How to save money at the Fringe AND become a better comedian
"There is a way acts can enhance their reputation without the financial burden of putting on a show."
Speak to any comedian who’s been up to the Edinburgh Fringe and they’ll tell you at great length what an expensive venture it can often turn out to be.
There’s a ton of costs associated with any Fringe show; production costs, venue hire, accommodation, living expenses, transport, marketing, registration fees, the list goes on and on. Even successful shows can leave acts out of pocket, though a good Fringe can significantly enhance a performer’s reputation.
I remember one act, who debuted at the Fringe in 2011, saying that if he sold out every day for the full Fringe run he’d still lose £4,000. Whilst he made a significant loss on his show, it was nominated for an Edinburgh Comedy Award. Now the act is one of the biggest names on the circuit and is a regular on all manner of television comedy shows. He must’ve been feeling lucky, because the gamble well and truly paid off.*
But what if there was a way acts could enhance their reputation without the financial burden of putting on a show, I hear you ask? Well, there is. It’s called a showcase.
Three of the biggest showcases at the festival are Big Value, AAA and The Pleasance Reserve. All operate under slightly different models but all follow the same basic principle, to give good acts a chance to impress at the Fringe. In each case acts have to apply, audition by doing a spot at a gig, then hope they’ve impressed the right people in order to get a spot on the showcase.
Last year I compered the Big Value Late Show (Big Value is split into three shows – lunchtime, early and late). I auditioned four times. Firstly as a compere, then as an act, then as a compere again in a different venue, then finally as a compere on a weekend show. That’s four 200-mile round trips to Nottingham for no money. That might seem like a lot in petrol, but Big Value cover all show costs for the full Fringe run and pass any profits back to the performers. There’s almost no other way an act can perform for the whole month and be guaranteed to not lose a ton of money.
This year I’ll be performing at two showcases – the ‘AAA Early Show’ with Sam Gore and Dave Green at the Pleasance Courtyard at 7.15pm and ‘Gag Reflex Presents’, a brand new showcase at The White Horse at 3:45pm.
Both Big Value and AAA are showcases that have been running successfully for over 20 years and there’s certainly a feeling of deference when you’re included in shows with such a high caliber of alumni. But ‘Gag Reflex Presents’ offers something different – there’s a real buzz about being the first acts to participate in a brand new venture. It’s incredibly exciting to be involved in something from the very beginning.
Whilst their show doesn’t have two decades of heritage like Big Value and AAA, the Gag Reflex name is instantly recognizable for representing some of the best acts in the country. It’s a great feeling to be asked to perform for them and will hopefully help towards getting more gigs in future and enhancing my own reputation.
One thing I’m really looking forward to is working alongside the other acts, Chris Washington, Sean Nolan, Tom Lucy and Benji Waterstones. I already know Chris from working together on the circuit but I’ve never seen Sean, Tom or Benji. Sometimes seeing another act for the first time can inspire you to push yourself further with your own material, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can learn from each of their sets.
But perhaps the biggest reason for doing a showcase in Edinburgh is how much it improves you as an act. By the end of last year’s Fringe I was doing four shows a day. I usually do that in a week. Such is the high concentration of shows and opportunities for stage time, you can write a new joke in the morning and have a polished routine by teatime. The most exciting thing for me is to see how much I’ve developed as a comedian and most importantly, to be reminded about how far I’ve still got to go.
*For those still trying to work out who this is, your crossword clue is “Jesus drops his t’s, reverse? Yes Mar!” (5,6)