Doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick has an interesting piece published in Scotland on Sunday today in which she says:
“What is that sound you hear? Ah yes, it is the Spirit of the Fringe being throttled by Big Business. Not a nice sound.”
When Copstick presented the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards on Saturday night, she attacked the large comedy promoters and four ladies who may or may not have been from one of those large promoters (the one Copstick had just named a few seconds before) walked out.
There has been a lot of talk this year, as in many recent years, of the Fringe being destroyed because comedy has become Big Business. But, this year, it seems to have had more urgency. People are openly talking of alternatives, while the two young whippersnapper alternatives to the big paid venues – the Free Fringe and the Free Festival – seem to gain in strength each year. Why, there is even now an established alternative to the large corporate-sponsored comedy awards!
Comic, promoter and Malcolm Hardee Award nominee Bob Slayer, who performs as part of the Free Festival, tells me he was inspired to become part of the comedy business when he read Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. I think what may have attracted him was another excuse for excess.
At the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on Saturday, his trouserless crowd-surf and unexpected contribution to Puppetry of the Penis’s ‘hamburger’ routine was not out of character.
For ten years before comedy, Bob was in the music business under various guises, latterly managing Japanese band Electric Eel Shock. They and he appeared in the movie Killer Bitch, which may or may not be categorised as comedy, depending on the extent of your taste for oddity.
But Bob’s straddling of the music and comedy business – he likes a bit of a straddle, does Bob – has given him an interesting insight into the way the comedy industry functions in the UK and particularly in Edinburgh:
“The music industry, we all know,” he told me yesterday, “is evil, evil, evil.”
“What the music industry does is sign a band who sell loads of records and then the industry cleverly accounts so the band gets none of it. They steal your money, but at least they help you make it first; they steal money they have helped to create. Whereas the comedy industry dips directly into your pocket before you have done anything. The comedy industry is double evil.
“They have the same horrible accounting ways as the music industry. But the difference is that at least the music industry make the money before they steal it, whereas the comedy industry and in particular the Edinburgh Fringe industry – and it is an industry – steals it before the performer even makes it and there’s no guarantee you’ll make it back.
“They call themselves promoters but they’re not. They rent rooms. They’re rack-rent landlords. They rent their rooms by the hour and the minimum to get an hour in one of those rooms is £100… ten shows in a day and that’s £1,000 a day and that’s a minimum for a small broom cupboard and then that money is spent on propping up an unnecessary PR, propping up unnecessary posters. All of the Edinburgh Fringe is paid for by the performers.
“I think it’s institutionally evil. The individual people doing it believe Oh, we’re doing the right thing. They’re able to justify it to themselves because nobody’s making absolute masses of money. But they are taking money from people before the money is made.
“Comedy lags behind music. You had punk in 1978 and you had alternative comedy in 1981/1982… I spent the last ten years watching the music industry change because artists realised Whoa! We’re being treated really badly! We’re propping this up but we’re being ripped off.
“The music industry has turned itself inside out… Universal, Sony, BMG still exist but they’re more in service to the artists who say No. We want a better deal. You’ve had it really good for a long while but been really inefficient.
“The music industry used to sign ten acts, throw money at the wall and one of the bands might work. The comedy industry model is Let’s have ten acts give us all their money up front, then we’ll throw their money at the wall and one of them might work.
“Comedians are accepting this. What dickheads we all are!
“Music is evil but comedy is double evil.”