Edinburgh fringe festival: A giant comedy trade show?
- 23 August 2011
- From the section Business
One way of looking at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is as a giant comedy trade show. So how should I sell my product - an hour of jokes?
Despite the international celebrity status accorded to me by my work for BBC radio, my Edinburgh Fringe show is not an automatic sell-out.
Ludicrous as it sounds, I need to do some selling. Which is why each day, I'm on the streets of Edinburgh handing out flyers to strangers and giving them the sales pitch.
I never saw myself as a salesman. Their oily confidence was anathema to my innate self-doubt and hesitancy. A salesman's patter always felt too slick and rehearsed.
And yet now, as I approach strangers while wearing a facsimile of a giant hand designed to look like a Facebook Like button, I cringe as a series of well-worn phrases slide easily out of my mouth.
"Need a hand picking a show?"
"Four star show at four o'clock madam?"
"Dislike! The Facebook Guide to Crisis - turn your recession thumbs down into a recovery thumbs up."
I fancy my voice starts to go ever so slightly cockney as I flaunt my wares on the street: "Oo will buy my laavly show? Lawks a mercy, only Hawf a craan naaw."
And when the customer comes in and watches your performance there is an extra frisson of tension. For hidden somewhere in that audience is the secret shopper, the fifth columnist who could undermine everything with the stroke of a pen - the reviewer.
I scan the audience looking for tell-tale signs of the archetypal reviewer. They sit alone. If they wear glasses they are the "media-person" type of glasses, dark rimmed and fashionable. Their notebook sits slyly at the side and they write into it without even taking their eyes off the show.
What it is that makes performers of all disciplines spend a big chunk of their savings in order to put their emotions through a ringer just so that they can, at best, break even after a month's work?
Some of it is pure compulsion. Some of it is a self-imposed deadline for a profession which takes procrastination to… well professional levels.
But like any trade show, sometimes it's just good to see what other companies are selling. What other wonderful, amazing, strange, bewildering offerings are available as the performers of the world converge on Edinburgh.
Now that my own stand at the fair has been set up, I can take a wander around the hall.
Wigs and lipstick
Which explains why I'm a little tired writing this piece. Last night I went to a play recounting the Greek tragedy of Medea and Jason and the Argonauts.
Not just any play - it was a six-hour audience interactive affair starting at midnight.
As audience members, we were expected to dance at a wedding, sleep in a nursery, wear wigs and lipstick, and, as the play reached its violent denouement - find somewhere to hide in the building.
Now, even at the best of times, it's hard to persuade me to go to a conventional play. Comedians can have an in-built and often unfair suspicion of actors, a feeling we could do their job but they couldn't do ours.
It's a similar attitude that people have to management consultants.
But to truly experience the Edinburgh Fringe you need to leave your hang-ups at the door. Which is why at five in the morning, as Medea flies into a murderous, filicidal rage, I was hiding in a cupboard.
I love this business.