Skip to main content

I'm really fascinated by the way people constantly ask me how my summer is going. I've never heard anyone say, "Are you having a good winter?" or "How is spring treating you?" But summer, and my participation and appreciation thereof, is constantly under scrutiny. It's a little alarming. I'm actually having a very nice summer, thank you, but being asked about it every two minutes naturally makes me worry I might not be enjoying it enough.

And that spirit of hedonistic self-doubt only intensifies as August nears its close.

"It's just so insane that it's going to be September," I overheard a tanned young woman gasp despairingly into her iPhone the other day. "I mean, like, I just don't feel I've really made the most of August."

Story continues below advertisement

It's funny how August is the month of the year that we all feel we need to seize and make the most of. I'm a big fan of September but am rather worried to voice this too loudly in public in case I am accused of some kind of contrary calendar insurrection.

And my subversive denial of August's all-conquering wiles is perhaps why I always forget that many businesses, including, rather annoyingly, my agent's, operate what they call "summer hours," which basically means you will have no chance of talking to anyone human after lunch on a Friday. Indeed, many of my friends don't have to go into work on Fridays at all, as though their companies want to give them a leg up on maximizing August appreciation. I had a meeting last week and was told in no uncertain terms that we couldn't have a follow up until after Labour Day. "You just don't get anyone's attention in August," said my colleague, without a sliver of irony. Some cultures take it even further: France, for instance, basically shuts down completely.

The thing is, for me August isn't an immediate conduit to kicking back and shutting down. Quite the reverse, actually. August means, and will always mean, Edinburgh, and the annual electric frenzy that infuses my country's capital as it becomes Festival City, the world's biggest celebration of music, theatre, books, movies and art of all kinds.

Just as Manhattanites have an internal body clock that triggers long-held associations with beaches and lobster rolls, I am taken back to rainy afternoons of my youth on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, in costume and character, handing out flyers to wet tourists for a show I will perform a few short hours later.

This year I am returning to the Edinburgh festival once again, 31 years after I made my first appearance there in a church hall at the less salubrious end of the Royal Mile. And as I ponder my return to the scene of some of my artistic crimes, I realize that this festival has been integral to my growth as both a man and an artist, and indeed continues to be so.

Lifelong friendships were forged there, short-term-gratification mistakes were made. I have met heroes and witnessed magic in Edinburgh. Nearly all of the greatest moments I've experienced in my life as an audience member took place there. I have sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale, but I've also played to a cat (really: we just decided to do the show as a rehearsal when no humans came). I first saw myself on the silver screen there and marvelled at how my nose seemed to appear a full 15 seconds before the rest of my face.

Most of all, invaluable lessons in the business we call show were found at every step. Literally. There is nothing more sobering than standing on a picture of your own face on a discarded flyer as you head to your venue to prepare yourself for that evening's show.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2007 I returned after a 16-year absence from the Scottish stage to open the festival with the National Theatre of Scotland's The Bacchae and literally set the walls of the King's Theatre on fire. At my last appearance five years ago, I performed my cabaret show I Bought A Blue Car Today and had the most meta moment imaginable: getting the audience to sing along to a song I had written and performed there 20 years before as part of a double act, Victor and Barry. It's since become a bit of a festival anthem:

Edinburgh festival

It's the one that's best of all.

If you're an actor resting, call your agent.

'Cause there will be a part somewhere

In the stage adaptation of Dr. Kildare,

Story continues below advertisement

Or a musical version of Where Eagles Dare,

Or something rude in the open air!

You can be theatrical for three weeks!

This year I'll be in conversation with Scottish literary legend Ian Rankin, to discuss my memoir. I will be surrounded by seething humanity, all of us bent on immersing ourselves in as many, varied cultural adventures as we possibly can. I will feel alive and young again, and as though anything is possible.

Because in Edinburgh, people really do know how to make the most of August.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter