James Alderson heads for the Edinburgh Fringe

James Alderson
James Alderson
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He is busy constructing a 5ft-high, fluorescent poster which he will attach to a board and backpack and then wear – sandwich board-style up and down the hilly streets of Edinburgh.

James Alderson

James Alderson

‘It’s what you have to do to get yourself noticed up there,’ he says.

‘I know I’m going to look ridiculous, but I’m used to people laughing at me,’ says the 40-year-old winner of the 2014 Best Comedian title in The News Guide Awards.

James is in for a punishing August in the Scottish capital in addition to hiking miles around that city wearing an oversized poster.

For he has been given the ‘honour’ of presenting his first one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

At the last count that amounted to an exhausting 32 gigs in 11 days, a list which appears to be growing by the day.

Admittedly, some of them will be short, 15-minute tasters at which he will attempt to lure festival-goers to his one-hour show in the evening.

But still, it all sounds draining.

Not for Denmead’s James though. You can almost see the adrenaline coursing through his body as he prepares for the biggest challenge of his short life as a stand-up.

‘I’ve spent a year developing this show - which, unusually, is all about my life.

‘I’ve tried it out at the Brighton Festival, Bath and Guildford where it seemed to go down really well with audiences, now I’m going to hone it some more in Edinburgh.’

The whole point of the Edinburgh experience is to prepare for a show beyond the fringe, to coin a phrase.

For on November 20 he has hired the Square Tower in Old Portsmouth to bring this autobiographical act to his home audience.

James is well-known to comedy night-goers, regularly hosting bills at the Spinnaker Tower and Barton Hall, Horndean.

But this show is different to anything else he has done since he turned to observational humour full-time in 2011 after ditching his career running a print management company at Denmead and deciding he could make people laugh for a living.

How did it come about?

‘A few years ago a comedy pal of mine said I should write about the horrible stuff that has happened in my life and write jokes about it,’ says James.

‘I thought that was a ridiculous idea, too raw to even consider.

‘Now life has picked up somewhat and those horrible times are still fresh, but memories. So I’ve taken his advice and written my first hour’s show.’

James, who lives at Denmead with wife Charlotte and their two boys Louis and Joe, says when he trialled the material he played to packed rooms.

‘They were proper grown-ups, mostly couples, I guess people who had read my flyer about me getting fat and unhealthy and fighting back middle age.

‘I didn’t really consider my marketing being something that attracted the right audience more than attracting AN audience, but it’s a wonderful accident that the explanation of my show on the leaflet naturally appeals to those in the same boat as me. It makes it easier for them to connect with my stories and laugh, or cry – as one audience member said after hearing some of the less happy stories in my show.’

But surely writing gags about your own life can’t be easy, let alone making it last an hour – 60 minutes in which you have to hold the audience?

‘It wasn’t easy,’ continues James. ‘I spend all my time on stage projecting an image of a man people can laugh at.

‘Most comedians have a personae that, while it includes some parts of them, isn’t really them.

‘To then write a show that reveals the real you is very disarming, and I guess quite counterproductive if your usual audience comes along and sees it. For that reason I’ve held off doing the show in my home city where I host a lot of shows and events. Until it’s perfect anyway.’

He admits he struggled in the writing and planning phase last year. ‘It’s coming together and I’m keen to preview it more and more including those 11 nights – I think we’re up to 11 now – in Edinburgh.

‘Then it’s full throttle – no more previews and a work in progress, and it’s back to Portsmouth and the Square Tower.’

He says 2014 was not his greatest year. ‘My previous two years of doing shows had taken off to such a point that I had started getting some great opportunies. I had turned pro after two years, and was gigging for most major chains. But last year I reached a plateau.

‘I remember losing my way. Standing on stage and taking it slow. Pausing. Contemplating. Becoming laboured in my delivery. I was experimenting. I know that now, but more than anything I lost the energy, the thrust of my personae and my stage presence.

‘From the beginning I was regularly told I look like I really enjoy myself up on stage. That’s because I do. Last year the mix of confidence, success, a little bit of writing stagnation and to be honest some uncertainty in where I was going with comedy meant my stage ‘punch’ went. I was very worried.’

But the magic of Christmas struck, a time of year James says he loves.

‘A few new bits of material came out of Christmas that became brilliant sections of my set, and my energy ignited once more.

‘ Only then did I realise what had been going wrong the previous nine or 10 months. Only then did I realise there had been a problem. I just thought I’d lost it, and started to worry comedy was going to fall apart for me.’

That new-found energy has carried him into 2015 and will now propel him up and down the hills of Edinburgh.