Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Fringe and the FA Cup

Here is something I wrote for Chortle's Correspondents section. It will not be published since Bob Slayer got his article published before mine and he makes some very similar points. So here it is, exclusively for this blog's readers:


There has been a lot of talk recently about the Fringe becoming too
professionalized and monopolised by big name comedians, for instance
in Harry Deansway’s contribution. I’m now going to argue that these
reports of the Fringe spirit’s death are greatly exaggerated.

We all agree that what makes the Fringe great is its openness,
especially at its the bottom end. Less known acts need to have the
chance to access it. The increasing availability of free slots in the
past year has actually made things better from this point of view.
When I did my free show last year, for instance, I found a slot
despite being on the circuit for less than one year and never having
had my a paid gig yet. Moreover Imran Yusuf’s best newcomer nomination
this year demonstrates that it is not true any more, if it ever was,
that doing a free show will condemn you to be overlooked by critics
and prize panelists.

Its openness at the top end, however, is in my opinion equally
important. The reason is that it makes the Fringe something similar to
another great British institution: the FA Cup. Taking part to it for a
less known comedian is like taking part to the FA Cup for a small
provincial club. You might end up playing at Stamford Bridge and in
that case you would of course be expected to be defeated, and
typically you are, but playing there instead of your usual crap ground
is already some sort of victory. In the FA Cup case this “trickle down
effect”, with ticket sales and sometimes TV right shared between the
teams, is probably more easily recognisable than on the Fringe, but it
cannot be completely written off in the latter case either. Big names
after all bring more visitors and more media and promoters’ attention
to the Fringe as a whole and everybody can have a go at taking a bite
at this bigger pie. Moreover, like in the FA Cup, there is still the
possibility of being the "giant killer". I think the Fringe is broadly
meritocratic, you can still be a big TV name and have a bad run, while
people like Daniel Kitson can sell out a big room at at 10.30am
without a single TV appearance or a single DVD under their name.

Without the big names the Fringe would stop being the FA Cup of comedy
and would just become another minor league. We less known comedians
don't need that, we are already playing in a minor league all year
round. For at least one month of the year it's great to have the
chance to walk with the giants. It's well worth the danger of being
crashed under their feet.