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Laughs lacking for 'breakaway'

Pauline McLean | 18:16 UK time, Thursday, 5 June 2008

The Edinburgh Fringe doesn't struggle for a crowd. And neither does the press launch for its programme. Maybe it's the bacon butties, or the fact that with 2,080 shows, there's no shortage of story ideas for the assembled media.

But some of today's attendees were looking a little hungover. Today's launch wasn't the first - the night before, four of the biggest venues on the fringe had thrown their own party - with dinner too - to launch their own festival within the festival.

The Gilded Balloon, the Pleasance, the Underbelly and the Assembly Rooms say they weren't trying to overshadow the main event - it was apparently the only night they were free.

And their motivation in establishing the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, they say, is simply about getting profile and sponsorship for the increasingly overcrowded comedy market.

But others are less convinced - like Tommy Shepherd at the Stand, whose venue's programme has doubled in size since it first started.

He says, "I don't know why they're doing it. It's so divisive. And confusing for customers because most of the comedy on the fringe happens outwith the so-called comedy festival. My advice is to pick up a fringe brochure and see Edinburgh's whole comedy programme."

American comic Doug Stanhope goes one step further. He's staging a one off show this fringe for just one paying customer.

The prize of the ticket? £7349.00 (£7348 if you're a student or a pensioner) - the average amount of money he claims a comedy show will lose at the Edinburgh Fringe.

He claims the breakaway venues are furthering that divide - and that any sponsorship money is not going to reach the performers, who'll still be out of pocket.

The fringe's mild-mannered director Jon Morgan was playing down any rumours of a rift.

For him, the fringe is merely a big umbrella for a lot of outspoken individuals - and decisions like this only add to the colour.

And those of you with long memories may recall a similar ploy ten years ago when a cigarette brand sponsored the comedy programmes at three of the venues (the Underbelly had yet to come into existence).

Despite the efforts of the "cigarette girls" handing out freebies (what would the current government with their anti-smoking policy think of that!) the scheme folded within a year.

It was called Lighten Up - a message today's promoters might want to take to heart.


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