The Perfect Fringe Audience Doesn’t Exi- | Will Owen on who he wants – and doesn't want – in his Edinburgh Fringe show

The Perfect Fringe Audience Doesn’t Exi-

Will Owen on who he wants – and doesn't want – in his Edinburgh Fringe show

I used to work as an administrator for a scaffolding company. What can I say? Sometimes, the universe sends you exactly what you’re looking for. And sometimes, the universe makes you spend 14 months being an administrator for a scaffolding company. I was a fish out of water – in that none of my colleagues ever laughed at my deeply witty asides. That role taught me a valuable lesson: find your audience.

It’s a lesson I am carrying with me to the Fringe this year, as I prepare to perform my debut stand-up hour. There are all sorts of rumblings about what makes a Fringe successful, but a big one is definitely that your show ‘finds its audience’. So, what, or indeed who, constitutes the perfect audience?

Friendships form and strengthen during the Fringe, which means pals old and new often come to populate the crowd. I love that, because the show feels like a glorified drinks party, where I lead the conversation for an hour. Having said that, when one is in an audience that is clearly made up of a comedian’s close personal friends, you sometimes feel a bit outside of the joke. ‘Why are people laughing at the set up? He just said, ‘So, I’m single’! Have I accidentally bought a ticket to a stranger’s leaving do?! And if so, why are there no hors d’oeuvres..’

Family is also complex. It’s sooo nice and lovely that relatives want to support your work, especially given that it’s a one-sided street. I’ve never snuck into a conference room to cheer on my dad as he goes through his department’s monthly budget, nor do I desire to. So, the fact they want to come along is a touching privilege. Will they laugh, though? Not necessarily. Will they say things like ‘that was really interesting’ and ‘what are poppers’? Almost definitely.

Beyond your nearest and dearest, obviously you want your show to gain some industry buzz and critical attention - but only (and this is crucial) if it’s ten ten tens across the board. I want the tastemakers to see my show, but the idea of them actually sitting in the audience of the show unfortunately makes me feel sick to my stomach. 

If I so much as hear that the BBC are coming, I will clam up and do the whole show from a sort of closed posture, reminiscent of a mollusc. But if I hear they aren’t coming, I’m feeling lower than I’ve ever felt. Does this make sense? One workaround would be for venues to erect a two-way screen inside, à la police interview rooms. That way, the head of a channel and a top reviewer can watch on and I’d be none the wiser to their presence. Just something to think about.

Maybe the answer is a crowd of complete and utter strangers, who come to your show on a whim. Everyone reading this is like ‘durrr Will that’s the point of doing a show otherwise you could just perform in your kitchen for free’. But to you I say: what if these strangers don’t like irreverent and offbeat stories from a young queer person that knows more about Loose Women than they do tax? 

Help! I’m getting flashbacks to the scaffolding calls! I’ve seen some of my favourite ever comedians - with huge followings and Hollywood careers - perform to stony expressions and walk-outs.

Equally, it’s a fool’s errand to write off an audience before a show has got going. For example, I wouldn’t have guessed that a Friday night crowd on the outskirts of Peterborough made up of exclusively married straight couples in their 40s would have been my top fans. And I was right, they weren’t. But they did laugh every so often, and that’s more than any of us could have predicted at the start of the night.

With all this in mind, who am I to pre-empt what makes the perfect audience? As I muse on all these potential punters, one fact stands out. Namely that the average Fringe audience is made up of four people. That is actually not that many people, especially when you have a nice big room of seats to fill. 

I could spend paragraphs more concocting the dream stranger/fan/friend/notoriously hard-to-please critic ratios. But instead, I am drawn to one conclusion: the best audience is, in fact, an audience. So, whether you’re a queer person who loves Charli XCX, the head of the country’s top scaffolding firm or my actual dad, please for the love of god buy tickets to my show. Anyone who does is perfect to me.

• Will Owen’s debut stand-up hour Like, Nobody’s Watching will be on at the Assembly George Square at 10.20pm.

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Published: 19 Aug 2024

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