No preview? No problem

Mike Belgrave has some advice for comedians

Ah yes, it's the dreaded Edinburgh preview season. It’s tough for comedians isn’t it? Well, boys and girls, it really doesn’t have to be. Since I started doing the Fringe, many things have changed - including the ever-decreasing opportunities to do a preview. In 2006 I did 15. In 2010, I did two. There might be many reasons for this but the main fact is there are many more people doing the Fringe each year and the number of previews hasn’t risen. In fact I’d take a punt and say there are fewer than there used to be.

When previews are offered, they’re snapped up by the more successful acts – and who can blame the promoter? Why make an audience endure Billy Open Spot’s ill advised debut hour about the funny side of rape, when they can get ‘that bloke off the telly’ on a door split?

So how do we get around this, Uncle Mike? Well I’ll tell you. First of all, organise your own Edinburgh previews. Find a venue that already has comedy and ask the promoter if you can use the space on another day. Offer them a split of the door or – if the promoter is also a comedian doing Edinburgh themselves – offer them a preview if they’re also doing Edinburgh.

I did this with a group of comics in 2007 and managed to do a preview a week for four weeks. We encouraged everyone sharing the night to help us with flyering and general mucking in. It wasn’t compulsory, but the other acts were willing to help for the sake of playing to a decent sized crowd, while some of the bigger acts used their email list to draw crowds in.

I discovered another way of doing a preview purely by accident. When I was doing Belgrave and Manera’s Music Club I filmed every show because I was proud of it and wanted to keep it for posterity. Mike Manera and I were writing a new show every month to build up material for the Finge. As August loomed closer, I edited together pieces of the footage that would make up our Edinburgh show. I watched the footage with Manera and then we talked about putting the show in a different order, wrote linking sections, scrapped bits and added bits.

When we did our next Music Club, we wrote a show that had the rewrites and linking sections. I filmed it again and then re edited the original DVD. This was better than trying to do the show to eight Spanish tourists keeping out of the rain. By the time we did our first Edinburgh preview, we had it word perfect and knew the order of the show. And most importantly, we knew how long it was.

So do as many gigs as you can and do short sections from your hour. Treat the shows you do with respect and don’t go on with your face down in a piece of paper explaining that you’re trying stuff out for an Edinburgh show. Promoters of new material nights have feelings too and try their best to run a good gig, don't piss on their baby.

Don’t know how to edit video? It’s easy. Just use the simple software that comes with the computer you’re using right now. Ignore the eggheads that pontificate about how you have to use Final Cut Pro or Vegas and need an Apple notebook with a nuclear core to edit film. It’s just for you to watch. Buy a cheap digital camera that records at a low resolution or use the one on your phone. This way it doesn’t take up too much room on your computer and it’s quicker to edit. Failing that record it as an audio track and cut it together with a free sound editing program. One of the best out there is called Audacity. Do it. You haven’t got a preview so what else are you doing with your time?

And isn’t it Sod's Law if you don't got to all that trouble and get seven previews offered to you all at once. But you know what? You'll be well prepared.

I’ll see you on the circuit with my camera.

  • Mike Belgrave will be performing Down And Out Comedy at the Fringe, at 4pm at The Lizard Lounge.

Published: 26 May 2011

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