Edinburgh Fringe Diary – Part One

Alec Gibson 20 July 2011

Trinity College’s Magpie & Stump, complete with Victorian stuffed bird in a box, is the oldest comedy society in Cambridge, and this year brings its popular variety-show stand-up format to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a second year from 22nd to 27th August.

Follow Alec Gibson’s diary as he documents the lead-up to the festival, plus daily entries for the six days they are in Edinburgh – to open, an intro for the ignorant to Magpie & Stump.

People often ask me where I get all my jokes from. I usually draw them a treasure map, but I’m pretty sure they must have all been dug up by now.

The average year for Trinity College’s comedy society – Magpie & Stump – begins just like that of any other Cambridge society: we get all the freshers drunk to their eyeballs, showcase our current talent and bamboozle them into giving us their email addresses so we can bully them into performing. Those who are proven to have low spam resistance are given a mere fortnight to write and prepare a set to perform in front of their peers. This is not long at all, especially given all the other things freshers have to worry about: settling in; inventing a new persona for college; trying to remember at least one of the names of the girls on last night’s swap; and learning that if someone says ‘dos’ to you they can now mean either a Director of Studies or an arts subject. Despite the rapid turnaround, I have witnessed some absolutely stellar first performances and, soon enough, new performers have survived their trial by fire and have been initiated into Cambridge’s oldest comedic society. Trinitarians have declaimed – whatever that means – in front of ‘His Majesty The Bird’ (read: stuffed Magpie in a box*) since the 1860s, and with a colourful history including appearances from Bertrand Russell and a disastrous attempt to launch a boat in an early bumps competition resulting in a mock ‘funeral’, the freshers have a lot to live up to. And without exception, they manage it.

The year continues with fortnightly Sunday gigs at 9:30pm, each offering different performers to the last, all with new material (unless you’re doing a PhD, in which case you can generally get away with recycling old material and having no one notice). Our home turf is the warm and cosy Winstanley Lecture Theatre, packed with about a hundred and fifty odd Trinitarians, all with varying levels of sobriety. In the (very recent) past, these gigs had simply been an outlet for budding comedians. And while it still serves as a safe environment in which to test new and outlandish material, it has also become an arena for honing our comedic skills, tightening up our sets and generally working our way towards performing in front of paying audiences (who are strangely only equally as likely to throw things at us as our regular crowd of drunkards). This comes first in the form of May Balls and then, like a magpie migrating north for the summer (disclaimer: this article is not ornithologically accurate), we make our way up to the chillier climes of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Having sold out each night of our debut outing (almost entirely due to the outrageous flirting of our resident Australian giant, or perhaps our turning the Royal Mile into a game show studio to play the devilishly difficult ‘how many magpies in the box?’) we’re looking forward to building on that. Now to nail that generic punchline about the deep fried mars bars…

*NOTE: technically, it’s not a stuffed magpie, just a live one who knows what happens when it doesn’t sit still.

Alec Gibson