How comedians handle reviews | Lorna Shaw has some pre-Fringe tips

How comedians handle reviews

Lorna Shaw has some pre-Fringe tips

With less than a month to go before the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off, with our shows in bloom and our delicate egos at the helm, comedians thoughts begin to turn to reviews. Love them or loathe them, we rely on the press to help us gauge how our work is being received and it's a necessary evil to promote yourself when you do a job that requires an audience.

But reviews lead to a very complex set of emotions during an already stressful time of final preparations including ordering the right number of flyers, replacing your techie who just got a job on Book Of Mormon and trying to sublet your London flat from 2pm on August 1 until 11pm on August 28.

The fickle world of reviews is hard to navigate, with so many publications and reviewers of varying opinions, tastes, ages and credibility giving their two penn'orth. Its no wonder comics feel like they have a personality disorder for the duration of the fringe.

So here we go, the seven states of mind comedians may experience when it come to reviews:

1. Stuck in a press release loop

You're on your computer pinging off press releases (or paying thousands of pounds for someone to do it for you) to invite all and sundry to your show, and you enter a tug of war with your psyche; pausing to consider that these emails may be the inciting incident for your emotional downfall when you get a slating in the Stink Finger Reporter. But then ploughing on nonetheless because, what if you get a rave!?

But hold your horses, what if the show isn't ready? Maybe hold off until next year for press… but then what if someone says something wonderful about you and your ex happens to buy the paper that day and sees how brilliantly your comedy career is going? But what if you get a bad one and they see that?

And so it goes on. So you continue to send your press release to reviewers like an optimistic party host handing out bullets for a game of Russian roulette that you've organised yourself.

2. The ‘reviews don't matter’ phase

When self-preservation mode really kicks in around the start of the Fringe, you might hear comics entering the ‘reviews don't matter’ phase.

And we're right. To an extent, they don't.

However, when the piece of work you've given your life over to for the best part of a year (or longer) is about to come under scrutiny by people who don't know you and won't take into account that you're a lovely person, and that you would've changed that bit of the show that you know doesn't quite work, if only you hadn't been juggling three jobs to pay for your cupboard... I mean venue... and also moonlighting as a publicist to promote your previews so you actually have an audience to try out that bit of the show to in the first place, only to figure out it doesn't actually work! It just feels easier to pop up those defences and give it the old ‘reviews don't matter’ approach and go about your day. But then...

3. You got a good one!

This is when 1 and 2 go out the window and REVIEWS MATTER AGAIN because you got a blinder. Someone took the time to write something positive about you and they didn't notice that bit of the show you were blagging and it's not your Mum or your friend's workmate who have an obligation to say something nice – it’s a stranger! The most wonderful stranger in the world who totally gets you and is probably your soul mate.

You want to find them and thank them. How can you track them down or find their address to send them a hamper of comedy memorabilia specifically tailored to their (and your) tastes.

The world is good and right and fair again. All the hard work has just paid off in this single moment of glory given to you by 19-year-old student Jake who gave you 4.5 stars in The Daily Potato. But then...

4. You get a bad one

The world is shit again. Because Sarah from Fringe Fest Funtimes Online did not dig you. And somehow her opinion seems way more valid than Jake from The Daily Potato.

She is a year older after all. Sarah knows her stuff, and she's on to you and your fraudulent ways. Comedian? You feel like an imposter at this world renowned festival where everyone else has stars plastered all over their posters and it's only August 5!

Everyone has probably seen that review already, it's been online for six minutes now. You know this because you've been refreshing your Google search of ‘[insert show name] review 2017’ solidly for three hours straight now.

But on the bright side, you get to look forward to the conversation with supportive comedian friends about how all the best comics get slated and now you're safe in the knowledge that this bad review is actually a sign that you're doing something ‘edgy’ that this chump of a reviewer can't handle it, yeah! And they're probably just jealous! And better to divide opinion than be middle of the road and getting a load of 3 star reviews! Puh!

5. Ooh and then there it is….

The pointless and irrationally irritating three-star review that you should be pleased with but makes you want to spit in someone's crepe in the Gilded Garden. You can't put it on your flyers even though it READS  LIKE A 4!

Everyone knows a quote without stars means it was a three-star or below. Everyone keeps telling you what a nice review it is, but your perception is skewed by the missing stars and while it says ‘wonderfully engaging and inspired one-liners’, to you it reads as ‘might as well give up now and meh meh meh meh meh.’ Show me to the Brookes Bar! (Can you get me in on your pass please, thanks)

6. Almost there

The sixth phase you might experience is the: ‘I don't read reviews’ phase

Once you've been through all the above stages, it's time to take back control, Brexit-style, and opt out. Everyone will admire your strong stance and they don't have to know you've secretly enlisted your Dad with the task of only notifying you if you get a good one.

Oh ignorance is indeed bliss! Now you're absolutely nailing it.

7. It’s all bollocks anyway, isn't it?

Then for the final, most glorious stage, when the Fringe is over and there's no more comparing to be done. No more stars to be stapled or reviewers to be hounded. You take a step back from it all and reflect on how wise you've now become and utter the phrase ‘It's all bollocks anyway, isn't it?’.

Then you go and book yourself a holiday (please do), congratulate yourself on putting your contribution out into the world, and celebrate that after a month of getting up there night after night (or whatever your allotted time) you are a better comic than before and that's surely the point, right? Anything else is a bonus.

• Lorna Shaw is performing her show Ava Rage at Just the Tonic at The Community Project at 8.05pm during the Fringe. Pay what you can.

Published: 11 Jul 2017

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