A couple of days ago, I re-blogged some two-year-old Answers to nine questions asked by first-time Edinburgh Fringe performers.
Here is a follow-up which I also blogged two years ago. I have made slight updates, particularly in the final answer
1. IF THERE ARE ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE, SHOULD I CANCEL THE SHOW?
No. Even if there is only one person in the audience, perform the show. You do not know who those people are in the audience (particularly at the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where there are no complimentary tickets). I have blogged before about an Edinburgh Fringe show performed in the early 1990s by then-unknown comedian Charlie Chuck. There were only four people in the audience. He performed the show. Two of the audience members were preparing an upcoming new BBC TV series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and, as a direct result, Charlie Chuck was cast as ‘Uncle Peter’ in the series. After appearing in that, he was no longer unknown. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.
2. BUT IF I GET LOW AUDIENCES, SURELY I AM A FAILURE?
Very possibly, sunshine, but not necessarily. In reality, it means you are an average Edinburgh Fringe performer. Unless you are on TV, you will not get full audiences unless there is astonishing word-of-mouth about your show. Scots comedian Kevin Bridges could not fill a matchbox, even in Scotland. He appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow on BBC1. After that, he was filling auditoriums the size of Bono’s ego. What is important at the Edinburgh Fringe is not the size of the audience but who is in the audience and the perception of your impact by the media. It is not How Many? but Who? which is important. It can also be argued that, if you get an audience of zero then, by definition, no-one knows you had no audience, so there is actually no harm in media terms. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.
3. BUT I AM GOING TO THE FRINGE TO GET SEEN BY AUDIENCES, AREN’T I?
No you are not. You are going to the Edinburgh Fringe to lose money. A comic whose name I have tragically forgotten, so cannot credit, likened it to standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. You may have sold your grandmother into sexual slavery to afford this trip to the Fringe, but you are not in Edinburgh to perform shows to ordinary people. If you wanted to do that, you could have gone to the Camden Fringe or down the local pub on a Friday night. You are going to Edinburgh, the biggest arts festival in the world, to get seen by critics and, with luck, by radio and TV people, all of whom can boost your career. If you can create good word-of-mouth among the small audiences who do see your shows at the Fringe, then that may attract a few of the influential people. And, if the media perceive you as being successful, then you ARE successful even if you are not. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.
4. I AM A COMEDIAN. AUDIENCES ARE NOT LAUGHING ALL THE WAY THROUGH MY SHOW. WHY?
Well, probably because you have a shit show, so tweak it or consider a career working at a call centre in Glasgow. There are some comics who should reconsider their lifestyle and bank balances. On the other hand, most comics are insanely insecure for very little reason. I have sat through many a show where the comedian thinks the audience did not like part of the show because it did not get enough laughs but I know for sure, because I was in the audience, that the punters enjoyed the show tremendously. They were just mesmerised in rapt attention during the quiet but important bits. It is all about perception.
5. BUT WHY DON’T AUDIENCES LAUGH AT EVERY LINE?
Possibly because a good comedy script is not 100% laugh-at-every-line. Not over a whole hour. If you think your show is that funny you are either deluded, on cocaine or have a serious psychological problem (not that the first or last is any drawback in comedy). Watching a man take 10 seconds to jump off a cliff 66 times in a row is not exciting; it exhausts and bores the viewer after a while. What is exciting is a rollercoaster. A build-up followed by an adrenaline rush. Excitement followed by relief followed by excitement followed by relief followed by a climax. Ooh missus. An hour-long show is about pacing. If you remove the build-up before the punch-line, you will lose the laughter on the punch-line. Of course, the highly-experienced comic can get three subsidiary titters in the build-up followed by a big belly-laugh at the climax. Ooh misses. Ooh missus. Even (billed in alphabetical order) the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine, who mostly deal in one-liners, have pacing where their audiences can relax amid the laughter. It is all about perception.
6. SHOULD I WORRY IF I DO NOT GET REVIEWS?
Yes, but it is largely a matter of luck. I always tell people they have to play the Edinburgh Fringe on three consecutive years. The first year, no-one will notice you are there. The second year, you have some idea of how the Fringe works. The third year, people will think you are an Edinburgh institution and the media will pay some attention to you. You have to go for three consecutive years. If you miss a year, when you return, you are, in effect, re-starting at Year One. It is not just audiences but critics who change year-by-year. Critics reviewing shows at the Fringe may not have been doing it two years ago. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.
7. I ONLY HAVE 30 MINUTES OF GOOD MATERIAL. WAS I WRONG TO ATTEMPT TO DO A 60-MINUTE SHOW?
Yes. You are an idiot. You should have delayed your trip to the Fringe and gone next year. Going before you are fully ready is never a good idea. Yes, go up and play a few gigs on other people’s shows. Yes, go up as part of a three or four person show. But, if you are doing your first solo 60-minute show and you have anything less than 80 minutes of good material, you risk rapid ego-destruction.
8. IF I GET REVIEWS, ARE THE NUMBER OF STARS IMPORTANT?
In Edinburgh, absolutely. The stars are everything – provided you get above three stars. Put four or five stars on your posters and flyers – with short quotes – immediately. All your competitors – and, in Edinburgh ALL other performers, however seemingly friendly, are your deadly competitors – will be using the number of stars on a review to boost their own ego or to try and deflate yours. After the Fringe is over, the stars mean bugger all. They are unlikely to bring in crowds on a wet Thursday in Taunton. But their real value lies next year at the Fringe when you can quote them and they will have some effect. And always remember the admirable enterprise of the late comic Jason Wood. Highly influential Scotsman critic Kate Copstick gave his Fringe show a one star review. The next morning, all his posters in Edinburgh proudly displayed a pasted-on strip saying “A STAR” (The Scotsman). The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.
9. WILL I WIN THE PERRIER PRIZE?
No. Partly because it no longer exists. The name has changed several times. But mostly because you just won’t. Don’t be silly. Fantasy is a valuable part of the performer’s art, but never fully believe your own fantasy.
You stand a better chance of winning one of the increasingly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – the longest-running comedy awards with the same name at the Fringe. And, unlike their insignificant competitors, the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are guaranteed to run until the year 2017 because we have already had the trophies made.
I allegedly organise them, but intentionally try not to be too organised as that would be lacking in respect to Malcolm’s memory. Do not bother to apply to me because there is no application process, plus it interferes with my chocolate-eating.
Your show format is probably neither that original nor, frankly, that good and we will almost certainly hear about anything which actually IS that original. In Edinburgh, word-of-mouth is the strongest thing after a deep-fried Mars Bar soaked in whisky for 20 minutes.
The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.
To quote Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ movie The Producers:
“When you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”
A good show will not necessarily get noticed amid the adrenaline-fuelled mayhem in Edinburgh.
A well-publicised show will get noticed.