The prize-chasing at Edinburgh isn't pleasant | Chris Gethard shares his Fringe cringe, binge and whinge

The prize-chasing at Edinburgh isn't pleasant

Chris Gethard shares his Fringe cringe, binge and whinge

American comic Chris Gethard shares his most embarrassing Edinburgh experiences, tell us what he can't get enough of at the festival, and has a good old gripe about the worst thing about the Fringe....

Fringe cringe

In 2016, I was a pretty late addition to Fringe. I didn’t know much about the festival and should have booked a more appropriate time slot. If I remember right, my time slot was late, about 10pm. I had a show that was a lengthy monologue about depression and suicide. And I was in a venue where to get to the bathroom you had to walk down a centre aisle of very noisy steps and then across the stage. Obviously, on the way back, you had to walk across the stage again and then up the noisy steps.

One night, a Glasgow stag party showed up en masse. And they were drunk. Like Buckfast drunk. And look, I get it, it's a 10pm comedy show, they might expect something looser or less macabre at that point in the evening. They were not feeling my emo storytelling.

They made a game of one by one getting up, going to the bathroom, stomping down the steps, then across the stage. Then back.

I actually stopped the show and asked if anyone who had to urinate could just all go en masse. And that if they weren’t feeling the show, I deeply apologised but now would be a good time to split. No one moved, and one guy even drunkenly yelled out, ‘Sorry about them, most of us are into it!’

I restarted the show. Forty-five seconds later the next guy got up and stomped down the steps, much to the delight of his friends.

It was a long evening.

Fringe binge

Fringe truly is an international experience, and as an artist that’s invaluable. As an American, I know my home country’s stand-up style well – it tends to be joke heavy and aggressive.

Being at Fringe in 2016, I saw how dark UK comics were willing to go. How hard they’d lean into a narrative, how willing they were to walk away from jokes for longer stretches. Irish comics have their own approach. Australians too. You can learn from all these styles.

On top of that, there are things like clowning that feel institutional at this festival that don’t have nearly as strong a foothold in the States.  I feel like it’s just the past year or two that it’s started to show up in my country and it still feels very avant garde, whereas at Fringe it was just another accepted style of comedy.

When Nanette exploded internationally it was such a topic of division and discussion amongst American comics but I wasn’t shocked – I’d been through Fringe and seen shows broadly in its style before. So as an artist, if you can stay open minded and keep ego out of the way, there’s no place better to learn, to enhance your craft, to think about new approaches to getting up on stage.

If you are a humble human being you will walk away from this festival with your gears turning, considering all that’s good and bad about the style you came up in and how to up your game by incorporating all these new influences.

 Fringe whinge 

If I’m going to be totally honest, it’s that while there are shows that set the bar of what is possible in comedy on an international level… there are also a ton of shows chasing that in a more disingenuous sense, and it’s not always pleasant.

Back in 2016, one of the things Louis CK was famous for was writing a new hour every single year. (And now he is famous for… a lot of other stuff.) The UK comics gave me a lot of guff about that, as in, ‘We write a new hour for this festival every year. What’s the big deal?’ But there needs to be some humility about ‘Well not every hour is as good as every other one.’

It definitely seems like at the Fringe you can see a lot of shows that are faint echoes of whatever theme or topic won a different show a prize roughly three or four years prior at the same festival. Just because somebody four years ago won a comedy prize by doing a mind-blowing show about being trapped in a mine doesn’t mean that three years later I need to see you do an hour about accidentally locking yourself in your car for 35 minutes? Huh?

(Those were hypotheticals by the way, apologies to whomever thinks that was about them. I’m sure your show about being locked in a Prius is great and I meant no offence)

In short: the prize-chasing is the worst part. The shows that feel like they’re chasing the prizes and mining topics that were met with buzz in years prior - those shows are a bit too common, and it’s a bummer.

Chris Gethard: A Father and the Sun is at Gilded Balloon Teviot at 6pm.

Published: 5 Aug 2022

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