Never mind the buzzkills

The Fringe is still a magical place, says Bob Slayer

In times gone by we would happily throw our turds into the street – that was until those meddling Victorians decided to build a sewerage system that efficiently took our waste away. Sigh... Things just aren’t what they used to be... And so it is in comedy, everyone from Stewart Lee to Harry Deansway seems keen to bemoan the fact that the Fringe is not the same as it used to be. No shit, Sherlock, things move on.

I have little experience of the good old days of the Fringe, but I can tell you what I think of the Fringe in 2010. This year was my third Fringe as a performer and I had the time of my life – and as someone who’s past exploits include risking life and limb as a jockey and experiencing hundreds of gigs and after show parties on tour with bands such as The Bloodhound Gang, Motorhead, Electric Eel Shock, Turbonegro and Iggy and The Stooges – that is quite an achievement.

So why did I enjoy Edinburgh so much? Well, this year I did the Laughing Horse Free Festival again and was able to get a really decent audience of 50 to 100 folks a day. My show got some great reviews including one from Kate Copstick in the Scotsman, I was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee award for comic originality (which was deservedly won by Robert White). I made some useful contacts including the Highlight venues, who have asked me to programme wild and raw midweek shows in their venues. I also saw lots of new and interesting acts, met up with old friends and made many new ones. 

I achieved all of this without a large budget (the end cost of my run after bucket income was only just over £700). Harry Deansway would say that this good time was despite the huge commercial presence at the Fringe, whereas I am sure it is because of it.

For many years I worked in the music industry, managing and promoting alternative bands. Throughout that period I heard near constant moaning about commercial pop, X-Factor, major labels and whatever else was deemed non-‘real’ music. What these whingers fail to understand is that without the mainstream there is nothing for the alternative to rally against.

When Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller re-invented the TV talent show, saving the mainstream music industry while they were at it, they also bailed out the independent sector, which was dying on its arse due to the collapse of CD sales. Pop Idol, X Factor and their ilk supplied something for millions of alternative punters to collectively hate, binding them together in rebellion and driving them into angst ridden gangs at ‘real’ live gigs. 

There is a similar relationship between the mainstream and alternative developing in comedy (or alternative comedy and the new alternative), although it is still some way behind the music industry. This is perfectly demonstrated by Edinburgh in August. The wonder of the Fringe is that the many big TV comedy names are increasingly drawing vast numbers of people to Edinburgh. Once there, these punters are on holiday and are prepared to wander around and also take a chance on shows by comedians they haven’t heard of before.

As for the locals, they are more than happy to go and see free and cheap shows. The end result of this is that alternative, individual and unknown acts can also find an audience who in turn have the opportunity of discovering something different to the skinny jeans wearing, floppy haired trendies, and everyone can have a damn fun time (oh except for the many wannabe skinny jeans who have spent £3,000 on a venue for the prestige just to find out that it is a cupboard).

I coined the Laughing Horse Free Festival strap line ‘Putting the alternative back into the Fringe’ because that is exactly what it is doing, giving the opportunity for comedians who sit outside the mainstream. Imran Yusuf’s best newcomer nomination has smashed a large dinosaur shaped hole in the notion that you need to do a paid show in order to progress.

So instead of complaining about the big four Edinburgh Fringe venues along with corporate agents and promoters such as Avalon, Off The Kerb and Phil McIntyre I would like to formally thank them for ‘putting the commercialism into the Fringe’ because without them we would not have anything to be an alternative to.

Long may the Fringe continue to change and grow. Long live the free shows! Long live the alternative!

  • Bob Slayer’s new raw comedy cabaret nights, Lose Control, start at Camden Highlight on November 4.

Published: 6 Sep 2010

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