Fringe 2011 comedy blogs - Nick Doody
The comic discusses how to circumvent the expense of the Fringe
This article is from 2011.
It is expensive to put on a stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe.
In 2006, my first solo show, Before He Kills Again, was arguably a hit, selling out the entire run and putting on two extra shows in a larger venue, both of which also sold out. That year, I lost less than £2000, not counting accommodation. This was considered a financial success.
On the now-'traditional' model of a Fringe comedy show, the performer cannot break even unless they are famous enough to attract a large audience every night. In other words, until you're a big enough name that you don't need the Fringe to help make your name, the Fringe remains a loss leader. For most comics, the Fringe is like flinging coins into the air for a month, hoping one of them hits a valuable rare bird.
So why do we do it? Well, because it's brilliant. The Fringe is like many of the best gigs: exciting, electric, inspiring and often drunken. It's also 'exam time for clowns' (© Andrew Maxwell); one reason the British comedy circuit is so vibrant is that so many of us write a new hour every year and then subject it to the scrutiny of the most literate and jaded audiences and most exhausted, tetchily hungover critics. And all our friends are there. And sometimes exciting acts from overseas we'd never have seen otherwise. It's brilliant. But it's expensive. And it's long.
With those objections in mind, this year I asked Peter Buckley Hill whether I'd be able to do a show at his Free Fringe for just 10 nights. My show didn't go into the main Fringe brochure, mostly because of timing, partly due to my being reluctant to forking out the money. Later I realised I wasn't listed on edfringe.com, and when I tried to rectify this, I discovered it would cost nearly £300 to register (this gets you listed and allows your tickets to be sold through the Fringe box office. But there are no tickets to my show; it's free. And I'd missed the deadline for the printed brochure. So effectively it would cost me £295 including VAT just for my show to come up on the website when you search for my name). £300 or it looks like your show doesn't exist. At which point I thought, 'Do I really need to play this game? I have a venue; I have a show...' That's when I decided I wasn't going to pay. In fact, I wasn't even going to get flyers made, or posters. In fact, I wasn't even going to go to Edinburgh or do a show. OK, I'd go to Edinburgh and do a show, but not that other stuff. I was going to see if you could do the Fringe without doing any of the things we're told you need to do.
Some of this is me being bloody-minded, and there's a bit of my inner anarchist coming through. It's the same reason I write on open source software rather than Microsoft Word, the same reason I went with Android rather than iPhone. When everyone's being charged through the nose because there's a perception that there's only One Way, I get itchy and start looking around for alternatives. Of course, my experiment might backfire and I get no audience, but even in that worst case scenario, at least I don't lose tens of thousands of pounds.
I like the idea of the Free Fringe, and its ethos. The perception that it's an amateur version of the main Fringe doesn't hold water because, aside from anything else, the main Fringe is mostly amateur, at least in the sense that the performers aren't making any money. The 'free' element doesn't imply a lower quality. Just because the audience haven't paid up front doesn't mean you don't have a responsibility to give them a good show. Not at the Fringe: there are hundreds of other shows they could be seeing instead – and probably dozens of other free ones. Whether or not they put anything in the bucket at the end, they're still paying you their attention and an hour of their time. Unless they walk out, in which case they're bastards.
Essentially, I'm doing 10 secret gigs. Secret gigs are cool. Knowing about secret gigs is cool. If you're reading this, you're now cool. You're welcome. Now in order to get an audience, I have to make sure that the secret is kept very badly. Please don't keep it to yourself.
Canon's Gait, until 16 Aug, 4.55pm, free.