Monday, August 31, 2015
Edinburgh and THE FREE FESTIVAL
I recall standing outside the Pleasance Dome flyering my show a few years ago.
I was exhausted and knew I had to fill a big room and faced losing cash so I was anxious and desperate to make sure people came to see me.
I had rented a good flat and paid for amazing posters and had what I believed to be a fabulous show.
Then I spotted a couple of people who had seen me at a showcase show and had taken my flyer after the gig as they liked my stuff. I brightened up and as I approached them I watched a comedy promoter hand them two free tickets to his latest newly signed act's show.
They took them. They were FREE.
He had a HUGE wad of free tickets and was giving them to people all around the Pleasance Dome. I lost the sale. I watched and my heart sank as people didn't give a fuck how funny I had been at the 1pm showcase show.
They had free tickets.
Free shows are part of the fringe and belong in the free venues.
No doubt this year the BIG Four will release the BEST EVER SALES AT THE FRINGE and sit back as they manipulate the figures and the PR will spin it good. It was a fair year I think but it wasn't a bumper.
I know that the figures aren't always true, for ONE BIG SELL OUT there are hundreds of smaller shows underwriting them in the big venues and those comics were doing it on their own cash in the hope of a crowd.
They go home skint, owing money and artistically broken.
I have no issue wth the big paid venues, I just see issues that the Free Festival can resolve.
On the last weekend of the fringe I watched BIG NAMED ACTS give away TWO for ONES on the last Thursday and Friday. That's not a great financial sign and was I aggressively flyered for a comic whose face graces the BILLBOARDS to buy tickets for his 'EXTRA SOLD OUT SHOW' which is a weird oxymoron. It can't be sold out and still have tickets to sell.
People were so scared of losing face.
I was glad I chose to take part in Alex Petty's Free Festival at The Counting House. I considered it last year and checked out the venues and looked at all the options.
Me and Ashley had a BUMPER run and played to full rooms every day. I had people sitting on the floor of the ballroom and Ashley had people standing in her wee room.
They put cash in the buckets. We left with a profit, a very good profit if truth be told. We also told the crowds if they donated silver and bronze coins we gave that to the homeless and later on we dished it out fairly round the city's street collectors.
The Counting House had its own set of challenges but were daily overcome by Big Brian and the staff. Me, Ashley and my own front of house staff Andrew and Helen ushered, crowd controlled and helped other acts audiences get into shows. We self managed. We directed people, we unblocked toilets, we mopped up spilt beer, we lifted up posters and flyers, we collected glasses and we even served beer when it got busy. We were a team.
I encouraged comics and acts to get up and pitch their shows to my big comedy loving crowd. I tweeted about other comics gigs and helped flyer for other shows. It felt like THE FRINGE.
We hung out in the independent comic book shop DeadHead Comics next door to Counting House. WE periscoped and tweeted and showed them how to manage their social media.
They gave us a set of keys and we ended up weeping buckets as we exchanged gifts and hugs when we left them to head home.
We had a fringe family.
The people who came to the shows were brilliant.
Ashley loved her first hour and she was also in a big musical event show at the Assembly that ran for two weeks. So she was on the Free Festival and the Big Venue festival at the same time.
A great experience for her. She also did some BBC radio Four Extra live work and I did Just a Minute for BBC Radio Four. It was brilliant.
Dealing with hard cash was weird. I felt like a mid price hooker, I haven't had that much money in my bag in years. We generally don't carry much cash as a society now. It reminded me of when I owned a pub and used to count the takings.
People no longer see the Free Festival shows as 'well it's free it must be shit' and I don't believe they ever did. This is a nice neat rumour and label put on it by the same people who resent the free shows but have no issue giving out free tickets at a paid venue for a show that can't shift a ticket.
Tax was a well worn phrase when talking about the free venues.
"Yes, but do the free festival comics declare their takings?" one comedy promoter asked me.
I don't think anybody has the right to assume anyone is fucking their taxes based on a dislike of their business model. If you have an issue with people not paying their due tax please go check Gary Barlow, Michelle Mone and some Tory peers before you nitpick at comics you avaricious cunts. While you are at it please make sure the big venues who boast "BEST YEAR EVER" are not putting their profits into an offshore account to avoid taxes in UK.
I pay my tax.
I love the fringe and this year I loved it more. It felt like the old days. It felt good and it felt fair.
I encouraged the people who were skint and living under austerity to come see our shows for free. I also encouraged people who saw the show to take money OUT OF THE BUCKET if they needed some cash.
Poverty isn't shameful.