Unsung Hero: a behind-the-scenes look at the people who make the Edinburgh Festivals happen

This article is from 2014

Unsung Hero: a behind-the-scenes look at the people who make the Edinburgh Festivals happen

This week, The Stand's Kenny O'Brien: 'My wife’s birthday is in August, apparently'

What’s your job title?
Tough one: I’m area manager for the Stand Comedy Clubs and a director of Salt’n’Sauce. Tommy Sheppard (Big Boss) has taken to introducing me as ‘Operations Manager’. Not sure why or what that might mean. I work for the Stand.

So what do you actually do?
Tricky to nail that one down too: you with your tricky questions … I can tell you what I don’t do: I don’t book the acts and I don’t pay nearly as close attention to budgets as I ought to. I don’t run box office, IT or marketing. We have lots of people who are all trying to do lots of things and all at the same time.

I try and make sure we have the people in place to do the work, and I try to help them be able to do their jobs well. I keep people going and try to stop us all from falling out, or falling apart. I troubleshoot and problem-solve.

I’m somewhere between being a kind of glue and Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. I usually come tops in the poll of people you’d phone if you accidentally killed someone and needed help with the corpse.

I help make our venues as perfect as we can manage for each performance, move the staff and the punters into the right places at the right times. I also still pour beers and mop floors and empty bins, hump gear around and all the down-and-dirty stuff. I also do tea and sympathy and pecker up-keeping (of a sort).

Where are we likely to see you?
Running around York Place, St Andrew Square and George Street.

What’s your most memorable festival experience?
Things move from one thing to the next so quickly during the Fringe you don’t really get time to savour an experience: as soon as one thing is over you’re off to the next task, and I haven’t had the time to stop and watch a show in years. I catch bits here and there.

Most memorable is probably watching Simon Munnery cope with hellish illness by not giving up, but instead writing three shows which he would choose from on a day to day basis depending on how bad he was feeling. At its most crippling he was so medicated he could barely hold his head up and sat for the whole show, and he still ripped the room up. But never giving up, always finding a way to put on a great show. Everything Munnery does ends up amazing.

The biggest compliment I ever had was from a reviewer who said he always holds off of going to the loo til he gets to the Stand, cos he knows it’s the one venue toilet in Edinburgh he can rely on to be reasonably clean and have paper in, even at midnight.

The best bit of the Fringe every time is chucking the whole room out at the end of the Wrap Party, locking the doors and lying down on the grass for a bit. Then joining in the Afterparty, and the After-Afterparty-Party.

What’s the worst thing about your job?
Dealing with punters who just don’t get it. I mean just totally misunderstand the concept of a comedy club. Working 16-hour shifts for four weeks non stop. I also don’t get much in the way of a summer holiday with my wife and kids, but they do understand how hard and intense August, and in fact most of July now too, are. My wife’s birthday is in August, apparently.

Any plans for this year?
I want all our customers to arrive, linger and leave safe and happy. All our acts to have a good time, a positive experience artistically, and not go bust for the privilege. All our staff to have a pocketful of anecdotes and some wages left. I want the Stand to remain the best little comedy gig around.

I want the new stuff in the Square to go well: we’d like that to grow into being a part of the city’s annual calendar, something that’s a part of Edinburgh and feels like it belongs there, something the locals grow to look forward to.

I want to make myself unnecessary, have everything going so well I can spend a day climbing at Ratho, maybe with some of the comics who climb. Let them see the best climbing arena in the country too.

I want it to be my last Fringe. I always want it to be my last Fringe. It’s always just one more time.