August 1977. I am huddled in the toilet of a primary school with four friends. We are wearing coloured wigs and feeling very excited because in half an hour we will burst on stage for our first-ever performance on the Edinburgh Fringe.
The whole exhausting, exhilarating adventure has all been leading up to this astounding night, when the world will first become aware of how fabulously funny we five students from the University of East Anglia really are. Bring it on!
Three people turned up to the Darroch School hall that night – my brother, his girlfriend and a friend from Norwich. At one point in the revue – what we now call “sketch show” – we dragged punters up from the audience, so any latecomer would have walked in to see eight people dancing to 100 empty seats.
Afterwards, feeling utterly defeated, I announced I was going straight back to London but was eventually talked round by my mates. They must have been persuasive because 37 years later here I still am – long after they bagged up their wigs and got proper jobs.
I love this festival. It is one of the world’s great parties, an orgy of self-expression that encourages experimentation and welcomes the amateur performer as well as the professional. Where else would I see a naked man in a pond reciting Sylvia Plath, a Japanese Macbeth with abseiling thrown in, or Simon Munnery making Kierkegaard funny? And where else would I get arrested at 4am for “breach of the peace and possession of a megaphone”?
Over those Augusts I have presented a whole range of stuff including plays, stand-up shows, outdoor gigs, interpretations of Swan Lake and Hamlet, an art exhibition, a drunken chat show and an annual late night tour of the Royal Mile (the scene of the megaphone incident). This year I am doing a show that evolved over several festivals into Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Two). I am slightly ashamed to confess it is the same show I did last year but people liked it and I love doing it. I promise something new next year. Maybe it is time to unleash my dance spectacular . . .
Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen (Volume Two) is at the Pleasance from August 15-24 at 2pm