For lovers of lanyards and VIP passes, hanging around in members’ bars with Comedy Industry People, and shows by ‘Him Off The Telly’, this has been a disappointing Fringe. For lovers of creative comedy the delight of finding new favourite comics in strange places, and of managing a laughter packed week at the Fringe without taking out a second mortgage, it has been a joy.
We now have the absolute (if a tad unscientific) proof that big name comics add nothing to the Fringe. “They bring in the punters” people cry. No they don’t. They bring in people who like big name comics. And frequently, mainly one big name comic. People who come along, see their big name, and then go. As I say, they add nothing to The Fringe. Their fans do not go and see other, smaller shows. Because they are not comedy fans. They are fans of a particular comic. One day, when the comedy industry has the courage of its machinations, there will be a seperate Edinburgh Comedy Festival. And we can all stop pretending that we are all just goodnatured Fringe performers. The first venue to put tickets on sale was the Corn Exchange. Owned by Live Nation. Their having a venue here is like the Coca Cola Corporation having a stall at a Farmer’s Market. The worlds most expensive comedy ghetto is offering big names, short runs and (according to audience members I have spoken to) quite a lot of Work in Progress that is not progressing anywhere particularly funny. More, as they say, on this story later.
After the initial shock of finding the city so empty, the general lack of flyerers and street performers, the reduced number of shows and the absolute disappearance of the ‘industrial’ atmosphere have made for a wonderfully relaxed and friendly August. A Fringe August. Comedians are selling out their rooms every night, to genial audiences who are there to laugh. I have yet to speak to a single performer here who is not having the best Fringe ever. The PBH Free Fringe has somehow transitioned without missing a beat. The Blue Book may be thinner but it is here and in your hand. Extraordinary that an organisation which is run by a cooperative of (excellent) comics who all have shows themselves, can manage this on a budget of nothing when the Fringe Society, who have hoovered up six figure grants and interest free loans, plus various sponsorships, and fees from participants, could not manage even a short run of a rudimentary brochure.
It has been slightly more complicated to negotiate the getting of tickets and finding of times, we are all mask wearingly, QR scanningly Covid compliant but since restrictions were eased by the Scottish Parliament on 9th August, only Edinburgh University has made things difficult for the venues renting its property.
The ratio of open air bar and international artisanal food truck to actual performance is unsettling. There are probably three ways with sourdough and five beer options for every show in and around the University’s Bristo and George Squares.
But the show (hundreds of them) is going on. And, week on week, audiences are coming. Scots and English, at the start, but now people are laughing and we have not all been killed by the Edinburgh Variant, folk are coming from farther afield.
There are no prizes to chase so the comics do not have that to bitch about.
Shows are full. So no real fun in playing ‘my audience is bigger than yours’ this year.
There are very few critics around and no PR machine, so I have not heard anyone moaning about “How can that be a three star show ?” , “reads like a five” or, to me, the most irritating of all “Three stars ? What can I do with three stars?”. The answer to which I dare not write on a delightful new website like this.
It is not quite ‘like it used to be’. If it were, there would be many fewer stand up comics and many more individual venues.
But it is a glimpse of what it could be again.
More Notes from the New Normal Fringe
Here is a thought. From a Fringe which seems genuinely to be enjoying itself on all levels. As a fringe.
One of the Big Things about the Edinburgh Fringe is that it is not curated. You have a show, you have a venue, you can bring your show.
Individual venues, of course, curate their offerings and have their own agendas. Seems fair enough. It is not cheap to create a high end Edinburgh Fringe venue. Staff and infrastructure and all that goes with the bigger venues come with a huge bill. And performers are ever fond of whining to us how they pay those bills. Hmmm. Whatever.
What has skewed the Fringe, let’s be honest, is comedy. More specifically stand up comedy. Even more specifically ‘industrial’ stand up comedy.
I think we have put to bed the idea that a Big Name comic coming to do a couple of nights (or more) in a huge venue somehow benefits other performers at the Fringe.
And, let’s face it, seeing Big Comics live can be a big thrill.
But you can see these guys in a 1000 seater , or even a 600 seater, pretty much any time in the year. They tour. They used to call the big houses No 1 touring venues. They are for the big tours. They are (pretty much by definition) the very antithesis of Fringe.
So, as soon as I assume complete control of Edinburgh in August, the following things will happen :
- Of course it will be a non curated event. Relax. But.
- There will be a split, more along the lines of New York’s Broadway, Off Broadway, and Fringe. Which works beautifully for New York. They coexist. There is fluidity of movement between them. And, as I understand it, different rules for each. Sounds excellent. There is no necessity for them all to happen at the same time. We already have our ‘Broadway’ in the EIFF. We are simply talking about returning the Fringe to a Fringe and doing something with the Industrial Level who are currently bringing with them just about every problem that you hear mentioned with any regularity about The Fringe. And they are mainly comics. So.
- There will be no venue of more than a 400 seat capacity allowed for a Fringe show. Obviously a huge circus show has to go into a huge venue. Marvellous. The big venues (like Underbelly) whack up huge tents each year, or (Pleasance) take over some ghastly cavern like the EICC, or, most recently (Live Nation) just buy themselves someplace. Marvellous. Not the Fringe.
- Costs of bringing a show to the Fringe will be reduced. It is appalling that the cost of your forty words in the slab of the Fringe Brochure is the same if you are playing in a curtained off section of the Globe Bar or The McEwan Hall. The Fringe Society must change radically or be changed. It is basically a glorified. Overblown listings and ticketing office with a doubtful history of doing even that well. A decent working representative committee of performers / producers and venue owners is important, of course and must stay.
- Tragically even my benign despotry would fail before the might of Edinburgh’s City Council and its University. I shall have to retire to my terrifyingly overpriced August accommodation (something else I must address …) and think about it.
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