Opinion: Comedians at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 - please actually write a show
Being funny is more about sheer hard work than self-indulgence
This article is from 2014.
There are hundreds of shows at the Fringe. Statistically they cannot all be brilliant. And that’s ok. Seeing, or indeed being in, a proper turkey is a rite of passage in Edinburgh. That look you give your friend that says, ‘I think we’re close enough to the door to sprint for it at the next scene change.’ That moment when you realise that destroying a Godzilla of red-top newspapers with your super-soaker of truth doesn’t cleverly satirise the rotten core of the Leveson inquiry but actually just slowly fills your basement venue with papier mâché.
But please spare me this: actually write a show. The joyous freedom to experiment unrivalled among arts festivals around the world will teach you nothing if the opening – and only – joke of the show is ‘Ooops, we haven’t written anything.’ I’ve seen it far too often.
The root of the problem is that great comedians have always made their art form seem effortless. They glide in and out of material, slide into improvisation, they’re never at a loss for words. Audiences and critics are easily fooled into assuming comedy greatness is a genetic condition, a gift or sometimes a curse that means every word dripping from their lips incites uncontrollable hysteria in all upon whose ears it falls.
Not so. Here is the dirty little secret. The best comedians are the ones that work hard. The ones that write material, tweak material, pitch up with wodges of notes at suburban pub nights frantically ticking and striking things and searching for a synonym for flip flop that rhymes with window sill.
Whatever the ticket price, audiences have picked your show from the hundreds out there, given you an hour of their time. The very least you can do is write a show, a show with a point and a structure and a big finish. And if it doesn’t work as you scrape the newspaper pulp off the floor with half an espadrille (yes!), at least you can say you failed spectacularly.
Kate Smurthwaite has three Fringe shows this year: The News at Kate: Leftie Cock Womble, Viva Mexico, 2–23 Aug (not 12), 5pm, free; The Evolution Will Be Televised, Ciao Roma, 2–23 Aug (not 12), 8.20pm, free; Late with Kate, Canon’s Gait, 2–23 Aug (not 3, 10, 17), midnight, free.