The top tip for Edinburgh? Don't go...

But if you do, here are Dave Cohen's survival tips

It’s that time of year again. Daffodils in the park, blossom on the trees, what do you care? You’re a comedian. All you can think of right now is that constant nagging going round and round in your head: Should I go to Edinburgh this summer? Can I afford not to? Is this going to be the festival that makes me a star?

Here are a few friendly hints from someone who’s been far more times than a grown man should: made money, lost money, aged a year in a month eleven times on the trot, and (finally) survived.

1. DON’T GO

Seriously. It’s not worth it. This year, even if you’re a comic with a good profile, you’re going to lose more money than you ever have in the space of one month. With universities completely broke and sugar daddies heading back to Moscow as the debts pile up, there’s sure to be far less competition - but that means the only people who will be going are those who really stand a 50-50 chance of doing well.

You’re not just competing with every show, you’re competing for every punter’s pound. And not only will there be fewer punters this year, they’ll all have less money. And if Corden and Horne decide to follow their hero Ricky Gervais to the Castle, that’s going to be a hell of a lot of 25 quids that won’t be going to you.

You’re not persuaded? Didn’t think so. Fact is you go through this little routine every year, and you inevitably end up going. In which case, at least think about the following:

2. PERFORM AT ONE OF THE FREE (OR CHEAPO) FESTIVALS

Since they first came on to the scene to be scoffed at by the big venues who feel they have the right to dictate the terms of the Fringe, the free festivals have come to play an increasingly important role. There really never was any shame in performing for free at the Fringe, and this summer that’s where the audiences will be heading. And don’t be too put off by the ‘free’ tag – I was talking to a fairly well-known comic the other day, who made £400 from the bucket that had been passed around at his ‘free’ show.

3. YOUR SHOW

It has to be incredible. And you’re not just competing with comedy, you’re also up against Fringe stars, world-famous authors, subsidised theatre and famous people with boring anecdotes who people go to see simply because they’re famous. If your show is brilliant then word-of-mouth will sell it. If it’s merely OK, or even quite good, then I just hope you’re not behind on your mortgage payments, because the Fringe is now more than ever about…

4. MONEY

Don’t even think of going to the festival in the expectation of making money or breaking even. Unless you’re an ex-banker living off your pension or operate an illegal laundering scam, you should constantly be looking to minimise costs. Performing will not be enough – you’ll be expected to go out on the streets and…

5. SELL YOUR SHOW

Despite all the breakaway festivals and mountains of paper on the streets, the Fringe Programme remains the bible for festival-goers. Hundreds of thousands of people walk around Edinburgh reading it. You have 40 words to sell your show. Use them wisely. What makes your show intriguing? Why should we come and see it? Get an old Fringe programme, read the blurb from other people – and do better. That’s so much more important than…

6. HYPE

Ignore all the pre-Edinburgh hype. This is the truth: If you have a really good show, you will eventually get an audience. If you’re well known, or have lots of money, you’ll feature heavily in the build-up, and do good business in the opening weekend, but unless you’ve got a decent show you won’t sell tickets. Which reminds me…

7. MONEY

Book your travel tickets as early as possible. You can pick up a return train ticket from most parts of the UK to Edinburgh for 30 quid. Think creatively about accommodation. Ideally you will have a friend with a spare room who lives in Edinburgh. If not, a relative. Failing that, a friend of a friend. Try a flat swap. Constantly check the Fringe message boards. Or stay on a campsite. Do anything and everything to keep your costs down. And once you get there…

8. STAY HEALTHY

Try not to go drinking every night. It’s so tempting, once your show is over, to drink yourself into a stupor with a bunch of fellow performers, who, like you, are enduring the painful misery of turning up to the venue and finding that even at their one-man-shows, they outnumber their audience. Worse, they’re doing well and that will make you feel even more miserable. You have to rise above that and get on with your…

9. PUBLICITY

Don’t sit around waiting for your audience. Go out and press-gang them to come and see you. And don’t just hand out a leaflet, find a queue (in Edinburgh in August you’re never more than seven feet from a queue) and work it. You have to be a street performer. And don’t expect…

10. REVIEWS

Then, don’t expect them to be good. Allow yourself exactly one hour to wallow in utter misery and depression for each bad review you get. (Word always gets out when you’ve got a stinking one, so if you can, avoid seeing that one completely.) And don’t expect good reviews to increase your audience. Keep your expectations low at all times. That helps your…

11. SANITY

The Fringe is a slog. If you’re going up this year, you’re already emotionally committed. You need to train for it as if you’re about to conquer Everest. You need to be physically fit, and you need to be mentally prepared for the hours of tedium, sweat and boredom that fill most of your days in Edinburgh. Be sure to build in treats to your timetable.

Ten days in, when you know pretty much how things are going, you can start taking the odd afternoon or morning off. There are plenty of cheap or free things to do – walk round Princes Street Gardens, take a bus to Cramond Island, or Portobello (the seaside), or the Botanic Gardens, walk along the canal. And finally…

12. MONEY

Make sure you’ve got some lucrative work lined up for September. You’ll need it.

Good luck!

Published: 25 Mar 2009

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