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Fringe Diaries: Routines

10/08/2015 16:49 BST | Updated 10/08/2016 10:59 BST

So here I sit, beneath the large window of a first-floor Georgian flat, exploring the corridors of my sordid imagination for comedic words of beauty. So far today I'm failing to produce anything even slightly entertaining. Comedy, eh? Successful writers say you should never work from a desk with a view and the view I have from this one is a huge distraction. There's a garden bursting with fresh vegetation and just beyond the high wall at the end of it I can see the sign of the local pub across the road. Distractions, eh? I'm so easily led. Yet I'm producing this which indicates a measure of work ethic - however slight - so I'll carry on typing and we'll all hope for the best.

I'm here in Edinburgh again for the annual festival and as ever it's a marathon, so this time I'm heeding the words a fellow comedian gave me just last week: drink less, sleep more. The fact that I spotted that fellow comedian falling out of a pub yesterday just after midnight - completely arseholed of course - is neither here nor there. None of us are infallible. But I am starting to worry about my own reputation as a drinker. At a festival launch party on Wednesday evening, the promoter Alex Petty quietly slipped a handful of drinks vouchers into my coat pocket while telling me "I know you're a man who likes a drink". Nudge nudge. Twenty minutes later the blogger John Fleming came up to say hello and did - and said - more or less the same thing. Well, it is true that I like a couple of drinks after a show and I am a bit of a night-owl but I never fall out of pubs. So I suppose I'm making a concerted effort this Fringe to restore a tarnished reputation. I can hear the happy sounds of festival frivolity which drift from the pub window into this window as I sit here tapping away. Yes. Clean, sober and disciplined.

It is better to be sober as I'm appearing in an hour of comedy and improv which requires me to be on stage by mid-afternoon and usually I've just about finished having breakfast by then. The show itself is a mixed comedy bill featuring three other comedians: Stephen Carlin (a thoughtful, sharp and funny Scotsman), Dana Alexander (outrageously brilliant outspoken Canadian comic) and Will Mars (a man with all the charm of Vladimir Putin sent off to work for a marketing agency).

The audience of Routines - you see - don't just get to see what's happening onstage (stand-up sets) but they also get to see what's happening backstage too. They get to witness all the usual rituals of making notes, memorizing material about to be performed, nervously pacing about and so on. We talk, too. We talk shit, of course - such is the sometime banality of what we do. But mostly we really talk. Not all of it is pretty but it is all very, very real. We talk about the industry, other comics, reviews just published, critics sitting out front, members of the audience - whether they be loving or obnoxious - and so much more besides. So far, it's been an absolute riot. Two women in the audience - utterly disgusted at the sifting of thought on their appearance and behaviour - have walked out in protest, while the head comedy critic of the Scotsman newspaper Kate Copstick (loved or despised - delete where applicable) has been subject to a detailed public analysis. Backstage voyeurism, eh? Audiences seem to love it.

One interesting thing is starting to happen onstage (well, backstage but onstage - come see the show and you'll see how it happens): the criticism of one another's work is starting to become brutal and oddly enough I find it all strangely therapeutic. There's a big debate going on backstage about repression. All character comedians are repressed, apparently, according to Dana Alexander.

I can't think of any comedians, stand-up or otherwise, who could truthfully admit to being completely free of repression. If comedians were truly free of repression, there would not be an inherent need to perform for the love of a roomful of total strangers.

And that, my friends, calls for a drink.

Matt Roper appears daily in Routines with Stephen Carlin, Dana Alexander and Will Mars at 3.45pm at The Free Sisters, 6-30 Aug. Free entry.