Tag Archives: cost

Edinburgh Fringe financing – was yesterday the tip of a deeper iceberg?

Bob scarred himself by falling down his own trapdoor

Bob Slayer scarred & maligned by yesterday’s caption

My blog yesterday was about a Facebook spat between comedy people Harry Deansway and Bob Slayer on the subject of free and pay-in-advance shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I captioned a photo of Bob Slayer with the words: Comic Bob Slayer has some issues with Harry Deansway, triggering this comment from Bob himself:

I have issues with this line “Comic Bob Slayer has some issues with Harry Deansway”. I don’t have any real issues with Harry.

He puts across a perfectly valid opinion – the pay-to-play venues suit some acts and some shows perfectly and Harry obviously had a thoroughly lovely time at the Fringe…

I feel that in the past the large venues tried to marginalise independent venues – but we have successfully redressed the balance and now there is a place for everyone at the Fringe. I think the big venues will need to offer small productions and comedy better deals and they will increasingly move into big production and theatre where their deals have more justification. But Tom Binns, who is possibly the smartest man at the Fringe, had a show with the Pleasance (Ian D Montfort) and a show with us (Ivan Brackenbury and others) – This worked really well for both shows helping each other out. We coordinated the promotion campaigns and Tom had a wonderful Fringe with literally the best of both worlds.

As for Harry’s rudeness which some people have pointed out, well that is just an exaggerated stance as part of his Harry character act. It’s beautiful really and maybe he is the funniest thing in comedy.

Sonny Hayes

Sonny Hayes triggered an unexpected response

When performer Sonny Hayes then commented on the blog: Gotta say, Bob Slayer wins the debate hands down, Bob replied:

Thank you Sonny but I don’t really want to win this debate… See what Harry is doing for whatever reason is attempting to polarise the debate. It’s them or us. This is divisive, negative and dated.

The Independent Fringe doesn’t need defending anymore – a couple of years ago I was very frustrated that the industry, media and acts believed the line that you had to be in one of the big venues to get noticed – However this year has really proved that is not the case. OK, some people still don’t get this but that is fine.

There is a place for everyone now and we can leave discussion about bad deals and pay-to-play to go on in the board rooms of the big venues and agents who need to decide if they want to offer better deals for low production shows and comedians OR if they want to continue to move into higher production and theatre shows where their deals have more justification.

Now that we have an extremely viable independent set up it doesn’t really matter what other people are up to – we can just carry on and have fun. There are more than enough acts who want to join us in this now and we can continue to explore smart ways to make the Fringe and comedy industry work.

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, comedian Mandy Dassa commented:

Mandy Dassa

Mandy Dassa was a bit shocked by the ego one-upmanship

Aside from all the ego one-upmanship, which clouded the actual point of this debate, we need to thank Bob Slayer for creating hype for the free/pay what you want Fringe and giving it the creditability it deserves.

We do need ‘the Big 4’ with its advertising and big purple cows and the like (if anything just to decorate the city of Edinburgh in bright colours) but, let’s put this straight right now, unless you are a massive comic you are being taken for a ride financially (if not by a venue then by your promoter pushing you to spend) – It’s not fair to cash in on people’s dreams so shamelessly.

Maybe all this debate and ranting may shake the big venues to lower their prices for acts and give the Fringe a bit of unity with its ticket prices. All I heard all summer was good things about Heroes (Bob Slayer’s venues) – We should be glad someone is expanding on the already genius idea of Free Fringe. Pay what you want/cheap tickets in advance was always going to be the natural move and well done Bob for making that happen.

Harry, I love ur ass, I laughed and laughed when I saw your show, but not all of us can afford to lose thousands of pounds in the name of performing in a venue like the Pleasance and people like Bob have given us broke comics a platform to bring our goods to Edinburgh without having to sell our grandmas!

There was another comment on Facebook – from Adrienne Truscott who, at this year’s Fringe, won both the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality and the panel prize from what used to be the Perrier Awards for her show staged at Bob Slayer’s Bookshop venue. Now back in New York, she wrote:

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott’s multi-award winning show: Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!

Thanks for keeping this most necessary conversation alive. And to Bob Slayer for trying something new that seemed to work very well. Everyone I shared our venue with seemed genuinely happy and supported not only by our venue people, Bob and Miss Behave, but also by the model, the press and one another.

It’s hard to imagine any artist being angry about new models and paradigms emerging, fiscal or otherwise, for presenting art. Of the many Fringes I’ve done with many houses (3 of the Big 4), this was by far my most successful by any stick you use to measure.

Choosing Bob’s Bookshop and this model allowed me to bring a new and rough-around-the edges show to the Fringe to work on it in terms I could live with, without pretending that I was presenting a completely finished show to a paying audience and without the stress of paying more than I can afford at the top or thinking of my audience in terms of money made back, but rather as interested parties whose presence and energy every night helped change and improve my show, which is the main reason I brought it to the Fringe.

As it became popular and hard to get in to, the Heroes model swung into full effect and worked organically the way ‘the free market’ as I understand it says it will. Also, when it became successful I did not have a vulture of a venue runner suddenly laying claim to it as it suited him, but rather a supporter and friend who continued to evolve ideas about how to do things as the season went along. I reckon entertaining new models can make you sharper about how and why you make your own art too. It may depend on what kind of show you’re doing and what kind of audience you are after and, for some, the Big 4 may be an appropriate fit.

I knew for my show I needed to be able to retain control over how it was presented, how the room felt etc. and I was allowed that freedom. It would be hard to argue that going with the costs and demands of one of the Big 4 would allow an independent artist to bring a new work to the Fringe without getting gutted financially. Also, this conversation doesn’t even dip in to the longstanding problem of some of those bigger houses failing to pay, on time or indeed at all, the artists that have filled their houses working every single night, a far dodgier conversation…

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Edinburgh spat between Bob Slayer and Harry Deansway over free Fringe shows

Harry suggested I shoot him next to a rubbish bin last week

Harry suggested I shoot him next to a rubbish bin in Soho

On Facebook over the last couple of days, there was a bit of a mini-ding-dong… between Harry Deansway (former editor of comedy magazine The Fix turned stand-up comic) and stand-up comic turned promoter Bob Slayer.

It started when Harry wrote an online piece giving his thoughts about this year’s Edinburgh Fringe which, he said, were written “to generate discussion about issues that will affect the future of the Fringe.” He added: “I’m not trying to piss anyone off, that is apart from Bob Slayer,” whom he called a “fanatic self publicist and cheap Fringe zealot.”

Below are edited highlights of the spat from Facebook. Who knows what the copyright is on such things? In my opinion, on Facebook, everything is either in the public domain or possibly owned either by Facebook or by the NSA and GCHQ.

Bob Slayer holds his hand, if not his head, high

Comic Bob Slayer has some issues with Harry Deansway

To explain some background… At the Edinburgh Fringe, audiences pay to see some shows. Others come under the banner of either the PBH Free Fringe or the Free Festival and, this year, Bob Slayer added an extra ‘pay-what-you-want’ layer where, at his two Heroes of Fringe venues (which were included in the Free Festival), you could either turn up for shows and get in free if there were seats available OR pay £5 in advance to guarantee a seat.

Harry Deansway’s piece basically pushed the line that:

“Ultimately giving shows away ‘free’ is damaging the long term sustainability of the Fringe… First of all, it is not free either for the performer or the audience. For the performer, both Free Fringe and Free Festival have administration fees in some form or another. For the audience, it is not free, as a bucket is forced in your face at the end of the show for you to donate money to the performer. Maybe a better name, not in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act, would be the Cheap Fringe? As a result, Fringe acts on the paid Fringe can’t compete.”

Below is some of the to-and-fro on Facebook in reaction to Harry’s piece:

______________________________________________________

BOB SLAYER: You have got your facts wrong in the first sentence – Adrienne Truscott was not in the Free Fringe in either sense – i.e. the PBH Free Fringe – or the wider ‘Free shows at the Fringe’. She was of course part of Heroes’ pay what you want or buy a ticket in advance – the show was hot and so if you didn’t buy a ticket after the first couple of days you wouldn’t get in. I had several journalists interview me and ask if they could call it Free Fringe as it would suit their agenda – and I said No, call it what it is.

HARRY DEANSWAY: Yes Bob you are part of the “Cheap Fringe”. I state this quite clearly in the second paragraph. You and your journalist friends can call it the Free Fringe, Heroes or Pay What You Want, however you want to market it.

BOB SLAYER: It’s terribly written! I mean I agree with much of what you are saying Mr Harry but you have let the fact that I enjoy mocking you at every opportunity cloud your judgement – you have totally failed to understand that it is not a case of Paid Fringe v Free Fringe (or Cheap Fringe as you quite rightly call it) – we moved on from that debate 2 Fringe Festivals ago.

The important consideration (which you do discuss but miss where the change is coming from) is Good Deals v Bad deals. Pay-to-Play is a terrible basis for a deal. 60/40 is also a shitty deal – add them together and you have a really terrible shitty deal – all it does is push up ticket prices as shows have to charge more to even stand a chance of breaking even.

The Free Fringe is a symptom of the shitty Pay-to-Play not a cure – shows and punters demanding a cheaper, more creative alternative – the Pay-to-Play reaction to this has not been to offer better deals but to offer worse and worse deals – this has created a gaping void between both models and is increasingly driving the new and more innovative comedians towards the Free model. They know it is not ideal and so these independent thinking acts have explored other ways around the problem.

At this year’s Fringe, Heroes launched a new model that bridges the gap between paid and free. (The Edinburgh Fringe is a unique scenario where we needed to innovate to compete with the big venues and their bad deals)

We called it Pay What You Want – ‘Free’ shows that you can buy tickets for to guarantee entry.

This means ‘hot’ shows sell out and quickly become paid shows. But shows that are still finding their audience can let people in on a Pay What You Want on the way out basis so there are few empty shows.

Our Pay What You Want model is simply a more honest version of both models. Free shows are not really Free – and most paid shows have to give away tickets to find an audience – so why not admit this? Because once you do admit it then you get huge benefits: the risks associated with promoting a show reduce drastically, the amount of unnecessary marketing spend you need reduces drastically. In short, the economics of the Fringe change drastically in favour of the artist.

All our shows made money at the Fringe, (there are only two other promoters – both independent – who can claim this). Also some shows made significant money – something I am very proud of and will continue to develop… Now if the Pay-to-Play venues would adopt this model the Fringe would be full of spirit once more…

HARRY DEANSWAY: Bob. Have you thought about re-branding Heroes as Bob’s Discount Fringe? I think you would come across really well in one of those late night cheap infomercials. Happy to continue this discussion when you (a) stop misusing the term Pay to Play and (b) actually state the facts of what deals the big four operate not the deals you make up to promote your own agenda.

BOB SLAYER: Nice one Mr Harry – but again terribly written! It doesn’t matter how much the tickets cost – but how much the artist sees – We were selling tickets for £5 and our acts saw all of that if they were producing the shows themselves or 70% if we produced the shows. Shows in Pay-to-Play venues actually see 60% of fuck all because they never cover their costs. Oh one of our shows on Heroes was £500 per ticket – the most expensive on the Fringe – and sold out all 4 shows – they sold 100% of that.

OK so we all know you got a better deal than most at the Pleasance – super – acts should not accept shitty deals and so well done for setting a good example… But whatever deal you got it was because they needed to fill a slot created by an act dropping out after the registration deadline. They simply needed to fill the slot – fortunately they got the best man for the job…

But the fact remains that the basic deals at these venues are appalling – and demands that acts need to pay money before the Fringe starts… £3,000, £5,000, £8,000 depending on what size room that they go into. The details of how they work out guarantees are public on their websites.

Of course extras and marketing costs are extra and can vary greatly – There are many acts who have given the facts of their deals. Tiernan Douieb didn’t go up this year – but his deal last year meant if he sold out all his tickets he would only lose £4,500.

The big venues have sold these shitty deals by pedalling the myth that you have to be in one of the big venues to get noticed. This year proved that was completely wrong. In fact you were less likely to get noticed in a big venue this year. How many reviewers did you get Harry? How many awards? It’s hard isn’t it and now that reviewers and awards are no longer giving preference to the Pay-to-Play venues (because the quality in independent venues is so high) it is equally hard for everyone – unless you are really good – like what (award-winning) Adrienne Truscott and John Kearns both were.

You know this. But it seems that you enjoy preaching to the ignorant by telling them what they want to hear. You are still banging that out-of-tune drum promoting the emperors new clothes after most people have seen that he is naked. Which makes you like a hilariously coiffeured TV evangelist.

HARRY DEANSWAY: Bob. I’m not going to enter into a discussion when you keep making things up and misusing the phrase Pay to Play. It’s pointless.

BOB SLAYER: Would you like to debate what Pay to Play is then? Here is how I see it:

Pay to Play is when a venue or promoter takes money off an act prior to them performing – usually with some system where they might be able to make that money back through people through the door / ticket sales. Underbelly, Pleasance, Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Just The Tonic all charge acts various amounts (in the thousands) to play in their venues for the month of August – and then offer the acts a shitty deal (60/40 at best) on trying to cover those charges – which few of them do.

Anyway sorry that you had such a shitty Fringe Mr Harry – I hope you come around and see that there is a much more fun and interesting way to do the Fringe – come and join the spirit of the Fringe x

HARRY DEANSWAY: What do you think the “big four” spend the 40% they take on?

BOB SLAYER: You tell me what they spend it on? Building huge temporary bars that make them the real cash? Promoting mixed bill shows that also make them cash and suck tickets from their real shows? Sending their kids to Eton?

What I can tell you is that it is not necessary for them to charge such shitty deals – and what is more – as more and more acts find alternatives elsewhere and leave the Pay-to-Play venues – then they will be forced to change how they operate / what they offer.

They will either be forced to offer comedians and other low production acts better deals.

Or, as we have already seen them doing, they will move out of comedy into shows requiring larger production where these deals originated and have more justification. I suspect we will see both happening

It’s all very exciting watching the Fringe move towards a more interesting place – something that independent promoters such as the Free Fringe(s) and now Heroes have made happen.

HARRY DEANSWAY: You had a bar in Bob’s Bookshop. Did the acts you promoted get a cut of that or did you get it all on top of the 30% you were already taking from them as a promoter? Sounds like what you would call Pay to Play to me.

Also you are going on about your deal like it’s amazingly better, it’s 10% better and considering your venue was so tiny and were only charging £5, relative to your interpretation of the Big Four’s deal yours really is not that great. In fact relatively speaking it’s probably worse than the Big Four’s.

Also can I just clarify your ticketing policy. You charge if a show becomes successful ? But the unsuccessful ones are “free?” Why do you not charge for all shows, do you think some are lesser quality than others?

I don’t know what they spend the 40% on but at a guess I would say maintaining the infrastructure of the venues to make it the best it can be for performers and audience alike.

BOB SLAYER: As you know you are looking at the percentages all wrong in order to add confusion where it doesn’t need to be… We price our tickets so that they sell without huge inefficient marketing costs (This year we went with a fixed price of £5)

That means the acts that we produced on a 70/30 split saw 70% of their ticket income = £3.50 per ticket pretty much from the first ticket – We also offered acts the option to self produce their shows and take 100% of their ticket = £5 per ticket – the majority of our acts opted for self production

Whereas the costs are set so high on the pay-to-play venues that the 60/40 split hardly come into play and so acts in their venues see roughly the square root of fuck all from each ticket sold.

HARRY DEANSWAY: I think you’ve had quite enough airtime now Bob and as usual it’s all been spent promoting yourself. The article is about the Fringe in general not Bob Slayer or for that matter Harry Deansway. Your opinions are laid out in detail in these comments so anyone who can be bothered reading this thread can make their own mind up now.

BOB SLAYER: Hey Mr Harry – so you do want a discussion? And now you don’t want a discussion? If you weren’t so accidentally funny then it would really hurt my feelings x

SALLY WESTERN: I am confused as to why Bob has to justify himself to Harry Deansway.. ? I’m scared..

BOB SLAYER: Ha ha – it was a nice exercise – I am currently writing up a piece about the Fringe – and ‘justifying to Harry Deansway made me realise that I need to simplify the intro somewhat in order to explain it to those that are ignorant of Fringe ways… Or in case of Harry, those that just like to be contrary and blindly support the underdog.

Harry has quite rightly spotted that the independent is no longer the dog that is regularly kicked and so he has withdrawn his support of it in favour of the poor folks behind the beleaguered Pay-to-Play venues… He is a noble and charitable man.

HARRY DEANSWAY: Congratulations on learning to write Bob! If you could just add reading to the pantheon of your abilities which include getting your penis out on stage and getting dressed in the morning I might start to take what you say seriously.

I’m glad that something I wrote honed into perspective what it is you are doing, it reminds me of the time when I told you to drop alternative from your marketing materials. Best of luck with the Cheap Fringe. (You can have that name for free, £5 if it becomes popular)

BOB SLAYER: But Harry isn’t it lovely that we both are thinking similar things about “cheaper Fringe”… www.cheaperfringe.co.uk

OK your idea is cynical and negative and has come on the back of what seems to have been quite a tough and challenging experience for you at the Fringe. And my “cheaperfringe” experience has been something I have been involved in for a couple of years and is about getting the Fringe to give something back to local residents and making the Fringe a more positive and happy place – but it is uncanny how we think alike x

HARRY DEANSWAY: Not at all, I had a great Fringe. My show sold out, had some lovely audiences, made some money and I wrote and performed a show I was really proud of. I even got a five star review. My article is objective, you should try and write something objectively. All you do is talk about yourself.

BOB SLAYER: I also talk about you Harry – with everyone I meet – I know your comments about me are merely joshing and I love you with an intensity that knows no limits x

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The 2013 Edinburgh Fringe: Why one British comedian will not perform there

Thoughts on performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

Thoughts beyond a Malcolm Hardee Award (Photograph by Peter Kelly)

Going to the Edinburgh Fringe every August is addictive, like attending the Glastonbury Festival in June or buggering badgers in season.

Success at the Fringe can also almost overnight change the life of a performer, from someone who can’t fill a toilet with an audience to someone who has his or her own TV series and can fill arenas.

Yesterday I was talking to someone about staging extra shows at the Fringe in addition to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

But I also received an e-mail from a young-ish British comedian who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

He or she has performed their own show at the Edinburgh Fringe before and he or she would like to perform again.

I think he or she should perform there again this year.

For one thing, it would be silly to forego the chance of winning an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award (never knowingly under-promoted).

But this is what he or she told me:

__________________________________________________________________

I’ve been thinking long and hard about going back to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

I genuinely believe that my style of performance does not suit itself to the Free Fringe or to the Free Festival. My show is a grower, not something that can really be dipped in and out of. Having done it once before, I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t work in that format.

The Xxxxxxxx venue was fun last year, but it’s mostly theatre and doesn’t feel appropriate either.

That leaves the big four venues which, based on similar figures from last year, upgraded for the higher ticket price and hopefully higher footfall, would leave me with a loss of over £4,000.

This also means that it is impossible for me to take what I would consider any form of risk. That’s the biggest shame. Everything either has to be by a household name or sustain a laugh a minute otherwise it won’t succeed.

I genuinely feel that unless you are bankrolled by the Bank of Mum and Dad, it’s becoming almost impossible to do anything someone could tritely call ‘different.’ This works to the detriment of comedy and performance as a whole.

Maybe the idea is to try and get an agent. Unfortunately if you have even a modicum of talent, they will seek to water it down so you can appear on *insert TV panel show here*.

The Edinburgh Fringe is unique in that it lets self-indulgent idiots like myself a full hour to vent and express our comedic chops but, when it’s impossible NOT to lose thousands upon thousands of pounds, I struggle to see where a provincial act like myself can find anything that resembles the so-called big break.

For that matter, even a little break would do.

(WHO WAS THIS ANONYMOUS COMIC? – FIND OUT HERE)

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Do Edinburgh Fringe performers need to suck-up to reviewers/talent-spotters?

(This was also published in the Huffington Post and, in part, on the Chortle comedy industry website)

A lot of performers at the Edinburgh Fringe are there simply to get publicity, not to get big audiences. Getting bums-on-seats is a secondary, though still important, aim.

They (quite rightly) assume they will not make any profit. They want to gather review quotes and/or, with extreme luck, get talent-spotted by the media – especially by radio and TV people – and/or by promoters/producers/agents.

For the last few years, the Fringe has comprised two types of show – especially in comedy.

One is the traditional theatrical ‘business model’ in which people pay to buy tickets and then go see the show. These are the so-called ‘paid’ shows.

The other, newer model is the one pursued by the PBH Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Festival, in which the audience does not pay in advance to see shows. Instead, after the show, there is a bucket or similar financial receptacle and the audience members throw into it what they think the show was worth – or they can pay nothing. These ‘free’ shows have the same ‘business model’ as busking in the street.

I only really became aware last year of a problem for Free shows who want to get reviewed in the media or head-hunted by talent scouts.

I have reviewed comedy shows at the Fringe. I have attended shows as a researcher/producer for TV programmes. For publishers, even! And I currently organise the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (which have no outside sponsor providing financial backing).

If I go to a ‘paid’ show as a reviewer, as a media person, as a promoter or as an awards judge, I get a free ticket from the Fringe Office/venue/producers. I hand that ticket in at the door to see the show. Everybody is happy.

If I go to a free show, there are no tickets. So I go into the show without a ticket.

I just walk in and, at the end of the show, the performer usually stands at the door to collect money in a bucket.

If I put nothing at all in the bucket, I feel like a schmuck and/or the performer looks miffed or both. After days of this constantly happening, it wears you down. It is less embarrassing simply to see only paid-for shows – or certainly to see far fewer free shows.

Yes, you could put money in every bucket. But having access to free tickets means you can take a bigger chance on going to see less high-profile shows which may or may not turn out to be utterly appalling. Having to pay for shows potentially means less risk-taking.

This holds true for promoters, would-be stage producers, and radio & TV researchers/producers. They, of course, have budgets, but…

Another fact to take into consideration is that many reviewers for Fringe free-sheets, websites and magazines are not paid.

As a reviewer, you may see 5 shows a day over 25 days. That is 125 shows. If only a third of those are free shows and if you put only £1 in each show’s bucket, that means forking out around £40. It is far easier – and cheaper – not to see free shows. There is no shortage of higher-profile, probably-very-good paid-for shows.

I do not know what the solution to this is.

It would probably be too expensive for the shoe-string free show organisers to start printing/administering press passes.

I suppose media people could drop into the bucket their business cards or bits of paper with their details on. But few reviewers have business cards and the last thing you really want is performers hassling you after seeing a show (which may have been crap).

I asked the opinion of Alex Petty who organises the Laughing Horse Free Festival; and Peter Buckley Hill who started the free show concept in Edinburgh and runs the original PBH Free Fringe shows.

Alex’s response was: “I hadn’t thought that it may be like that for reviewers. We certainly seem to have got our fair share of reviews but, if it’s putting people off, it’s something to look at, definitely.”

Peter Buckley Hill’s response on behalf of the PBH Free Fringe was a little more complicated and surprising. He replied:

* * *

This is not something that concerns me greatly.

Traditionally, performers have been desperate to gain the attention of the press, and many people have exploited that desperation. Even now, many performers are briefed that they ought to be desperate for press attention, and ought to value the opinions of one reviewer more than those of hundreds of audience members.

The consequences have been obvious and deplorable. A number of publications exist merely for the purpose of reviewing Fringe shows, and young people are recruited by these publications, sometimes without knowledge or appreciation of the genres they are sent to review.

The result is a climate of over-deference to reviewers, leading to a culture in which entertaining the audience is not given first priority. When a reviewer is known to be coming, many comedians pack the audience with their friends, on free tickets and with instructions to laugh particularly hard. These are stupid games.

When a man (as it would have been in those olden days) worked hard in the shipyards or mines six days a week, and spent his hard-earned money taking his family to the theatre or music hall on a Saturday, there was some merit in reviews which helped him choose his entertainment; his shillings would not be wasted on inferior shows.

These conditions were not present at the Edinburgh Fringe until recently, when ticket prices started exceeding £10 for a one-hour show. With or without reviews, these prices are too high.

At the Free Fringe, no hard-earned money is wasted. If you don’t like the show, you don’t give (and often you sneak out early, thus leaving an audience who is on the wavelength of the show). If you do like the show, you don’t have to give either. Some don’t. Most do. The choice to give or not is always theirs.

And in choosing shows, the audience is free to be guided by its own instincts, not the second-hand views of others. They can experiment without financial penalty.  And experimenting — watching something without recommendation, almost at random — is the essence of a festival calling itself Fringe. Among our achievements has been the restoration of the Fringe to the people of its host city.

Our policy has always been that entry to shows is first come first served. Reviewers queue with the rest and there is no special treatment. There are no tickets and there never will be. In situations of particularly high demand we have issued tokens to the queue, thus allowing it to wait in more comfort and not stand for an hour; this is still first come first served.

In our world, the interests of audiences come first and those of performers second, followed by the legitimate need of our venues to profit from having our shows.

Our performers are strongly advised to concentrate on entertaining the people in front of them, whoever they are, and not to entertain unrealistic dreams of discovery and sudden fame. The former leads to satisfaction in a job well done; the latter to frustration and the sort of nervous breakdown behaviour often associated with Fringe performers. The danger of the latter, however, is greater when the performer has poured £5000-£15000 of his/her own money into the show, as he/she does not have to with the Free Fringe.

If reviewers are commissioned by publications, in my view they should be paid for that work. But it is nothing to me if they are not.  That is between them and their employers. What happens at paid shows is nothing to me either.  But in my view, both (the employers of) reviewers and competition judges should pay for their show tickets. Otherwise, this is money taken from the pockets of performers.  When restaurants are reviewed by most reputable publications, the reviewers remain anonymous and pay for their meals.

Our shows get audiences with or without reviews. I am not convinced that the public read them anyway. Certainly the additional numbers that came to my show in 2009 following its five-star review in The Scotsman had not read the review itself; they merely followed the stars like the three kings of legend. If there are to be reviews, abolition of star ratings would be a very positive step. It would at least make people read something about the show itself, and teach them that excellence is subjective.

The Free Fringe is not a ‘business model’. It is a model for the liberation of performers from the chains imposed on them by others making profit on their labour. Thus, we must be a non-profit organisation. The Free Fringe is free in many senses. Among those freedoms is freedom from the (perceived, not real) need for reviews.

We will continue to do what we do.

It is right.

* * *

(There was reaction to this in later blogs here and here.)

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Filed under Comedy, Marketing, PR, Theatre

Nine more innocent questions posed by first-time Edinburgh Fringe comedians

A while ago, I blogged Answers to nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Edinburgh Fringe.

As the Fringe is only a fortnight away – and as I could not bloody think of anything else to blog about today – I felt compelled to answer nine more mythical questions posed by comedians:

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 is in the audience (particularly at the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where there are no comp 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 BBC TV series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and, as a direct result, Charlie Chuck was cast as ‘Uncle Peter’ in the series.

2. BUT IF I GET LOW AUDIENCES, I AM A FAILURE, SURELY?

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 the quality of the audience. It is not How Many? but Who? which is important. And don’t call me Shirley.

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.

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.

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 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. Note I never mentioned sex. 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. And I still did not mention sex. Of course, the highly-experienced comic can get three subsidiary titters in the build-up followed by a big belly-laugh on the punch-line. 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 laughs. Just like sex, in my experience.

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.

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)

9. WILL I WIN THE PERRIER PRIZE?

No. Partly because it no longer exists; they seem to call it something different every year. 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 Awards for comedy – the longest-running comedy awards with the same name at the Fringe. And, unlike their insignificant competitors, the Malcolm Hardee Awards are guaranteed to run until the year 2017. I allegedly organise them, but intentionally try not to be too organised as that would be lacking in respect to Malcolm’s memory. Don’t 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 Malcolm Hardee Award judges this year are (in alphabetical order) famed Scotsman critic and Show Me The Funny judge Kate Copstick, inconsequential little old me,  The Times’ esteemed comedy critic Dominic Maxwell and the wildly prolific freelance Jay Richardson. Please feel free to wave £50 notes in our faces and offers of two-week holidays in Barbados with lovely 20-year-old nymphets (that holds for all four of us).

Look, in Edinburgh, the most important thing of all is self-publicity. Thus Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe.

To quote Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ movie The Producers:

“When you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”

Here endeth the lesson and – only temporarily – the self-publicity.

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Elfin comedian Laura Lexx gets bigger ideas after meeting the real Santa Claus

At the University of Kent, you can study Stand-Up Comedy. My natural tendency would be to think this is a right load of old wank if it were not for the fact they seem to have produced some rather good rising comedy performers.

There is (in alphabetical order) Tiernan Douieb, Jimmy McGhie, The Noise Next Door and Pappy’s.

And then, out of alphabetical order, there is elfin Laura Lexx. I call her ‘elfin’ because she actually did for a period literally work as an elf in Lapland as part of the Father Christmas industry. I have seen the photos. She is low on height but high on energy. Which is just as well – not just for elfing around in Lapland.

All the way through July, Laura is promoting a month of London previews for other people’s Edinburgh Fringe shows at the Glassblower in Soho, with a line-up which includes Bridget Christie, Phil Nichol and Paul Sinha.

Then she takes off her promoter hat and she’s off to Edinburgh for the Fringe where she’s in both the Comedy and the Theatre sections – performing, producing, writing and directing.

She’s performing daily as part of the improvised comedy game show Quiz in My Pants at the Opium venue

She’s performing and directing the cast in her own straight play Ink (about the 7/7 London terrorist bombings and the media) at the Kiwi Bar.

And she has also done the very neat trick of spotting a new way to finance Edinburgh Fringe shows via wedidthis.org where people who want to support the Arts in a positive way can donate money to the month’s chosen projects. If you reach your target within the month, you get the money donated. If you don’t reach your target, the promised donations made so far are not collected.

At the time of writing this blog, she has another fortnight to raise £175 to cover some of her Edinburgh costs. The donations page is here.

I wonder if anyone would fork out money to cover my modest and artistically-vital publicity costs for Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe.

Or maybe I should get work after the Fringe as a Father Christmas clone in Lapland. I would need a wig, I could grow the beard, but I would need no padding.

Oh, to be an elf…

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