Physically we were few, but spiritually we were strong – those of us who braved the early morning hours of 28 August, scaling the steep and winding steps, defying tidal waves of social-media vitriol, to reach the top of Calton Hill in Edinburgh. We were gathered for the presentation of the inaugural Defining the Norm Awards, a celebration of comedy conformity at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe, where I led the austere, liturgical ceremony.
What became immediately apparent when I, the Reverend Wm. Franken – along with Archdeacon Scott Ambrose and choir director Cathy Hughes – arrived at Bus Stop ZG, across the road from Calton Hill, was a stunning lack of opposition. The online throngs who had threatened to show up out of spite were either sleeping off angry hangovers or had frittered away the time needed to prepare an original retort to a celebration of unoriginality.
Instead, we were greeted at the base of the hill by a modest gathering that included the most heretical free-speech figure at this year’s Fringe, Mike Ward, the comedian being sued by his own government for the barbaric crime of telling a joke. Mike in turn was joined by some French-Canadian photographers, there to document his part in this sombre ceremony many other comedians had for days been decrying as – sacre bleu! — a scandal! Another notable appearance was that of Miss Samantha Pressdee, one of five nominees for the coveted I Am a Woman Award. In fact, Pressdee was the only nominee in any category to appear, leaving me to wonder if the majority of the comedy collective had suddenly discovered the virtue of humility.
In time, we were joined by fellow comedians-cum-awards presenters Andy Zapp, Bob Walsh and Lewis Schaffer — the latter having recently pivoted on his admonition that I refrain from presenting the awards, lest I lose many friends I never even had. Shortly thereafter, we were met by singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked, eagerly anticipating her presentation of the I Am a Woman Award.
When the crowd had numbered around 20, the choir director distributed hymn sheets and we made our way up the hill, singing en masse those beloved odes to safe comedy ‘All Things Bland and Done Before’ and ‘Amazing Crap’.