If you can't stand the heat...

Matt Rudge on summer Edinburgh previews

Rejoice! The heat wave has arrived! Outside the weather is wonderful, find the factor 15. Get the beach towels out. Let us pasty-faced Brits burn in the midday sun.

Oh the sun. Everyone loves the summer. Everyone, that is, except dogs in cars and gigging comedians.

Summer is to comedy, what Kryptonite is to Superman. It’s a scientific fact that the emergence of our closest star destroys comedy nights, only for them to regenerate in autumn. Add to it this year a bonus of the Royal Wedding, extended bank holiday weekends, and some small thing called a recession, and there seems to be a bigger drought of comedy over the next few months than ever before.

What makes it even more frustrating for me this year is the specific need to get myself ready and match fit for Edinburgh. Previews, previews, previews. I am desperately seeking previews.

Edinburgh previews are the pre-season training of comedians. Putting in the work now will avoid career-threatening injuries further down the line, and allow you to shake off that horrific tackle from a Chortle review a lot easier than you otherwise could.

But this year, the year I take my debut show to The Fringe, (What?– oh you’re right, I should plug it here, We Could Be Heroes, 19:15, Pleasance Below) one stumbling block has become increasingly apparent. Not only are gigs difficult to come by every summer, not only is this year even worse, but getting an hour-long preview slot at a gig is as rare as the fresh faeces of a rocking horse. I’ve been hunting and chasing previews for months now, and it has proved more frustrating than I ever imagined.

I receive the emails, the gig lists, and the circulars from bookers. ‘Booking for previews,’ they read. ‘Please reply with your availability.’

But demand outstrips supply. It’s basic economics. It’s so simple, even a banker from Lehmann Brothers could get his head round it.

Predictably, a preview pecking order quickly materializes.

Got your own TV show? Go to the front.

Been on Let’s Dance for Comic Relief? Carry on.

Former award nominee? Keep walking.

Little upstart I’ve not heard of with a debut hour? I’ll let you know if we have a cancellation. Oh. And we won’t.

I knew I should have been less picky about TV offers. Hindsight now tells me had I accepted that appearance on ITV2’s OMG with Peaches Geldof I may have got that little preview in a room for 12 people I saw going in Berwick-Upon-Tweed.

I start blaming myself. I’m a dick. Did I leave it too late? I must have.. But seeing as Edinburgh is in August, I thought I was well ahead of the pack starting my search in February! That’s before some people even know if they have a slot at the festival! Surely people aren’t booking preview slots when they don’t even know if they are going up? What… they are? Selfish bastards. How early are you supposed to book them then? Is it like posh school? Should my mum and dad have put me on some waiting list when they found out they were pregnant with me!?

‘When we were told it was a boy we immediately enrolled him at Westminster School, and got him a week at the Soho Theatre.’

Nigel Klarfeld of Bound and Gagged Comedy, one of the biggest and longest standing promoters of Edinburgh shows said: ‘We feel the talent now realise that it does not matter how many previews you have, it will never be enough, which is why everyone is booking so far in advance. Many years ago previews were only looked at April onwards, but now we are going out to see shows previewing in October for the following Edinburgh.’


I email all the pre-Edinburgh comedy festivals I can find on Google. Most of them booked the line up for this coming year in 2003, or their rooms are huge theatres. One comedy festival has a website with a contact email, but that person replies saying they don’t even know who actually runs the town’s festival. They pass me on to the local council who pass me on to the arts funding who pass me on to the venue office who pass me on to the council who pass me on to parking permit hotline…. It is obviously a front for Al Qaeda.

I change tactics and I decide next time I see gigs advertising for preview slots in andy room on any night in andy part of the UK I will apply. I don’t care if I am in Lands End the night before and it’s in John O’Groats. I don’t care about making money, hell I don’t care about losing money, I just want the stage time. Surely I must stand a chance with some of these gigs?

Oooh… an email!

‘Edinburgh preview on offer. Gibraltar. £23 fee. Must drive another act from London and take my Nan to the doctors.’

I jump at it, but they’ve filled it within seconds of sending the email. An act that’s been on Live at The Apollo and Mock The Week five times has beaten me to it. And apparently he was already on friendly terms with the Nan. And she’s a massive fan of his routine about cheese on toast.

‘Why’s the cheese on the toast? Huh? ON the toast? Why isn’t it UNDER the toast. or on the side of the toast? What’s going on there?’

I try another route for previews. Instead of just the established gigs, or the comedy festivals, I start booking some venue rooms myself in a few cities where I know I will get a crowd. But of course there are only so many previews you can do in these cities, without wearing out your fanbase, friends and family. Thank god some of the people that like me border on ‘stalker’ status. Hopefully they’ll keep coming back. Especially when they hear my new beans on toast routine.

After thousands of emails, hundreds of calls and a handful of letters I now total two nights in Leicester, three in London, one near Hastings, and three in Brighton. Surely that’s not enough? Granted I am a rookie at this preview malarkey, but I’m positive I heard one well-known comedian at last years fringe say he’d done over twenty. Maybe he was referring to audience members.

And so it goes on. And Edinburgh gets nearer. Oh god, I start hearing the critic’s poisoned pens writing on the inside of my head.

‘Did this guy even practice these routines?!!’

‘I’m not sure if Rudge was having a breakdown or putting on a show. Did he prepare this rambling?’

‘Brilliantly whimsical anti-comedy. Recommended.’

Oh. Well. It’s all subjective… I suppose….

At last an offer comes through. The guy from Mock The Week and Live At The Apollo has dropped out, and there IS now a gap going in Gibraltar, but its tonight, and he wants to know if he can reduce the fee to £9. The weather is extremely hot you see, audience numbers are down, and what with the recession and Royal Wedding… ‘Of course’ I write. ‘Can’t wait to meet your Nan.’

Preview season is a great leveler - a reality check to all of us going up to the fringe, that no matter how far we may have come since we started, or no matter how established we may one day hopefully become, we will always need to do leg work, road test material, and be thankful for those that book you, in any room in any far flung corner of the country, and any amount of people that show up.

It’s also a reminder of our roots. Its how we all started. Scrambling for gigs. Driving up and down the country, phoning and emailing round and attempting to forge relationships with promoters and bookers. And cursing them when they don’t respond.

And if nothing else, at least it’s hot outside.

Published: 4 May 2011

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