Rob Gilroy

On the edge of the Fringe

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The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is almost here.

But for those comedians already previewing their new material in situ – or indeed the performing art students currently recreating Wall Street using only disposable forks for an installation about the fragility of our economy and the extent of our dependence on the banks – the Fringe has already begun.

It feels like, for the past few years, I’ve been writing these ‘The Fringe is upon us’ columns from the comfort of my own home.

No jam-packed Transit van of exaggerated props, no bulging suitcase of wigs, fake glasses and charity shop clothing; no gushing wound of debt in the bank account… well, I am planning a wedding, so there are some similarities.

I love the Fringe and I love performing there, but it’s been a little while since my last visit, and writing these articles each year feels almost like a cheat.

Yes I’ve been there, done that and got the admittedly overpriced t-shirt; but who am I to discuss the Fringe without being on the front line; flyers, flu and all?

In the past when I performed at Edinburgh, there was always one thing I felt around this time of year – fear. Fear of a month-long endurance test; doing what you love to the point of financial and physical ruin. The butterflies weren’t so much in my stomach, as drowning on my gastric acid.

And now, with no Fringe show to prepare for, no lines to remember, accommodation to survive or patter to rework, I feel only one thing. Fear.

Am I foolish for not going to the Fringe? It might be a showbiz cattle market but should I be flaunting my bovine wears? The fear of performing at the Fringe is only outweighed by the fear of not performing at the Fringe. It’s like that big-headed Oscar Wilde quote about being talked about; a vainglorious concern for the perpetually pathetic.

The problem is, when I think of the Fringe and the good times I’ve enjoyed there – and there have been a great many good times – I can’t get past the feeling that it’s ultimately a venture that’s hard to feel satisfied with.

I know that it’s not all about the awards or the adulation from peers – it’s about performing, about doing what you love as much as possible.

Yet the sneaking suspicions that you need to be ‘talked about’, that you should have some sort of tangible presence, that it should be opening doors for you, is hard to ignore.

They’re not easy concerns to brush off when you’re dedicating at least a month of your life, not to mention a good chunk of your savings, to it. Doing it for fun is all it should be about, but we’re increasingly reminded that there’s more to it than that.

So many people sign up and pay the fees to be discovered. It might not be the right way, but you also can’t ignore it. Like taking a stroll down an F1 track, however leisurely you try to go, you’re going to be hit by someone far more competitive. For me, that’s not so enjoyable.

Eventually, no matter how well intentioned your choices are, you start to feel ground down by the whole thing. Counting everything from audience numbers to review stars, to the coins in your bucket – it’s hard to remain detached from a cycle that requires you to monitor your success at every stage.

I’m not saying Edinburgh is a bad thing, just the lure of it is so great that – when you’re still finding your feet as a comic – it’s easy to be seduced into performing there, when really there are better ways to build your confidence and hone your act.

I’m always told that performing in Edinburgh for the month of August is a brave thing, but it increasingly seems like staying away is the braver thing to do.

But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?