Wed, 28 Aug 2013 16:24:34 GMT
Every August the population of Edinburgh triples in size. Drama students, comedians and meeja types flock to the Scottish capital, doing their noble bit to ensure that the locals have something to whinge about. Last week I headed northwards to take in some comedy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. With thousands of plays, musical acts, circus troupes and comics competing for attention, putting on a show at the Fringe might just be the toughest advertising gig there is. With so much raw creativity on show, as acts and promoters fight their way to the top of the ‘must see’ list, there are plenty lessons for any adlander who takes a trip to Edinburgh.
Real life spam is so much worse than email spam
With the Edinburgh International Festival, the Festival Fringe, the Television Festival, Book Festival, the Art Festival and the Military Tattoo, the place does tend to get a little bit culture-clogged. Working in the aforementioned ‘meeja’ and having grown up just outside Edinburgh, I find myself in both camps – Edinburgh in August is something to be both enjoyed and endured. Love the comedy, love the culture, love the fact the world gets to see the modern face of a very old city. Don’t love being accosted by in-character amateur dramatic troupes and having flyers thrust in my face as I attempt to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. At least I can ignore email spam. At least it doesn’t clog up your handbag with the contents of Wernham Hogg and Dunder Mifflin’s combined paper stock. Think about the trees, people!
Above: Temporary recycling bin ready for leaflets
The personal touch is worth it
Depending where you get your figures, the average cost of putting on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe is anything from £10,000 to £30,000. There’s the cost of hiring a venue for three weeks, tech support (if you’re lucky), accommodation, advertising space, taking on an army of students to spam passers-by with flyers, beer money… Some shows turn a profit, but many comics end their run with a net loss. I think I might be a bit of a sucker for a hard luck story, but I was rather won over by the young comedians desperate to get bums on seats for their next show and were willing to get out and about to engage potential punters in conversation. As long as they were not in character. Non-consensual interactive street theatre is not cool. Not. Cool.
(Speaking of the personal touch, Australian comedian Bec Hill has described how she kept costs down and managed to turn a profit thanks to a DIY mentality and a bit of creativity. Read about it in this article on the cost of performing at the Fringe.)
Twofers… work. They just do.
Loathe as I am to admit this one, a substantial number of the shows I ended up going to see were chosen on the basis that the tickets were on ‘two-for-one’. It’s not terribly sophisticated. It’s definitely not creative. And it certainly won’t win at Cannes. But given that there were 1017 comedy shows registered with this year’s Fringe and they seemingly all got four star reviews, the chance of a cheeky bargain is going to swing you. Which brings me on to my next point…
Three Stars are the new One Stars
There was a time when the star-based reviewing system sort of worked. One star meant ‘avoid like the plague’, two stars was ‘look it’s not exactly good, but it could be one star worse’, three stars shrugged ‘yeah, quite good’, four stars ‘very good’ and five was ‘exceptional’. Having dabbled in comedy reviewing myself and spoken to a few promoters in my time, I’ve observed a creeping star inflation. Four stars has become the new baseline as promoters slap them across posters. These days a clutch of three star reviews could mean the kiss of death to an Edinburgh run – though less harsh than a one- or two-star review, it’s a polite indication that while the performer was reasonably amusing and seemed a nice enough person, comedy-goers would be better off saving their money. It’s still a challenge to eke out a five star jack pot though – meaning that every advertised show boasts an array of four star reviews. If you’re a comedy geek with your ear to the ground and the inclinations to study the newspapers, dailies and websites covering the Fringe, maybe you can see past the star ratings to hunt out nuggets of comedy gold. But most people are not.
Bad gigs are like bad research groups
Squirming awkwardly in a desert of empty chairs as an out-of-pocket hipster, who has mistaken occasionally amusing anecdotes about his latest holiday for ‘comedy’, makes unwaverfing, desperate eye contact with you is all part of the Fringe experience. It’s what psychologists call ‘anchoring’, I believe. Get a couple of on-stage comedycides under your belt and the next middling comic that you see with an actual workable concept and (if you’re really lucky) some jokes becomes the second coming of George Carlin.
But I’d also recommend a mid-afternoon trip to a one-star wonder for more, err, professional reasons too. Imagine it: trying to freeze a limp smile onto your face while subtly sneak a glance at the wall clock lest your obvious boredom produces the final crack in the fragile ego of the self-identified comedian in front of you. Worse still is when the set is performed in a brightly lit bar and two people have already walked out, leaving an audience of five to prop up the performer’s crumbling fantasy. One false move and it collapses like Jenga. Or maybe Ker-Plunk. So you sit, nod encouragingly and try to muster up the odd laugh. The poor, deluded soul has sunk thousands of pounds and months of work into the project – what? Are you going to be the one to make him cry? Loud, snotty sobs on stage – could you live with that? And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should never trust anything a focus group tells you. Most people are just too polite to tell you the cold, hard truth.
No one has heard of you
One of my personal highlights of the Fringe was a show by comedian Nish Kumar. In it he dissected his experience of having a publicity photo transformed into the ‘Angry Muslim’ meme by some anonymous online lurker. As he discusses and dismisses the possible reasons for his irritation, he is left with one unavoidable conclusion. Despite having spent the last five or six years working as a comedian, performing hundreds and hundreds of shows... it seems that no one has heard of him. Both advertising and stand-up are bursting with more than their fair share of egos and attention seekers, convinced that their proclamations are the last word in originality and insight. It’s a tendency that is nurtured by the respective industries. After all a comedian faced with rows of A0-sized posters of themselves on every Edinburgh street and an ad person with a shelf creaking with shiny trophies can quite easily fall into the trap of thinking that they’re more famous than they actually are.
Yay the wimminz!
It is the year 2013. We have Skype and Google Glass and litterbins with moving-image advertising displays. And yet there are still people who claim that women are inherently unfunny. These people tend to be a bit on the primordial goop side of the genetic pond, but still. This year, though, it was female comedians who had the last laugh at Edinburgh. Bridget Christie took the Foster’s Comedy Award, the major award of the festival, for her show ‘A Bic For Her’. Despite being scheduled for the 11.10 A.M. (if Edinburgh comedy has a graveyard slot, it’s hangover o'clock in the morning), her show was impossible to get tickets for. I know. I tried. But despite missing Christie, it was the female comedians who provided me with some of the biggest laughs of the week – if you get the chance to check out the likes of Natalie Luurtsema and Sarah Campbell, I recommend that you do.
There is an industry that is bitchier than advertising...
... and it's called comedy. As factions of promoters and venues square up against each other, all that acerbic wit is put to work. Comics will quite happily tease their mates and slag off their enemies on stage. The rivalry between two spin-off 'free' comedy festivals also provides plenty on and offstage bad-mouthing. And no one has a nice word for poor old Michael McIntyre.
view more - CreativeLBB Editorial, Wed, 28 Aug 2013 16:24:34 GMT