Back in February, I wrote a blog about an anonymous comedian who had decided NOT to perform at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe because of the financial complications it always involves and the balance of creative risk-taking.
The then-anonymous comedian was Hayden Cohen who, last year, rather successfully performed his Age of The Geek show in Edinburgh.
He has now changed his mind and he will be performing his new show at the Fringe – Secrets of the Elders of Zion (which I blogged about in January).
I Skyped him in Tenerife this week…
Quite why he was in Tenerife wearing a white hat, looking like a dodgy South American dictator from the 1950s and surrounded by the sound of twittering exotic birds, I did not dare ask, in case he was involved in some secret conspiracy. But I did risk asking:
“Why did you change your mind about not going to this year’s Fringe?”
“I was desperate to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award,” he replied immediately.
“And how are you going to do that?” I asked this man who will clearly go far in showbusiness.
“I was going to try and get a gigantic Star of David,” he explained, “and hand out flyers that said: Sshhhhh…. It’s a secret! but I don’t think that’s cunning enough to get a Cunning Stunt Award. Maybe I need to offer free head-shavings, where you can get a Star of David shaved into the back of your head. Or a little tattoo just on the neckline.”
“Or have a number tattooed on your arm,” I suggested.
Hayden ignored this and told me: “I’m going to be at the Paradise Green venue. I’m actually paying. I think it has to be a pay venue. I think, if it was in a free venue, it would definitely attract the crazies.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Just because people are interested in stuff to do with Zionism and Jews. It’s difficult. I’m playing off that whole Jewish stereotype thing anyway, aren’t I? I don’t mind hecklers, in fact I quite like funny hecklers, but what I don’t want is people stopping other audience members enjoying the show. I just feel someone could start Oh I think blah blah blah… and going off on one.
“I don’t mind discussing or arguing with people – I love it – but, if people have paid to see a show, other audience members are likely to tell then to shut up and, frankly, if someone wants to pay money to heckle me – well – good for them; why not? I’m getting their money,”
“So you’re expecting to be heckled?” I asked.
“The show is only offensive if you want to take it as offensive,” Hayden said. “I’m not out to offend anyone but, at the same time, I’m a bit sick of mainstream comedy that doesn’t have bite any more.”
“Why did you change your mind about going to the Fringe?” I asked. “Have you won the Lottery?”
“No,” said Hayden. “It’s just I won’t be losing anywhere near £4,000. I’ve got a chance of breaking even – a chance. I’ll still probably end up losing money, but it won’t be too bad. At worst I might lose about £1,000 tops.”
“You do it for the love of it?” I asked.
“It actually annoys me when people say We do comedy for the love of it,” replied Hayden. “I think Well, yeah… I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it. But, at the same time, I think performers are being exploited at the Fringe. There’s a risk-reward ratio with anything. You invest in it; and it pays off or it doesn’t.
“My issue with the Fringe is that, just to beak even, you have to have a 75% paying capacity audience – that’s what I figured out for my own shows. You hear about Aaaaaa Bbbbbb who loses £7,000 every time she goes up and it’s nuts.
“Like anyone else, I will have crafted my show for months. I’ve crafted my performing art for years. And to go out on stage at the Fringe with likely zero chance of making money. I’m charging £7 and £5, which isn’t a lot, but it’s not pennies either. The punters think we’re making money and we’re not. How can you continue to go back?”
“Well,” I said, “there’s that eternal chance you’ll get spotted and it will change your life.”
“Alright,” said Hayden. “Maybe I’m a hypocrite! If a big venue or agency snapped me up and said We love your show, Hayden, but you need to take all that Jewish stuff out and we’ll pay you £50,000 to do it, would I say No? Probably not.”
“So that’s the golden apple dangling at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “It’s all potential sunshine and happiness.”
“But,” said Hayden, “this show, artistically, scares the life out of me.”
“Every silver lining had a dark cloud,” I said. “The weather is always ‘interesting’ at the Fringe.”