This year, as Chortle has previously reported, Iím giving £100 to Macmillan Cancer Support for every press review of my Edinburgh show, regardless of whether itís a favourable review or not.
Itís my own humble addition to the glorious history of promotional shenanigans that range from Tim Vineís sublime billboard announcing he wonít be performing at the Fringe to the 100 per cent inaccurately named Comedy Terrorist hopping the walls of Windsor Castle dressed as the worldís most wanted man.
Is this a cynical ploy on my behalf to get some publicity? Absolutely. Although Iíd argue, how is it any more cynical than paying for PR? My idea has already garnered a considerable amount of both praise and criticism in the press.
Letís compare and contrast that to the reaction to my last solo stand-up show at the Fringe in 2007Ö oh wait, we canít Ė there wasnít any.
Thatís in no way a dig at the press, thatís just an acknowledgement that Iíve experienced the reality of one of the greatest fears of all performers bringing shows to the Fringe Ė being totally ignored. There are thousands of shows at the Fringe and only so many reviewers and reviews that will be written.
Of course, all these shows are there primarily to be performed to the public but, especially after the first week, punters quite sensibly rely mainly on reviews to decide what to go and see. Itís hard to explain how the experience of being utterly ignored feels Ė to quote Nietzsche after his unsuccessful Fringe run: ĎWhen you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares backÖ but it wonít take your flyer if it hasnít got any white pieces of paper stapled to it.í
In the interest of full disclosure, a few years before that show, I was involved in a show that had PR and indeed, I seriously considered engaging a publicist this year to avoid a repeat of 2007.
Undeniably, when it comes to getting reviewed, PR works. It may not always work as well as youíd like, and I donít believe it gets anyone a better review than theyíd have received anyway, but in terms of getting journalists in, the evidence is there for everybody to see.
PR is a bit like nuclear weapons, once somebody has it, everybody else feels like they have to get it in order to compete. It can cost anywhere from £1,000 to £3,000 and beyond and itís a significant issue for everyone bringing up a show. Do you spend even more money on top of the several thousand pounds youíre already spending on venue, accommodation and advertising or risk having the show youíve poured your heart and soul into, being totally ignored?
My charity bribery scheme has an upper limit of £3000, so isnít going to cost me any more than many people will be spending on PR. Iíve just found what I hope is a more fun way of spending the money, albeit as a one-off gimmick that isnít going work anywhere near as effectively if I, or anyone else, try it again next year.
Still though, in an ideal world Ė wouldnít it be nice if performers didnít feel compelled to spend yet more money? The Fringe is very expensive for both performers and punters, a fact which should be of great concern to all of us. There is one sentence that Nica Burns could utter thatíd change the economics of the Fringe for good, here it is: ĎAny show paying for PR is ineligible to receive the Edinburgh Comedy Award.í
Taking PR out of the equation for most comedy shows would drive costs down, a saving that could be partially passed on to the long-suffering Fringe punters through a reduction in ticket prices.
Maybe it is a terrible idea but isnít it at least worthy of a serious debate? Iíd love to hear the views of journalists, PR professionals and other performers about it. I should also point out that Iíve no problem with PR in general, it plays a vital role for touring shows, DVD releases etc. Iím not trying to make anyone into the big bad wolf here, I just think if weíre serious about making the festival a more affordable aspiration for all performers, then perhaps itís time we took a serious look at how exactly it is working?
Of course, people will say you donít have to pay for PR Ė and you donít. I would however, ask those people to stand on a rain-soaked Royal Mile for four hours on August 20t, handing out flyers with none of the tell-tale white pieces of paper on them that indicate reviews and see how they feel about it after that.