1. ARE THE QUOTES PRINTED ON POSTERS AND FLYERS TRUE?
After a fashion. The posters were printed way before the Fringe started so none of the quotes printed on them refer to this year’s Edinburgh show (though clever acts may have picked up quotes from their previews). As the Fringe progresses, strips of paper are stuck across posters and stapled to flyers. These are reviews and stars for this year’s show. The messier the poster is, the more-reviewed.
2. SHOULD I BELIEVE THE REVIEWERS?
After a fashion. Because of the size of the Fringe, many of the Fringe-specific publications have dragged in students and freelancers wanting an excuse to get free tickets to shows. Whether you are likely to share the opinion of spotty Kevin from Keele University who is in Edinburgh specifically to get drunk, get laid and score copious drugs is a moot point. The Fringe is a gamble.
3. SHOULD I PAY ATTENTION TO THE NUMBER OF STARS ON REVIEWS?
After a fashion. I have written reviews. Five stars probably means it is good but, often, whether a show gets five stars or four is a matter of luck, what mood the critic is in and when he or she sees it. A sensible critic does not want to give away too many 5-star reviews in the first two weeks because the standard has not been set. The difference between getting three or four stars can also be miniscule. If a show gets one star, it certainly stinks but that may make it even more attractive to the discerning Fringe-goer. In 2006, the actually very good late comic Jason Wood got a one-star review from The Scotsman and, the next day, plastered all over his posters: “A STAR” (THE SCOTSMAN)
4. ARE THE SIZE OF THE POSTERS RELEVANT?
Not really. The big posters are not principally there to sell the show to audiences. They are there to demonstrate to radio and TV producers and booking agents that the comedian is a rising act worthy of attention. They are also sometimes a sign of unwary acts getting the wool pulled over their eyes by their agents, promoters or managers, as the acts may not have fully twigged that the money for these mega-posters comes out of their own pockets and will almost certainly cost them more than any extra box office income they attract. Inside the business, the big posters are promoting the promoter as much as the performer: they imply that a promoter is Big Time – and the performer pays to do that.
5. SHOULD I GO TO SEE PEOPLE WHO ARE ON TV PANEL SHOWS?
Only if you are star-struck. They probably have five scriptwriters on each TV show writing their ad-libs for them. The spiralling cost of Fringe shows has, in recent years, meant people either pay to see ‘safe’ acts from TV or take a risk on free shows. There are large numbers of much better, highly-experienced comedians whom TV is too formulaic (and too Oxbridge-obsessed) to use. You may well be disappointed by the TV acts. You may well be very surprised by the high quality of the established non-TV acts and then, if they later become mainstream successes, you can smugly tell your friends in years to come that you “spotted” them first.
6. BUT THE PAID-FOR FRINGE SHOWS WILL BE BETTER THAN THE FREE SHOWS, YES?
Not necessarily. Unless they have stumbled on TV fame, most stand-ups are eking out a meagre living and, with the cost of an average well-promoted comedy show in a paid venue at somewhere around £7,000-£8,000 with no guaranteed box office returns, many struggling comics see no alternative but the Free route. On the other hand, there may be a very good reason why they cannot charge people to see their shows. The Fringe is a gamble.
7. BUT “AWARD-WINNING” COMICS ARE GOING TO BE BETTER, RIGHT?
Not necessarily. It depends what the Award is. Almost any comic who has been around long enough can pick up something which, with creative stretching of terms, can make them “award-winning”. I won a handwriting prize when I was 11 and, last year, won an award for being ‘Best Awards Founder’. Ironically, the award for which I won an award for giving awards was designed by a Ward – mad John Ward, currently of Lincolnshire. At some point, in a desperate bid for attention, I may well bill myself as “multi-award-winning comedy consiglieri John Fleming”. The Fringe knows no shame.
8. WHAT ABOUT THE PERRIER PRIZE?
Well, it no longer exists under that name and who knows what it might be called next year? The longest-running comedy awards with the same name at the Fringe are now the Malcolm Hardee Awards for which I won an award for awarding. Unlike competitors, the Malcolm Hardee Awards (three of them) are guaranteed to run until the year 2017 because that’s the number of awards mad John Ward made for me. With the Malcolm Hardee Awards, you know what you are getting… bizarre and original acts. That is not, however, necessarily the same as successful. Which is why the Malcolm Hardee Awards now also include an ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award.
Look, in Edinburgh, the most important thing of all is self-publicity. What do you expect?
9. SO SHOULD I BELIEVE ANY OF THESE ANSWERS?
After a fashion. The Fringe is a gamble.
10. WILL IT RAIN IN EDINBURGH THIS YEAR?
Is the Pope a Catholic?
One response to “Ten questions asked by punters about Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows”
I do love the Fringe, and wish I had August off work, and could just mooch around Edinburgh for the full month. However, like many others, I have to make my best educated guess on acts to see on the few nights I do get to indulge. Due to this, I don’t want to take too many risks on shows that may frankly be shite.
I’ve had some great experiences with relatively unknown comics, and big names alike, such as Johnny Vegas (threw up on stage), Tim Minchin, John Pinette and Richard Herring.
I’d definitely be interested in your recommendations for this year, as my friends are relying on me to pick the bookings.
PS. I find safe bet is to book tickets for one of the “Best of the Fest” shows, where a medley of acts perform between midnight and 1AM. This can save a night that might otherwise have turned out badly.