Do you feel exploited at the Edinburgh Fringe? | We ask festival comedians their view

Do you feel exploited at the Edinburgh Fringe?

We ask festival comedians their view

We asked Edinburgh Fringe comedians: Do you feel exploited in doing the festival, or is it a fair marketplace and a worthwhile investment in yourself?  If you do feel exploited, by whom, and what can be done? This is what they told us...

Oof, yes. I think the thing that’s really weird about the current model is that everyone gets paid other than the artists making the shows - the venues have a guarantee, PR is paid upfront, technicians are paid a fixed rate, landlords are raking it in. It’s very much a case of paying everyone else first, and almost always there’s nothing left for the person who’s made the show - without which they’re be nothing for the other people to do, right? It feels totally the wrong way round. I think we’re all hoping it’s an investment in ourselves, and whatever happens you do always come out of the other end of a fringe run a better performer… but is it worth that much money? A friend of mine compared it to her paying an insane amount for an MBA in the hope it will advance her career… maybe it is a twisted form of training?
Kathy Maniura: Objectified , Gilded Balloon Teviot, 4.40pm

When you are at the paid fringe, everyone wants your money. But it is an investment. When you are at the free fringe it feels totally fair. But there is no exploitation because we are willing participants. If you don't want to feel exploited then don't go.  No one ever put a gun to my head and demanded a witty punchline.

George Zacharopoulos: Wonderland, Pleasance Dome, 8:30pm

To an extent. The Fringe is a bit of a money pit, but at the same time I'm being complicit in my own exploitation. At this stage, it's no different to going to university. You go in hoping that it will help you to advance to the next stage of your career, but more than likely the job opportunities you dream of won't manifest, and you'll end up in debt. But on the plus side, you'll have a fucking great time. I'm under no illusion about what the fringe is, but I’ve got a show that I want to share with as many people as possible, and right now the fringe is the way to do that. Will that be the case next year, or the year after? Who knows.
Nathan D'Arcy Roberts: Present/Tense, Gilded Balloon Teviot at 4:20pm

It's absolutely not a fair marketplace. People who have to work and have low income have less time and energy to develop their skills. If you have money, then you have time and space to develop as a performer, which means you can start off shite but get good. It also means you have less anxiety and stress when doing the Fringe because you're not worrying about how you're going to pay your rent. Also, if you're from a posh background, there is a higher level of cronyism. Whereas poor people have to be uniquely gifted and struggle a lot more to succeed. On top of that, when a low-income person does start to succeed and begins to find themselves in ‘networking’ events, it can then be difficult to connect with the people who can progress your career, as it's hard to fake enthusiasm about their various family members who have gotten into Oxford or just got married in the Italian countryside. I don't feel exploited because I don't have to do it. No one has to perform. The problem is that if the desire to perform was the only necessary criteria then there would be a lot more diversity in the arts. It's the the means to perform that facilitates it, as well as the desire. Meaning you need money. I am frustrated by the lack of self- awareness of people with regards to what a luxury it is to have the time and space to develop as a performer. I come from a fairly middle-class background in Dublin, but not the kind where I have uncles/aunties in showbusiness, or any money. I am more privileged than some, but the class disparity and profound lack of self-awareness some people have around it in the UK absolutely baffles me sometimes.
Ruth Hunter: The Ruth is on Fire, The Banshee Labyrinth, 5:10pm

This question makes me chuckle. It's hard to justify going to a festival I feel exploited by, but that is how I feel. Some big venues make loads of money off people and provide little support, and as an emerging comic I've had to learn the hard way how difficult it is to compete with massive names that draw massive audiences. At the end of the day, the people who spend the most at Edinburgh are the artists themselves, and this feels a bit backward to me
Michael Kunze: Infinity Mirror, Laughing Horse at Three Sisters, 11am

I think the venues have always been fair to us. None have been perfect, but I have never felt exploited (in Edinburgh, anyway). In fact, the Gilded Balloon team have been very good value and friendly with the service they have provided us. Likewise with Sweet Venues in our first year, almost specialising in supporting fist-time groups who had no money! That won't be the same for everyone, but that's our experience
Biscuit Barrel: The 69-Sketch Show, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3.40pm

It's a mix of both. I feel exploited by entertainment across the board right now. I'm in Los Angeles where actors and writers are on strike because of a lack of fair pay. There's an element of doing this show by myself that is liberating but then, of course, I'm still dependent on venue, ticket sales, reviews. I think I'm just grappling with feeling like most artists are exploited, in general. More pay would be a great solution, but a lot of people are feeling the burn of financial hardship, and that onus shouldn't fall on them. I want audiences to be able to come see me for free if they're experiencing financial pressures, vs. not at all. The Pollyanna answer is: The rich should be more generous. But a practical solution? No idea.
Avital Ash Workshops Her Suicide Note, Monkey Barrel at The Tron at 10:05pm

Edinburgh is a trade fair, but also every performance ever is a trade fair, whether you like it or not. The Edinburgh Fringe is just a particularly expensive one. I can't afford to feel exploited because I largely have no control over the outcome other than doing a show that I enjoy. So I just have fun doing that show and try to see lots of other fun shows
Benjamin Alborough: Absolute Monopoly, Assembly George Square, 5:50pm

I feel it's a worthwhile investment, but there are aspects of the way the festival is structured (particularly a lot of forced fees and monopolistic tendencies) that do feel like exploitation. Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johansson, Assembly George Square, 1:40pm

Increasingly I feel exploited yes. It is just about a worthwhile investment still, but increasingly less so, and with increased focus on content, one does ask oneself it the initial sunken costs and the workload required in turning a profit at the Fringe are really worth the time and effort put in, and increasingly I feel less so. With the exception of my venues (@ the free fringe), I feel exploited by everyone: the cost of accommodation is through the roof, food prices are up, as is the wage flyerers & techs demand (which is fair) but it begs the question, why is it the acts who the only ones who have no pricing power? Why is it us taking on ALL of the risk.

Raul Kohli: Full Inglish, City Cafe 4.55pm

I wouldn't say I feel exploited, but yeah wow it is very hard to stand out among thousands of shows. But hey, more motivation to work even harder. I have gotten opportunities that I wouldn't have gotten if those people didn't see me at Fringe

Schalk Bezuidenhout: Keeping Up, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 5pm

I feel more exploited by people nicking ideas that they then present at the Edinburgh trade fair as their own than I do by the market place itself.
Becky Fury: Identity , Laughing Horse @ Bar 50, 7.45pm

I personally don't feel exploited, but I think less established or less experienced acts will be. This is a worthwhile investment in my career, but I've been doing comedy for over a decade and have risen to filling arenas in my home region before even considering the Fringe, which is sort of sad
Ciaran Bartlett's Machine Gun Of Filth, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 10:30pm

It's exploitation light. Mostly I understand people's time has value and things like building a venue cost money, but it seems like everyone has a reason to sell you something. There are a lot of services people are offering I find suspish! As a newbie it is hard to know who to listen to and what is worth paying for.
Abigail Paul: Involuntary Momslaughter, Greenside Riddle's Court 6:35pm

I’m from India. So this question is at best comical and a first-world problem.
Anu Vaidyanathan: Blimp, Underbelly Bristo Square, 7:15pm

While it's a significant financial investment, I view it as an opportunity to showcase my work on a grand scale, receive feedback, and connect with industry professionals
J Murphy, A Tinderella Story: Swipe, Wince, Repeat, Just The Tonic @ The Grassmarket, 10pm

I'm in an arms race with the children of people with Wikipedia pages.  Damn straight I feel exploited. What can be done? Shoot anyone with inherited wealth caught making art.

The military tattoo can be utilised here.

Alison Spittle: Soup, Monkey Barrel Hive, 1:35pm

Doing Edinburgh Fringe is a huge hustle, and the month long performance schedule is rigorous and tough and expensive, but doing the fest feels like a worthwhile investment in myself because I've seen it give back. An award nomination, a comedy special taping, a bunch of great reviews, have all opened up opportunities for me, so it's definitely been worth it.

Anesti Danelis: This Show Will Change Your Life, Underbelly Bristo Square, 3:55pm

I think if you keep all the goals personal, you won't be disappointed.  Anything above that is a bonus
Jaz Mattu Emerges, The Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, 3pm

It's by no means a fair marketplace. But I don't feel exploited because I chose to do it and knew what I was getting myself into. I'm lucky that stand-up isn't my career, it's just an insane hobby that I spend bucket-loads of money doing.
Laufey Haralds: Pip, Gilded Balloon, Patter Hoose 4.20pm

I don't feel any particular individual person or organisation is intentionally exploiting me as an act - however I feel that the overall market that has grown up relies on exploiting acts, in that we are willing to risk significant sums of money for the sake of potentially advancing our careers
Matt Hutchinson: Hostile, Assembly Geogre Square 2.30 pm

Of course!! Artists ARE the festival and most of us are coming out at a loss, even if we sell out. It’s a completely broken system. How can I sell £15k of tickets and still be out of pocket? Until recently I thought everyone else was making money, but it seems pretty high risk for everyone other than landlords. Maybe a couple of venues.
Paddy Young: Hungry, Horny, Scared, Pleasance Courtyard 9:35pm

Personally I think a month is too long. I'm so excited to perform in a place as creatively charged as Fringe but I've got a full-time job and the logistics both financial and personal that means putting my life on pause for a month is a lot. Not everyone can drop everything for a month to be at Fringe. I guess for me I had to think of the opportunity cost and  it makes more sense for me to take my show to such an incredible stage. I guess I'm lucky that I have the privilege of choice. With the money I saved for Fringe I had to choose between freezing my eggs, expensive dental work, or a potentially life-changing chance to perform at the best comedy festival in the world. I chose Fringe, obvs.
Bronwyn Sweeney: Off Brand, Pleasance Courtyard, 3:20pm

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Published: 9 Aug 2023

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