An idiot's guide to the Edinburgh Fringe

Nick Page takes stock

Many of us will spend the next few weeks excitedly explaining just how great our Edinburgh experience was, and how bad it was for everyone else. As not everyone is a comic, they may not understand just how awesome you are, or understand you're on about. For these people I offer my 'explaining the rules of cricket to a foreigner hilarious tea-towel' style, cut out and keep guide:

Edinburgh is in Scotland. They have a festival of art/music/theatre/dance in August.

A million years ago some people did comedy stuff on the 'fringe' of the main festival. This is the birth of 'the Edinburgh Fringe'.

The Fringe is now run by either a concerned collective of highly organised professionals with excellent venues providing optimum performance opportunities for the cream of comedy – or a bunch of robbing bastards tying naive and egotistical acts into indentured service for overpriced, over heated, under marketed rooms. The definition depends on personal experience, and can change during the month.

Acts here are seeing audiences ranging from nearly full if already famous to almost empty if have merely been thrust on stage direct from the coiffeuse. They can console themselves with the sight of their enormous posters all over the city, which is more than adequate compensation for starting September owing £1million.

In addition there is the free fringe, which is actually two free fringes, which hate each other like the Sharks and the Jets, with a bit of song and dance but no actual fighting. Anyone who considers themselves a comic can perform on the free fringe. Many of them shouldn't, but ho hum.

Interestingly doing free shows and passing a bucket for money at the end seems to be making more money for these acts than they earn gigging the rest of the year, almost all are reporting full houses with audience members paying upwards of a grand each, and sometimes paying with houses, cars and firstborn sons.

Then there's the Scottish comedy thing, which is at a big pub, and seems to be partly Scottish.

Then there's fiercely independent The Stand which is where 'real' comics want to be, because they are fiercely independent, which means they have a chain of clubs, 41 venues, 91 rooms and a roadblock. They also appear to market things well, don't overcharge their acts, make things work for performers and audiences and don't flood Edinburgh with Londoners.

While at the Fringe, performers attempt to lure reviewers to review their show. When they get the review published they will either laud it as an objective professional validation of their work and plaster it all over posters, venues, flyers and their friends’ faces or dismiss it as being the subjective rantings of a bitter amateur and pseud who was merely pried from the breast and sent north to exact petty revenge on those artistes who are too talented to be pigeon holed. Ruling over all of this is a legendary being called the Copstick, but as an Edinburgh newcomer I have no knowledge of its habits or powers.

Overall, it is a hateful experience. One is robbed at every turn, surrounded by morons and hangers-on, alternately pestered and ignored, ground down and spat out. Days are spent fretting about low attendance and sweating out last night’s overconsumption. Nights are spent rounding up numbers and boasting, toasting and toadying.

Obviously I'm back next year, but now I know how it works everything will be better.

  • Nick Page has now finished his run of My Hypothetical Life As a Eunuch

Published: 27 Aug 2012

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