Tom Peterkin: My little sis is piping hot at this comedy lark

Life isn't always easy when your younger sibling is leaving you in her shadow at the Edinburgh Fringe, admits Tom Peterkin

The Scotsmans Tom Peterkin is taking a back seat to little sister Louise Leigh. Picture: Neil Hanna
The Scotsmans Tom Peterkin is taking a back seat to little sister Louise Leigh. Picture: Neil Hanna

I have discovered what it is like to live in a household dominated by the clashing egos of a couple of Fringe performing luvvies. It is, alas, an intensely irritating experience.

I should know. One of the egos in this particular household belongs to me. The other belongs to my extrovert younger sister, who is staying with us while appearing at the festival.

At an age when she should know better, my sister, Louise Leigh, has made the interesting decision to become a stand-up comedian. She has dropped off her two young boys at their grandparents’ house in Angus and has been “smashing it” (her own words) on the Edinburgh Fringe.

I’m not normally one for sibling rivalry, but it would be foolish not to acknowledge this unattractive trait has reared its ugly head.

In my view, my contribution to this year’s Fringe has been far more worthy. As a devotee of bagpipe music, I was chuffed when my fellow members of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society asked if would play a solo at their annual Fringe concert. For weeks I have been practising Donald Mor MacCrimmon’s famous piobaireachd A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick.

Okay, I admit a 12-minute piobaireachd with its mysterious variations and embellishments may be a trifle esoteric compared with the crash, bang, wallop of the comedy diva. Nevertheless I couldn’t help feeling a bit miffed by the attention lavished by my family on Louise’s stand-up career compared with their indifference to my piping. Artistic souls like me can be a little sensitive when it comes to things like that.

“Oooooh we can’t wait to go and see Louise,” has been the cry from assorted cousins, uncles and aunts. “Oooooh, Louise is sooooo brave,” has been the unrelenting family mantra of the last few days.

“But what about me? I’m brave too. Why aren’t you coming to hear me?” has been the anguished whimper of the green-eyed piper.

I should explain that Louise and I come from a large family. She left Scotland more than 20 years ago and with her husband Stephen has made her home in Bristol. For reasons I am unable to understand the prospect of spending her adult life surrounded by a tribe of ruffian cousins – weaned on McEwan’s Export – held little appeal.

Last weekend she returned north full of energy, excitement and incessant chatter about the burgeoning Bristol comedy scene. As a veteran of the Fringe scene (I played a piobaireachd last year), I affected disinterest. Then, the morning after we’d both performed we compared notes over breakfast.

“How did it go?” she asked. “Och, all right,” I replied. “I made a helluva big blooter during the tricky bit of my hornpipe. But I was quite pleased with my piobaireachd. How about you?”

“I smashed it... absolutely smashed it,” my sister said with an irritating directness that made me wonder why she had inherited the unshakeable confidence gene. “Did you have a drink before you went on?” I asked, confessing: “I did – a large one. I was very nervous.”

“I would never do that - therein lies the slippery slope,” she said disapprovingly, sounding scarily like our mother. “I have got to treat this as my work. I’m here to take my comedy seriously.”

Surely you’d be better off playing it for laughs, I thought, but didn’t dare say. Instead my bitter and twisted side reflected on the fact that her comedy work had not yet proved lucrative since she started moonlighting around the Bristol clubs last year. Louise had revealed that the world of comedy had netted her less than fifty quid. She was amused that our mother had just won more than that in the LGU Coronation Foursomes at Strathmore Golf Club. (As yet there is no sign of Granny Peterkin joining the professional golf tour.)

Anyway, a few kind and loyal members of the tribe had attended my concert (special mention to Cousin Peter for joining me for a couple of pints of McEwan’s Export afterwards) at St Mark’s Unitarian Church. But that was nothing compared with the clan gathering when I got round to going to see her. The tribe was out in force. Disreputable relations were propping up the bar, infants were being comforted. Everyone was banging on – ad nauseam – about how brave Louise was being. The rest of the audience must have felt as if they had gate-crashed a rather ghastly family party. Then the show at the Bourbon Bar, Frederick Street, began. That was when it dawned on me that my wee sister was actually being extremely brave. She was not hiding behind a set of pipes and playing a piece of music composed by somebody else. Louise was about to appear in front of the toughest audience of all – her nearest and dearest – armed only with her own jokes.

Helped by a witty compere in the form of gig organiser Jo Duncan, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the True Laughs Will Find You in the End revue. A couple of Welsh comics, Morgan Rees and Sarah Breese, were excellent. Then it was Louise’s turn. She bounded on stage – no nerves were apparent. Her imaginative, brilliant and ever-so-slightly risqué routine as a “milf careering merrily towards the menopause” had aunts sniggering. Uncles chortled and cousins guffawed. A succession of rather vulgar belly laughs rang out. A moment or two later I realised they were coming from me. She smashed it... absolutely smashed it.