The Gilded Balloon gave birth to my Edinburgh (and indeed UK) career. It carried me, let me grow in a safe place, then released me to the comedy world. The Gilded Balloon will always be my comedy mother, even though her womb burnt down and she had to find a new one.
Karen started everyone of us off at the fringe bar none, the gilded is the creative cauldron from which all the magic spell of the fest radiates. Happy 25.
My favourite moment was doing a tribute to Quadrophenia and diving off the balcony rail in the old late and live and falling 25 feet to be caught by the audience.
We were performing ‘Brown Blues’ at the lovely,intimate Gilded Balloon Studio Theatre in the 1987 Fest. That is, myself and the great musical duo, Barb Jungr and Michael Parker. One evening towards the end of the run, I noticed a guy with flowers coming in at the back of the auditorium. My first reaction was surprise that Interflora worked so late… In fact, it turned out that we had actually won the prestigious Perrier Award! Aided and abetted by Barb and Michael, I had the honour of being the first stand-up comedian to win a Perrier… It was one of the highlights of my career. I often wonder if incongruously it led to my being selected to support Frank Sinatra during Glasgow’s European City of Culture celebrations at Ibrox Park in 1990?
Oo, but Karen! You look too young to have a venue which is 25 years old! Congrats on 25 glorious years! Try not to burn the new venue down – and you might make it to 50!
The year of my first Edinburgh show, in ’95, I was performing in the upstairs studio of the GB – and every night I would pack away my giant keyboard ‘pod’ and rush through to the main house to sound check with my punk tribute band Beergut 100 before the audience was let in for Late’n'Live. Doors were about 1am, so we didn’t have long… and Karen would bestride the stage and bellow at us to hurry up in her own inimitable style. In fact even with three guitarists, bass and drums all thrashing away at full volume, we were drowned out by her Viking roar ” Riiight! Come ooaaan! That’ll DOOO!’
The Gilded Balloon was the place where I learned my trade..from my first nervous Late and Live appearances, to working with Karen on bigger shows over the years. GB holds some of my fondest Edinburgh memories, watching The Wow Show in the main house, holding Malcolm Hardee’s pint while he tried to do the ‘Hardee Leap’ in the foyer, to joyously cranking out my favourite punk songs with Beergut 100, every night til 4am. Although the Cowgate site is no more, the GB is the true spirit of the Festival, may it continue another 25 years.
Scene 1: Edinburgh 1993, I am hovering at the entrance of Karen’s office, she is sitting down at her desk. I have never met her before. She beckons me over with her finger.
Karen: “Sit down” (I sit)
Karen: “Tell me Colin, are ye still a star”?
Colin: “Well I ………
Karen: (butting in) “Och well it’s nice to have ye anyway”.
Colin: “I see I’m playing 23 nights in a row, without a night off”
Karen: “You never said ye wanted a night off”
Colin: “Oh well, can I have a night off”?
Karen: (she pauses, looks at me and smiles slightly) “No”
Scene 2: I saw her later at the bar of the balloon. It was 3 or 4 deep. She beckoned me over with her finger once again.
Karen: “Here I saved you a space, (she pouts slightly), although you have been ignoring me”
Karen Koren has diamonds on the soles of her shoes. She consistently unearths hidden gems and takes risks based on her intuition and irrepressible zeal for comedy and the Arts. She gave Corky and the Juice Pigs their beginning here in Edinburgh and I wouldn’t be the performer I am without her support. I’m sure that there are hundreds if not thousands more testimonies like mine. Thank you Karen and Happy Anniversary. Now-SHUT UP!
Phil Nichol (Corky and the Juice Pigs)
Warmest regards to the Gilded Balloon on its 25th anniversary.
The Gilded Balloon was the first venue in Edinburgh to take me in as a baby comedian and let me take all my first steps… My first solo shows, my first reviews, my first (occasional) sold-out night and also my worst ever death too, in the fresh meat slot at 2am at my first ever “Late and Live”.
Since then, of course, I’ve mainly used the place for late drinks.
So, happy memories and congratulations!
Karen gave me my first solo show in 2000 when nobody else would. One night the entire audience of 5 people walked out. The last one shouted, “You’re shite,” just before he slammed the door. But she still asked me back the next year.
My international comedy career began with the Gilded Balloon. That place kick started my love affair with Edinburgh and the Fringe Festival.
I have so many happy slightly crazy and hazy memories from the GB that I don’t know where to begin. How about back in 2001 when I first rocked up with three of my kiwi mates all dressed in cheap suits drinking martinis and calling ourselves the Brat Pack. ‘Young, Hip and Hilarious’ I believe was our tag line. Well we definitely got the ‘young’ bit right. A year later I did my first Late and Live. The first kiwi standup to step up to the plate. I took a New Zealand flag on stage with me for some reason. Hell I must have thought I was in the bloody olympics or something. I remember after my set a certain Kitson MC telling the crowd I was a bit shit. I was sitting back in the crowd at that point and so stood up and yelled ‘No I wasn’t!’ Yeah that’s just how I roll. No one brings me down without me standing up and disagreeing! A year later I was the star of the Free Beer Show. I must have done more of those shows than any other comic. God I love beer.
My favourite GB moment was in 2004. I went along to watch a line-up show at the Gilded Balloon wine bar. The first act was some incredibly dull American comic. He was dying the most horrible death and to make matters worse their wasn’t a single heckle. Just painful silence. I decided to take matters into my own hands and in a split decision I leapt off the balcony and fell on stage awkwardly laying their motionless like I had just committed suicide. The comic on stage didn’t know what to do. Ten long silent seconds later I sprung up onto my feet and started clapping. The rest of the crowd joined in. I saved the show but I’m not sure if that comic is still performing…
Gilded Balloon, you make people do crazy things. I will always love you!
Happy 25 years.
Congratulations to Karen on getting The Gilded Balloon to it’s 25th Anniversary. It’s a terrific achievement for all the staff, acts, customers and most of all Karen herself. I’m delighted to have been part of it as one of the acts, but more importantly as one of her friends.
Through the decades Gilded Balloon has always been the place to be!
The original Gilded Balloon was a dangerous fire trap, but Karen made you want to play there, even if it meant you could lose your life at any moment – I love Karen. Much love and luck for a great celebration, wish I was there.
My happiest memory of the Gilded Balloon was sitting with Karen Koren back stage at the old Late and Live show in Cowgate discussing how best we would burn the place down for the insurance money.
My abiding memory of The Gilded Balloon, although it’s quite a hazy one, was the night I decided to employ a new method of dealing with drunk audiences. I was booked to do Late And Live (Edinburgh’s infamous English comic baiting version of The Coliseum) and through a combination of terror and necessity, decided to get as pissed as the audience, (which was very, very, very pissed indeed). What a revelation. I was like your worst fight-starting psycho in Yates’s and I had a brilliant time. Every heckle was parried with a mouthful from me, of completely banal and filthy abuse. I had to have a chair on stage because I couldn’t stand up and surfed on a wave of ambivalent, homicidal love from the audience, loving every minute of it and forgetting all of it the next day.
The Gilded Balloon had guts. Gigging there was not about prestige. Late and Live could break the best the fest had to offer, but when work was done it was where any real comic went to play. It dared you to push it or die trying. It was dangerous, at times certifiably insane, I couldn’t have done what I did without that playground for the unwell.
Snogging my wife on the spiral stairs, the sticky wooden floor at five o’clock in the morning, Karen Koren’s perfume arriving three minutes before she did, the only gay eskimo, Chris Lynam’s testicles, sitting on the toilet hearing my name being announced on stage, Michael Redmond in a deerstalker, Kristian the doorman serenely smiling at stroppy customers with his hearing aid turned off, and Late and Live singing ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ with Peter Hook playing the bass guitar. Cowgate was magical when the night came.
I have countless memories of the Gilded Balloon – hazy as most gilded balloon memories are.
I remember how the bar area and backstage during late and live when it was at the cowgate was like a something Hieronymus Bosch would have painted, if he’d been around in the 20th century. For some reason one story which sticks in my mind, was of knowing a fairly well known comic was getting a blow job in the back stairs from a fairly well known agent, whilst his girlfriend was ordering a round of drinks in the bar.
I remember getting enormously drunk and leaving in the very early hours and watching Claudia Lloyd totter up the hill towards high street in her new red duffle coat and it was like a scene from “Don’t look now”.
I remember Fred MacAulay wearing a big spotty ballroom dress of mine and performing on the main stage. I remember this mostly because he has great legs.
I remember fidgeting with a kind of long leather pencil type thing back stage in the main house, only to find out it was the leather sheath that Chris Lynam used to put his firework in before he shoved it up his arse.
I remember hosting the SYTYF heats I used to compere in the backstage theatre, and it was so hot and crammed full of people, that there was a kind of steam rising from the audience. I also remember the joy of compering SYTYF the night when all the contestants were so bad that nobody won.
I remember Karen, proud as punch, like a big viking mother hen, coming on stage at the end of my play to tell me and the audience – I’d been nominated for the first stage award, and all blustery and loud and bursting with happiness when I won.
I remember Hank Wangford, thinking I was Karen Koren, complaining to me about the heat in his venue one night, and me, pretending to be Karen Koren, saying I didn’t give a fuck.
I remember going out to host late n’ live in the Cowgate and being so badly heckled before I even opened my mouth, I told the techs to stop the show because there was a c*** in. The lights went up, the c*** was ejected, and an impressed Michael Smiley complimented me on my eloquence.
I remember when taking a show to the Gilded, Karen would invariably complain that my posters were shite, would ask me when I was going to chuck my then boyfriend (whom she – of all people – complained was bad tempered) I remember when the show was up, and in the dark you would see Karen’s big Skandinavian hair and the feeling of great unbridled fucking happiness you’d feel when you heard her first loud Skandinavian laugh.
I think that for a load of performers over the years – certainly for me – the Gilded Balloon has been like some sort of weird family holiday home and an outward bound course where they deprived you of sleep and fed you with beer. Whenever I arrived in Edinburgh for the Festival, it was always the first place – always – that I figured I should be going.
Ridiculously I’ve always kind of felt the Gilded Balloon, belongs a bit to me: belongs a bit to all of the people who’ve performed there, who’ve drunk there, who’ve had great successes and unmitigated disasters there – I adore that when you travel somewhere else in the world and meet someone else who’s performed at the Gilded Balloon, it’s like you already have a common bond.
I find it impossible to sum up my feelings for the Gilded and let’s face it Karen Koren, in a word or a phrase.
It’s like trying to define wonder or excitement or maybe even fury.
What I do think is, that if it’s true that your entire life flashes before your eyes just before you die, I am really, really looking forward to the Gilded Balloon bit.
The GB gave my first chances to play the festival for which I will be forever grateful, the crowds there were amazing and I loved it. My only regret was accidentally asking the BBC’s head of comedy to participate in my show. Ooops. He wasn’t pleased.
My earliest memory of Karen is not so much of meeting her but being confronted by her. I was at a party in London for some performers birthday and I remember feeling this firm hand on my shoulder and when I turned round, this impressive and slightly pissed, blond Scottish woman said to me….’ I want you up in Edinburgh this summer’. and then just walked away without even introducing herself. I was quite new to comedy and I’d no idea who she was at the time and thought nothing more of it.
A few months later, Kim Kinnie, who ran the Comedy Store in London at the time, was bringing a show up to Edinburgh with myself, Jo Brand and Kevin Day and told us Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon had agreed to give us a nice slot. The name still didn’t mean anything to me because I’d never been up to the Fringe before.The day before the show was due to start, I walked into the Gilded Balloon office and was introduced to Karen. She just said…’ See, I told you I’d have you up in Edinburgh this summer.’…and then it clicked…the slightly pissed, blond Scottish woman from the party in London.
Karen and the Gilded Balloon ARE the Fringe as far as I’m concerned…..may she go on forever!
Karen, you and your Big Balloon have supported our genitals over the last dickade like a big pair of underpants. We thank you all for your warm welcome… and more importantly, your warm hands.
My memories are many, but sketchy. Puppetry of the Penis was actually conceived in 1996 with a an impromptu show in the lower basement toilets at the Gilded Balloon at about 4am with Jimeoin and Jim Rose convincing me there was indeed a show in my pants. 4 years later, we were back and the show played to enthusiastic crowds for the next 9 years.
“I don’t like your show, I think your dirty, but your nice boys, so I’ll take your money!” – Karen Koren – 2000
Simon Morely (Puppetry of the Penis)
We ended up at the Gilded Balloon on our first night in Edinburgh in 2000 (and every night thereafter) but we didn’t get to drop our trousers onstage there til the last night of that festival – Karen wouldn’t let us go on until then! We pestered her every night til she finally relented. My best memory of that 2000 festival came right at the end at the Gilded Balloon – watching Perrier award winner Rich Hall belting out “Glory Days”……. They certainly were…..
We ended up playing the Gilded Balloon for the next eight years.
Thanks Karen and all the terrific staff from the Gilded Balloon over the years.
Friendy (Puppetry of the Penis)
There were many times in the mid-to-early late 90s, when I would try to sneak into Late n’ Live without a pass.
Sometimes I even had one but I would try it out anyway.
One time I tried to get past a particularly large bouncer by saying I was Mike Myers.
Just when I was about to get the heave, Karen then bolted out and said, “He’s just a stupid comic, c’mon you” and pulled me inside. I’ve never been more happy to be a ‘stupid comic’ than at the Gilded Balloon.
My most outstanding memory of the Gilded Balloon was the last night of the festival in 2003. Or maybe it was 2004. Or 2006. I have no idea. Anyway, everyone ended up at the Library Bar, and at about 2am we started an arm wrestling table. At first it was just a couple of us, but it gathered momentum and became a bit like a scene out of Over The Top. I think Dara O’Briain was king of the table for some time. And Des Bishop and Henry Naylor were locked in combat for about half an hour, which is EXACTLY like a scene out of Over The Top. I’m fairly certain I lost to every person I challenged.
The Gilded Balloon is Karen Koren. Even though practically all the venues are shit, she brings an ethos to the festival that I would not do without (I really regret setting fire to the old Gilded Balloon). I will always stay loyal to the Gilded Balloon because of this…. See you at The Stand next year!
Here comes Karen, let’s go down the pub, deny everything!
The best time I had at the Gilded Balloon was when the fire alarm went off 20 mins in, like the pied piper, I took my audience into Bristo Square and continued the gig. The audience swelled and passing comics did a turn. No mic, no lights just the spirit of the fringe.
Stephen K Amos
In July 1993 a rail strike forced me to hitch-hike to Edinburgh where the Gadflys were engaged to play the Monday late slot at the Gilded Balloon during the festival. Within the first week we were given late shows for the rest of the run. Since then I’ve performed in 14 festivals. Congratulations Karen on 25 years at the Gilded Balloon.
Back in the mid 90′s I used to think Late and Live was like a time machine. Onstage it seemed as if my watch had stopped. That five minute slot never seemed to end. Nowadays its all so much more genteel. They should call it Latte`and live.
Having performed extensively at the Gilded Balloon in my formative years I feel that my career is inextricably linked to the place, much like Elliot was to ET. In fact, like the Gilded Balloon, I too have been going from strength to strength since burning out in the early noughties.
The Gilded Balloon has been a great melting pot for a lot of excellent performers over the last few decades and I hope it continues to do so long into the future.
I’ll never forget this time in 2005 when Karen single-handedly carried my grand piano up the winding stairs of the Teviot, tuned it, then made me a small Norwegian sponge. I love her.
I won the Perrier there in 92. They say your school days are the happiest of your life. That’s wrong, The Gilded Balloon days are the happiest of your life. It wasn’t all corporatized in those days. It had that amateur enthusiasm. I know everyone says things were better in the old days but they just fucking were. John Thomson compered while I changed into different characters in a side room surrounded by beer barrels. I had to run through the bar before I went on stage. There were seven people in the audience on the first night, by the end of the first week it was full. The Gilded Balloon Bar was the best bar ever. Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven! Oh god I’m starting to cry…
The Gilded Balloon has been the arena for thousands of amazing events. It has embodied the fringe as has the divine Karen Koren.
The heat – that’s what I remember – the heat in that room. And the sweat pouring down my face and stinging my eyes. And it was all caused by the audiences from the previous show, because hardly any bugger came to see us!
Karen Koren really does give a toss and that’s why the Gilded Balloon will always be the heart and soul of the Fringe
You know how a female black widow will entice a male into her web and certain death with pheremones. I’m fairly sure Karen Koren uses a bottle of the same pheremones when booking comics for late and live… And certain death…
You hang around the Assembly rooms to get seen by the industry. You hang around the Pleasance to get seen by the civilians. But you hang around the Gilded Balloon to have a laugh and get fucked up…
Every night on stage immortals were made and by morning revealed to be all too human and every evening made again over the course of that month, endlessly. Promethean it was. In a pre-digital age of excess, where nothing could be recorded only remembered (for those that do – hello!). We drew on walls with chalk, inside in dark caverns, lit from below with lights that sat in puddles. But they, the drawings, have gone. Of course they have, it was always raining. Even indoors.
Paul McDermott (The Doug Anthony Allstars)
There’s the Gilded Balloon. Then there’s everyone else. Logically.
Tim Ferguson (The Doug Anthony Allstars)