Someone told me about this yesterday.
I said: “Are you sure it’s not an April Fool prank?”
“If it is, it’s a day late,” the person told me.
And this is no surreal joke.
Just like my Frank Sanazi blog yesterday – which included Jesus Christ flying in from Glasgow for Hitler’s birthday – this is true.
I was more than a little surprised to see on the Chortle comedy industry website these words:
“This year we make explicit what we’ve always tried to do anyway, and promise to review any show that spends at least £250 on advertising on Chortle. To avoid any Daily Telegraph-style conflicts of editorial interests, we won’t make any promises as to which reviewer will see a show, when it’ll appear – or most crucially whether we’ll like it! And you’ll have had to have settled your bill before the Fringe, so you can’t back out if you don’t like what we’ve written.”
Each to his own, but I think once you allow people outside the publication (the performers themselves) to dictate which shows will receive reviews (by, in effect, paying to be reviewed) you have lost editorial control.
There is a story which is told about George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill or a variety of other fairly witty people in various versions…
There is a dinner party. The conversation turns to the concept that ‘Everyone has their price’ and the famous man turns to a lady sitting at the table and says – purely as a matter of intellectual theory, in order to spur the debate along – “If I offered you £10 million to sleep with me for one night, would you accept?”
“I suppose,” the lady says, laughing, “for £10 million, I would.”
“In that case,” says the great man, “here’s ten shillings. Sleep with me tonight.”
“What kind of woman do you think I am?” the outraged lady replies.
“We have already established,” the great man says, “what type of woman you are. We are now merely haggling over the price.”
There is no actual moral or logical difference between saying: “If you pay me £250, I will guarantee to review you rather than another show which I could have chosen to review” and “If you pay me £500 I will allow you to veto what I say in my review” or “If you pay me £1,000 I will let you write your own review as a press release which I will print word-for-word.”
By receiving payment to get reviewed, we have already established what type of editorial judgment a publication has. We have established the principle. We are merely haggling over how much it might cost to influence the content.
If an act pays £250 (for whatever reason) to guarantee a review, the publication has relinquished editorial responsibility by letting an outsider decide which shows (among so many others) will be reviewed. If a publication had time and space to print 500 reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and 500 acts were happy to pay £250 to get reviewed, then that publication would not be deciding to review any shows on the basis of merit or perceived interest. It would be merely selling space to acts to advertise their wares via reviews. Even if the act has no control over the content of the review, it has still turned an objective review into a paid-for advert.
Over the years, as reported in Chortle, some comedy venues have attempted to charge performers a fee to perform in their clubs or to have the act guarantee that a certain number of their friends will pay for tickets to their show – this has rather sniffily been described as ‘pay-to-play’.
There is no difference that I can see between ‘pay-to-play’ and ‘pay-to-get-reviewed’. In both cases, the result may backfire – the audience may hate the act or the reviewer may hate the act. But the principle of payment-to get-exposure is the same.
On Facebook, performer Richard Vranch has pointed out that the Chortle idea of being paid by acts to review their show is not new. In June 2012, Chortle ran a news item headlined:
COMIC TO PAY FOR REVIEWS
£100-a-Time ‘Bribe’ to Win Fringe Coverage
Comedian Caimh McDonnell was pulling a publicity stunt but interestingly called his scheme ‘undoubtedly a new low for British journalistic integrity’. In fact, to avoid actual bribery, Caimh said he would not pay the £100 to publications but – up to a maximum of £3,000 – he would pay the money to the Macmillan Cancer Support charity. Fair enough.
In May last year, Chortle ran this report:
He has been vehemently opposed to competitions in comedy, calling them a ‘malignant and destructive influence’ on the artform. Yet last night, The Stand comedy club owner Tommy Sheppard welcomed the Deuchars Beermat Fringe competition to his venue in Edinburgh, with heats in Glasgow and Newcastle to follow next week. And, unlike most competitions that keep the commercial side separate, this one insists that all acts must ‘weave’ the name of the sponsor into their set. But Sheppard told Chortle he saw no conflict as the Deuchars competition was across all performance genres: ‘We’re convinced it’s not a comedy competition,’ he said. ‘The majority of people taking part last year – and so far this year – are musicians.’ And the winner of last night’s heat? A comedian, Ross Leslie.
Paying £100 for a review… or paying £250 for the publicity of a review even though you don’t control content… or saying you don’t believe in competitions then hosting competitions which force acts to include brand names in their performances…
It all seems much of a muchness to me.
But, then, who am I to quibble? On my Facebook pages yesterday, I posted:
If anyone would like to give me £251 in cash, I promise to print the name of your 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show in my increasingly prestigious daily blog.
For a further £251 in cash I will print the name of your venue.
And for a further £251 in cash I will print the days and time of the show. Only cash. Only sterling. Only current notes.
In the spirit of Kickstarter enticements, if you give me a further £53.96p in cash, I will also give you a free Mars Bar on the final day of the Fringe. And, as an extra gift from me to you, if you pay me an additional £2,373 in cash, you can also appear (naked) in the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 28th August in Edinburgh.
I am awaiting offers.
Meanwhile, also on Facebook, iconic Noel Faulkner, the ever-outspoken owner of London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre, says:
There are a lot of talentless fucks worming their way into the business. When a comic sends me a list of credits and reviews and they list Broadway Baby, The List and all the other rags that send 20-year-old reviewers out to review, my first thought is You’re probably shit. I would pay these reviewers not to review my show.