Tag Archives: free

Why audiences would rather pay than see free comedy shows in London

Martin Soan and Paul Vickers before a Pull The Other One

Martin and Vivienne Soan have been running Pull the Other One comedy nights in Nunhead, South London, for over ten years. The shows are monthly. You pay to enter; and, in my opinion, they are always value for money whoever is on the bill.

Relatively recently, they also started monthly sister shows – free to enter – called It’s Got Bells On.

These two monthly comedy shows mean Martin and Vivienne run shows roughly every fortnight.

Pull The Other One is at the Ivy House in Nunhead; It’s Got Bells On is at the Old Nun’s Head in – you guessed it – Nunhead.

Martin has always paid acts to perform at It’s Got Bells On, though entry has been free for audiences. From this Friday, though, Martin is going to charge £3 entry.

“Why?” I asked him a couple of weeks ago, before a Pull The Other One show.

Also sitting at the table, mute, was Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey.

“Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked Paul.

“No,” he replied.

“So,” I said, turning back to Martin Soan, “why start charging entry?”

“Well,” said Martin, “I started It’s Got Bells On because I was getting a little tired of putting on stuff that sells. If I book a big name like Alan Davies or Omid Djalili or Stewart Lee at Pull The Other One, people will happily pay to come along.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan

“If I don’t have a big name, people won’t come along in such big numbers, Which is very frustrating because all the shows are always consistently good. (Martin tells the truth here.) It doesn’t matter who is on, the shows are worth the same ticket price. The fickle nature of the public, though, is that more will come along if they see a name they recognise. And, because the audience is paying, the acts feel they have to deliver risk-free performances.

“So I wanted to have a free-to-enter evening which would allow acts to be more anarchic and experiment more without worrying about the possibility of failing. I could also feed off It’s Got Bells On and transfer acts tried-out there into Pull The Other One.

“What happened was that the first few months of It’s Got Bells On were incredibly successful. I didn’t realise at the time why, but the (mostly South London) acts I was putting on were bringing along lots of friends. But then, when I started having acts on from North London, they didn’t bring friends and I had only 20-30 people coming in, which was disappointing.”

“Why,” I asked, “would charging get you bigger audiences?”

“People have been talking to me, saying: I didn’t want to come along because it was free so, obviously, it was not going to be very good. Which isn’t true, but that’s what they think. So I thought: Right, fuck it. We will charge the audience, but all the ticket money will go directly to the Clowns Without Borders charity. 

It’s Got Bells On – £3 this Friday in Nunhead

So the people who won’t come to free shows because they think they will be shit may come to this pay show because they assume it will be better. But we will keep the essential elements of It’s Got Bells On – freedom from having to do risk-free comedy and allowing people to experiment. And I will still (as before) pay everyone £20 to perform. So it’s good for the performers and hopefully now people will start taking it a bit more seriously because there’s an admission fee (which goes directly to Clowns Without Borders).

“I’m still gobsmacked by the attitude of audiences out there. People have got these boundaries of what they will allow themselves to experience. If the performers have been on television, then that’s OK. They will come. At Pull The Other One, invariably, when we have really big names on, we will put acts either side who are completely nuts and the audience will come out saying: I loved the Big Name but that guy who did the blah blah blah whatever – I REALLY, REALLY loved him!

“The whole idea of It’s Got Bells On was to be free so acts feel no pressure not to fail… but I have never known an act to fail there. Generally, if you get up and do something new, then your adrenaline and determination will carry the whole thing through.”

Martin smiled.

Martin Soan decided not to have bluetooth

“Why do you have a green tooth?” I asked. “That wasn’t there before.”

“I wanted bluetooth to communicate better but I got a green tooth instead.”

“Ah,” I said. I turned to Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey. “Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

Paul lives in Edinburgh but had come to London to appear in various shows.

“Are you staying with Lewis Schaffer?” I asked.

“No. I’m staying with Martin here. That means I won’t have to do the book.”

“Do the book?” I asked.

“You remember I told you about the book?” Paul told me. “I Can Teach You How To Read Properly by Lewis Schaffer.

“Ah,” I said. “Do you have any books at your place?” I asked Martin.

“I do have a pop-up Kama Sutra,” he replied.

“A pop-up Kama Sutra?” I repeated.

“Yes. You open the pages and figures pop up fucking each other and, if you move the pages correctly, you get the penis going in and out.”

“How much did that cost?” I asked.

“It was 15p from a charity shop in Peckham.”

“That must be an interesting charity shop,” I said.

“It was in the children’s section.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” said Martin. “That’s the God’s honest truth.”

“Why?” I asked. “Just because it was a pop-up book and they assumed it was for children?”

“I suppose so,” said Martin. “I don’t think anyone had opened the book and looked inside.”

“Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked Paul.

“No,” he replied.

“Ah,” I said.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy

Jeremy Corbyn & my beard and the link to Martin Soan’s new free comedy club.

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming?

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming? A combination?

I am probably going to be Jeremy Corbyn. In a music video for Ariane Sherine’s Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn.

The London Evening Standard’s opinion is that this “steamy tribute” to the great man is “one of the most stirring”. But that “most of the verses are too graphic to be printed in a family newspaper”. The song includes the stirring lines:

One poke from the leader
And you’ll be in Labour

I was conned into saying I would appear in this video, to be shot in July, on the basis it would include “topless” scenes. Alas, these turned out to be not Ariane Sherine topless but the Jeremy Corbyn clone – me – and, because of this, I have been trying to slim down to something more approaching Jezza than Dumbo.

It has also meant I have kept my beard, which I had intended to shave off.

Now, though, the video shoot is going to be in September not July. So I was going to chop off my beard and re-grow it during the Edinburgh Fringe in August. (This has the added bonus I could get up later in the mornings).

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan's hair

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan’s hair on stage in 2013

My eternally un-named friend then suggested I should get Martin Soan to cut it off or, at least, cut one half of it – perhaps the left half – and half my shirt and possibly half my trousers.

Thus it is going to happen on the opening night of his new comedy club this Friday night. There is a bit of ‘previous’ here. In 2013, comedian Stephen Frost cut off half Martin Soan’s hair on stage at Pull The Other One.

For over ten years, Martin and his wife Vivienne have run the very successfully bizarre Pull The Other One monthly comedy club in Nunhead (Peckham to you and me, but don’t say that to the natives). Now they are also going to be running another monthly comedy night in Nunhead called It’s Got Bells On.

“So,” I asked him, “you’re going to do this new one monthly and carry on doing Pull The Other One monthly? What’s the difference going to be?”

“Well,” said Martin, “It’s Got Bells On is free and Pull The Other One is pay-to-enter.”

Martin Soan promoting new night It’s Got Bells On

Martin Soan promotes his new It’s Got Bells On

“Why is It’s Got Bells On free?” I asked.

“Because I’m very lucky. Someone who is really into comedy is sponsoring me. He wants to remain anonymous. He’s fronting the cash for it – not a lot of cash, but it means I can pay the acts and have a bit for myself as well. Basically, everyone will get expenses.”

I asked: “When you say ‘free’ it will have a bucket at the end for voluntary audience donations?”

“Yeah. But there will also be 30 tickets behind the bar which you can buy for £1 each in advance to guarantee a seat.”

“So it’s the Bob Slayer ‘Pay What You Want’ model from the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “Is there any difference in the type of act or the headliners at the two clubs?”

“I don’t know what you call headliners now. I’m moving against ‘celebrity’ because it muddies the water yet again. Comedy should be whether you like it or not – nothing to do with whether people have been on TV or not. But everything still hinges on whether they are ‘famous’ or not.”

“Your Pull The Other One shows,” I said, “are usually full up and the format, as I understand it, is that they are all variety acts plus one stand-up comedian who is usually a ‘Name’.”

“That’s the way it works out normally, “ said Martin, “but it’s not a rule. Variety is the key. I wanted to put on a free night and now I’ve had this glorious offer of it being funded by an anonymous sponsor.”

Dr Brown and an audience member at PTOO

“I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic” (Photo of Dr Brown at Pull The Other One)

“Why did free-to-enter shows attract you?” I asked.

“With it being free,” explained Martin, “we don’t have to fulfil any audience expectations. Acts can be more free with the type of material they do. I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic – as it used to be. I am going to feature a slot a bit like The Obnoxious Man (Tony Green). I have Brian Sewer to fulfil that role in the first week. He’s an art critic.”

“Ah,” I said, “a piss-take on Brian Sewell? Who is doing that?”

“Ed At Last.”

“So the idea with It’s Got Bells On,” I asked, “is that you would not have one big name?”

“Well,” said Martin, “if Stewart Lee wanted to try out 10 minutes of new material, he would be just the same as anyone else on the bill. He would get 10 minutes and his expenses.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan at Pull The Other One

Stewart Lee (left) and Martin Soan, backstage at P.T.O.O.

“I’ve got Stewart Lee booked on at Pull The Other One on the 9th September and I must be getting two e-mails a day saying Can I get tickets? Can I get tickets!

“I’m getting frustrated by this celebrity-bound comedy and the way comedy is being used yet again.”

“It seems now,” I suggested, “that people will pay to see an act they have seen on TV, but lots of venues are doing free shows with unknown acts who do not get paid to perform.”

“Yes,” agreed Martin. “It’s not that I disagree with free venues, but I think people need to get paid for what they do.

“Now venues are starting to refuse to pay artists, basically. We have gone backwards. I remember the days in the 1980s when bands used to have to pay to play. I was involved with bands through my wife Vivienne. There was one particular pub which was absolutely notorious. They charged all the bands something like £50 to use the PA.”

“In the 1980s?” I asked.

Vivienne and Martin Soan

Vivienne and Martin Soan – Campaigning comedy couple

“Yeah. And the band would get some percentage of any tickets. But, basically, very few people bought tickets. You were allowed two guests and the audience was just other bands. So the poor band that went on last played to no-one.

“I got quite political about it and helped start an organisation called Community Music and basically the practice was stamped out over a few years.

“Now with comedy, though, that seems to be happening again. Venues not paying the acts.

“There are very few venues where you have to pay to play but, nonetheless, considering it’s such a small business compared to bands – it’s just people coming along alone or with props – they just need a microphone and the overheads are cheaper – the venues are not passing the profits on to the performers. I know the overheads of venues are high. But, if they didn’t have this comedy going on in their pub, then they would be down on their takings. At one place I ran a comedy night, on my average night, the bar was taking maybe an extra £3,000.

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now."

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now.”

“I know the business from all sides now. The first guy who ran the Old Nun’s Head where Pull The Other One ran shows – Daniel – was very open about how he made his money and how much he needed to get. He was dead straightforward, put his cards on the table and I knew exactly where I was, which I appreciated. That enabled me to project a plan to make the club viable. And the new guy running the Old Nun’s Head is very straightforward too.”

“So you will be running monthly pay-to-enter Pull The Other One shows at the Ivy House in Nunhead… and monthly ‘free’ It’s Got Bells On at the Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead.”

“Yes.”

“Any more shows in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Yes, in November. Bartushka, who is from Berlin but you saw her in Leipzig, wants to work with us over there.”

“Remind me of her act?” I asked.

“She is…” Martin started. “She… It is very difficult to categorise her. She is cabaret-inspired, very charismatic…”

“Much like Pull The Other One,” I suggested. “And, I guess, It’s Got Bells On.”

I may revise my opinion after I get half my beard, hair, shirt and possibly trousers chopped off on Friday.

It’s Got Bells On - free comedy

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy

Edinburgh Free Festival boss on PBH fall-out and the Cowgatehead fiasco

The Cowgatehead venue last year

Cowgatehead venue – entrance to the Edinburgh labyrinth… Abandon hope all ye who try to explain what’s happened here.

This year, the Edinburgh Fringe Programme will make the Minoan labyrinth seem like the open plains of the Serengeti (and contain more rogue animals) because of the ongoing Cowgatehead affair. As a result of it, acts are going to be performing in different venues at different times to where/when they are billed. Or not at all.

The Cowgatehead elevator pitch explanation is that there are four organisations offering ‘free’ shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. In order of appearance: the PBH Free Fringe (so-called after its founder Peter Buckley Hill) from which split off the Laughing Horse Free Festival, Bob Slayer’s Heroes of the Fringe and the Freestival.

Freestival understood they had rights this year to programme acts in the Cowgatehead venue. Now the PBH Free Fringe has those rights. As a result, it has been calculated that (overall) acts will lose at least £77,000.

Over a week ago, I had a long-planned chat with Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival (not directly involved in the Cowgatehead fiasco) and I have been sitting on the resultant blog ever since then, awaiting the rumoured sudden announcement of a new venue or venues (unconnected with Alex).

Two days ago, I was told yet another free venue may have been lost because there was no signed contract (again, unconnected with Alex). And not a venue one might have expected. But that (if true) has not yet been announced.

The Edinburgh Fringe thrives on gossip, starts in just four weeks time, the chaos continues… and the most gobsmacking story of the whole Cowgatehead affair (which I believe) seems unlikely to be revealed for several months, if ever. Now there is a tease. I do like a good tease.

Anyway, I met and chatted to Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival over a week ago.

“Cowgatehead has been a mess, then,” was the first thing I said to him.

Alex Petty at Soho Theatre, London

Alex Petty at the Soho Theatre last month

“I think that’s fair to say,” he replied.

“It could be turned into a show,” I said.

“Probably a musical,” suggested Alex. “That’s what usually happens at the Fringe.”

When booked and advertised shows were unceremoniously chucked out of the Cowgatehead, some were given homes by other promoters.

“The Free Festival,” said Alex, “has got about 15 shows that have moved across this year. Bob Slayer has some. And I know Darrell (Martin, of Just the Tonic) has a load. Behind-the-scenes, most venues do help each other. That does genuinely happen. I was lending equipment to Freestival people last year.”

“And,” I said, “The Gilded Balloon had trouble with a new room this year, so the competing Pleasance Dome has let them use one of their rooms. And a couple of years ago, Bob Slayer was short of chairs, so the Underbelly venue gave him some – for free.”

“There is a genuine Fringe community,” said Alex. “The one good thing about the Cowgatehead affair is that people have proved this community idea does happen. I find Peter’s publicity wants to make people believe there is a battle between free and paid venues, a battle between Free Fringe and Freestival and Free Festival but most of the venues just want to get on with it and will help each other out.”

“The whole Cowgatehead thing was unnecessary,” I suggested.

“In reality,” agreed Alex, “if everything that Peter said had happened had happened and Freestival had maybe buggered it up a bit, then if Peter had just put out just exactly what had happened and said We have six spaces rather than nine, so six shows are going to go ahead and we will help out the other shows, finding them other places, then people would have said he was brilliant for saving the venue. But it was the whole way he did it that has made him into a Public Enemy as well.”

“I think,” I said, “the Rubicon was that meeting arranged by Freestival to agree a compromise in London which Peter said he couldn’t go to because it didn’t exist (using the present tense). If that meeting had happened, no act would have lost money or rooms. I think the Free Fringe and Freestival have both (as far as I can see) told the exact truth and, with Peter’s very exact use of present and/or past tenses in what he said, apparently opposite realities can both be true. Did you see the emails between the Free Fringe and Freestival which I posted in my blog? They were both co-operating amiably on all sorts of things. earlier his year.”

Free Fringe

Free Fringe – interesting times

“I would suggest,” said Alex, “that Peter had never seen any of those emails. The problem with the Free Fringe which I had, Bob Slayer had and Freestival had was that, as individuals, you think: I could do this better. If we could change that a little bit, that would help. And you genuinely believe you can take things forward. But then you hit a brick wall with Peter.”

“Why did Laughing Horse and PBH fall out?” I asked.

“We worked with him for two years and it gradually got more and more obvious that we had – and it was probably only slightly – different views on how things should work. Obviously, Peter is well-known for his (acts) not-contributing-any-money-for-anything stance unless it’s voluntary. Whereas we suggested acts should bung in a bit of money to go towards printing a programme. It was a hundred little things like that amplified.

“Essentially, after two years, I came to the realisation: This whole thing is being held together by a very narrow, wet bit of string. It’s not working for everyone. Peter wasn’t happy about it. We weren’t happy. What can we do? Let’s go and do our own thing. In our own heads, not really knowing the full psychology of Peter, the whole idea was: We will go and run some free stuff our way – which is basically the way Peter does it, but we take a bit of money and we supply equipment. Same ends; slightly different route getting there. We can maybe both have a brochure together and work together where we can.

“At that point, there were only four venues – Lindsay’s, Canons’ Gait, the Meadow Bar and Jekyll & Hyde. As part of a conversation we had with Peter, we said: If you speak to them and we speak to them, they’ll make a decision about what they want to do. And, obviously, the moment we said that, we were Public enemy No 1.”

“You started Laughing Horse,” I said, “with just one little club in…”

Free Festival shows in the Fringe Programme

Free Festival shows in the Fringe Programme

“Richmond,” said Alex. “In March 1999. I’ve never had any sort of plan. I went up to Edinburgh one year and thought: Better do something here. We don’t do so many comedy clubs these days. We still have the one in Richmond. One in Brighton. Edinburgh has pushed us on to doing festivals. We still do our New Act competition each year in the UK. We’re probably associated with 4 or 5 different venues but it’s really moved on to festival stuff.

“We do the Perth Fringe World and Adelaide. So much of the stuff has all sprung from doing Edinburgh. Last year we did the Singapore Comedy Festival for the first time: lots of expat Brits, Americans and locals – a good mix of Malay and Thai and other people doing comedy.”

“You co-run that festival, don’t you?” I asked.

“My job mostly is finding the acts, looking after the acts and maybe giving advice on setting up venues. There’s a couple of people out in Singapore who essentially run it.

“This year, we did three nights of shows in Hong Kong, Manila two nights, Singapore three nights. It worked pretty well. It was fun. Twenty-odd comedians all meeting up in Hong Kong and having ten days together in three countries and figuring out if comedy is ever going to work in Manila.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because Manila was certainly an experience. It’s the only time I’ve been nose-to-nose with someone who is meant to be the head of a biker gang who says he doesn’t want comedians anywhere near the venue because they’ve had a bit of a falling-out with one of the acts.

“It was completely not the act’s fault. But there was a disagreement with the act and the wife of this guy who was really kicking-off – irate, with hands all over the place. We ended up just basically bundling the comedians out the back door and saying: Let’s not do any more comedy here. He was a really irate man. It was my first trip to the Philippines; never been there before.”

“Are you going to be back in Manila again next year?”

“Yes.”

“So, after this,” I said, “the Cowgatehead kerfuffle was a stroll in the park?”

“Absolutely.”

“Laughing Horse,” I pointed out, “has not done the obvious leap from comedy promotions and venue-running into comedy act management. Why?”

“I like to be out doing shows. Management is just more admin, more sitting in front of a computer, more shuffling numbers and contracts around. We’ve had conversations about Laughing Horse having a small agency but it’s not what I’m interested in.”

“How are you going to expand?”

“Well, Perth has only happened the last couple of years. That is a cracking festival. At the moment, I just produce shows there. I’d eventually like to find a venue to run and push it forward that way. In Adelaide, we’re involved in a couple of venues – one we run; one we co-run. I’ve been at Melbourne two or three years now and I’m hoping to build up and see what happens there. The Sydney Comedy Festival happens in May and that could be added on to the end of Melbourne. We may look at that one year. There’s also the New Zealand festivals that happen in May. So there are some other things out there to look at. Though May clashes with the Brighton Festival back in the UK, which has ended up being the Edinburgh preview festival.”

“Next year?” I asked.

Alex Petty at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

Alex Petty at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“For Laughing Horse, the plans are more of the same, really. I would like Freestival to continue. The more promoters of free shows there are the better. This nonsense happens at Edinburgh every year in one way, shape or form. It’s chaos. My experience of other festivals around the world is you just turn up and do your thing. Why not at Edinburgh? Is it lack of spaces? Is it bigger egos? I don’t know. I think it was Brian Damage who said to me that the Fringe basically is always chaos for everyone but you get there and always get through in the end and that’s a philosophy that has always been true. Somehow it all works. But I don’t think anyone really knows how.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

My cheap life and how PBH changed the very costly face of the Edinburgh Fringe

Malcolm Hardee Show 2014

Tonight, I stage the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show – starting slightly late in The Counting House, one of the venues provided by the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I am old enough to remember Swinging London and the Summer of Love. I helped out briefly at The Free Bookshop – it was a garage in Earl’s Court – where people donated the books they had read and other people could come along, take them away, read them and, if they wanted to, bring them back.

I even went barefoot for a brief time, but grit and dog turds on suburban London pavements proved to be a deterrent to long-term foot liberation.

The International Times ‘it’ girl

The iconic ‘it’ girl on the hippie International Times logo

Later, I was Film Section Editor – I wrote reviews and gossip about movies – for a re-incarnation of iconic hippie newspaper International Times (latterly called simply it after The Times threatened legal action on the basis people might confuse the two).

So I am no stranger to the concept of “Let’s make it free, man” which has now changed the face of the Edinburgh Fringe.

There are currently four free organisations at the Fringe: the original PBH Free Fringe… the breakaway Free Festival… Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want model which is separate from but happily co-exists with the Free Festival… and the Freestival, this year’s new breakaway from PBH. I understand that, next year, there may even be a fifth free organisation.

My first involvement with the free organisations at the Edinburgh Fringe was in 2008, when I helped stage a comedy show for a performer.

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

The performer wanted to go with the PBH Free Fringe, so I staged my other show with the Free Festival to keep a foot in both camps. If the performer had wanted to go with the Free Festival, I would have staged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards shows with PBH.

In 2011, I staged some chat shows with the Free Festival.

In 2013, I staged some chat shows with Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want operation.

And this year’s Grouchy Club chat-with-the-audience shows are with the Free Festival.

The ‘free’ show model is that the audience pays nothing in advance. They can pay whatever they want (or nothing) on leaving. It is like indoor busking.

With the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award Shows, I take no profit and cover none of my costs. 100% of any and all money donated goes to Kate Copstick’s admirable Mama Biashara charity in Kenya.

On my Grouchy Club shows, no money is collected. The shows are totally free. This is because I am old enough to know how to stage 23 hour-long shows for a total cost of £60.

I love Edinburgh.

My favourite places in the world are Edinburgh, Prague and Luang Prabang in Laos. I feel more at home in Edinburgh than anywhere else. Which is strange, as I have never had a home here.

My other childhood destination in August

Isle of Whithorn: Another childhood destination in August

When I was a kid, after my parents moved to London, my family used to go to Scotland every August for our summer holidays – we stayed (for free, obviously) with relations in Wigtownshire where both my parents grew up, and in Edinburgh, where my father had an aunt. After I left college, I started going to the Edinburgh Film Festival (then in August; now in June). And, around 1985, I started going to the Edinburgh Fringe. So I have been going to Edinburgh in August for most of my life, possibly since I was an embryo.

And, perhaps excepting two years, for free.

When I was accredited at the Film Festival, I happily sat in press screenings in darkened rooms from 10.00am to 10.00pm.

When I came to the Fringe, it was usually scouting talent for TV companies, publishers or whatever.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The three Malcolm Hardee Awards, awaiting their collection

I started the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in 2007 partly because I thought Malcolm (who drowned in 2005) deserved to be remembered, definitely because I wanted to see new comedy talent and partly because it was a good way to get free tickets to every comedy show in Edinburgh for ten years. (I had trophies made in advance for 2007-2017.)

In 2007, shows were mostly pay-to-see at a rapidly escalating rate. If a show costs £10 and you see 6-8 shows per day for perhaps 28 days, that adds up. Well, at that rate, 6 shows per day actually adds up to £1,680.

It is said that the Free Fringe was started by PBH (Peter Buckley Hill) with one show in 1996. But it took a few years to get momentum going and it was probably just before I started the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards that the Free Fringe started having a serious impact.

In 2008, PBH himself was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality for starting the Free Fringe (the award eventually went to comic Ed Aczel) and, in 2009, PBH won the panel prize from the Perrier Award (which, that year, was calling itself the Edinburgh Comedy Awards).

This year, PBH has again been nominated for one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – as the Act Least Likely to Make a Million Quid because (the nomination says) “unlike most acts, Peter has heroically never aspired to make any money from the Fringe and has staunchly defended his free model.”

Peter has said he declines to be nominated: “I did not seek it and do not want it.”

Well, you can’t really turn down a nomination. You can turn down an award, if it were to be offered (which it has not been yet, at the time of writing) or send a Native American Indian along, like Marlon Brando did at the Oscars. There is, luckily, a community of Native American Indians in nearby Glasgow, left behind from when Buffalo Bill performed his Wild West show there in the early 20th century…

The Act Most Likely Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely’ Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

I have no idea if Peter will win this, one of the three increasing prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards. We decide this afternoon and announce the full awards at midnight tonight, during the Counting House show.

But he deserves an Award. He has changed the face of the Fringe.

Most of the shows I saw at the Fringe this year were free shows.

All three of the nominees for the main Comic Originality Award were performing free shows.

For the Cunning Stunt Award, two of the nominees were flyerers and the other one was performing a free show.

In the Act Most Likely To category, both the nominees were linked to free shows.

That reflects a major change in the Fringe.

Janey Godley podcasts with daughter Ashley Storrie

Janey Godley (left) podcasts with daughter Ashley Storrie

In her podcast last week, my comedy chum Janey Godley, who has always very successfully performed in pay venues at the Fringe, revealed that, next year, she will be performing in a free venue. I know that she and her husband go through Fringe revenues with a fine tooth comb. This is not a minor change. If someone with Janey’s profile in Edinburgh is prepared to move from the pay model to the free model, others will move.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Uncategorized

The Edinburgh Fringe’s free festivals as seen by The Free Festival’s Alex Petty

GrouchyClub_MalcolmHardeeAwards2014

Blatant self interest at Edinburgh Fringe

I have to declare an interest. At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, the annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show AND the daily Grouchy Club which I am hosting with critic Kate Copstick are both being staged at The Counting House – a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue. The Edinburgh Fringe is strangely complicated. Pay attention. This year, the Fringe officially starts on Friday but, as always, actually starts this Wednesday. The Laughing Horse Free Festival and Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe/Pay What You Want shows start on Thursday. The La Favorita Freestival starts on Friday. And the PBH Free Fringe starts on Saturday. There are two types of venues in Edinburgh. There are the traditional ‘pay’ venues. That means audiences pay in advance to see the shows and the performers pay large amounts to rent the rooms and facilities.

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

But there are now four organisations hosting ‘free’ shows. That means entry is free (though you are expected to donate money on the way out) and the performers pay nothing to perform in the venue. The original Free Fringe was started by Peter Buckley-Hill (known as PBH) in 1996. He was later joined by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse Comedy, but they split in 2004 and Alex started the (in Peter’s eyes) competing Free Festival. My understanding was that Peter did not agree with Alex’s view that they should charge the acts a small amount to cover the cost of appearing in the printed Free Fringe programme (although the PBH Free Fringe runs fund-raising pre-Fringe shows in London). Last year, Bob Slayer started his ‘Pay What You Want’ version of the free model which means you can either get in for free or guarantee a seat by buying a £5 ticket in advance. This year, there was another breakaway from PBH’s original Free Fringe organisation. The breakaway organisers – calling themselves The Freestival – have managed to get £25,000 sponsorship from local La Favorita pizza chain, matched by £25,000 sponsorship from Arts & Business Scotland.

Alex Petty talked to me at the Soho Theatre

Alex Petty talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“PBH seemed to feel threatened by your Free Festival,” I said to Alex Petty when we met at the Soho Theatre in London. “Do you feel threatened by the new Freestival this year?” “Not at all,” said Alex. “I think the more free organisations the better. And let’s not forget the Scottish Comedy Festival down at The Beehive, where they do a mixture of paid and free stuff.” “Would you take sponsorship like the Freestival?” I asked. “I think that’s given them a good foundation this year,” said Alex. “They’ve started as quite a large organisation with several venues and performance spaces, whereas we started with one venue and gradually grew and acquired equipment and things we needed over the course of eleven years. What they’ve managed to do is get the equipment and stuff in and pay for the set-up for their venues in one go.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival logo

The Laughing Horse Free Festival logo for this year

“The Free Festival gets sponsorship in little ways – Kopparberg sponsor various bits of The Counting House. The Three Sisters is sponsored. It tends to be the venues themselves in partnership with sponsors, not us. It pays for the stages. “And then a lot of the companies behind the venues put money in as well. Our three main venues – The Counting House, Three Sisters and Espionage – spend a lot of money on advertising themselves, supplying equipment and staff. “We’ve never got to the point of having a big headline sponsor for the Free Festival. A lot of companies who want to sponsor comedy are alcohol companies and they want to get their products into the venues, but we have 22 venues all tied to different breweries, different companies. Some are owned by bigger companies; some are independent; trying to get them all to sign up to the same thing is difficult.”

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

The new Freestival 2014 logo from pizza sponsors La Favorita

“Now, with the Freestival,” I said, “there is even more competition.” “We’ve all got slightly different ideas,” said Alex. “It’s going to be a friendly rivalry.” “Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want shows are listed in your Free Festival brochure,” I said. “Can you see a joint Free brochure coming out?… Although presumably not with PBH Free Fringe shows in it.” “Peter can be very combative about stuff,” said Alex. “It’s his way or no way. He’s got a very set vision and sticking to that is good in many ways. You would think Peter would be happy and proud that there are so many people now doing free shows, but he’s not happy with other people doing similar things.” “The perceived problem with free shows,” I said, “is the quality.”

Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want hybrid of free and pay to book

Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want hybrid of both free & book

“Well,” said Alex, “there are good and bad free shows. There are good and bad paid shows. There used to be a lot of Oh. It’s free. It must be rubbish. But now people are just treating them as normal shows. Every individual show, free or paid, rests on its own laurels. “The more people put on serious free shows and set up decent venues, the more people will come across to the free shows. In the last eleven years, it’s grown ridiculously and we have not seen a dip in audiences even though, every year, there are more shows – We have grown; PBH has grown; Bob Slayer has come along and expanded things. I think, with bigger and better acts and more venues running for free, that is going to pull audiences away from paid to free venues rather than taking any numbers away from the existing free audience.” “But the quality of the free shows,” I persisted, “must be lower, because you haven’t got the technical back-up. You can’t do a 10-person musical.”

The cast of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel (Image by Idil Sukan of Draw HQ)

The cast of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel (Image by Idil Sukan of Draw HQ)

Austentatious was in The Counting House Ballroom last year,” Alex pointed out, “and this year we have Who Ya Gonna Call? (the Ghostbusters musical). In terms of putting on large, complex productions, it’s difficult. But the Ballroom at The Counting House means we can put on things which have 6-10 people on stage. It has programmable lights; we can do scene changes and lighting changes. The Three Sisters is getting there as well, with a couple of its bigger rooms.” “I understand,” I said, “that the Freestival have put soundproofing into the Cowgatehead. So things ARE looking up. But what do you get out of it? Not vast amounts of money.” “Sadly not,” said Alex. “Laughing Horse gets work and good PR. When performers go up to Edinburgh and then progress their career, we go on with them to other festivals where we do make money and we get a lot of good PR which pushes us up in the industry a bit for getting further work.

Janey Godley at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show last year (Photo by Stephen O’Donnell)

Janey Godley at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in the ballroom of The Counting House (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

“We don’t run quite so many comedy clubs any more. We have 10 or 15 places where we do regular monthly gigs or on-and-off. But we do a lot of corporate bookings and one-offs. We have 22 venues in Edinburgh during the Fringe – about 35 performance spaces. We have four venues during the Brighton Fringe. This year we did the Perth Fringe in Australia for the first time. Our main one in Australia is still the Adelaide Fringe; we manage some spaces out there. And we’ve done the Melbourne Fringe for the last couple of years. The Singapore Comedy Festival we started doing this year: we actually run that festival with guys out in Singapore – we pay acts to come out and do the festival. So we run venues and promote and produce shows and make money throughout the year.” “So how can you expand in Edinburgh?” I asked. “We’re comfortable with where we are at the moment. We’re at a size which is manageable. We want to do better what we are doing now.” “Have you ever wanted to perform yourself?” I asked. “No,” said Alex,. “I see all the stresses and strains the acts go through. I like being in the back room, enjoying it and putting stuff together.” “How did you get into the business?”

Laughing Horse came out of the Black Horse

Laughing Horse Comedy originally came from a Black Horse

“I used to go to a comedy club in Richmond with a mate of mine, Rob Lee. He wanted to get into comedy. It ended up not being the thing for him. “But I had sat down with him and his brother and we wrote a bit of material for him and he did do a few gigs and one of the local pubs we drank in – The Black Horse – said You should run a comedy club. That’s where the name Laughing Horse comes from. A couple of the guys he’d done open spots for – Kevin McCarron and Fenton McCoot…” “Fenton McCoot?” I asked. “He was an ex-hairdresser who, about a year-and-a-half in, just vanished completely. I’ve not heard from him since. He moved back to Ireland, apparently. But he just vanished at one point and him vanishing was when I started booking the acts because no other bugger would do it. So we started running a comedy club and we fucked everything up as we went along but gradually got our thing together and we got a second comedy club and, over the course of two or three years, learnt what we were doing and started to go up to the Edinburgh Fringe. We just learnt as we went. Now I can book all the acts I want to see myself.” “I like comedy,” I said, “ because it gives me a chance to meet bizarre, mentally-deranged people.” “There’s certainly a few of those around,” said Alex, “But I think the one thing that’s lacking on the comedy circuit these days is there are not the good entertaining nutters around that there used to be. People who would go on and do bizarre acts and be great at what they did for five minutes. I miss that element of the comedy circuit. It has got blander.”

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

A revolution at the Edinburgh Fringe. New Freestival organisers explain what to expect from them and their sponsors

The Festival Fringe is not part of the Edinburgh International Festival

The Fringe is not part of the Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh Fringe is a thing of Byzantine beauty organised by no-one and, within that non-organisation are lots of people organising things. 

I organise the annual highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Fringe. Last year they were the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. This year, they are the highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and my blog has taken over the mantle of being increasingly prestigious. Say it often enough and, with luck, people will start believing it.

If I were to attempt to simplify the organisation of the Edinburgh Fringe’s non-organisation, there are venues where you pay in advance (pay venues) and there are ‘free’ venues where you pay nothing to enter but, if you want, you can donate money on the way out (a bit like indoor busking).

There were, until this year, three free organisers:

PBH’s Free Fringe started it all, organised by highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee Peter Buckley Hill.

Around ten years ago, there was then a split in the Free Fringe ranks and the Free Festival began, organised by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse, in one of whose venues I stage the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Emerging from the Free Festival in the last couple of years has been the Heroes of Fringe Pay What You Want venues run by highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Bob Slayer. At his venues, you can either walk in for free or pay for a ticket in advance to guarantee a seat.

Then, back in December, I blogged about another rift in the Free Fringe which has now spawned the Freestival, organised by a hydra-headed committee of performers all of whom, I imagine, aspire to win a highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

If you need any more background, I suggest you either take counselling or settle down, take Valium and read the blog I wrote last December about the genesis of the new Freestival group.

On the Freestival website (soon to be re-designed) there are eleven members of “the current committee and helpers” listed.

Last night, four of them – Dan Adams, Sean Brightman, Al Cowie and Alex Marion – explained more to me.

Last night (from left): Sean Brightman, Dan Adams, Alex Marion, Al Cowie

Last night in London (from left) four elevenths of Freestival: Sean Brightman, Dan Adams, Alex Marion and Al Cowie

As they are part of a hydra-headed collective speaking collectively – and, frankly, because I can’t be bothered to differentiate between the four voices on my sound recording – I shall quote what the four of them individually said as coming from a mythical single beast called The Freestival.

“You had a big bust-up with Peter Buckley Hill,” I started. “You suggested ways in which you thought the Free Fringe could be improved.”

“An innocent mistake,” said the Freestival. “In hindsight, we should probably not have done that but, then, we would have ended up doing shows somewhere else.”

“So you would have broken away anyway?”

“We might have gone with Laughing Horse,” said the Freestival, “or Heroes of the Fringe without the hassle.

“With the Free Fringe, it’s PBH’s name on it and however much he’s set up committees in the past, it’s pretty well established it’s always him. With Laughing Horse, it’s Alex and he gets other people on board to help, but it’s him and he works very very hard. Bob Slayer, same thing: he’s keeping it very small – very wise – and he’s going great guns with it but, again, it’s just him.

“We set the Freestival up as a committee and the thing that differentiates us from any of the other free groups is we have an accountant. Plus, should any issues happen, we’ve got some flexibility in the system, because what we’ve done is looked round at who has the expertise in various different areas, so that we can call on them and genuinely use them. None of us knew about accountancy, so we’ve got in a fantastic accountant performer – Gemma Beagley.

“Essentially, we want to bring in the money from outside that will allow us to put on really good free Fringe sh…”

“You can’t use those two words together,” said the Freestival, interrupting itself.

“Free Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied the Freestival, “apparently it’s illegal for us to use the two words together.

“It’s difficult to describe without using those words,” continued the Freestival. “But essentially what we want a festival full of acts we believe in so we can promote them to the public with genuine honesty. With all due respect, all of the other free organisations are pretty much open to anyone.”

Random visual plug for my Fringe show

A random plug for Bob Slayer

(Before I get a complaint from Big Bob Slayer, I should point out that, keeping things small, he is very choosy about the acts he allows to perform in his venues.)

“What we have,” continued the hydra-headed Freestival, “is the manpower to select the acts we really want to put on. It’s like running a comedy club where we put on the best acts available to us on the night. So, when people go to a Freestival show, they will know it’s going to be a good show in a good venue. We want all of our venues to be a pleasure to go to. In Edinburgh, for performers and audiences, that’s not always the case. There was one in a toilet last year.”

“There seemed to be some doubt,” I said, “that you had The Tron as one of your venues.”

“We do have The Tron,” said the Freestival. “And The Cowgatehead, which is opposite the Underbelly. Last year it was called The Cowshed.”

“They were both PBH venues last year,” I said.

“Yes. The reason they’re coming with us this year,” said the Freestival, “is that they are directly linked to our sponsor. We do have a sponsor – La Favorita, a chain of Pizza restaurants, a local Edinburgh business. They’re a restaurant group (the Vittoria Group) with a small chain of pizza delivery restaurants. They had a concession outside the Tron Church at last year’s Fringe.”

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

“How many venues have you got,” I asked, “and how many rooms within those venues?”

“We’re currently working on getting around twelve venues,” replied the Freestival.

“Each with multiple rooms?” I asked.

“There might be more spaces, but we’re working towards a 12-venue plan. We’ve got the Cowgatehead, the Tron, St James, which is a brand new venue near the Grassmarket. Inside that, we’ve got two floors with a main room for about 150 people and we’re going to put two rooms on the top floor, each of which will be 60-80. It’s going to be built to our spec.”

“Why are you different from the other free venue organisers?” I asked.

“We want people,” said the Freestival, “to be astounded by how good our venues are. And we want to publicise all of our shows. It’s not enough to just say They’re in our brochure, so that’s our responsibility to them discharged. If both the acts AND we publicise those shows, then all of us benefit.”

“Is that where the sponsor’s money is going?” I asked.

“The sponsor,” said the Freestival, “is paying for the brochures, the publicity costs, the new website and the setting-up of the venues. The acts are spending six months preparing the best show they can create and we don’t think they should have to set up the venue themselves.”

“So,” I asked, “will each of your venues have a venue manager and a sound person?”

“Yes,” said the Freestival, “though there might be a couple of venues that share sound people.”

“Are the sound people free?” I asked.

“There is a small up-front sub,” said the Freestival, “which is on our website. It is £80.”

“What was PBH charging last year?” I asked.

“£3 per each individual day’s performance,” said the Freestival, “and/or you had to organise as many benefits shows as you could for the Free Fringe. If anyone thinks they can find a venue in Edinburgh in August, fully set-up with publicity and technical support as part of the package, for less than £80 over three weeks, they’re welcome to go and take it. What the sponsor’s money allows us to provide is quality venues. And soundproofing wherever possible.”

“Perhaps,” I said, “the sponsor could soundproof the walls with pizzas. You could have the first edible Fringe venues.”

“How we have approached sponsorship,” explained the Freestival, “is How will it benefit what we want to do? NOT How will it benefit the sponsor? The sponsor gets concession stands selling pizzas at a couple of the venues and outside The Tron, exactly as they had last year. They want to get their name seen everywhere because they want to grow as a business and this does that for them.

A random pizza, like the Fringe, full of ingredients

A random pizza, like the Fringe, full of different ingredients

“Having an accountant and sponsor on board informs the decision-making process, but we have control over any artistic decision. There will be nothing about this does or does not fit the sponsor’s brand. None of that at all. What the sponsor wants is to be part of something which will be good. They have no control over the creative side of things. They are just a conduit to provide us with the ability to stage some really good shows.”

“What about the antagonism from PBH over the split?” I said.

“He wants to shout, he wants to scream at us,” said the Freestival, “but really we’re not here to undermine him. We’re just here because we think there’s another way of doing things that can achieve a better set of results.

“Every year, the Free Fringe grows, every year there’s more venues, more shows and inevitably what that means is that there’s less control over the quality of the venues. What we want to do is keep small, keep to a limited number of venues, keep to acts we believe in, that we can publicise with our whole heart, that we can inter-act with and put them in venues they are happy to play in and the public want to spend time in.

“We have made a conscious effort to make relationships with other parts of the Fringe and the comedy industry in general. Hils Jago of Amused Moose will be running Logan Murray’s comedy courses in our venues.

“Whilst we are another free entity up in Edinburgh,” said the Freestival, “I truly believe there’s room for many more free entities up there and many more different models. All of us really believe in our model but, if other people want to go with different models or to perform in our venues AND in other people’s venues, fantastic for them.”

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Why comedian Richard Herring thinks creating free comedy will make money

A ‘selfie’ taken by Richard Herring last week

A ‘selfie’ taken by Richard Herring last week

Richard Herring’s career and credits are a bit like Irish or Balkan politics or his hair – you could go mad trying to disentangle it. Go read Wikipedia.

But, between 1992 and 2000, he first became famous (or arguably for a second time, if you count radio) as a double act with Stewart Lee for their TV series Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy.

He has been writing his weekly Metro newspaper column for two years – he wrote his 100th last Friday. And he has written his daily blog Warming Up for 11 years. He recorded The Collings and Herrin Podcast 2008-2011 with Andrew Collins and has been podcasting solo since then.

He also co-wrote Al Murray’s 2000-2002 Sky TV series Time Gentlemen Please.

Next week, he records the second episode of his self-financed online TV series Richard Herring’s Meaning of Life at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Last June, he wrote in a Daily Telegraph article that he thought the world was “approaching a revolution in entertainment similar to the one a century ago that led to the explosion in film-making… We are our own media moguls, and as such are denting the power and influence of those who have traditionally held the reins.”

He says: “I am increasingly excited about the artistic possibilities of the internet”.

“After Time Gentlemen Please, I had a bit of time,” he told me last week at Bar Italia in London.. “So I thought if I wrote a blog – Warming Up – every morning it would get my brain working, then I would do the proper work I was meant to be doing.

“I wasn’t doing stand-up at the time. I’d done a couple of one-man shows. I wasn’t looking to create stand-up material from the blog. But, when I started doing stand-up again in about 2004 I found, having written something every day, you could look through it and there might be a routine in it you would never have thought of doing if you hadn’t already written the stuff.

Richard’s new project - his own TV series

Richard’s current self-made online project – his own TV series

“Even now, when I’m writing Meaning of Life, I can type PARANORMAL or GHOSTS into the search engine and 20 or 30 blog entries will come up. So quite a lot of things in the second episode come from my blog of 5 or 6 or 10 years ago: it’s a great resource. There’s so many things in there I can’t remember writing which might make good routines. I’ve just passed the 4,000th entry and I’ve written something like 2 million words. The blog’s been a really great way of getting good at writing succinctly. Often, when I really hit form, a blog will be almost perfect as a routine; then, if I take it on stage and play around with it…’

“Good forward planning?” I asked.

“No,” said Richard. “I didn’t start the blog with any intentions other than thinking it would be a good way of getting people to come to my website every day. With all the stuff I’ve put on the internet the impetus, really, has been I’d rather get this stuff out there than just sit there either not doing anything or doing stuff which nobody ever sees.

Al Murray’s sitcom series actually got made

Al Murray’s sitcom series actually got made

“Over the last ten years, I’ve written quite a lot of scripts and, since Time Gentlemen Please, I’ve only had one that was actually made for TV – and even that was just a one-off thing which didn’t get to a series. I’ve probably written 8 or 9 different pilots. I got paid for them all, which is great, but it’d be nicer if they had got made as series because then you’d actually get paid some proper money.

“I’ve always felt like I’ve had a lot of ideas and TV and radio haven’t always been… I mean, I’ve always done OK, but they haven’t been desperate to employ me. So it’s kind of nice now you can go on the internet and just show you can do something. It’s hard work and I think a lot of comedians don’t get this about the business: there’s so many people trying to be comedians and writers now and a lot of them work really, really, really hard and, if you’re not prepared to work as hard, you’re not going to break through.

“It’s good to keep pushing yourself and I think, with the internet now, you make your own success. You can’t sit back now and say Ooh, if they’d let me on TV, I’d be amazing because you can just do it yourself now. You can write your own articles, you can make your own radio show, you can make your own online TV shows now.”

“But can you make any money out of all this hard work?” I asked.

“Well, I think you can,” Richard told me, “because, if you believe in yourself and you’re good… I mean, I would say I am giving away for free maybe 70% of what I do. And then I tour and then I do DVDs and I make money on that and doing bits and pieces here and there. I’m making more money now than I’ve ever made before and I can’t really sit down and work out why that is – apart from the fact that the podcasts I have done have trebled my audience.

Even after Fist of Fun, Richard Herring (left) and Stewart Lee were not getting enormous bums on seats

Even after their TV success with Fist of Fun, Richard (left) and Stewart Lee were not getting enormous bums on theatre seats

“Even directly after we were on TV with Lee & Herring, I might sell 30 tickets for live shows or, if I was lucky, I might sell 100 tickets. I would perform in London and 50 people might come and see me. That was directly after the TV series. People knew who I was and we had fans, but they weren’t coming out.

“Then I stopped stand-up; did the blogs; came back to stand-up; started to do the podcasts; did the Edinburgh Fringe pretty much every year doing different types of shows; then I started touring the shows; and, over the last 12 years, I’ve toured a show every year.

“We started doing the podcasts almost exactly six years ago. We gave the podcasts out for free but, if I said on the podcast Oh, I’ll be in Bristol this week, if there were 100 people listening in Bristol and 50 decided to come along, that would immediately double my audience.”

“What’s it like now?” I asked.

“I’m not like a TV presence,” Richard shrugged. “I can’t go out and do a 1,000 seater. I can play in 500-seater theatres and I’ll still get 100 people in some places, but I’ll probably average about 300 people which is a very good living. When you do 30-50 people, you’ll break even and maybe make a little bit of money. When you get 300 plus, you can make a lovely living touring the country if those people keep coming.

“If you get on TV, yes they’ll think Oh, it’s that guy on TV and lots of people will come and see you, but a third of them will not really know what to expect. The way I’ve done it, which is much harder work though more satisfying, is to do 12 consecutive years of touring on my own. So maybe people who have enjoyed that show will come the next year and bring a friend. And the people who have enjoyed the podcasts may come and maybe bring a friend.

“Audiences have definitely built that way. I figure all the stuff I’m doing online for nothing will bring in new fans.”

“And last year at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said, “you were giving away free DVDs to entice people in to your live show – because, quite rightly, you thought the big, expensive street posters have very little effect.”

“Well,” explained Richard, “people get sucked into what you supposedly have to do and, especially in Edinburgh, things get more and more expensive. I think those large billboard posters and lamp post posters are mainly ego for the performers. I just don’t think it’s worth £3,000… If it were £1,000, maybe. People think it shows a presence, it shows TV people that maybe you’re a name; but there are SO many of them that it doesn’t.

Tim Vine

Tim Vine’s 2006 Fringe poster announcing he was not there

“Ten years ago, if you were the only person doing that maybe – or if you were Tim Vine when he had that enormous poster saying he was not appearing at that year’s Fringe – That was worth its weight in gold.

“But what I’m saying is, if you have £3,000 to spend on publicity, try to think of an interesting way to spend it that will actually attract attention. People are not walking past those billboards any more thinking Ooh! He’s on a billboard. I’d better go and see him.

Richard: the big thing is attract attention

Richard: the big thing is attract attention

“People are wise to it and people are wise to the 5-star reviews all over the place: they know it’s just people putting up their own reviews from websites. It’s fine, but it doesn’t mean anything; it’s just one punter’s opinion.”

“And giving away the free DVDs in Edinburgh worked?” I asked.

“I’m not sure it completely worked,” said Richard, “but it didn’t make any difference. So rather than spending £3,000-£4,000 on posters, I had something to give away and we’ve sold 200 or so online which has got half the money back and I have some left over which I sell at gigs, so I will make the money back.”

… CONTINUED HERE

There is an interesting video on Vimeo showing the process of creating a poster for Richard’s 2013 show We’re All Going To Die

1 Comment

Filed under Blogs, Comedy, Podcasts, Television