Adios, Adelaide | Comics to boycott 'terrible' festival with 'rude' audiences

Adios, Adelaide

Comics to boycott 'terrible' festival with 'rude' audiences

International comedians say they are to boycott the world’s second largest fringe festival in the face of poor ticket sales,  badly behaved audiences and a lack of appreciation of shows with artistic merit.

Brendon Burns and Marcel Lucont are among the acts having a tough time at the Adelaide Fringe – and both have vowed never to return.

Blaming organisers as much as audiences,they say the Australian event has lost touch with its fringe roots and overlooks all but the biggest acts – while slamming what modest audiences they can muster for being ultra-conservative and unwilling to sample the unusual.

Alexis Dubus, the comedian behind phoney Frenchman Lucont, said he was saddened that this would be his last festival after seven years.

Across the full run of the month-long festival, he has sold less than half the number of tickets he sold in just one night at the previous Perth festival. And that despite a five-star review in the city’s only mainstream newspaper, the Advertiser, saying ‘comedy doesn’t get much better than this’.

But he insisted his disgruntlement was not just about numbers, saying: ‘Something’s not right here any more.

‘When I first came here in 2009 it felt like a genuinely experimental and exciting creative hub, with audiences seeking out tucked-away venues and subversive shows. Seven years on and those people seem to have vanished. 

He said that the festival had ‘seemingly allowed greed and complacency to dictate its direction’ while slamming the attitude of Fringe-goers, ‘who need to re-evaulate the meaning of "fringe."’

‘I don’t want to be a hypocrite and be the one telling punters what they should be watching,’ he wrote on Facebook, ‘but audiences choosing soulless, mass-produced bollocks over thoughtful, innovative works in quirky spaces is what has now turned the Fringe into what it was initially rallying against.’

He also accused the bigger venues of filling their seats with free tickets – ‘sometimes to people actually waiting in the box office queue to buy tickets for smaller shows’, which ‘creates an atmosphere of entitlement among Adelaide audiences, believing they should now get their entertainment for free’.

And he warned: ’For those who genuinely care about the Fringe as an arts festival, you won’t know what you’ve lost until it’s gone and all that’s left is the actual and metaphorical sound of monstrous venues bellowing noise through each others’ thin fabric walls.’

Burns was typically outspoken about his time at the ‘terrible’ festival too, posting: ‘Never have  I attended a supposed international festival with such a poor attitude. I lost count of the amount of times I bumped into world class international acts, declaring they would never return. I certainly won’t.

‘Night after night I heard tales of individuals that actively ruined shows, with their incessant talking and disrupting. I encountered two of the most banal, incessant hecklers I’ve ever encountered anywhere and both times these people were in their 60s!

‘Some arsehole even heckled the Umbilical Brothers relentlessly one night, totally ruining the show for everyone involved. If you’ve never seen the Umbilical Brothers, they are a laser beam of an act with countless sound and lighting cues. How some witless idiot looks at such a show and thinks it’s their place to insert themselves, legitimately fucking up the timing of the production, is beyond me.’

Burns also criticised the small-town attitude of the media covering the event, calling the Advertiser ‘utterly clueless’ and stating: ‘What they deemed to be avant-garde was a good 15 years behind the rest of the world.’

Earlier in the festival, veteran stand-up Lawrence Mooney has unleashed a vicious torrent abuse against a ‘deadshit’ Advertiser reviewer who branded him ‘just a funny guy’ rather than a comedian. Journalist Isabella Fowler, a 22-year-old who normally writes about property, admitted: ‘I am not a seasoned comedy critic, but does that really matter?’ 

Burns told his fellow comedians they should boycott the event too, saying: ‘Whatever you do, don’t do Adelaide, a tiny market with quite possibly the most unjustifiable chip on its shoulder you’ve ever witnessed. Rude, arrogant and what they probably describe as "laid back" is frankly just laziness.

‘The deal is, you do a good show, you kill and people spread the word. Nope, not a sausage. In fact my numbers only picked up on the final night when I announced I was placing a ten-year ban on the city. They’re just not interested in anything until it’s taken away from them.’

Northern Irish comedian Paul Currie has also slammed the festival as an ‘utter bloody disgrace’. He was demonised in the Advertiser for throwing out hecklers who would not take part in audience participation – and has blasted the festival for banning performers from flyering anywhere near the box office.

‘That’s insane,’ he posted on Facebook. ‘It’s like the artists are being treated like second class citizens in our own festival.

‘I will not be back here next year [and] I will be encouraging as many acts to avoid this Fringe as much as I can.’

He too complained ‘the worst awful arrogant disrupters – they don’t even heckle they just drunkenly chat and are noisy or demand you perform for them like a lap dance – and arrogant snobbery I have ever bore witness to in audience members..’

It is not just comedians who are disgruntled. One-time Dexys Midnight Runners keyboardist Pete Saunders, who is running a blues and burlesque show at the festival, added: ‘Ultimately Adelaide doesn’t have the population itself or nearby to allow small genuinely fringe producers to compete with the marketing budgets of such large commercial ventures as the Garden of Unearthly Delights or the Croquet Club.’

‘It’s not just about the money, it’s about audiences. I do fringe festivals to play to interested, attentive audiences… but those audiences are being hijacked by people who just interested in the money.’

Chortle gave the Fringe a full working day to comment about disruptive, conservative audiences, poor tickets sales, and the quality of reporting from the local media – and how the comedians’ experiences will deter others from coming too.

They have not responded. 

Published: 7 Mar 2016

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