UK Cabaret reviewer, Comedian and writer Johnny Tait takes his first ever trip to the Edinburgh Festival and its much celebrated fringe to check out the comedy on offer and sample the unique atmosphere
I headed straight for The Royal Mile and within just a few moments, I thought, I am going to like it here. We are all familiar with the saying “Get out on the streets and sell”. Well that is exactly what the individual performers and the companies staging their productions were doing. The atmosphere was electric with buskers everywhere you turned. Friendly larger than life characters some of which were dressed in stunningly eye-catching costumes, were stopping those of us who were friendly enough to hear what they had to say and promote their shows and ask us to take a leaflet. By the time I had walked the first 100 yards of The Royal Mile I had so many leaflets, that I then purchased a cloth back to put them in, I was too polite to throw them in the bin.
With over 30,000 official performances plus an untold amount of unscheduled shows, how do you get the audiences to come along to your show?
I wanted to find out first hand, so I offered to help a one person comedy show staged by a friend of a friend. My tactics were simple, I stood outside the venue 30 minutes before curtain up and informed everyone that the show was on and the bar was open, they could have a drink whilst they waited. When it got to 5 minutes before the performance begun, my task got easier with me just saying “Comedy show about to start, admission is free, don’t miss it”. It paid off, when I walked in the venue every seat was taken, it was standing room only. The act pointed me out and asked the audience “How many of you are here as a result of Johnny?” More than 50% of the audience raised their hands. With posters everywhere you looked and leaflets thrust into your hand everywhere you turned, I conclude that the best way to promote a show at The Edinburgh Fringe is the direct and friendly, face to face, no nonsense approach. Although I have to admit the fact that it was free admission helped. The audience are asked to put money in the hat on the way out. Busking for Comedians!
On my third day at the festival I was press ganged into performing in a venue called Footlights. (I say press ganged because I am a mercenary and I wasn’t getting paid.) The audience were a comedians dream with every single audience member showing total respect for each performer. They laughed out loud at throwaway gags and I didn’t have to battle with noisy drunks around the bar.
We so such going on and nothing in particular that I wanted to see, I decided to hope from one venue to another. There was so much diversity with live entertainment from 11am until the early hours of the following day. Beginning the day with a hearty breakfast, I set off for my full days/evening’s entertainment.
Stand-up comedy plays a major part in Edinburgh, probably busy it is easy to stage and can adapt into most venues. The venues ranged from disused shops and warehouses to pubs and some beautiful old churches…..Oh, and there are also quite a few theatres. I saw plenty of ‘alternative type comedy acts’, who seemed to be getting very few laughs. Do these new wave comedians not understand that the role of the comedian is to actually make people laugh? If they want to make a political or social statement, in my view, they should write a book or a play.
I met a larger than life character working as a comedy undertaker called Seymour Stiffs. ‘Seymour’ proved to be an extremely likeable and friendly person, so I promised I would go along and see his show, which was being staged in a disused warehouse. ‘I’ve buried them all- I’ve buried them all’, was his catchphrase. Sadly he forgot to say anything funny and he died as well.
There were two comedy acts who really caught my eye. One was Suzy Bennett with her show Gumption, in which she told tales of failed relationships and her personal desires. Throughout the entire performance the laughs came thick and fast.
The other show I really enjoyed with a one-handed play called Sick Girl. Mel Moon is the writer and eponymous sick girl performer Mel told the story of her personal illness/ condition that almost brought about the end of her life and even led to her considering suicide/euthanasia. The audience were hanging on her every word and, despite the delicacy of the topic, through her warmth and sincerity combined with excellent comic timing and delivery, Mel had us laughing throughout the one-hour performance.
I wanted to speak to both Suzy and Mel after their performances to glean a bit of background information on them. Even though the two performers had never met, they had one thing in common, they started their respective careers as Redcoats in holiday centres. This, to me, proves the point that if you want to learn the trade-do the apprenticeship.