Even before it opens, this year’s Edinburgh Fringe has already taught me the first, precious lessons. The previews are going very well and I’m really enjoying doing them. This might sounds unremarkable, but for me it marks a striking difference from where I was at this stage last year and it makes me think about what went wrong back then.
This will be my third as a performer. Two years ago my debut was a half hour free show that was received very well, earning me, among other things, a very good review from The Scotsman’s Kate Copstick, which I have been quoting at every opportunity ever since. Last year I decided to do a paid-for one hour show and it was, to use a nice English expression, a completely different kettle of fish. I really struggled to get decent audience numbers, I lost a lot of money and the reviews’ range spanned from the very bad to the quite bad. The reasons very multiple. One was that I tried to make my show “thematic”, but this meant that I had some parts that sounded too big-headed, while other parts were just not funny enough. And the pressure I felt meant that my performance was often quite stiff, I wasn’t really “playing” and I wasn’t really enjoying myself.
This year I decided to revert most of last year’s decisions. First of all, I decided to go back to doing a free show. Given Edinburgh’s level of competition, if you are not a big name doing a paid-for show means almost certainly that you are going to struggle. To make things worse my show was overpriced. For a venue’s promoter having ten people paying £10 or twenty paying £5 is the same, but for a comedian it makes a lot of difference, given that comedy needs audience like swimming needs water. I managed to have decent numbers only by giving every day a number of tickets for free, which doesn’t make any sense when you are paying for the venue, it means that you are actually subsidising people to come and see you. And last year’s well deserved nomination of Imran Yusuf’s free show to Foster’s Best Newcomer award was the sign that the prejudice against free shows is now a thing of the past.
Secondly, I decided that I don’t really need a theme. Themes are good if they “emerge” from the jokes themselves, but they are bad if they are imposed over them. One day I would like to do a thematic show about language, but only when I’ll have enough strong jokes on the subject for the show to become thematic “per se”. The same applies to having “a message”: as a comedian your message is the puzzlement and amusement towards the world you express with your jokes or maybe the pleasure and intellectual freedom you communicate with your word play and paradoxes. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan: the jokes medium is the message.
Thirdly, I’m not going solo, but I’m sharing the hour with two other comedians, actually comediennes: Cecilia Delatori and Alice Frick. We met on London’s comedy circuit and I was really impressed by how energetic, intelligent and funny they are. Sharing a slot is not only a way to avoid overstretching your material, but it’s also a great occasion to get continuous feedback from people who can see every step of its development. Not only, but you feed on each other’s energy and enthusiasm. Edinburgh can be a very stressful and lonely experience so I’m really looking forward to have somebody with whom I can share the highs and the inevitable lows.
In other words, I’m confident that this year I will really enjoy my Edinburgh experience and, hopefully, as a result my audience will enjoy their experience too. Cant’ wait.
“An Austrian, an Italian and someone from Slough” will be at Laughing Horse Free Festival @ Meadow Bar, 6.30pm,4-28 August (free with voluntary donation at the end).