Comics are revoluting

Fury at Edinburgh venue

Comedians are staging a revolt against the Edinburgh Fringe’s biggest venue, claiming a new show is depleting their audiences.

In a tense showdown with Pleasance boss Christopher Richardson yesterday, the angry comics said they couldn’t hope to compete with a Pick Of The Best show, which offers five comics for the price of one.

Since the show was launched last week, other shows have seen their box office takings plunge by half, or worse, costing them thousands of pounds each. The showcase takes place in the 700-seater Pleasance Grand space, which the venue has hired for the first time this year, meaning a lot of comedy fans are being diverted from other shows.

The comedians also claim the Pleasance is promoting that show - which takes place at 9.35pm, much earlier than the other club-style shows - above all others.

Even after yesterday’s heated meeting, the Pleasance is running a two-for-one deal for Pick Of The Best in today’s Scotsman newspaper, meaning tickets cost less than £5 each.

The comedians believe that has added insult to injury, and are calling on fellow stand-ups to boycott the controversial showcase, which pays £200 an appearance. After a late-night crisis meeting yesterday, many of the biggest agents on the Fringe promised to urge their clients to join the ban, although it ultimately remains the performers’ own decision.

Comic Matt Blaize, whose debut solo show clashes with Pick Of The Best, said: “If you are a punter, what are you going to do? See a line-up that might contain two Perrier winners and three other top acts for £5 – or take a chance on someone you’ve never heard of, who might be brilliant or might be crap?”

The stand-ups therefore fear the new show is undermining the spirit of the Fringe, and will deter people from trying to work on adventurous new shows if the festival becomes a showcase for their usual routines. It already costs up to £10,000 to bring a show to Edinburgh.

Liverpudlian comedian John Bishop said; “It’s turning the Fringe into a Jongleurs-style line-up of commercial comedy. We come to Edinburgh because we want to challenge ourselves, not do the same 20-minute set we can do in clubs all year-round.”

Almost every comic with shows that overlap with the 90-minute showcase have been hit by it, including such festival favourites as Adam Bloom, Howard Read and Sarah Kendall.

But Richardson – who this week  was awarded a Herald Archangel Award for services to the Fringe - had little sympathy for the comics’ plight, saying that he made little money from the Pleasance and needed to fill the 700 seats.

He told the comedians: "We couldn’t possibly have left the Pleasance Grand empty. I’m very sorry it seems to have had this effect, but I don’t entirely concede that it has."

He claimed he could just have easily put one big-name act into the space, which would have competed fairly with the lesser-known comedians and still had the same effect on sales.

An article in the Independent about Fringe finances last week stated that the Pleasance makes around £200,000 a year. "But I pour that into Pleasance London, which always loses money," Richardson said at the time.

The comics are demanding that Pleasance staff stop promoting the Pick Of The Fest show, and calling for an increase in their usual 40 per cent box-office split to compensate for lost sales.

Published: 24 Aug 2004

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