The reality that many punters don’t realise about the Fringe is that most performers here can barely make ends meet doing their art. Sitting in a theatre full of appreciative mirth, it’s difficult to picture these artists being anything but consistently popular and relatively rich. Truth is, they live from job to job and can’t get mortgages because their incomes are inconsistent. As a result, they are often sensitive to criticism, whether it’s printed or personal.
Last night, I watched Adam Kay approaching a breakdown on stage. His show, called Smutty Songs, is as brilliant as his chosen genre permits. He starts off singing a familiar tune on the piano, with a new set of lyrics, until the chorus line turns on the most ingenious of puns. It’s a simple formula that works because Kay is never short on creative ways to deliver it. No song outstays its welcome and the pace never lags. There is lewd content aplenty, but that’s kinda the appeal. Most stand-ups would be ecstatic to receive as many laughs and rounds of applause as I witnessed. Some of them belonged to gloomy young me.
Throughout the performance, Kay was drinking wine rather heavily. He finished two bottles of white and brought out a red, sharing some of it out. He told us he finished medical school before deciding to become a stand-up. His mother hardly approved. The night before, Kay confessed, he received the worst review of his life. His mother came to see him and, at the end of the show, told Adam that she was ashamed of him. As the words trembled out of his mouth, the glass of red broke between his fingers and the shards fell to the floor. Kay finished the set regardless, with all the joy he could muster, but he was visibly upset. No wonder.
I began to think back to something a different performer had said on a different night regarding his dearest mother. Le Gateau Chocolat is a big, black, bearded man in tight-fitting lycra outfits and flamboyant make-up. His self-titled one-man show has been making positive word-of-mouth waves across the festival this week, and I was among those spreading the good news. The act itself is not particularly innovative. It involves a pianist, a cellist, and a beautiful set design recreating the changing room of a glamorous diva. The song choices range from Radiohead’s “Creep” to Madonna’s “Holiday”, and though the singer has a deep mellifluous voice to match his figure, I found my mind wandering halfway through most numbers.
What the show lacks in storytelling and engagement, it more than makes up for in personality. Le Gateau Chocolat is brimming with charisma. The buzz at the Bosco tent for the first ten minutes of the show was simply electric. In between songs, the artist talked to us about moving to the UK, and finishing a law degree, and how his Nigerian mother doesn’t know that he’s gay or a drag queen.
Why does the performer who keeps his sexuality and passions hidden from his parent end up being happier for it? Why does the one who invites his mother to see his show receive such scorn, despite the obvious fact that the majority of the audience finds his act so entertaining? Adam Kay and Le Gateau Chocolat are not pursuing money, but their dreams. They have sacrificed careers that society and the economy reward more often in order to create new ways of bringing pleasure into people’s lives, and being able to feel their work’s emotional impact. And yet, I cannot help but feel sympathetic toward both sides. Quicker progress broadens the generational gap. Telling your parents everything about your life is a luxury few of us get to enjoy. As far as I know, my mother is reading this and she’s proud that I’m writing anything at all.
Amateur Transplants: Adam Kay’s Smutty Songs. Written and performed by Adam Kay. Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh. 3-29 August, 19:00. £10-11.50 (£9-10.50 concessions) www.amateurtransplants.net
Le Gateau Chocolat. Performed by Le Gateau Chocolat. Assembly George Square, Edinburgh. 5-28 August (not 8, 15 or 22), 21:15. £12-14 (£11-13 concessions) www.myspace.com/legateauchocolat