First Gig Worst Gig

Nick Elleray

Nick Elleray. Copyright: Adrian Tauss

One of many fine discoveries at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, Nick Elleray's It's Been Emotional is a wise and purposefully non-frenetic wander through the windmills of his Australian mind (with a powerful late twist) - and he really gets to grips with that male Aussie psyche, along the way.

The show has an appropriate location, too, for anyone who knows their Fringe. If you manage to survive the fierce flyer-pokers and potential car accidents of Cowgate, Elleray is an oasis of good sense at the Grassmarket Centre, right at the end.

So how does he describe it?

"It's a stand-up comedy show about family and feelings and the things we don't say that we wish we had and vice-versa," he says. "There's a lot about growing up with five brothers and being Australian and being a man."

Elleray, incidentally, won Old Comedian of the Year last year, but this is fun for the whole family (under-16s not admitted). "I hope that it's smart and dirty and stupid and thoughtful and silly," he says, "so my ideal audience is people who like their comedy with all of those things."

Now let's trawl through his gig history, and at least one audience that really wasn't ideal.

First gig?

It was December 2011 at the Cavendish Arms in South London. Pat Cahill and Richard Todd were both on the bill and they were far funnier than anybody else there. It's an open-mic night where they don't announce the running order, every time the MC went to announce the next act my heart would race a bit faster.

There were twenty acts and I was third from last, so I had aged about five years by the time I got onstage. Once there, I proceeded to attack my material with all the vigour of a man reading a book to himself at a bus stop. I sucked as a performer but there were enough good jokes in the set to prevent it being a disaster.

Favourite show, ever?

At one of my recent Brighton shows at the Duke of Wellington, the crowd were very supportive and they gave me the confidence to 'own' some of the newer stuff that I'd been struggling to make work. It was like pushing on a wall and having it open for you - "Oh, we can go in here now!" - a breakthrough moment that will hopefully continue to affect who I am onstage.

Nick Elleray. Copyright: Adrian Tauss

Worst gig?

Early on, I did a middle-spot on a Saturday night at Gillingham Football Club. On the train to the gig, I went over my jokes, re-writing punchlines and labouring over the wording ('Hmm, is the phrase 'you can expect an empty dance-card, interview-wise' too niche for Kent? Let's find out.')

I shouldn't have bothered - 60% of the audience were already falling-over drunk when I got there. By the time I came on, fights were starting to break out in the crowd. I tried to shout over the din. Most of them were ignoring me, but one scary-looking, shaven-headed bully made his way to the front row, sat directly in front of me and started yelling "You're not f**king funny!" over and over. I was unequipped to deal with that. The MC intervened and told the bouncers to chuck the guy out, but the bouncers shrugged - they didn't care.

That's handy.

Somehow I overran and did fifteen minutes in a ten-minute open spot. The open spot who followed me left the stage after a minute, as his instincts were better than mine. I hoped that I had at least looked unfazed onstage, unperturbed. But when I went to the bar during the break, a burly builder-looking guy stopped me, silently opened his arms and gave me a hug, so I might have been looking more hurt than I realised.

When the headliner and I left the venue at the end of the night, the staff advised us to leave by a different exit, as things were 'kicking off' in the carpark. We exited via a side-door and ran to the car.

I know I did fifteen minutes that night, because I've kept the recording of the gig on my phone. But I have never listened to it. It's like that guy in the film Grizzly Man who owns the tape machine that was recording at the time Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend were eaten by a bear. Werner Herzog asks "Have you listened to the recording?" and the guy looks at him like "Why the hell would I do that?"

The weirdest live experience?

In the context of Edinburgh it's probably not that weird, but 'doing a full month in a disused bank vault beneath a fancy Italian restaurant' was a heck of an introduction to the Fringe.

Who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

Really, the large majority of people are well-intentioned and aware that we're all in this together. There's only one person - a London promoter with bad breath who lied to me pretty badly - that I've felt justified in calling a c**t. But for the purposes of this article I went and looked at him on Facebook and saw that he really likes the Velvet Underground and Courtney Barnett, so now I think "Ah, he can't be all that bad".

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

I have a very silly bit where a crocodile does a Roger Moore impression. It's absolutely unlike anything else I do so the audience is always just "Where did that come from?" Also, I can't really nail an impression of Roger Moore or a crocodile, so fair play to them.

What's your best insider tip, for Aussie comics coming here?

Just do it. You'll be surprised how similar the senses of humour are. And it's a real boot camp for newer acts. Just don't bang on about it when you get back to Aus, nobody wants to get stuck talking to that guy at a barbecue.

The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction?

It's a toss-up between the recruitment agent at Up The Creek who said "You were my favourite! So, are you depressed?" and the bloke at the open-mic who said "Good set, good set. Yeah, I really like the misogynist stuff you did."

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

I like what I'm doing - hopefully people in Edinburgh will like it, too.

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