Edinburgh Festival Fringe guest blog: Comedian and writer Adam Strauss explains what it’s like to experience the obsessive atmosphere of the Fringe when you also have OCD to contend with.
If one could map obsession, trace its currents and contours like a meteorologist, Edinburgh in August would appear as red as the eye of a hurricane. Obsession coheres around the Fringe, accumulates in layers like the leaflets paving the Mile’s cobblestones on a Saturday evening.
Twenty thousand performers are obsessed with their scripts, their bits, their gags, their cues, their reviews and, of course, their ticket sales.
I’m obsessed with my shows too, but then again I tend to get obsessed with a lot of things. See, I have obsessive-compulsive disorder. My show The Mushroom Cure is about my attempt to treat my condition with hallucinogens. Without revealing the ending, suffice to say that while OCD no longer takes center stage, it continues to play a role in my life.
At root, OCD is an attempt to control and order the world, but one quickly learns control and order are rarer than a cloudless sky here. The hot air mass of 20,000 performers collides with the cold front of a million-plus punters, precipitating chaos, cacophony, and confusion.
It seems no matter how carefully you plan for the Fringe, things rarely go according to design. The “luxury flat” you rented over the internet at double the cost of your transatlantic plane ticket turns out to be council housing already occupied by a family of recalcitrant rodents.
The meticulously timed dramatic silences in your show are obligingly filled by comical operatic bellowing from the performer next door. And everywhere you turn, the hopes, fears, and flyers of the other 19,999 performers (to say nothing of the punters) impinge. It’s enough to make you want to pack up and go home to New York, which actually seems almost sane compared to Edinburgh in August.
But all the frustration turns out to be mere wrapping paper swaddling a gift. It’s one of those gifts you never would have picked for yourself, and in fact, if the distant relation who got it for you had asked, you would have said, oh, that’s very sweet, but no thanks, totally unnecessary. But here it is on your doorstep anyway: a reminder of the futility of trying to control everything.
Much like an overpowering psychedelic trip, performing at the Fringe leaves you with just two options. You claw frantically at some shard of control until blood seeps from your fingernails. Or you give in to the chaos, let it wash over you like a wave, and trust that whatever shore it carries you to, you’ll somehow manage to stand up, brush yourself off, and figure out where to go next.
And if you’re not sure, you can count on a guy with a flyer to offer suggestions.
Adam Strauss: The Mushroom Cure is at Underbelly (Delhi Belly)
The Sordid Sex Life of the Montane Vole is at Ciao Roma (283), 64 South Bridge
Read more from Adam at adamstrauss.com