Life after Edinburgh

Mick Perrin on his new festival showcasing the best of the Fringe

In an age of reusing and recycling, Edinburgh comedy shows are a bit like disposable nappies. They require a vast amount of energy and resources to produce but rarely get used for more than a month.

Hours of development, carefully crafted scripts and well-honed routines are consigned, with the laughs, to a metaphorical landfill site, as soon as the festival is finished. This has always seemed to me the most incredible waste. A waste of effort, talent, wonderful material and superb shows.

This is why, together with Martin Witts of The Leicester Square Theatre, I decided to create a post-Edinburgh comedy festival where artists can bring their shows to a wider audience in London’s West End.

We have more 50 artists appearing, including Roy Walker, Spymonkey, Reginald D Hunter, pictured, as well as a number of overseas artists such as Jimeoin, Rosanne Barr, The Kransky Sisters and 17-year-old YouTube phenomena Bo Burnham, whose musical comedy clips have attracted more than 10 million hits.

Creating an Edinburgh show is a lengthy process. Many of the comedians will have begun with a good supply of comedy material, which they perform in clubs, but they will not have a show. An hour-long show is a very different beast. It needs structure and momentum, not just gags.

Before they hit Edinburgh, comics will have spent months developing their show, finding the right producer, title and image and creating press interest. Even when the festival is under way, the show will continue to evolve in response to audience and critical reaction. By the end of the month, it probably is at its best.

So, it’s frustrating for both the artists and producers to get their shows to this point, only then to have to put it to one side.

In Edinburgh everyone is chasing the magic shelf-prolonging ingredient, nomination for (or better still winning) the award. This is the golden ticket, giving rise to TV and touring opportunities.

But the award’s short list is short. For those that don’t make it (and, as any regular Edinburgh festivalgoer will tell you, there are many wonderful shows out there that don’t) often all that remains is to go back to 20-minutes comedy club routines and start writing a new show for the next year.

Many of the shows that don’t make the shortlist nevertheless receive five star reviews across the media: Bernard O’Shea (The Scotsman), John Gordillo (Chortle), Nina Conti (Daily Mirror) Tommy And The Weeks (The Scotsman), Jason Cook (Metro, The List and Time Out). Most have been sell-out shows in Edinburgh and deserve a second outing.

In the past I’ve worked with artists whose shows have received numerous accolades from the critics and are so beautifully constructed that it seems criminal to drop the material. But, unless the artist already has a large enough following to tour, then that is the only option.

It’s easy to get tours going for my bigger artists such as Eddie Izzard, Simon Amstell, Dylan Moran or Ross Noble. But how many venue managers have heard of the wondrous Penny Dreadfuls, Jason Cook or Ginger & Black?

It’s like a band spending months working on a track, writing lyrics, building harmonies, constructing intricate subtle melodies before getting it to the studio and then, having recorded it, maybe giving it a months exposure before deleting it permanently.

The Big Joke aims to put an end to this throwaway comedy culture. This festival, not to mention the ever-growing number of regional comedy festivals, will give some of the best shows from the Edinburgh Fringe a prolonged shelf life.

It’s an exciting opportunity for us all, and hopefully The Big Joke will become an annual event.


>> Mick Perrin for Just For Laugh
>> Leicester Square Theatre

Published: 15 Sep 2008

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