The serious subject of performing a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Yesterday, someone asked me for advice about their next Edinburgh Fringe comedy show.

The Fringe does not start until next August, but now is the time people begin their preparation.

His problem was that he had a factually-based one-hour show and has fallen out with his on-stage partner. It happens. Fortunately, the person asking me had written the entire show on his own, otherwise there might have been tears over ownership.

“My show is written for two people” he told me. “It’s written for me and a sidekick/straight man. How do I translate that into just me? How would Eric do his act without Ernie? I don’t think I’m gonna find another partner in time. And the show is funny but factually-based. It’s going to end up sounding/feeling like a talk/lecture. How do I manage to keep the thing bubbling?”

“Well,” I suggested. “It’s already a show about true facts. You could tell the truth, say there was going to another person and it fell through. Then you play both parts straight but, in the way you tell the story and in the nature of playing two parts straight, it will be funny. The fact that the other guy is not appearing becomes part of the show, another layer, a sub-plot, added texture.”

“But how do I actually physically perform it?” the newly-solo act asked me.

“Just as a monologue,” I suggested. “Or you could do the old Tommy Cooper thing of literally wearing two different hats, depending on which person you are. That might get a bit tiresome over 55 minutes… Or it might work.

“Personally, I think you should just do it as a talk/lecture. It is the style and personality that makes it interesting. All one-hour stand-up shows are really just lectures made funny by the personality of the performer.

“If you have a one-hour comedy show, it has to be about one central thing, unless you’re a brilliant gag-machine act like Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones or Tim Vine.

“Most of the really creatively successful Edinburgh shows since 2004 (I date everything from Janey Godley’s jaw-dropping confessional Edinburgh Fringe show Good Godley!) have been about one aspect of the performer’s life or a series of anecdotes strung together with one central thread running through.

“That’s the difference between a comedy act that can last 20 minutes in a club (a series of unconnected gags) and a comedy show that lasts 55 minutes (smoothly-linked anecdotes that have an over-all subject and shape).

“In your case, you already have the subject. The trick in an hour-long Edinburgh Fringe show is not to find enough gags to fill-up 55 minutes. The trick is to find one story that will last 55 minutes and which, in the telling, will be incidentally funny at regular intervals.

“You should see one of Janey Godley’s shows,” I suggested. “She is possibly the best storyteller I have ever seen and I have seen a few. A lot of other comedians do not understand why she gets such totally OTT rave review quotes for her shows because, as fellow performers on a bill with her at some club, they have only ever seen little bits and pieces of her club act. She doesn’t really do traditional gags. She does personality. She does very good 20 or 30 minute spots, but her real forte is 60 or 90 minute shows.

“And the fascinating thing about her full-length shows is that there is almost nothing ‘funny’ in them at all. The subjects are all serious and very often horrendously sad. But her personality and storytelling makes them very, very funny. I don’t think of her as a stand-up comic. She is a very, very funny storyteller. It’s that Frank Carson line – It’s the way you tell ‘em.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the worried performer said, “You go on about Janey and she may be brilliant. But what do you yourself actually know about performing an Edinburgh show?”

“Nothing,” I admitted. “But most people don’t notice.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Theatre

One response to “The serious subject of performing a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe

  1. Mike Taylor

    As someone who hasn’t done more than one gig in 12 months, (and that was MCing for a couple Ed previews so 10 minutes or so max) and I’ve never done an Ed show before I found this artical very interesting. The other month the excellent Scots Comic Chris Henry stayed over at myt place after a gig. Over a couple of bottles of wine he persuaded me that I should do an Edinburgh show based on my divorce, the reasons for it and the relationship(s) that came about from it.

    In the cold light of day I decided it was a good idea and started on it that evening, various friends were encouraging about it so I went for it. I’m not going to do it until 2013 as i want to get warmed back up into stand up and get it right. Your blogs are often facinating and informative, I’ll definitely catch Jane Godley on your recomendation. I’ve just ordered Stewart Lee’s ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate’, I understand it’s very good on how to structure a show, any other suggestions would be very handy thanks.

    Mike

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