and the small.
"Last week was very tired and spaced out," comedian Richard Herring tells me. "The older I get, the longer and harder the month becomes, but once it's over it's almost like it never happened and I have just been kidnapped by some aliens who have subjected me to some weird experiments that have left me exhausted and confused."
Tiernan Douieb (small in stature, not talent) adds: "I have felt so brain-dead since getting back. It's like a mental meltdown. Performing so consistently without any kind of downtime is exhausting and you don't realise it till you stop. I spent the first three days at home sleeping."
Maybe it's because, for all but the biggest performers, Edinburgh is like a funhouse mirror version of the way things ought to be. All the respect, attention, possibility and hope that ought to be spread throughout the year are crammed into a weird, compressed, distorted can of time.
You can be important, your ideas can be explored at length and punters – even if there are only three – will come to see you, but only until September, so you better do everything now. Plays, sketches, stand-up, music. Many Fringe comics, from the Phil Nichols to the terminally unknown, do it all each day for some 27 days.
These are people – even the successful ones – who may do a couple of 20-minue sets most nights of the week during the rest of the year. Suddenly, they are in an ancient Greek theoretician's artistic utopia. But it's a utopia with a wicked stepmother. And when the clock strikes twelve, it's back to the way things were.
"I'm fairly miserable back in London," says comedian Ruth Bratt. "Back to doing proper tour guiding rather than the funny stuff I said in Edinburgh and keep finding myself saying inappropriate things to children!
"It's always miserable because you've spent a month doing what you love best in the world and not having to do any of the day-job crapola that you normally have to and then you come back to things exactly as they were when you left!
"There's loads of 'possibilities' but nothing concrete yet and that's what's hardest to deal with. And I was doing three shows this year, which did me in, and am now getting ill as my body is finally allowed to be ill!"
Ah, yes. Infirmity. "Currently I'm in the middle of my usual post-festival cold and eye infection," says Chris Neill from the Fred MacAulay Show. "Usually you relax after Edinburgh and are then ill for a fortnight!" adds Richard Herring. "I've lost half a stone," agrees comedian Helen Arney, "And a back injury I had eight years ago has started playing up – apparently this opening up of old wounds is a common occurrence in Edinburgh."
Sajeela Kershi, who last year co-starred in Brendan Burns's if.comedy award-winning show, says: "Since I came back last Tuesday, full of cold, fever, exhaustion, I truly have shut myself away like Howard Hughes (wasn't he involved in the entertainment industry once?] I am, in short, spent! Mentally, physically, emotionally exhausted."
Many compare the phenomenon to jetlag. You're flying high and fast and suddenly, you come out the plane and the other people think it's four in the afternoon but you know it's barely sunrise. And it's not only the performers who experience this. "I am suffering nervous exhaustion," says publicist David Burns. "What Fringe? It all seems a dream away."
This is not mere whinging, rather a longing for a return to the kingdom of dreams. "I spent the first three days at home sleeping but my mind is also doing overtime on what to do next year, and what I've learnt, as well as planning the next year of gigging and working," says Douieb.
Bratt admits, "Every year, I have a complete slump and think about giving up performing for good and getting a real job that I actively enjoy rather than one I don't particularly enjoy in order to be flexible. And every year I don't. And then I get excited and go up to Edinburgh again and have a ball. And then come back and have a slump. I'm like a very slow manic depressive."
Sure enough, even the best Fringe experiences end with this hangover. If.comedy best newcomer nominee Matt Crosby (Pappy's Fun Club), Terry Saunders (Time Out Readers' Top 10 Comedians) and I all agreed one night that this was, in some ways, the happiest Fringe ever. But a happy Fringe does not post-Fringe happiness make.
Comedian Andrew O'Neill says: "I totally thought I'd got away with it. I had a wonderful Fringe, and I've even got a holiday booked to give me something to look forward to. It's my birthday in two weeks and I'm planning a tour of the show. And yet two days ago it hit me. It lasted about 12 hours and I had to shut myself away and hide under the duvet. I'm very good at managing my moods, so I had it under control pretty soon, but while it lasted I felt like all my serotonin had been stolen."
Well, soon we will all have it "under control", our serotonin finally returned to us. And just as Edinburgh eventually looks correct without the cow, so will life's normal rhythms seem, well, normal. But, like underwater explorers emerging from the depths of the sea, we cannot return too quickly, lest we get the bends. Which is why I've written this entire article without leaving my bed.