Free advice

Mary Bourke on what she learned on Edinburgh's Free Fringe

When you announce to your peers that you're doing the Free Fringe you'll be greeted with the same stunned reaction as you would if you announced that you've been reduced to sucking off tramps for spare change. Remember that they may be in paid venues but you'll leave Edinburgh with no debt and they'll be doing horrendous Christmas gigs to pay off theirs. Repeat the mantra ‘There’s no shame in my game’ when you catch a whiff of pity or condescension.

Don’t be another shite show on the Free Fringe

Are you doing paid 20 minute slots at all the major venues? if not then you shouldn't be inflicting a full-length hour on anybody. You're not ready. You don’t have the skill. I know you read The Secret, but you're just not ready. I’m amazed at the arrogance of someone who’s been only been going for six months and suddenly decides that 50 minutes of meandering bollocks qualifies as a show. It doesn’t. If you’re that desperate for attention Why not do a concert in the back garden for mum and Dad and all the neighbours ?

You might feel that your rape/paedo/Down’s syndrome gags (delete where applicable) are taboo-busting attacks on society but they’re less novel when every skinny jean, check shirt wearing Lenny Bruce is doing an hour of the exact same tiresome stuff. There’s way too much machete comedy – all edge and no point.

Get ’em out 

It's your show and you've worked hard to write it and learn it. Don't tolerate bad behaviour from the audience: talking, texting etc.Get rid of unruly elements at the top of the show as the audience need to feel you're in charge. It’s a free show but that doesn’t mean that the normal standards of polite behaviour should be abandoned. Don’t be the meek act who let an audience member contemptuously dump his used KFC box on the stage mid-show. Have respect for yourself !

  Embrace the weirdness

You're doing a free show that's like a bat signal to all the fruit loops in Edinburgh to unleash the pixies that live in their brain.My favourite weird audience member was “ the artist ” who came to the show five days in a row and presented me with a nude portrait of myself in a sealed envelope. Honorable mention also go to “The time traveling racist’, ‘Battlin’ father and daughter’ and ‘The menacing man’. Keep notes and tell future audience members about your experiences. Have fun with it. The Free Finge is the only place on earth where you’ll do a gig at 1am and have to follow a girl in a shark costume whose entire act consists of her dancing to This Charming Man and the theme from Jaws

Your bucket is an unbiased review

If they like the show they put money in the bucket if they didn’t they don’t.You will become abnormally obsessed with contents of your bucket. You will compare your bucket to other people’s. You will seek validation from your bucket. This is all completely normal.

Don’t fear the bucket

Don't be embarrassed about your bucket. Write a funny two minute bucket speech that never mentions ‘spare change’. You're worth more then a Prêt coffee and a muffin aren't you? Take a tip from street performers ‘hatting’ or ‘bottling’ is just as important as the actual act. Stand by the exit with and make eye contact with the punters and thank them for coming it's basic manners, but I’m amazed how many comics don't do this.

You will have the best shows of your life

Free Fringe audiences are some of the best audiences I’ve ever played to and no one was more surprised at this fact then I was. Conversely you’ll face down at least one audience of such astounding ‘cuntititude’ you’ll be convinced they’re a all gang of actors playing some weird long form impro game in which they impersonate the worst audience possible (I’m talking to you day 14) . This is the day you will want to run to Waverley Station and catch the first train home. Please don’t.

They never leave the walled city

Every year broadsheet comedy reviewers will the same articles about how the fringe has become ‘too commercial’ or ‘too safe’. Yet these self-same reviewers– with the exception of Kate Copstick from The Scotsman – will rarely leave the confines of the Pleasance Courtyard. It’s lazy and very narrow-minded but sadly that’s the way it is. You probably don’t have a publicist who’s ringing journalists ten times a day on your behalf so you’ll have to work harder to get reviewers in. Be professional and persistent.

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Published: 5 Sep 2011


Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2012

Mary Bourke: Hail Mary!

Edinburgh Fringe 2015

Notorious Mary Bourke

Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Singalong Sitcom Quiz


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