Birmingham comedian James Cook has turned Edinburgh into a giant board game.
He is playing the Fringe Festival in more ways than one with his latest show, Always Be Rolling, about his obsession with games.
It will involve live action versions of the games Buckaroo and Hungry Hippos, but he’s also playing a wider game throughout August with his audience.
Solihull-born James says: “I did a show in Edinburgh last year and noticed that all the venues in the Fringe are numbered, with massive posters on the side of buildings.
“It struck me that Edinburgh is like a giant board game with these numbered squares, so I started writing a show about it.
“This year I will be hiding 10 iconic board game pieces around Edinburgh, with clues on where to find them.
“Everyone who comes to my show will get a copy of the rules and a badge that says they are playing the game.
“During my show, I will be playing the part of the donkey in Buckaroo, so I am literally making an ass of myself. Contestants place things on me until I buck them off.
“With Hungry Hippos, members of the audience will take the role of hippos and we’ll have marshmallows instead of marbles.
“I will also be revealing the variations I have made to games to make them quicker and more fun. I’m rather pleased with what I’ve done to Scrabble.
“I’ve been increasingly playing board games with my wife and my friends. We started with games like Cranium and Scattergory, the gateway drugs to harder games.
“Then I was introduced to Settlers of Catan, the first of a new wave of board games coming out of Europe in the 1990s.
“I own about 60 games, some of which I pretend are my daughters’.
“In the last 20 years there has been an explosion in new board games – ones you play on a table-top, made of cardboard with dice and plastic counters. They are much more fun to play than the games we grew up with, like snakes and ladders and Monopoly.
“I ended up going to the UK Games Expo which is held at the Birmingham Metropole every year and had a great time.
“I entered a competition to play Carcassone, an obscure German board game that involves putting tiles down.
“I entered expecting to come last, as most people were taking it much more seriously. But I discovered I was actually pretty good at it and came sixth out of 35.
“Board games definitely seem to be a resurgent hobby, even when computer games are so popular.
“I’ve never really got into computer games where you storm round buildings and shoot things.
“Board games force you to get friends because you have to play against someone else. One of the things I like is that you don’t play the game, you play the people you are playing against.
“It’s something different for people of my age to do, we have young children and can’t go out that much. We can play games with friends instead of talk about house prices.”
James, 37, lives in Kings Heath with his wife and daughters Matilda, six, and three-year-old Daisy.
Local audiences will be able to see Always Be Rolling when he performs it at the mac in October as part of Birmingham Comedy Festival.
He will also be doing his show Adventures on Air, about his time as a radio DJ.
But first there’s Edinburgh – and how does he make a profit if he’s not charging money for his show?
“Oh, hardly anybody makes money from Edinburgh, that’s a rule of thumb,” he says.
“I have a friend at the very top of the comedy circuit who put on a show at a big venue, sold £23,000 worth of tickets and still left £3,000 in debt.
“It becomes a PR arms race, with comics spending increasing amounts of money on advertising.
“But Edinburgh has opened up a lot recently through the Free Festival, which I am part of. A few years ago I couldn’t afford to hire a venue at Edinburgh, but we don’t have to pay those costs with the Free Festival.
“The flipside is that we can’t charge for tickets, but we can have a donations bucket to collect money at the end of the show.
“If you get a good show, you can break even. You still need to pay costs of living in Edinburgh for a month when the rents quadruple, and paying for adverts – it costs £300 to get in the brochure before you even get there.
“I couldn’t have afforded to gamble £15,000 on hiring a venue, but I can afford to gamble £500. It’s meant more people can take part.
“In August, Edinburgh swells to three times the size and it feels like there are far too many people in the city.
“But everyone is in a pretty good mood and there’s a great atmosphere. It’s also become incredibly child friendly.”
* James performs Always Be Rolling at the Laughing Horse at Bar 50 in Edinburgh at 1pm until August 23.
PICK OF THE MIDLANDERS HEADING TO THE FRINGE
Barbara Nice: Squirrel Proof
Until August 24, The Assembly Rooms, 2.30pm, £10.
The Kings Heath housewife in animal print will be likening how we battle to keep squirrels away to how we treat people in a feelgood, funny show.
Shazia Mirza: Bulletproof
Until August 24, The Assembly Rooms @ 5.15pm, £10.
Are words really dangerous? Can they hurt, offend and kill you? Can a laugh save the day? These are questions asked by the Birmingham comic.
David Morgan: Social Tool
Until August 24, Underbelly @ Bristo Square, 5.30pm, £9/10.
The bequiffed Solihull-born comic doesn’t know how to deal with the problems forced on him thanks to social tools.
Karen Bayley: Geezer Bird
Until August 24, Laughing Horse @ Espionage, 6.15pm, free.
The former teacher from West Bromwich talks about being banished from the Brownies and helping a premiership manager pick his team.
Foghorn Improv: Good Morning Campers
Until August 15, Laughing Horse @ Bar 50, 2.15pm, free.
The new show of Birmingham’s comedy group is set in Foglin’s holiday camp in 1950. They promise to entertain with games, stories and sing songs.
Frank Skinner: Man in a Suit
Until August 24, Assembly George Square Theatre, 8.45pm, £17.50.
The Black Country comic is not only returning to touring for the first time in seven years, but also braving Edinburgh.
Jay Handley: Free Comic
Until August 23, Dragonfly, 10.10pm, free
Jay lives in Moseley, Birmingham where he organises the monthly Fat Penguin Comedy night at the Patrick Kavanagh pub.
Mercedes Benson Presents...The Pleasure is Yours
Until August 23, St John’s, 2.30pm, free
Mercedes takes a break from shopping in Lidl to introduce some of her friends in this character comedy show from Gemma Layton.
Mickey Sharma: Sharma Sharma Sharma Sharma Sharma Comedian!
Until August 24, Laughing Horse @ Espionage, 10pm, free.
Mickey is a 31-year-old Indian, Pakistani-born comedian who now lives in Birmingham.
Music Theatre Warwick: The Improv Musical
Until August 25, C @ Chambers St, 6.15pm, £4.50-£7.50.
The University of Warwick theatre group put on an improvised show where the audience provides the ideas.
Ian Lavender: Don’t Tell Him Pike
Until August 24, The Assembly Rooms, 4pm, £10.
Anecdotes and Dad’s Army memories from the Birmingham-born actor, along with a Q&A.
Eric and Little Ern
Until August 25, Gilded Balloon, 2.40pm, £10-15.
The hit West End show, a homage to Morecambe and Wise, returns in a newly-extended version with more classic material. It stars best friends Jonty Stephens, from Mappleborough Green in Warwickshire, and Ian Ashpitel.
Old Joint Stock Theatre Company: Fragile
Until August 25, Zoo, The Pleasance, 9pm, £8.50.
Coventry writer Geoff Thompson’s new semi-autobiographical drama about his experience of child abuse, staged by the Birmingham pub theatre company.
Kiln: A Journey Round My Skull
Until August 24, Summerhall, 7.35pm, £9-12 and Lady GoGo Goch, 9.05pm.
The Birmingham theatre company present two new pieces, one charting an operation to remove a brain tumour and the second a musing on Welsh cultural identity.
Headless Doctor Theatre Company: Love is a Catskin Rug
Until August 24, Laughing Horse @ The Blind Poet, 2.30pm, free.
Winnie and Norah invite audiences into their bedroom to share their romantic misadventures in this comedy from the Birmingham company.