Karen Koren and The Gilded Balloon
Congratulations to Karen Koren who has been awarded the Fosters Comedy Award – Panel Prize, which recognizes her huge contribution to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe as the founder of The Gilded Balloon.
Over the years I have done shows at The Gilded Balloon which, alongside The Pleasance, The Assembly, Underbelly and The Stand, has always been one of the five major venues on The Fringe.
Way back in 2001, when I was still working full time as a Telecoms and Data Sales Rep, I did a show called “Glasgow Smiles Better” at Backstage 3 in the Gilded Balloon.
Backstage 3 was a room within the old Gilded Balloon complex next to Wilkie House in The Cowgate that was destroyed by fire in 2002.
But, back in the day that bar area within the Old Gilded Balloon on The Cowgate was The Fringe!
It was where everybody went and hung out during the Festival.
We all got drunk in there, some of us fell in love in there, loads of us fell out in there but all of us met the whole world in there and sadly, as a social hub, it’s never quite been replaced!
I don’t know maybe the Fringe went all corporate. It’s more business than show these days.
No More Funny Business
Anyway in 2001 I worked for a company called Arthur McKay based in Edinburgh and this was the best job I ever had!
That was to happen eventually in June 2003, but the break that made it possible came in 2001 at The Gilded Balloon.
That year as well as doing “Glasgow Smiles Better” I entered a new talent competition organized by the Jongleurs Comedy Club chain who were looking for new acts to work across all of their seventeen UK clubs and you know what happened?
I won the fucking thing!
Some Essential Back Story
Now, this came on the back of my decision in June 2001 to retire from comedy. I had spoken to everyone who booked gigs and told them not to book me in for anything after Edinburgh as I was doing great things at Arthur McKay and thought, at the then age of 33, with enough hard work I would eventually make my way up to senior management level within the company.
I had already agreed to take part in the competition for Jongleurs but never imagined I would do well in it, so I decided I would do the gigs I still had in the diary, along with my solo show at backstage 3, and these would be my swan song!
But winning the competition was a game changer!
At that point I was effectively handed enough comedy club work to make a living from stand-up on its own, in fact the £30K worth of gigs I was booked into, dwarfed my £24K basic salary at the time.
I also still had my brand new company car, free insurance, tyres and servicing, as well as a free laptop and mobile phone!
I started gigging all over the place from early in 2002 and for the next eighteen months I didn’t even need to pay for petrol either!
I made about £60/70K in 2002, and we were loaded!
Be Careful what you wish for
Doing a full time sales job alongside a minimum of three gigs per week was hard going and I remember being in the doctors early in 2003 as I was feeling unwell from exhaustion.
The Doctor asked me what I was up to and I said “I have two jobs”.
He said “Who needs two jobs?”
I said “I do they’re both brilliant jobs”
The doctor said “well you’re fucked” (or words to that effect) “You will have to pick one or the other!”
I looked at the figures! I was making more from stand-up comedy than I was from selling communications solutions and so by June 2003, with a heavy heart, I decided I would leave Arthur McKay.
The very next day, after handing in my notice, I received a telephone call from Eva at The Stand Comedy Club, she said that a Lady had called asking about me doing a film for her and would I call her?
Intrigued, I called the lady whose name is Kahleen Crawford.
It turns out that, Kahleen used to work behind the bar of a pub, called Flanagans, in Largs in the late 1990’s, where I used to go and die on my arse fairly regularly, but by this point, in 2003 she was working as a Casting Director for Ken Loach!
Ken needed an additional actor for his new film and asked Kahleen to find; “a big comedian who tells it like it is” and she remembered me from Flanagans in Largs.
Kahleen called the manager of Flanagans and asked; “What was the name of that big ginger haired comedian who swore a lot?” and the manager said “Fuck knows, Raymond something”
She than called the Stand and asked “Whose the big ginger guy called Raymond who swears a lot?”
Well, Fuck Me! I am the One and Only!
The Stand said; “You must mean Raymond Mearns! We’ll pass him your number, if that’s okay?” and that’s how she found me!
I called her up, we had a chat, she arranged for me to meet Ken Loach and within two weeks I was cast in a major supporting role in the feature film “Ae fond Kiss”.
Ae Fond Kiss, was the first of two feature Films I made for Ken Loach, as well as dozens of other professionally paid acting jobs that followed and all the while I have been working on the UK wide comedy circuit and sometimes abroad doing stand-up shows ever since.
And it all kicked off at The Gilded Balloon!