First of all, think of it not from your viewpoint but from the viewpoint of the punters and the reviewers.
In my opinion, you should have a title which starts in the first half of the alphabet.
ZEBRA JOKES FOR FOLKS may seem like a good title, but punters looking through the Fringe Programme start at the front and work through looking for attractive shows. So they go A-B-C-D-E etc etc.
By the time they get to M or N, after literally hundreds of shows, they are starting to skim the listings, their eyes are glazing over and the time slots they want to fill-up already have multiple shows vying for their attention. By the time they get to Z, they probably wish they had never had the idea of going to the Edinburgh Fringe in the first place..
For this reason, the late Malcolm Hardee used to start his titles with Aaaaargh!… increasing the length of the Aaaaaaaarghs year-by-year to out-manoeuvre copycats.
He was almost always first in the Fringe Programme’s comedy section listings.
Don’t go for Aaaaaaargghh! The market for it is already full. But I suggest you have a first word which starts with a letter between A and M.
Using the title A ZEBRA SHOW probably will not work because A and THE tend to be ignored by the Programme’s alphabetical listers.
Also, in my opinion, you should have your name in the title because, ultimately, the reason you are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is to sell yourself and awareness of yourself to punters and to the media – NOT primarily the show.
Jonathan Ross first became famous on the Channel 4 show THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS.
No-one knew who the fuck Jonathan Ross was when it started (not the punters; not TV industry people) but, because the show was good, they inevitably got to know his name. Every time the show was mentioned or printed, his name was publicised because it was in the title.
Another important thing is DO NOT BE TOO CLEVER with a title. Achieving impact is more important than being seen to be clever-clever. The more clever a title is, very often the more confusing, obscure and – when glimpsed for 1½ seconds on a flyer or in the very cluttered listings page in the Programme – possibly the more incomprehensible it is – especially to people from the US, Oz, Europe etc. The dividing line between being intriguing and confusing & annoying is narrow.
You only have 1 to 1½ seconds at very most for the title to register in people’s brains as they skim through listings, see your flyer among many or see your poster among many 15 feet away across a street.
KISS – Keep It Simple, Sucker.
The other thing to remember is that, in lists of “Today’s Shows” – either in The Scotsman newspaper or on a board at the venue or elsewhere – the punters only see the title in isolation – they may well NOT have read your 40 carefully-crafted words in the Fringe Programme. So your sole sales pitch to the punters who have never heard of you and who have no idea what your show is about is the title.
My inclination would be to figure out what TYPE of comedy show it is going to be.
Then figure out three words which make that obvious.
Then make them jolly and attractive (no easy feat).
And mix your name in there somehow.
I know that, when the Fringe Programme deadline comes, you will almost certainly have very little idea what is actually going to be in your show. But is it satire? Quick fire gags? Stories? Autobiographical? Physical comedy? Gay? Variety? Sketch? Surreal? Rude? Clean? Cutting-edge? Clowny? Family?
As a punter, if I see a general show title from a performer I have not seen, I have no idea what the show is like. It could be any of the above categories. If it is in a simple Daily Listing in a paper, in a magazine or on a board, there is not even a flyer or poster image. Just the title.
So the title on its own has to tell the punters – or at least hint – what TYPE of comedy show it will be.
Someone like Jimmy Carr does not need to do this. Because people know what to expect. They know who Jimmy Carr is and they know he is not a comedy magician or a juggler or a drag act.
Someone like Janey Godley can get away with titles using puns on her name because she has a big existing audience in Edinburgh. So For Godley’s Sake! will work for her. The word GODLEY will get in her dependable audience.
But, the punters probably have no idea who you are – it is your first Fringe show. Remember that, defying expectations, a large percentage of your audience is likely to be local NOT from London. All the Fringe Office research I have ever seen seems to confirm this.
Another bonus to a clearly-defined title is that the title – as well as helping the punters know roughly what your show is about – will actually concentrate your own mind on exactly what the show is about and will stop you whizzing off in all sorts of irrelevant directions. Everything in the show should relate directly to the title.
And don’t use meaningless words – every word has to actually mean something. This is more important in the text rather than the title, but…
“Hilarious” and “rib-tickling” mean bugger-all.
Your show is in the Comedy section fer feck’s sake. Every show can say it is “hilarious”. What is your show’s Unique Selling Proposition? Why is it better and more interesting that the other zillions of comedy shows yelling for attention?
Meaningless words like “wacky” and “zany” are actually suicidal. If any experienced reviewer sees those words in the description, it screams “18-year-old University student wankers who think they are funny and want to be famous and fêted”. It is like people putting up signs saying: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.
These “wacky” and “zany” shows are almost guaranteed to be laughter disasters. I would personally avoid like the plague seeing any show describing itself as “wacky” or “zany” and I would be more likely to go see a comedy show calling itself “Satanic” than one claiming it is “hilarious”.
In my opinion.
But that don’t mean a thing.
The other vitally important factor to bear in mind is the oft-repeated refrain from William Goldman’s book Adventures in The Screen Trade – “Nobody KNOWS anything”.
However experienced or knowledgable anyone is, they don’t KNOW what will work.
You have to ultimately go on your gut instinct, have self-confidence and ignore any advice you think is wrong.
Don’t forget you can probably change the name of your show either until you submit it or until the final deadline for the Fringe Programme (both have been the case in past years) or until some arbitrary date that the Fringe Office may conjure up.
Because, just as this may be your first year at the Fringe, so it is for a lot of the people working for the Fringe Office, many of whom change from year to year.
2012 was the year poor Richard Herring had his show asterisked TALKING C*CK despite the fact that the origin of the word ‘cock’ in that phrase is not sexual (it comes from ‘cock & bull story’) and despite the fact that his original show TALKING COCK had been printed in the Fringe Programme with impunity ten years before, in 2002.
In 2009, I staged a show which the Fringe Programme had happily printed as AAAAAAAAAARRGHHH! IT’S BOLLOCK RELIEF! – THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD SHOW. They would never have allowed that in 2012 and that had nothing to do with changing public taste but with individual stupidity in the Fringe Office.
Never assume anyone anywhere in Edinburgh in August is sensible.
2012 was the year the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PRICK was UNacceptable by the Fringe Office but the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PR!CK was totally acceptable (with an exclamation mark replacing the I)… and Australian comedian Jon Bennett intended to perform his first Edinburgh Fringe show: PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK.
The show’s title had been printed in full without any problem in the brochures for the Adelaide Fringe, the Edmonton International Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Montreal Fringe and the Vancouver International Fringe. But the Edinburgh Fringe Office that year insisted the word COCK had to be changed to C*CK.
To make matters even more ludicrous, the word had to be printed C*CK in the Programme listings, but the image for the show (also printed in the Programme) had the word COCK rising erect from a man’s groin.
The same Programme happily printed the show title MOLLY WOBBLY’S TIT FACTORY, a show by KUNT AND THE GANG and Reginald D Hunter’s show WORK IN PROGRESS…AND NIGGA while banning another comedian’s show title because it included three dollar signs in a row – $$$ – which, it was claimed, did not fit ‘the Fringe’s house style’.
Always assume that everyone in Edinburgh in August is on some hallucinogenic drug or has a severe personality disorder. This assumption has served me well.
Never assume anything at the Fringe is easy or anyone is sane.
Most importantly, do remember that the title of your show is all about self-promotion, not necessarily about the show itself.
One template which I do recommend for any Edinburgh Fringe show title is:
AAAAAAARGH! I LISTENED TO JOHN FLEMING AND THAT IS WHY I, (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE), HAVE THIS CRAP TITLE FOR MY (INSERT YOUR GENRE HERE) COMEDY SHOW.