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Edinburgh Fringe boot camp for Aust comics

AAP logoAAP 31/08/2016 By Lloyd Jones, AAP London Correspondent

Comedy, it's a funny thing, but at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe it's also a serious and exhausting trial by fire for Australian comedians honing their comic skills to try to make a career of it.

The Fringe circuit in the Scottish capital is like "boot camp" for comedians, says Sydney-based stand-up Sam Kissajukian.

The 30-year-old and his comedy partner Kyle Legacy, 25, have performed five to six shows a day for more than three weeks and admit it's an exhausting, though addictive, challenge.

For the Fringe duration they've shared a room in an apartment where three other comedians are staying, including one sleeping on sofas pushed together in the kitchen.

As well as performing their own shows they've attended as many comedy acts as they could in the myriad bars, clubs and theatres that host the hundreds of festival shows each Scottish summer.

Some big-name acts draw sell-out crowds to the larger theatres.

But many stand-up comics rely on voluntary donations after their gigs in low-ceilinged, ancient bars in the old town with its steep, cobbled lanes packed with festival-goers and touts handing out flyers to drum up an audience.

"I feel like it ages me a year every time I'm here," Kissajukian tells AAP.

"I improve as a comedian more so in one month than I would for the other eleven months of the year because I'm able to perform 100 shows in three weeks which is the equivalent back in Australia of about five months of shows.

"But it keeps draining from you so you end up hitting this almost rock bottom, you're empty, you have no fuel in the tank, it's just relentless every day, so you end up having to dig quite deep ... it stretches you as a performer. I think that's what we go for here."

Kissajukian, who started doing comedy four years ago after injury stalled his career as a professional rock climber, says he and Legacy use the Edinburgh Fringe as "boot camp" to push themselves to become better comedians.

The pair do a show called Comedy Boxing in which they invite the audience to suggest topics to joke about and to heckle them ruthlessly, so they stay on their toes and continually lift their game.

Legacy, originally from Liverpool but now Sydney-based, says he "bombed all over the show' at the Fringe last year but has come back with a vengeance this year.

"You've got to get that stage time to get better. I need the stage, if I go more than one day without gigging, I feel weird, even if I'm saying the same jokes, I've got to be up there."

The Fringe attracts a strong contingent of Australian comics each year and this year they've again punchlined above their weight after Australian Sam Simmons won Best Comedy Show last year.

Though Australians didn't win a top award this time, three were among eight comedians shortlisted for best show out of hundreds of acts and one was among six nominations for best newcomer.

Kissajukian says his aim this year has been to gain experience working with an international audience of all ages and backgrounds, which isn't possible in Australia.

"Doing the shows here you're exposed to so many different performers, venues, styles of comedy, you're tested.

"It's like a five-year plan ... making a name for yourself here, making connections with other comedians and producers and building an audience."

Doing constant stand-up, dealing with heckling and bombing on stage, leads seasoned comedians to develop thick skins.

"You eventually become dead inside, no insult can hurt you any more, it's very liberating in a way," Kissajukian says.

But he notes that the full-on, overblown environment of the Fringe with its host of egocentric and competing comedians takes its toll on performers.

"Maybe 100 performers would quit doing comedy at the end of this festival, it just breaks them."

Melbourne comic Tom Ballard, a nominee for best show this year, says he'd forgotten how exhausting it was last year.

"But it's hard to complain because you are surrounded by a whole bunch of very funny people," the 26-year-old says.

"There is something about Edinburgh that keeps you humble because sometimes you get a group of people who are not picking up what you're putting down.

"But you kind of just become bulletproof ... it just comes to the point where going on stage and trying to be funny is very natural."

Sydney's Zoe Coombs Marr, also a best show nominee, tells AAP the festival for comedians involves "a huge psychological build-up of stress that happens over a month".

The 31-year-old says she spent the last two days vomiting and when she did her first solo Melbourne comedy shows she developed a bald patch from stress-induced alopecia.

"They say it takes about 10 years to become a good comedian. You need to bomb enough times to not be able to count how many times you've bombed so it doesn't matter any more," she says.

Melbourne stand-up Nath Valvo, a nominee for best newcomer this year, developed a stress cold sore on his lip.

"There's something about this festival that makes you doubt yourself, double-think what you do, question every joke you write," the 32-year-old says.

"I think Edinburgh makes you think of the next level of stand-up, what you can push yourself to do. But when I go home I want nothing but seven days of Netflix and bed."

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