So I took all of that, and I managed to get an hour out of it – well just under an hour, 'cos I didn't want it to be an hour, I got a guest in every day, so I got like James Acaster in, and Joel Dommett, and Sara Pascoe, and Pippa Evans, and they came in, and they did about five minutes, they did three five minute bits. So they did – oh they brought on a mug, because I did a bit about making tea, so they brought on a mug that the audience could choose, and then they did a party piece, and then they did a poem, and then when I did it again in London, I didn't need them – or, it was too complicated to get a guest in, and it wasn't necessary, and then when I did the show in London after Edinburgh, it was an hour, and so it was just like: “Oh right, well, that was easy”. D'you know what I mean? It was quite easy to put that together. But I didn't really write it from scratch for that purpose, I kind of assembled from other things.
JG: That's interesting. So how would you compare Free Fringe to paid Fringe?
Nick: I think it just depends what you want to get out of it. Um, when I started, when I wrote my first thing in 2001, I was at a church, a converted church near the station, it was called...St. Paul's Church, is it St. Paul's Church? I think it was-
JG: Prince's Street?
Nick: No, it was just at the – if you go...you've got the station, then opposite the road is this little church, and there's some stairs that go up to the Royal Mile, but to the lower Royal Mile
JG: Oh, yeah.
Nick: But you've got to go up this little alleyway, and I did some shows there with my school, when I was at school, so I think my first Edinburgh was '97, when we did Romeo & Juliet in this little church, and then we did another show, we did Tony Harrison's The Passion, which was very religious, and we did that in the church, and then we did Twelfth Night in the church...yeah, and so the next year, when I wrote a show – well, two years later, that was '99, so, took a year off, 2001, when I wrote a show, we went back to that church 'cos I knew it as a venue, it was quite central.
JG: And was this a free venue?
Nick: No, it was a – but I didn't put any money up for it, 'cos someone else produced it. I think it was actually the school theatre company produced it, but I'd left, and they were taking up something else – I think they were taking up Midsummer Night's Dream, and they got two venue slots. But we had to do a midnight slot – I think we were the last show on, and so I think we got a really cheap deal because we were on at midnight, and also we had something else in there.
JG: So it was like a discount?
Nick: So I think was like a – not two-for-one, but yeah, a discount. And that was good – it was midnight, it was slightly off the wall, and we used to flyer for about twelve hours, and get about three people in... It was soul-destroying, really. I remember, because I'd get up in the morning, and I'd smoke a packet of fags, do a show, and then smoke another packet of fags after the show, it was stressful – it was really unhealthy, but I was on like 40 fags a day! Doing this thing… I can't remember how long we were up there for, it might have only been a week, actually, but yeah it was really stressful, and then we got reviewed by the Scotsman on the first day, and on the last day the review came out, and we got a good review, and we sold – we didn't sell out, but we had a big audience on the last day. And it was a bit like: “Oh right, well that worked”.
So the next year we went back to the place, then we went to C Venues in 2004. Um, C Venues were expensive, and I'm not really sure how much I got value for money. I think the thing with C Venues is if you're doing, if you've got a good – if you've got an eas ily marketable show that's doing well numbers-wise, and getting good reviews, then C Venues is – I think that's a lot like everyone, though – if you've got a good show – well not even a good show – if you've got a successful show, or that's visibily successful, or that seems to be successful, then they push it. And if you don't, like our show, which wasn't unsuccessful, we were getting threes...I think we may have got some fours, but really we didn't get reviewed much, 'cos that was never really my goal. But then, if you're one of those things that's struggling, you kind of just sink and you just disappear. Where did you go in C Venues?
JG: 2008 we were in C Soco, upstairs, and we paid quite a lot of money for it, and lost pretty much all of that money, but I joined at the last minute, so I didn't put any money up for it, I just came straight out of uni. But it wasn't a very good show, it didn't deserve to do particularly well, it's just the fact that in a free venue, it would have been absolutely fine; it wouldn't've lost the money.
Nick: Yeah, so I guess...I mean, you say it's not a good show.
JG: It wasn't bad, but...
Nick: But I mean – how old were you all?
JG: We were...I would have been twenty three...the guys writing it would have been twenty one. It was the first thing that I'd ever done, the first thing any of us had done at Edinburgh, so it was ropey-
Nick: Yeah, so all a learning experience, though.
Nick: I mean, we'll get back to that, I s'pose, but I think, as long as you're doing it for – as long as you know why you're doing Edinburgh then it's fine – you don't need to justify to anyone else, even by being good (laughs), d'you know what I mean? 'Cos if you're doing it for specific reasons, like to improve, then it's completely worth your while. It's an arts festival; you're allowed to do whatever you want there. And if it's shit, even though you've tried really hard, at least you tried really hard, and it's still shit, and at least you'll learn from it.
JG: You've got the right to be shit. (laughs)
Nick: You've got the right to be shit – you've got the right to be as shit as you want, and people have got the right to tell you you're shit. But, as long as you understand that going into it, it's fine. People have got the right to not come and see your show. It's soul-destroying when they don't, though. A then we did the Bedlam Theatre, which was the student theatre. My partner Rob – my creative partner, Rob – was at university in Edinburgh and he had loads of contacts, and we got to do the theatre – it's really good; it's a gothic church on the corner. We did – I think we did three years there...yeah we did three years there. Did we? Or two years. Three years. 2006, 2007, 2008.
JG: And these were theatre shows?
Nick: These were...2006 was a two-hander play, that was written to order; we had a limited budget, and I could only afford an hour long slot, which meant that there was a fifteen minute get-in and get-out included in that, so the show was forty-five minutes, and that's what we did; we wrote it to order. And the Bedlam was amazing. I think the Bedlam's amazing: the crew and the staff are all students, and they like theatre, and we got on really well with them, and yeah, they were really good shows. The second show was more like a compilation of – the sort of things I do now, but a little bit more theatrical – not even theatrical, it wasn't a focus on comedy. There was comedy in it, but it was really poems and songs and it was silly, but it wasn't like...when you do stand-up, it can be anything it wants to be, but if it's not funny, it's a failure, and with that, it was just like...it found its own time to be funny. It wasn't like -
JG: It didn't have to be funny.
Nick: Yeah, it wasn't its driving force, and actually that was quite nice. It was a relaxed way of being funny, it wasn't like: “Shit, we've gotta make them laugh, otherwise we're dying!” We never felt like we were dying, 'cos it's was just kind of like, if you find it funny, you can get to the laughs in your own time.
JG: So the laughs were a bonus.
Nick: Yeah, but it was meant to be funny, but in the same competitive, stressful environment that stand-up is, where it has to be funny.
JG: To look through the script and think “this needs more jokes” can sometimes spoil the flow.
Nick: Yeah, if you can make people think and be funny, that's great, but if you make people think and they don't laugh, you go: “What the fuck are you doing? Why are you under comedy?” In fact that's what my teacher said to me (laughs). My teacher came to see me in that year, and she said: “Why on earth is that under comedy?” which is lovely...but she's been to see me every year, so that's nice. I just think that she thinks that I've come off the rails, that I'm doing the wrong thing with my life, and it's just like: “Oh man, it's hard enough to do this.”
JG: (Laughs) So did you ever think about advertising yourself in different areas of the guide?
Nick: We always did theatre, because I just thought: “If it's funny, it's a bonus”, but then what happens when you do theatre – ok, this is a good thing – we'll get back to the free venues, but when you advertise under theatre, you get a theatre audience. And a theatre audience are more thinky than a comedy audience. So I think – I did a musical the year after in 2008, at the Bedlam, and 'cos it is a theatre, and you have a theatre audience, and you're under the theatre section – although we probably should have been under “musical”, but – or comedy – it was a comedy, it was like a B-Movie tribute thing.
JG: What was it called?
Nick: It was called “I Think You Stink”.
JG: 'Cos we were in Bedlam that year, doing Assassins with my Uni.
Nick: Oh were you? Oh fucking hell, yeah. Yes, right ok – that's brilliant. We were in the Bedlam in the same year, 2008. What time were you on?
JG: Um...six or seven in the evening, I guess?
Nick: We must have been on right before you, you know, 'cos were on about...did you do the whole run?
JG: No, we were...the second to third week, I think.
Nick: That's what we did – we did the last two weeks; we must have had the same get-in...
Nick: I’ve got flyers and stuff.
JG: Do you keep all your old flyers?
Nick: I keep all of them, yeah – because no one else gives a shit! (Laughs)
JG: I've got them all over my room.
Nick: I've always thought that, in the off-chance that things work out-
JG: They'll be worth something-
Nick: And people give a shit, at least I've got a record of it all. I think it's good to keep a record. And then one day you do a book or a scrap book, and if people care and they want it, you've got things there – you know, there are people out there that have seen every show that I've ever written...they're called mum and dad (laughs), but there are, you know what I mean? And I've got a record of all of that.
Yeah, when you advertise under theatre and you have a theatre audience, they don't come there with the same expectations, so “I Think You Stink” was a comedy, the year before, “A Third Of The Way Done”, that was meant to be funny, and the play before that was called “Stroke”, and that was also meant to be funny, but because it's a theatre audience, they think a lot more. And what was interesting, was I resurrected “I Think You Stink” in a pub in Hallowe'en 2010, just after “Keep Hold Of The Gold” [Nick's 2010 Edinburgh show], when I got some – I finally established some form of – if I said I was doing a gig, people would turn up. Not necessarily a fan-base, but...an awareness. So I thought this is a really good opportunity to do this thing that I really like – I think this thing was the best thing I'd done; it was brilliant.
JG: So you'd written this musical?
Nick: It was...not really a musical, but yeah it was a musical – it was like seven songs, that we did with theatrics. Y'know, one was about a dead cheerleader, and one was about a werewolf, and one was about two little girls that killed a whole village...
JG: Ah, that sounds great!
Nick: So we treated each thing like it was a mini-thing, and then it finished with a fifteen-minute rock-opera, about – 'cos it was forty-five minutes again, so we had to pack a lot in, so I think there was like five songs, and then a fifteen-minute rock opera, so it was a bit like you got trailers for B-movies, and then you got like your main feature. I think that's how we tried to do it – and it was before Grindhouse came out, so it was like-
JG: The aesthetic was quite fresh.
Nick: But it was that – and then Grindhouse came out, and it was just like: “That's what we meant to – that's what we did!”
JG: I bet it was better than Grindhouse.
Nick: Yeah, it was much better than Grindhouse, but you'll never know 'cos we'll never do it again, but yeah, it was definitely – take my word for it – it was much better than...(laughs), but we did it in the pub, and people laughed at it, and they didn't – you know, when we did it in the theatre, people were quite stuffy about it, and we'd do it to silence a lot of the time, 'cos people were watching it from a theatrical point of view, and you want to snap out of it and go: “There's nothing deeper to it, other than the fact that we're just dancing around in lycra” That's it.
JG: Stop reading into it!
Nick: Stop reading into it. Just enjoy yourself. Alright? I mean, we did it in a pub, and it was fucking brilliant – people laughed, and people were completely on board, and they got it, and I guess that's what's interesting about – you can pay a lot of money for a theatre, you can pay a lot money for a venue, and we had props and set and lighting and all of this stuff, but when we did it in the pub, we had like an on/off switch for the lighting and the sound, we had limited props 'cos we were just doing it – we were third on the bill. We didn't have anything; we didn't even have like a place to change, y'know, so it worked much better. It worked much better without any of the luxuries of a paid venue. Yeah, it was really great. But that's the thing, you've just gotta be careful about how you market it – whatever you do – if you're theatre you're theatre, and if you're comedy – maybe if you've got a funny play, it might be worth advertising it under comedy as opposed to theatre, because you just want an audience of people that are on board. As soon as you say: “This is gonna be funny”, people come into it, and they look for the laughs, and then they find them and they laugh, hopefully. Soon as you say it's theatre, people go in, and they're not sure for about halfway through, that they're actually allowed to laugh.
JG: Yeah, and they don't want to look stupid.
Nick: And they don't want to be insulting the actors, y'know? And a lot of the time, I don't know if you find this, but when I'm Edinburgh, it often takes me halfway through a show to realise that it's shit (laughs) do you know what I mean?
JG: When you're watching it? Well yeah, 'cos you hope that's it gonna get better, or that it's building to something.
Nick: But you don't necessarily recognise that that's bad acting, and then all of sudden you need to just turn around to the person you're next to – this isn't about theatre, but this is when I went to see Guy Ritchie's Revolver, and me and my mate were watching it, and we were having a feud at the time – we weren't talking to each other, but we were going to the cinema together. And halfway through the film Revolver, I turned around to my mate and I said: “Hang on a minute. Is this shit?” And he went: “Yes!” And it was the first thing he'd said to me in about three weeks, and it was like: “Oh right, I'm totally on board now. Now that I know what we're watching, it's fine.” And you get a lot of that in-
JG: Because you want it to be good, so much.
Nick: Yeah yeah yeah, you've paid your seven pounds 50 – back in the day, it was seven pounds 50, and now it's like – that's the other thing, I mean, when I was doing paid venues, I'd always make sure, if it was forty-five minutes, and it would make financial sense for you to charge ten pounds, or twelve pounds, or however much, because you want to make your money, back, but, if you do that, you're more likely to play to smaller audiences, you're going to struggle more, so I used to just go: “Right, we're doing forty-five minutes...I think charging seven pounds fifty for a forty-five minute show is fine” But if you go above seven pounds fifty you're kind of insulting your audience. You know, there's a lot of other stuff, there's a lot of competition, and the cheaper – don't like go ridiculous, and go like a fiver – a.) you won't make any money, and b.) people won't have any respect for what you're doing.
JG: Exactly yeah, you've gotta get the balance.
Nick: So that's the balance. Ok, so I did the Laughing Horse Free Festival in 2008?
JG: So that was after PBH?
Nick: That was before PBH. I did the Laughing Horse Free Festival in 2007, I think I did Helm And Taylor, with Paul F. Taylor over there [gestures across the room]...2008? 2008. Yeah, the same year I did “I Think You Stink”. So I did “I Think You Stink”, Helm And Taylor, and then I did – Helm And Taylor was in the middle of fucking nowhere, that was in the Argyle pub in Marchmont, and then I did another one, which was...Comedy O'Clock, I compered Comedy O'Clock for...Katie Wilkinson, Hannah George, and Richard Bond.
JG: Clever Peter's Richard Bond?
Nick: Yeah, Clever Peter's Richard Bond, he was doing stand-up.
JG: Oh really? I've never seen that.
Nick: Yeah. Yeah, Katie Wilkinson, Hannah George and Richard Bond were doing stand-up, and I was compereing it. But that was all the same year, so I was doing about three things, and then I was doing like extra gigs on top of that, so that was – it was good. I think, when you can, just run around – don't worry so much when you're starting out...don't be precious, I think. We had to do Helm And Taylor under extreme circumstances, and extreme sexual harassment from Paul F. Taylor no, extreme circumstances, where we didn't have enough time to really get it right, but we were doing the Free Fringe, and we were just trying stuff out, really. And we normally played to...well, I dunno, we did a month, and we cancelled half of them, 'cos no one turned up, and the rest of them we went ahead with 'cos we had three Spanish people in the room, and they didn't understand anything we were doing, so that was a fucking disaster. But Comedy O'Clock went well – that was at Espionage-
JG: Oh yeah. That's Laughing Horse, isn't it?
Nick: That's Laughing Horse – that was the middle floor of Espionage. And Espionage is an amazing venue, because it rains a lot in Edinburgh, and it's just on that corner where you can grab people as say: “Come in 'ere”
JG: It's just on the corner of the bridge isn't it [George IV]
Nick: Well, it's got two entrances, so you can come at it from below, uh, what's that-
JG: Cowgate. Yeah, it's right near the Underbelly, isn't it.
Nick: Yeah, right next to the Underbelly. And you can come at it from above, which is just off that road there, Pizza Express I think is there as well, now.
JG: Yeah, the road that goes down to Grassmarket [Victoria Street]
Nick: Right next to the Underbelly, top end of the Underbelly. And it's brilliant, 'cos you can just grab people, bring 'em in, and do your show. And when it rained, we had sell-out shows, and they were amazing, great shows – everyone smashed it. And it was brilliant. So that's good – and I wouldn't say really a bad thing about my experience at Laughing Horse, other than the fact that it is a – you can make money off of it – what I said earlier about people not respecting anything if it's too cheap, I think that in a way reverses when it's free, as long as it looks like a show, and it feels like you've put some effort into it – just 'cos it's free, doesn't mean it's shit, y'know? And as long as it actually looks like you've put some effort into it, and some thought into what you've done, then people will respect that, and they'll go: “Oh great”, and they're more willing to put money in the bucket. It's when people haven't put any thought into it, and it is just a pile of shit and the performers on stage go: “Well it's free isn't it, what d'you expect?” It's like fuck off, you're letting everyone down with that attitude, and it makes everyone else who's doing a free show have to work so much harder in order to be legitimate.
JG: 'Cos that audience has been poisoned against the Free Fringe, even if it's just a little bit.
Nick: Yeah exactly, that's exactly right. And the thing is, I did PBH in 2009, and I think that's the only year I've done PBH...yep, I think that's the only year I did PBH, and PBH is brilliant. I think he's a great man, and I think he's doing an amazing thing. There is that whole, there's a whole...I don't even...I don't know – I might get – there's a whole thing...
JG: Is this the feud between them?
Nick: The feud between PBH and Laughing Horse. I've done Laughing Horse gigs and I've done PBH gigs. PBH, I think, is – the thing is about the fact that PBH started the Free Fringe, and then Laughing Horse ran it with them for a while, and then Laughing Horse became Laughing Horse and split off and started doing the Free Festival, and I think there was a competition for venues. So, PBH – I don't think it really comes from – this is just advice for new acts, but you're not allowed to go to both of them in the same year, so if you're with PBH, you're a one woman man, y'know what I mean. (laughs) And if you – you've gotta keep your – you've gotta be faithful to PBH, and it's a completely monogamous relationship, yeah. You've got your three minute rule (laughs) where you can look, but – is it the three minute rule or three second rule? What's that song, have you seen it?
JG: I dunno.
Nick: (Singing) “It's not three minute ruuuule / like the kinda rule you learn in school.” It's brilliant. Google it. It's amazing.
JG: I will. Tip for all our listeners, there.
Nick: Tip for all your listeners.
JG: Do you have a favourite Fringe memory?
Nick: It's weird because – I tell you what, that year I did...my breakthrough...in 2009, I did a show for PBH called “Bad Things Happen In Trees” - that was my rush-job where I had to compile a show in a month, or two months.
JG: Oh ok, so you weren't going to – were you going to do a, just out of interest, was it a sketch show you were gonna do, or was it a joint stand up?
Nick: I was gonna do a show with Sean Walsh, and his mate and my mate, Robin Buckland, who lives in Brighton. And we were gonna do a show, and it was just very difficult to get all three of us in the room at the same time. But clearly not all three of us (laughing), 'cos me and Robin were desperate for it, and Sean was just the next big thing, y'know, he'd just literally gone from my mate in the pub to being Sean Walsh off of the telly, and there was no time for it – y'know, we couldn't even get in a room together to work out what the title was gonna be, so I ended up just saying: “Do you guys wanna do it?” and they were like: “We can't do it”.
And PBH just wouldn't let me not do it – wouldn't let me pull out, by that point. So yeah, I dunno what it was gonna be. I wanted it to be some kind of sketch show, but I think Sean, 'cos of time restraints, wanted it to be more like Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned, and I didn't want to risk a whole month of something, with nothing on paper, and I don't think even Sean wanted to do that either, so it was kind of a thing. So anyway, I was forced into doing this thing, and I didn't know what it was – I thought it might be a pile of shit, and we were kind of like on the arse end of Prince's Street, just before you get into...what's the other area? There's kind of like...the other train station?
JG: Oh uh...what, not Waverley?
Nick: Not Waverley Station. If you go far enough down Prince's Street you end up at another station...what is that area called [Haymarket!] Anyway, nobody goes there, and there was this venue called The Rat Pack Bar, which was just in between that and Prince's Street where it's all busy, and my mate Rob was playing guitar that year for me, 'cos it was so last minute, it was just like: “Rob, can you help me?” and he said “Yep” and he came along and he was amazing, played guitar every day, I did that show. And we got an audience every day, and it was great. And by, I don't know, it must have just been word of mouth, 'cos we weren't reviewed or anything like that, and I think we, I found out that I was reviewed by ThreeWeeks about – um, about, after the festival, I found out that I had been reviewed – and we got two stars, or something like that, I mean, they hated it, and they were really mean about it.
JG: Yeah, we got a two star in our first year as well. Again, just cruel.
Nick: But ThreeWeeks have always given me two stars, and to be honest, I think they're a bunch of cunts, and they can fuck off. They can fucking fuck themselves, d'you know what I mean? And I don't care, 'cos they've never given me a good review. Fuck 'em, d'you know what I mean. They have clearly demonstrated – I don't read the reviews either, I literally – but they give most of my friends bad reviews as well, it's just kind of like...just fuck 'em...you've got the fucking intellectual capacity of a fucking...dick. (laughs) Y'know, one of them said “He's really arrogant”. It's just like, that's the act, you prick. “He's really aggressive and arrogant.” That is the fucking act. Right, you've just described the act. Right, you've clearly got the act – give it five stars, 'cos you've completely fucking got everything right. Y'know. Fuck 'em. But everyone else is an amazing reviewer. Even the people that give you bad reviews, right, at least they've maybe put some thought into it. You're eleven mate, fuck off. Yeah, you know nothing of what I've gone through.
JG: I was gonna ask: how do you deal with reviews in general, ThreeWeeks debacle aside?
Nick: (Laughing) I don't...I'm serious though – every year, two stars. Fuck 'em. Alright. Um, how do I deal with reviews...I don't read 'em. I don't read them – if it's a good review, you'll find out about it, 'cos it'll be on your poster, and you'll see it. It'll be outside your venue. Don't hunt it down – I don't hunt down anything though. In general, if it's good news, you find out about it, and if it's bad news you find out about it; people will hunt you down to tell you either thing, and it's good when it's good news, and it's bad when it's bad news. And if you can't handle the bad news... I mean the most important thing is that the audience are enjoying it. And that's genuinely right. And if you get a good review, then it means that more people are likely to come and see you, and to do that thing that you've worked on for a year, or seven months, seven months out of a year I work on Edinburgh, including doing it.
And I want people to see it. I want people to see it because I've worked on it, I've worked hard on it, I've tried to something original and interesting and exciting, that an audience maybe genuinely hasn't seen before, but they'll come along and they'll go: “I feel like that was a really good show, do you know what I mean? It wasn't just a man with a microphone” - and it would be fucking easy for me to do that, because – I don't mean it's easy to do that – but it's very appealing, because I can't tour my shows, so I don't make any money off of it after Edinburgh, so I'm an idiot. (Laughs) If it was literally me turning up to a gig – oh god, think of the money I could make, it would be amazing! But like, with “This Means War” [Nick's 2012 show] we had helicopters! (Laughs) Not real ones, still involved two men holding sticks, so it's kind of like...yeah, I've painted myself into a corner now, 'cos unless I do bigger and bigger, I've got to really go: “Hey man, this is the Nick Helm bare bones show” and...uh, who wants that? It's just literally a man, in his pants, shouting, for an hour. Oh, it's just such a cross to bear, innit...'cos it's actually not very good what I do (laughs), but I've gotta do it.
Um, so I just think, you work hard on it, be proud of what you do, and then...I probably might read reviews at the end of the year. I definitely read all my reviews for “Dare To Dream” [Nick's 2011 show] but then, when it got to “This Means War”, which was my last show, I didn't really read any of the reviews for that. I kind of...I didn't read any of the reviews at the time, and I read some of the good ones, but – what's the point? What's the point in reading them when you're up there, 'cos it's not like, if you get a bad review, it's not like you're going to rewrite your show, and if you get a good review that singles out a moment, then you start playing up to it, and I think you've just gotta treat...my shows are quite different in a way that I kind of write a framework, and then during Edinburgh it all fills out. So I'll have a set-piece, like I did Russian Roulette last year with the fizzy drinks, and that's kind of an idea – you can't write that. That's kind of like, you write on a piece of paper: “And then I play Russian Roulette, with five cans of Fanta and a can of Tango” - was it that? I think it was that. The Tango was the bullet, so yeah, so five cans of Fanta and a Tango on a lazy susan, with an audience member. And that's an idea, and it takes about fifteen minutes of the show, and you end up over-running every day, and then you go: “Oh, alright, we'll cut that down”...
JG: So it's more of an organic process once you get up there?
Nick: It's more just kind of like: “I'm gonna do that bit, that bit, that bit”. I've got five songs, I've got four poems. So, start with a song, end with a song, and in between you have a poem...is that right? Yeah, so the shows kind of like come together with framework. They're not really written, they're kind of...guessed at. You think that is probably gonna be funny, let's make that work.
JG: And do you gig the individual bits throughout the year, or is it more a-
Nick: No, it's more normally like I gig – what I do is I do an hour of material at most of my previews, with the aim to really cut it down and get ten minutes out of it.
JG: Oh ok, and how early are these previews?
Nick: Uh, from Leicester onwards [February]. So...I've just written a routine, like a forty-five minute routine about giving up smoking, 'cos I've given up smoking.
JG: How's it going?
Nick: [instantly, deadpan] Great.
JG: [cracking up] I can hear the joy.
Nick: Love life. Lovin' life right now. And the great thing about it is there's so much more of it to look forward to now. So I've written a forty-five minute routine about that, which is not going to come up to Edinburgh, but at least it's a new routine. 'Cos normally what I'll do is I'll write a show, and then I'll have nothing – I won't be able to – my club set is my club set and my show is always different; it's a new hour every year, but my [club] set, kind of evolves really gradually, and it hasn't changed that much in structure for about two years. Although content-wise, bits and pieces change, but I always do “He Makes You Look Fat”, and I always do the same song at the end...there's a structure to it...um, why was I doing that?
JG: Talking about the structure of your show...songs and poems.
Nick: Oh yeah. Yeah, what I'll also say while we're at it – you'll get a lot out of the Free Fringe...in all honesty, it depends who you prefer working with, and you've gotta work it out for yourself. PBH and Laughing Horse, you can get amazing things out of that. I certainly had an amazing year with PBH in 2009. That was really the show that made me, because I wouldn't have done that show, and I got more confidence off of that show, and then the next year, I did the Five Pound Fringe with Jon Briley, and it was just like: “Oh, I might as well do an hour now, 'cos I've almost technically done an hour, so I might as well actually sit down and write an hour, instead of just doing a compilation”. And the Five Pound Fringe was amazing; it's not around anymore.
JG: Yeah, it's the GRV, wasn't it.
Nick: Yeah, there was the GRV; I did The Tron. And I remember The Tron was a pub, and The Tron was literally...
JG: Right next to The Royal Mile.
Nick: Right next to The Royal Mile, but it was the pub that I first went to see stand-up comedy in, when did in Edinburgh in '97, so I was sixteen, and I was sneaking into The Tron, and I think I watched Jason John Whitehead in The Tron, when he had dreadlocks. And I just, I've always loved The Tron, and when I got The Tron in 2010, I did “Keep Hold Of The Gold There”, and that was an amazing year. That was like, literally – again I thought it was a piece of shit. It could very well be a pile of shit. And then, the first day we had like three people in, and then the next day we had seven people in, and then the next day we had twenty people in, and then, before you knew it, by the end of the first week we were selling out, and it was just like: “Where are they coming from?” - we didn't know; none of the reviews were out, and it was like “Oh fuck, we've actually got a good show”, 'cos Rob was playing guitar again that year, it's was like: “We got a fucking good show”. And that was when I got all the audience onstage – where the first day I got – I was meant to get one person out of the audience, and we only had like five people in, so I got them all up, and we thought this'll be – and the next day we had like ten people in, it was quite funny getting them all up, so you were like: “Get them all up”. And then the next day we had like twenty people, and we had 'em all up, and I know when we sold out, Rob was just like: “What are you gonna do?” and I was just said: “I'll get 'em all up”. But it wasn't like: “Isn't this genius, we'll get 'em all up!” it was really organic, but then that was like the talking point of the whole show; and I know that – I think that was the word of mouth thing that year. Really getting them all up on stage – it wasn't anything I'd written – it was getting them all up on stage, and people were like saying, coming up to me over the month and saying: “I've heard you're getting them all up on stage now, Nick” and it was just like: “Yeah. It didn't occur to me not to.”
It wasn't like, it wasn't – I'm not a genius. It was an accident. It was an accident! And yet, and yet, I'm very modest about it all. I'm very modest about it all, and yet Three Weeks still have the nerve to kind of like pick it apart, by like saying: “It's not as good as he thinks it is” it's just like: “I don't think it's good, Three Weeks!” Alright. I mean – this'll be lost on you as well – any sort of ironic baiting. For a publication whose staff just roll over every year, right – who am I actually getting at, right? No one. Right? 'Cos you've all moved on. Right. You're a figurehead – Three Weeks doesn't exist, right. It's like having a go at paper. Not a paper – paper's a bad example. It's like having a go at ketchup, yeah? It doesn't exist...but that'll be lost on you, 'cos like I said, intellectual capacity is smaller that my fuckin'...pubic hair. I was gonna say smaller than my penis, but I meant...you've got the intellectual capacity of my penis...not, ratio-wise...your intellectual capacity is as small as my penis...meaning, it's almost non-existent, I didn't mean, like...I mean, I'm happy with it, alright! Um...(laughs) that's actually really good, I'm gonna put that in my new show.
JG: Please do, it's great. [pause] Ok, we talked about flyering before, do you have any tips for flyering, other than twenty cigarettes before and after.
Nick: I'm shit at flyering. My advice about flyering, right – I've got the sort of face that puts people off flyering. Right, and what happens is, 'cos I wrote and directed and I was in all of my stuff, they'd go, I'd say: “Come and see the show” and they'd say: “Is it any good?” And I'd say: “Yeah, it's good.” They'd say: “Who's in it?” I'd say: “...I am”, they'd say: “Who wrote it?” and it was like: “I did...” They'd say: “Who-” “I've done it all. Literally, I've done it all.” And they were like: “Well you would say that, wouldn't you.”...“Yeah...not really, I mean I'm quite honest. I would love an audience; I know it's going to be good if we got an audience...please come...I can't face cancelling it again”...so my advice to you, in terms of flyering, is get other people to do it for you, because it's worth it in the end.
But then some people are brilliant at it, good at talking themselves up, but I'm a terrible self-promoter. So, I think if you're shameless, then flyering is fine, but if you...are still holding onto a shred of dignity (laughs), then...yeah, I mean the best thing – my best year, maybe, was – if you can't rely on word of mouth, which is what happened in 2009 with my free show, then my best year was without a doubt “Keep Hold Of The Gold” - well that was my first best year, I've had – it's been good, it's been really good since 2009 Edinburgh. But I've done it since 2001 and I've had awful Edinburghs, where I've cancelled half the run, 'cos no one showed up. I feel like I've been doing it – I've been doing Edinburgh since I was sixteen, and I'm thirty-two now, so that's half my life I've been doing it. And every year has been centred around writing another Edinburgh. And I love doing Edinburgh, I think it's brilliant. Creatively, you're in complete control, it's just – if that's your thing, it's great...but the best year was when I paid flyerers (laugh), 'cos I didn't have to do it, 'cos I got depressed, flyering.
JG: It's good training, isn't it.
Nick: It's...it's draining. It's like literally, you'd get home at four o'clock in the morning, you're literally peeling your shoes off, you're getting into bed, and then you're sleeping for like six hours, and then you're getting up and you're doing it again and it's just...a nightmare. Yeah, because you forget about Edinburgh, it's the fact that you think: “Oh it's this venue, and I go over to that venue, and then I'm gonna go over to that venue” but really, you're walking up to about five miles a day, because you're walking in between everywhere. Once you're up, once you're out of bed when you're doing the Festival, you're out of bed until four o'clock in the morning. So, you've gotta think really carefully before you get up, d'you know what I mean? You may wake up, but you gotta think really carefully before you get out of bed, whether you're ready to do this for sixteen hours...
JG: Yeah, it's why it takes me so long to leave the house in the morning, 'cos I know I'm not going to be back in so long. That's totally true.
Nick: You just know you're not going to come back until, yeah – it's just, and you say four o'clock, but it's not, it's six o'clock, or it's seven o'clock, or it's eight o'clock, and you do it every night for a month.
JG: It's really hard to go bed early in the Fringe, 'cos there's so much fun stuff happening.
Nick: And you go to bed, and you go: “I'm gonna have an early night”, and go home, and you're just thinking: “Everyone's out, having fun. Why am I here? I'm only here for a month. Come on, suck it up, Nick.”
JG: Yeah, I'm exactly the same.
Nick: So yeah, it's awful, innit.
JG: Yeah terrible.
Nick: But then also that's kind of like the business side of it, is to go and to, y'know...I don't know if it's the business side of it, I think it's good to...
JG: Meet industry, and the like?
Nick: To mingle and sort of like...but I know that it's not actually necessary; I didn't do too much of that this year, and also when I did “Dare To Dream” I was really ill for two weeks, so I didn't really go out that much. Yeah. So, my main advice about Edinburgh would probably be to do it for the right reasons, and to know why you're doing it. So every year I've kind of had...not, “agenda” sounds really calculated and quite cold, but every year I've set out to do something, so – and I've had very low expectations every year, and because of that, I'm a lot happier for it – I've never decided that I wanted to be famous or I wanted to do it for money, I'm not in it for anything other than: I want to write, and I want people to see that. And I want to write stuff that I'm proud of, and I want people to enjoy what I've written, and I want to find an audience for that. And that's what stuff like Eight Out Of Ten Cats [British panel show] is for. You do something like that, and then people – I did Eight Out Of Ten Cats once, and because of that, I sold out the Bloomsbury [large, prestigious London theatre]. And that was just from doing...it's like, that's what makes that sort of stuff worth it, is because you get a whole room full of people that have come to see you at the Bloomsbury. And that was amazing. That's my proudest moment, but that is based on Edinburgh...no, is it based on Edinburgh – it's nothing to do with Edinburgh, it's not my proudest moment, it's not my proudest Edinburgh moment, that's just my proudest moment.
Fuck that, but fuck that – my proudest – you're gonna have to chop and change all of this and kind of work out some sort of narrative, but my main advice would be: just be aware what you're doing it for. I think the people that get most frustrated and disappointed and upset are the people that are going up for maybe, possibly – not the wrong reasons, but they're kind of misguided about – in the nicest possible way – they're slightly misguided about...what you can get out of Edinburgh. I think having one good Edinburgh, you can't get much out of. I think the only way you can get something out of Edinburgh, is if you have a good Edinburgh, and then follow it up with another good Edinburgh, and then follow that up with another good Edinburgh, and then basically, just keep doing good shows. Once you've got a name for yourself - I mean, I worked ten years on it before anyone really bothered – not bothered – anyone really came to see my shows. By that point, I'd written a lot of stuff, and I've always got that to go back on when I start a new show; I can always look back on ten years of material, and go – always write – and I've always got that ten years of material to look back on and go: “Alright no one's seen that bit, because no one came to that show, I can use that.” Or “That never even made it into a show – I've got that”.
And just kind of like – I used to do Edinburgh – I'd still be doing Edinburgh whether people came to see my shows or not, 'cos I did Edinburgh because I wanted to. In the early days, I used to work in a pub and save all of my money, so that I could take a show up to Edinburgh with my friends. And then I used to work in an office and take all my money that I made in my office, and then I started meeting friends that were also interested in the same thing. One of my friends runs – called Adam Hemming – runs a theatre on the Isle Of Dogs called The Space, and they produced “I Think You Stink”, so I kind of did that, y'know I joined up with other people to help finance these projects. The Space got – the fact that they were taking the show up, and they'd made an in-house production, and I got to write something and take that up, so it was mutually beneficial, and I think we made a profit – that was the first year I made a profit, in 2008, which was fifty quid. But that wasn't me, that was the show, the show made fifty quid. And there was eight of us doing it (laughs) – there was three actors, and then like four flyerers, and then Adam...yeah, so that was less than a tenner each, for a month of work...I think the flyerers got paid, maybe.
But I loved it, and I've always come back and I've been really proud of it, and I always think that anything on top of that, like money, is a bonus. Edinburgh, don't ever go into it expecting to make any money – I think I made...I broke even, I've broken even a few times. Ironically, the year I made the most money was when I did the Free Fringe, and I was making sixty quid a day, which I was splitting with Rob. Like, between twenty and eighty quid a day maybe, but I mean, you'd have better days than others, but I, y'know, that was more money than I'd ever seen back then, 'cos I couldn't even afford shoes. So, if you do the Free Fringe, it is possible to make money out of it. When I did Dare To Dream we sold out every day, and I didn't make any money. The only money I made out of that was when I...I think at the end of it, we made just enough money to cover the plastic anoraks, and the party poppers at the end of Dare To Dream. That was all the money we made – I didn't make a single penny off of Dare To Dream, until after Edinburgh, where I don't think we ever – we did the Soho Theatre, I don't think we really made any money off of that.
Yeah anyway, you can't make any money out of Edinburgh – if you do make any money, you're a genius. You can't. So don't go up to it to make money, go up to it to improve, and if you're good, and you do a good show, you're not gonna get famous out of one Edinburgh, you're not gonna get famous – y'know, you're not going to get fame and fortune off of Edinburgh, y'know, unless you're consistently noticed...I don't know – you're not gonna make any money anyway, and you're lucky if you get noticed. But, if you do it 'cos you enjoy it, then you can't lose. You can't lose anything. 'Cos, I worked all year with that money, specifically to spend it on doing Edinburgh. But nobody gave me that money at first, it was like...that's not true actually, someone did give me money to do my first show! But after that, it was just because I wanted to do it. It becomes addictive as well. Your whole year becomes around it – you don't go on holidays because you're doing Edinburgh. Y'know, just focus on what you want out of it. 2008 when I did Comedy O'Clock, I did that show specifically so I could improve as a compere. And to just really build up my armour as a performer. So I'll learn how to compere that year.
JG: Yeah, a variety of skills.
Nick: Yeah, I'll do it every day for a month, and by the end of the month, I'll be a good compere. I've never done an hour before, I'm gonna do an hour, just to see if I can do it. Alright, I can do that, what am I gonna do next year? Well I'm gonna do a better hour. Or, I'm gonna do – I think Dare To Dream was a better hour maybe than Keep Hold Of The Gold, although Keep Hold Of The Gold was my favourite thing, really. And then I think This Means War was like, the ultimate, it was kind of like going: “Well what have I learnt over these ten years, and how can I put on the ultimate show? It'll be this” And this year I've got whole new challenges, which is: how can I put on a show without repeating myself? And, kind of like, you've got to satisfy a new fan base of people that are kind of catching on, and you've got to satisfy your old fan base who have seen everything you've done.
Yeah, Free Fringe, brilliant. There's no shame in doing the Free Fringe, doing it as many years as you want; it's great. And you can make more money off doing the Free Fringe than you can at being at the Pleasance. And you get bigger audiences as well. I think the capacity at The Pleasance when I did The Pleasance was eighty, or maybe...yeah, I think it was eighty, and I think I was getting ninety in when I did Bad Things Happen In Trees at the Rat Pack Bar, which is a great venue.
JG: And that's PBH?
Nick: Yeah, but if it still exists, it might not still exist. Yeah, it's might not exist anymore. The venue exists, but I don't think PBH does it, because the owner changed hands. But it was really good. Yeah, but it's the luck of the draw: sometimes you'll get a great venue, sometimes you'll get a shit venue, but that's the luck of the draw. I think a lot of the venues are playable; some of them aren't playable, but PBH and Laughing Horse have their share of good and...I wouldn't say bad, but harder venues. But you've just gotta be persistent, and keep it up. Also the – I mean, I've probably gotta go soon -
JG: Yeah, by all means.
Nick: But, the – I'd say that the blueprint of doing it, I would say, of graduating to an hour, would be: do a show with three other comedians – if you're doing comedy – do a show with three other comedians, where one of your comperes, and the other three of you do fifteen minutes each – that's what you do in your first year. Second year, do it with two other comedian, where one of you comperes, and then you twenty to twenty-five minutes each, then just do a two-hander where you do half an hour each, and then do an hour. Or do a combination of all of that, over a shorter amount of time, where you're kind of graduating – you're not running before you can walk. So many people come out and they do their first hours before they're ready for it, because they just think: “Oh, I can't be bothered, I just want to do an hour.” It's just like: “You've gotta really wait until you've got something to say” I wouldn't have done an hour unless I was forced into that situation, and actually it was the best thing for me. But I think a lot of people-
JG: You'd spent a lot of time preparing though, via the various Fringes. Maybe not directly, but building up experience.
Nick: Yeah, building up experience, 'cos also you don't want anything to happen too quickly, because you want to be able to – part of building up an armour, and doing comedy – I mean, I was only going for three years, by the time I did Keep Hold Of The Gold. That's an amazingly short amount of time – I gave myself five years to get anywhere. I started getting paid gigs, to make a living off of it – and I did it in three, but...I mean, why am I talking about that? Oh yeah, it's good to give yourself goals, you know? And to know what you're getting out of it, and...if you want to – if you're an overnight success, basically that means is when you're on stage, you don't know how to deal with hecklers, you don't know how to deal with tough situations, which you'll gradually...it's like – what was I saying? I was talking to David Trent, I was saying, it's a bit...success is a bit like being a..a frog, in hot water. And if you throw, if you throw a frog in hot water, it dies, dunnit? So don't do that. You don't want overnight success, right? But...if you, if you put your career in a cold bath, and gradually heat it up, you won't even notice that you're dying. (laughs)
JG: So you can slowly boil alive?
Nick: You'll stay alive for longer, but you'll definitely die in the end. That's my positive spin on (laughs).
JG: So slowly cook yourself to death, as opposed to jumping right in.
Nick: Slowly cook yourself to death – that's success, that's fame...yeah. I'm in tepid water at the moment. It's like lukewarm.
JG: (Laughing) But the Bunsen Burner's on.
Nick: No, the Bunsen Burner's on, but I'm not in any immediate danger. (Laughs)
JG: The heat is slowly percolating up.
Nick: Yeah yeah yeah. Basically, when I did Edinburgh, my life completely changed. And now, I couldn't imagine any of what I've got now, without having done Edinburgh, but I also know that I wasn't expecting anything, and I'm very surprised, and happy, and quite content with where I am at the moment, and excited about the opportunities that I've got in the future. But, I wasn't gonna do Edinburgh this year – ok, this is my final thing that I'll say – I wasn't gonna do Edinburgh this year, but...when the reality of not doing Edinburgh actually occurred to me, and the fact that everyone else is getting excited about writing their shows, and when that actually hit me that I wouldn't be doing it, and I wouldn't be taking part, I actually got really sad and envious about it – not like in a bitter way, I wasn't like stroking a gun or anything – but I was just kind of like: “Oh, d'y'know what, I'll miss doing that” and I just thought: “Fuck it, I'm gonna do it. I'll do it.”
JG: It's a big old hole in your calendar, if you don't do it.
Nick: I mean, I'm busy (laughs)
JG: Yeah, no no, we could all do with that time off, but-
Nick: I just think, it's a new challenge, isn't it. I've got less time to write a show, and comedy is all really about spontaneity, and to be honest: my previews go so badly, that I end up writing it in the last week anyway, or in the first week of Edinburgh. I didn't see my band before – I think we started on the Wednesday, and we did our first rehearsal on the Tuesday, before the Wednesday, with my band – that's the first time we went through any of the songs, and then we performed it the next day.
JG: That was for This Is War.
Nick: Yeah, and then, two days later, on the Saturday, we started getting reviews in...it's like: “We've only performed it three times...at all”
JG: Well, it gives it that rawness, doesn't it.
Nick: It was horrific. Just horrific. [pause] Right.
JG: Any anything – any closing statements?
Nick: If you don't like it, it's fine. You can still have a career without doing Edinburgh. You don't have to do Edinburgh. David Trent, for instance, didn't do Edinburgh for ages. He held off, and then he did Edinburgh. He's been going as long as I have, but he hasn't done Edinburgh at all, and then he did Edinburgh this year, and he got Best Newcomer, and now he's a thing – this is his job now. So he held off from...diluting, I suppose. He was just a complete surprise, he held off, and then all of sudden you go: “Bam, it's David Trent!” And you go: “Yeah, it's great. It's a bit like Nick Helm, but, um, with a power point.” (Laughs) Good for you, Dave.
But, um, there is something in not doing Edinburgh at all, but even if you didn't do Edinburgh, you could still get away with it, but if you love doing Edinburgh, you'll come back here over and over again – it's a great city, there's loads of exciting places to eat, and you don't really know – I think people think of it as a holiday, but unless you've done a whole month, and doing five shows a day for a whole month, and running all over town, doing like five-mile round trips to do all of your gigs – unless you've done that, you don't know anything. And when you do that, you just go: “This is amazing”, 'cos it's literally...a performer's version of Vietnam. (Laughs)
JG: Ha! That's brilliant. Finally: favourite place in Edinburgh.
Nick: Favourite place. Favourite venue I've ever performed in is probably The Tron, 'cos as great as The Pleasance is, they are all just rooms with black curtains, and The Tron feels alive. And maybe my favourite place to eat, for a treat, by like mid – halfway through week two, I'll go to City Cafe and a get King Rib meal.
JG: Ah yeah – oh, I don't think I've had the ribs there. I always get the cooked breakfast there.
Nick: Oh it's disgusting. It's not ribs. It's compacted, pork-flavoured meat, that looks like it's been sat on with a waffle-iron. And it's deep fried.
JG: (laughing) Oh yeah! No bones.
Nick: No bones; it's like a McRib...oh, it's delicious. It just tastes of what you'd imagine BBQ pork – like, that, the flavour of an imaginary...it's not actual BBQ pork, but, when you think about it-
JG: Yeah, it's what they think it is in a laboratory.
Nick: Yeah yeah yeah, and it's beautiful. That's my favourite. Or the mashed potato shop. I go for a baked potato-
JG: Pie And Mash?
Nick: Baked potato shop – I go, um – what do I get out of there? Just soup every day. It's brilliant. Oh, the other thing is, if you're fat, do Edinburgh – it's the best way to lose weight.
JG: That is so true.
Nick: I always do Edinburgh to get rid of my winter weight. If nothing else, I come out of it two stone lighter.