This year sees the 25th anniversary of Late ‘n’ Live, the anarchic late night/early morning Edinburgh Festival show. Or ‘The Bear Pit’ as it is more fittingly known. Three comedians, one compere and a room full of drunken hecklers going at it gloves off between the witching hours of 1am and 5am for three weeks. Most British comedians have been through this particular mill including Tommy Tiernan, Jason Byrne, Daniel Kitson, Johnny Vegas, Jenny Éclair, Dara O’Briain, Russell Brand and errr….Russell Howard.
All have their own mental scars to share. Johnny Vegas put it “Doing Late ‘n’ Live is the performing equivalent of self-harm.” And he’s not wrong. Its sink or swim and the best not only survive but turn the tide. The weak however, are dispatched with horrifying efficiency.
Simon Munnery was describing the worst gig of his life during an interview on Radio 4 recently. Unsurprisingly he cited Late ‘n’ Live in Edinburgh in August 2002, when he had attempted to abbreviate his League of Tedium show to fit in with the fast and furious stand-up crowd. A decision that he got so wrong, it very nearly led to his crucifixion. How do I know? Because it was me and my mob that led the pitch-forking of him that night.
It had been a long summer working on a river in the Scottish Borders. Standing knee deep in water hitting things with a hammer and being bitten by midges. Heading up to Edinburgh with our wages we crashed out in the flat of a horrified bloke called Neil that one of us knew. We were rarely sober, rarely clean but did have four magic press passes for the festival that we’d blagged off a woman we knew. This kept Neil happy for about five days until suggested that we have a final night out before he “really needed some peace to get on with his studies”.
The tension began to rise. “Tell us a joke that’s funny you cunt!” came the first offering from our party.
The inevitable and highly predictable hose up culminated in us blagging our way into Late ‘n’ Live and we headed up the steps onto the balcony just as Munnery was taking the stage. We could only catch glimpses of his avant-garde show through the impenetrable crowd of bodies in front of us as he pirouetted around the stage shaking a tinsel wand and making weak jokes. The tension began to rise. “Tell us a joke that’s funny you cunt!” came the first offering from our party. Chuckles across the still largely quiet room. “You’re doing visual comedy and I can’t see! You cunt!” More mirth and a few claps. A clearly perturbed Munnery started a monologue about what Jesus was thinking about on the cross. “You’re not funny and you’re a cunt!” came the immediate response from my group of balcony-based art & culture critics. Worryingly the 500 or so punters in there with us started to agree. Throaty heckles and boo-ing rose like a dirty great wave across the room. “Crucify him!” came the call. At which point all hell broke loose. The room erupted into a ferocious explosion of expletives and thrown stuff. Munnery immediately made his excuses and ran off stage, only to then foolishly attempt to return. At which point the whole crowd started chanting “Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!” and screaming threats. Sensibly he sought refuge in the wings.
Order was then restored when genial compere Jason Byrne (or was it Ed?) came out and started telling passive jokes about how hilly Edinburgh was or something. Unfortunately one of our lot hadn’t noticed the quietness in the room and still unable to see properly forced his way through the crowd to the front of the balcony before unleashing a hugely primal and very loud “Cuuuuuuuuuunt!” at the bemused Irishman. Cool as ever, he turned and remarked “One of Simon Munnerys fans still here then?” This humiliation neatly sounded the bell on our night of drinking and hate and also Simon Munnerys Late ‘n’ Live hell.
Unlike Munnery, late ‘n’ Live survived and goes from strength to strength. With the introduction of live streaming it can now be enjoyed out of the confines of the physical bear pit. But it’s still as fierce as ever. Just ask Jenny Éclair who once remarked “I don’t know why I did Late ’n’ Live. There was no polite ignoring of the act, I mean, it was full on ‘fuck off’, ‘get off’, ‘fuck off’. I would more or less break out into a sprint from the wings to the microphone because, if I didn’t get that microphone within point three seconds, they would start.” Or if you were Simon Munnery, it would be point one of a second and quite right too. Long Live Late ‘n’ Live.
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