It's well-known that comedians are liars. A story's at its funniest when it's been exaggerated out of all human proportion. Of course, all my onstage stories are true (see first sentence); it's offstage that I'm the biggest liar. If I see something I don't much care for I will say "That was really good" to the person that did it. This is now the default polite remark, because "Wow, how did you learn all that?" and "That was very ambitious" are now so utterly transparent. "That was really good" is simple, unambiguous , satisfying and vague. It invites no kind of "What did you mean by that?" It's all a performer wants to hear. It doesn't need probing.
Of course, having revealed this, I will now need to up my game to "That was really good and I'm not just saying that." It doesn't really matter how I'm couching it. The giveaway will be that I look relatively cheerful about the whole thing. If your show was actually brilliant then I will tell you so with the sort of expression most reserve for getting give-it-to-me-straight news from a doctor. "That was brilliant," I'll say, from the pit of self-loathing your show has cast me into. If it was exceptional you might not see me at all. I will have marched out into the street to smoke and cry and hate you.
The Fringe offers a million and one opportunities to realise that you are not as good as you think you are, and for the delicate performer this is terrifying. Every dark basement is a bear trap of ego-puncturing spikes. But stay away from the work of talented people and your own work will suffer. You'll be isolated, backward; left mining overused comedic lodes without realising how derivative you've become. You'll be like China in the 1980s. You'll be the Deng Xiaoping of your own dead-end Middle Kingdom.
Sometimes I wonder whether anyone will ever quote me as a comedy influence, or whether I'll be forever non-fluential. Uninfluential? Confluential? It's hard to be big without being influential, and vice-versa. I don't know who the biggest non-influential comedian is. I've heard it said that, in the music business, that place is held by The Stranglers. The Stranglers are the biggest band ever to be quoted as an "influence" by practically nobody. The Stranglers sound a bit like the Doors at times. But nobody else, at any point, sounds a bit like the Stranglers, or has shown any interest in trying to sound like the Stranglers. I reckon it's easier to sound like The Stranglers than Stewart Lee, which hundreds of young shavers are having a hearty bash at.
I'm saying this in case anyone comes to see my show and is stuck for something polite to say to me afterwards . If you just say "Wow, that was like The Stranglers", we'll leave it at that. You don't need to tell me whether or not you like The Stranglers. I like The Stranglers. That's all that really matters.
Liam Mullone's show, A Land Fit For F*ckwits, is on at Stand 4, 28 York Place, until August 27 (not 13) at 3:30pm. He will be lying (or possibly telling the truth) in The Liar Show, Riddle's Court, 322 Lawnmarket on August 11 at 8pm