Edinburgh is to comics what the Holy Grail must have been to Arthurian knights. Many set off to seek their fame and fortune only to return severely disappointed.
Edinburgh though is a great opportunity to stumble upon comics you’ve never seen live and marvel at how great they are, as I did in 2007 when I chanced upon Hattie Hayridge and Mickey Flannigan – in separate shows I hasten to add. It’s also a place where some new comics, who can barely do a strong 5 minutes, nevertheless decide to do their own one-hour show despite the dearth of material, experience and stage presence they have at their disposal. The reason? The foolhardy hope that they’ll be discovered and find television glory as the next Jack Whitehall/Russell Brand. Mind you, the last time I advised someone that he lacked the experience to do his own one hour show, he then went on to be nominated for a prestigious award. So that goes to show how much I know.
Edinburgh is also networking central where acts stay out till the early hours of the morning drinking, socialising and catching up on all the gossip. It’s also a good way of gauging how far up (or down) you are on the comedy ladder. The litmus test is by noting how much other people blank you or insist at looking over your shoulder while talking to you in the hope their eye will glance upon someone more famous. By the end of the month, your body is usually so knackered, that most comics seem to be in some kind of vegetative state. I saw one well-respected MC so out of it, he was almost unable to speak while mcing a show on the last day of the festival. Not the most ideal of combinations.
Then there are the reviews. All comedians know if the show goes brilliantly, then obviously no critic will be in that night. If the show goes so badly, that when you check your watch, you realise with horror that you still have 59 minutes left (this actually happened to someone I know) then rest assured several critics will be in the audience. In addition, most comics will always, always concentrate on anything that could be construed as negative within a review no matter how positive the general tone of that review is. Moreover, some reviewers seem to have it in for certain comics. I know of one established act who was reviewed in Edinburgh one year in someone else’s review when they weren’t even up there performing!
Edinburgh is also damn expensive. The Festival makes a lot of money but invariably not for the comics. It is said the average Edinburgh show loses in excess of £8,000. I know one comic who sold out every night apart from one and still managed to lose over £8,000 such are the economics of putting shows on in Edinburgh. It’s supposed to be the Fringe i.e. cheap but stories abound of people spending thousands on PR and posters the size of an average London flat. As such, Edinburgh is in danger of becoming even more of the domain of the middle classes then it already is.
Fortunately there seems to be a sea change with the rise of free venues and venues like The Stand who make putting on a show in Edinburgh affordable to those who don’t happen to have a spare £10,000 to lose. When I first went to the Festival tickets were £3. I went to see 5 shows in one day. Nowadays some of the tickets for the Fringe are £10+. This is seriously going to limit how many shows most people are able to go and see. And at those prices people are less likely to take a chance on acts they don’t know. Most people don’t mind spending £3 on someone they haven’t heard of even if there’s a chance they might not like them. Taking a punt and spending a tenner or more on someone you might not like is a completely different scenario. As a result, it would seem that a lot of people are now spending money on acts they know (i.e. they’ve seen them on telly) and then go to one of the many free shows on offer. Of course free venues do encourage some, who have neither the talent nor the experience, to put on shows that don’t really warrant the name, but then again some of their richer counterparts have been doing that for years at paid venues.
Last but not least there is flyering. Flyering in Edinburgh must be complete anathema to any ardent environmentalist. Goodness knows how many Amazon rainforests are destroyed in the flyering frenzy that ensues to get people to see a particular Edinburgh show. I hate flyering so much that when I did my own little half hour show in 2008, I came back with most of the boxes of flyers intact. Anyone want one? (I have about 4,950 going spare). I did try and enrol my mother as flyerer in chief but as she tended to call anyone a bastard if they didn’t take one, I decided that this was probably not in line with official fringe policy (I didn’t check) and we went to a local pub for a drink or two instead.
Tips on how best to enjoy Edinburgh? Firstly, bring an umbrella. Secondly, accept you are not going to see everything you want to see, and that you’ll probably regret seeing half the things you end up seeing. A good way of getting to see acts is the countless compilation shows which are on throughout the festival – including those at the free venues – where you will see a plethora of acts – some bad, some good, some possibly even brilliant. The advantage of going to see these shows is that if anyone takes your fancy, you can check out what shows they are doing elsewhere. In 2007 I remember performing in one alongside Sarah Millican at Laughing Cows Edinburgh. Her show that year went on to win a top comedy award. That’s the beauty of Edinburgh; you never know who you might stumble across.