Sunday, 19 August 2012

Tips to Make the Perfect Fringe Show

Aside from the obvious talent that's necessary from the performers, there are quite a few things that acts and audiences can do to get the most from their Fringe experience!

I've been to a wide selection of venues this year, so I feel like I'm in a good position to discuss the merits of not just the acts but also the other factors that contribute to a good show.

I went to see Jason Byrne last Saturday evening after being offered a spare ticket (nothing against him but he's not the sort of act I would normally pick) and if I was reviewing shows in chronological order (which I have been doing so far) then his show would be the next one up for a review. However, I'm not in a hurry to post one - mainly because unlike the other acts I've spoken about, he's already a massive name and most people will have already seen him on TV if not live and already formed an opinion on him (the type of act I try and avoid during the Fringe).

The reason I'm bringing him up is because I had a fairly average seat towards the back of the auditorium in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC - the place where all over exposed comics go to sell out their tickets and prepare for their up coming appearance on Live at the Apollo) and I felt that I had a 3* experience at a 5* comics show.

The seats are unreserved so quite simply, if you are not near the front of the queue, you are not going to be close to the stage.

Aside from the fact that he was performing in a great big cavern instead of an intimate comedy club, and aside from the fact that his material was, dare I say it, slightly hack; Fifty Shades of Grey, Scottish Accents, having an itchy arse etc... It was a great performance by a very experienced pro who deserves all the success he has received.

But being used to smaller rooms, I couldn't help feeling that if I'd paid for the ticket (which I think was about £20), I'd feel a little short changed ending up about 30 rows back.

A comedy venue needs to be small or medium sized, dark, quiet (with a bar far away enough from the performance area) with the crowd close to the stage. Less experienced comedy fans might go to a big venue, pay a lot of money to see an act on TV and not understand why they have not enjoyed the show as much as all the people who walk past them on the way out raving about it. The atmosphere is all at the front and you should not let the fear of getting picked on spoil your enjoyment!

The next thing that has a big effect on the success of the show is the time it's on. I mentioned this in my review of Bob and Jim - explaining that the type of show it was, really wasn't suited to a lunch time slot.

It's only in Edinburgh (and at a handful of other Comedy Festivals throughout the world) that shows start before 5pm. At 12.30pm, in front of a sober audience, the show needs a very high energy act to get the audience engaged and on side.

Today I saw an excellent example of two acts who managed to raise the tempo of a room which could have  easily have been lost - by being loud, fact paced and most importantly funny. (They were Jason Patterson and Nish Kumar and they'll appear again here shortly). A new act didn't do quite as well because he didn't have the confidence of the other acts and he didn't speak loudly and clearly and keep the tempo high! (I won't mention his name because I'm not in the business of trashing open spots who have the potential to get a lot better).

Lots of acts make this mistake and not just the inexperienced ones!

The next thing you need to do is tailor your act to the audience. I have a mate who is starting out doing open spots and he's a very good act, but he is a bit of a storyteller who builds up to a finale. There's nothing wrong with that, but when he did a gong show for the first time, he only did one punch line in the first three minutes and got gonged off.... and then blamed the audience on Facebook. I wasn't at the show but told him that there is no such thing as a bad audience, just an unsuitable act for that particular venue/performance. In a gong show you need a high JPM (jokes per minute), you can't spend four out of five minutes setting up your big finale.

I once saw a very good comedian who was performing in front of 8 people (he's doing better nowadays) and a big chunk of his act was all about 1980's kids TV nostalgia. With only 8 people in the crowd he had done a bit of audience banter and established that the family of four from England were either two old or two young to have seen any 80's kids TV and the three other people in the crowd grew up in South Africa/Australia. So essentially, his excellent Bungle and Zippy impersonation was only appreciated by me! (I don't think the other people put much cash in his bucket that day).

Acts coming to Edinburgh need to realise that the crowds are very cosmopolitan and you are likely to have lots of Aussies, Kiwi's Africans, Americans, English, Irish and also Europeans with a good grasp of English (many of whom use watching comedy as a way to improve their English and understand the sense of humour of other cultures).

Nostalgia and many other very British types of comedy will work well on the comedy circuit 11 months of the year, but you could find yourself unexpectedly dying on your arse if you try it at 2pm in front of a bunch of foreigners! You need some very generic material to fall back on if you are going to include it in your show.

1 comment:

Tommy Jollyboat said...

I only just read this - there's some very solid insights there! Like Bob & Jim, I've been filling a lunchtime slot with a show more suited to the evening — we knew that was a problem of course, but unfortunately we can't choose our own time slot.

Agree also about smaller rooms being better -- unfortunately it's a toss-up between taking a big room and risking people at the back having a less enjoyable time, or taking a small one and turning people away, which also sucks.