Not Tying Nooses Yet

This blog post is probably of little interest to those acts currently in limbo, hoping for a room at the Edinburgh Fringe after the Cowgatehead debacle.

I would like to explain why I have not pulled out of the Free Fringe benefit at the Bloomsbury theare and why this does not mean that I am ambivalent towards the currently frustrated, venue-less acts.

Firstly, let me make it clear that neither Stewart Lee nor I, or indeed any of the other acts, were asked to do a benefit “to help fund the smashing of people’s dreams”. Though anyone who knows us will be aware that most of the benefits we agree to are based on our desire to create a dystopian future that maximises people’s misery, this is not such a venture.

I agreed to the benefit, as I have all the other free fringe benefits, to support the acts and the idea of it. The money goes towards creating the PBH’s Free Fringe brochure so hopefully helps all the shows get an audience. The money does not go to Peter Buckley Hill’s beer and Ferrari fund.

I, and other acts, have been criticised for not pulling out of the show due to the current stalemate and confusion.

Why have I not pulled out?

Because as yet, I have not seen enough evidence of heinous skullduggery. This is a fucked up situation, but it still does not seem clear to me who is to blame.

The version of events I have seen so far, and this seems to be changing depending on whose facebook statuses you monitor, is that a venue was booked full of acts before the landlord was confirmed. When the landlord was confirmed, he did not want that particular booker and, again from the version of events I have been told, was angered when he heard it had all been booked without his permission. A further problem was that there were far more rooms needed than the landlord wished to create for the fringe. The story of how this hopeless scenario occurred is still a mess.

I have not seen a full account of why the initial booker believed it was definitely theirs to book. I have read some status updates, though they seem far from transparent.

I have also seen status updates that seem fueled by animosity towards Peter Buckley Hill that has built up long before this incident.

The most important part of this is to house those acts currently with fringe listings and without venues and work out the most effective way to publicise where they will be.

It would also seem to be useful to hear from the current landlord and those who were the potential landlords as this could make thing far clearer.

I know we are always meant to act like a government reacting to tabloid rumours of dangerous squirrels, act first and fuck the evidence, follow the flags of popular outcry, but I try to make decisions based on the clearest possible version of events.

Too many egos, not enough facts.

I am sure there is more to be revealed in the next hours and days and I will keep up to date with what information comes out and my actions and reasoning may change, but I’d rather not lynch now and regret later.

Addendum: Much is being made of the fact that the Free Fringe only informed the Fringe the day before the brochure deadline (8th april) . Some acts believe this was done maliciously to punish them for joining Freestival. Surely it would then have been better to say nothing. If the Fringe had taken this seriously, they could have contacted the acts. The brochure is not printed the day after the deadline, in fact, there is still  a week to change from the proof copy (at least from my experience), so all this nonsense could have been stopped in time.

This is a statement put up on Facebook from Frank Gailbraith, with intro by Paul B Edwards.

“Perhaps it would be a good idea to read this statement just released by Frank Galbraith (our man in Edinburgh and one of the only people who knows all about the Cowgatehead fiasco:

“Hi Guys,
Just to keep you all updated we have now completed discussions with the Cowgatehead licensee and the Fringe Office regarding the mis-reported claims that Freestival had rights to use the venue during Edinburgh Fringe 2015.
These continued claims by Freestival that PBH, the licensee and the owners are all to blame is only a shameful smokescreen to cover up their mishandlings and I can only assume avert possible civil action claims.
So that everyone is clear on these issues, having previously had discussions with the building owners and a potential licensee, we emailed the Fringe office on 7th April 2015 of a possible conflict of interest in using Cowgatehead this year and to be wary accepting advertisements from performers until the venue licensee and promoters were confirmed. We were then contacted by the newly confirmed licensee on Tuesday 19th May, and had Edinburgh meetings with him on Wed 20th and Thur 21st May, agreed and exchanged contract details on us promoting events at Cowgatehead & Cowshed, Bar-Bados (St Johns) and Tron Kirk.
We also had further Edinburgh meetings with the licensee on Tuesday 2nd and Wed 3rd June 2015, and also met with the Edinburgh Fringe Society management on the Wednesday afternoon when the licensee, Peter and I further confirmed the position with the fringe office.
It has been very disappointing to read some of the social media reports and comments, from several performers and a few bloggers/journalists, that Peter Buckley Hill and the Free Fringe organization team had irresponsibly taken use of the venue, left 150 performers without a stage to perform on and £1000’s out of pocket. It was also disturbing to read Freestivals claims that we refused to compromise on relinquishing or sharing the venue and that we further refused to attend pre-arranged mediation with the licensee, fringe office and Freestivals sponsors in London on Tuesday 2nd May 2015.
Whilst it’s understandable that the concerns of the performers have foundation, it is disappointing that some of them have taken to shamefully denouncing PBH in their social media posts based on grossly inaccurate information given to them by their promoter.
It is also extremely concerning to us and the licensee that Freestival are continuing their claims that a verbal agreement existed and that the FREESTIVAL LTD board have backed a petition demanding they be given the venue and are considering legal action against the licensee.
The recent claims by Freestival that they had hammered out a compromise agreement with the licensee and that we had declined the compromise deal was incorrect. Their further claims that a London compromise meeting, with the licensee and the fringe office being in attendance, was cancelled due to our non attendance was also fabricated.
Not only was the reported meeting never agreed or programmed by the licensee, the fringe office management had no confirmed details of it either, other that what was told to them by Freestival.
On the alleged London meeting date the licensee was at pre planned meetings in Edinburgh with members of the PBHFF team.
So that we are all clear on this point the licensee has confirmed with us and the fringe office that NO COMPROMISE MEETING WAS EVER AGREED OR EVEN DISCUSSED WITH FREESTIVAL FOR THEM TO USE OR SHARE THE BUILDING. What was apparently discussed during Freestivals Edinburgh meeting on 25 May, was that the licensee would meet with Peter to discuss the affected acts, as apparently Freestival informed the licensee that Peter had refused to take any of the displaced acts.
As Peter has already reported, the genre AD’s are presently working extremely hard finalising offers with the affected Freestival acts and 51 of the 89 CGH acts that are listed in the EdFringe programme have already had their allocated slots with us confirmed.
However, despite our efforts to sort out this mess, it is still shocking to read recent posts by Freestival that an Eleventh hour compromise may still be possible if PBH can be convinced to give up the venue. This is simply not an option we could consider, as the licensee has already informed the Freestival organization that they were never promised use of the venue nor would they be offered usage in any of their venues due to the yet unreported conduct of Freestival during the venue bidding process.
In recent statements Freestival reported that discussions had been on going since 2014 with the prospective licensees and the building owners, whom they claimed are the same management company as their sponsors La Favorita. These statements were grossly inaccurate and served no purpose other than to mislead people.
The facts are that La Favorita and their owners have never had ownership of the building and as such no agreements or authority could have been given to Freestival. The actual owners of the building and both perspective licensees (The decision makers) confirmed to us that no agreement with Freestival was ever in place. They (The decision makers) have also pointed out that this can be backed up with Corroborating Evidence.
I am also personally angered to see the barrage of abuse towards PBH, the Free Fringe committee & organising team, the licensee and the building owners. Some of the posts include suggesting people should veto our venues AND that our London fundraiser performers should reconsider their association with PBHFF. This in my opinion has exceeded the acceptable lines of voicing their protestations.
Please be assured that we have all conducted ourselves in a professional manner throughout this and we do not deserve the criticism that has been thrown at us. We do however take on board that the emotional outbursts from the performing community is only on the back of information given to them by their promoter.
We are also extremely saddened to hear about several acts that expect substantial financial losses this year due to the unfulfilled promises and agreements they had with Freestival. We of course cannot guarantee putting all the affected acts back into the rooms promised to them by Freestival due to the fact that three of the rooms simply do not exist. Had Freestival been in discussions with the licensees, as they have claimed, they would have known that one of the floors they claimed to have as a staged area in will in fact be a music bar. Simply put there is only enough room for six stages. However, we are presently in discussions regards putting in place contingency plans to secure additional venues/stages to accommodate the remaining displaced acts that wish to apply to us and our own acts that have been waiting patiently.
It is our hope that the Freestival team will now move on and concentrate on their own show preparations and cease this senseless course of vindictive action towards the Free Fringe organisation.
I trust this explains some of the many questions asked of me recently and that we can now concentrate on our own final preparations in ensuring Edinburgh Fringe 2015 is our best to date.


I hope everyone can now move on, as he suggests. I don’t think this post merits discussion but it is worth reading. Thanks.”

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The Cowgatehead Fringe Chaos

I have been sticking my nose into the Cowgatehead debacle at this year’s Summer fringe and I am not sure all is as it is being portrayed.

It seems like PBH is being made the villain here, but reading through reports and events, it looks more to me like Freestival may have cocked up, perhaps unknowingly, and PBH is getting the blame. The problem is that it is ultimately the acts who end up being victims. The main points seem to be –

1. more rooms were offered than will exist at the venue for the fringe, eleven rooms when there will only be six, as much of the space is being used for music.

2. Peter did not approach the landlord, he approached Peter to book the venue. This seems to be where one of the issues may be, the lease had not actually been assigned to the venue at fringe programme deadline. As far as I can see, it is a very poor idea to book a venue based in the hope your chosen landlord gets control of it. Perhaps Freestival were talking to someone they believed was in charge of the venue when they were not.

3. Peter put a hold on booking any alternative acts for a week until those who believed they had a place under Freestival made it known they still wished to be at Cowgatehead. As there are not as many rooms as were offered, it seems there is no way of accommodating all. This is where the parlous state comes in. PBH’s Free Fringe is being blamed for leaving acts out in the cold when it is down to the fact there are just not going to be the rooms promised.

I thought it was important to get these important to put these points up again as it seems this situation is being turned into a heroes and villains situation unfairly.

The saddest thing is that this debacle is making all the free fringes and festivals look like the whole thing is a turf war and leaving acts with dashed hopes and debt. There may have been many people who have been misled in this situation, and I am not entirely sure why the Fringe office didn’t act when they were warned that the Cowgatehead venue lease was still on the table. Shouldn’t they have spoken to those booking it and warned them that it wasn’t safe practice to book out rooms in a venue when you don’t know who will have ultimate control of it?

The free fringes and festivals have helped revitalise much of the fringe and encourage more experimentation and given opportunities to new acts without the money to play major venues, it is great pity that it has descended into this.

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Losing My Religion – on why I am giving up stand up

Before reading this post, I should reiterate that I love stand up and reading back over this, it probably looks a bit melodramatic. In the act of writing about it all, everything seems much clearer now. So you could well dismiss this whole thing if you wish. All in all, I may just have spent too long on my own in hotel rooms and gone a little mad.

Also I should stress that some of these thoughts are infrequent and do not represent some constant fog of gloom. This is the biscuit box selection of regular and occasional doubts.

I have been a stand up comedian for over half my life, and now it is time to stop talking.
It was January 2014 when I started to think, this showing off has got to stop.
I have no idea what the effect of closing my professional bile and jumping about valve will be, perhaps I will be murdered by my wife not long afterwards.
Or maybe I’ll fall silent and like it.
It is not that I have gone off the idea of stand up, or that I have come up with some grand or minor project to usurp it. It is an experiment. What happens to me without it?

The reasons why I have decided to stop change regularly.
When I am in a good mood, or post a successful gig, I wonder why I am going to attempt this silence, but in the shadows near the back of my skull, I know I should.

Most friends reckon it will last about a month. I want to give it at least two years, and then review the situation.

My notebooks have scribbled sentences that explain to me why I am doing this. Some of them I agree with as I am typing them out, others I am not sure of in my current frame of mind.

1. The main reason is my son. He is seven and I am not around enough. I am in a position that I can take a sizable chunk of time off and play Doctor Who Top Trumps and go to dinosaur museums, so I should do just that. I try to ration tour dates. My agent is responsive when I say I only want to do three shows in a week, but then others ask for talks or appearances at peculiar and fascinating events and that’s 7 days of the week gone. Cutting down is not an option. Total abstinence is required.

2. My impostor syndrome is more vibrant now than it was in 1992. I still don’t think I am a proper comedian. I find myself on benefit bills and look around a green room of professional comedians, people who really know how to do it, and wonder how I have snuck in with my mind shambles.

3. Paranoia is rife. However well a gig is going, I have drawn faces of fury on the front row. If everyone seems to be laughing, I am imagining the lone man in the audience is furious with it all. Later, he explains to other members of the audience that it was actually awful, and they realise they have been conned. Towards the end of the gig, I look down at the person whose face I have scribbled on to make it furious, and it turns out they are jolly. I must stop graffiting the audience’s faces with felt tipped fury emotions.

4. I am stuck in my niche. I like the world I am in. I like the audience I get, but there still seem to be too many towns where I can’t get more than a few stalls seats sold. I can go from 600 people to 43 in 24 hours. The ego deflates like a spitty whoopee cushion..

5. All this science has brought on doubt. Why am I saying what I am saying? Do I know what I am talking about? Is there anything original being exhaled? This is much the same reason I stopped writing a regular blog – my “shut up shut up shut up” inner voice began to screech. Once I am off stand up, I will also depart social media for a while too, for more effective shutting up. So if I disappear for a while, I can do some reading and looking through microscopes & telescopes and working out what I might think.

6. Aren’t there enough middle class white males talking already?

7. Sometimes I look at stand up and see all the commercialisation, the demographic researching, the secret writers making up observations for the big name, the disco ball illuminations, and I remember the less funny, but more passionate stand up 15 year old me saw in some gum and burn hole carpeted pub room, and I go off it. I know there are many wonderful, curious, exciting acts really, but for a moment, that knowledge slips away as I see the same panel on every panel show. The seating position and the desk colour may change, but look, there’s Jimmy Carr.

8. I see the work of Daniel Kitson or Bridget Christie or John Kearns and face my limitations. Do I delude myself that I may be capable?

9. I think I was starting to go mad. I didn’t have some Hancockian black dog hovering above me, more a facetious little grey dog yapping. In Hull and Alnwick, I started to lose hold of the leash I keep my English emotions on (as poor Grace Petrie knows).

10. Insomnia decided to deposit itself in my gut and brains sometime ago. As I want each show to be better than the last, this hoped for perfectionism was stymied by that self-loathing homunculus who sneered at 3am – “how can you do the show justice when you won’t have slept for 49 hours. Hee hee hee”. I must buy some homunculus deterrent spray.

I was also hugely disappointed that the new nights I attempted last year, such as Your Culture is Ailing, Your Art Is Dead, failed to ignite enough passion to get a regular audience.

I have two months left. Let’s see if I can give up stand up for longer than I gave up whisky, or if the addiction is such that I’ll start busking jokes outside the Hayward Gallery by August. This whole thing may just be a nonsense, and in a matter of weeks I will be pugnacious, facetious and armed to play low turnout border towns all over again.

I have two more gigs in Australia, then a couple of months of UK gigs, from St Austell to Salford, Leeds to Bristol,  ending up at The Bloomsbury, London. I will occasionally be popping up at festivals, including a one off show at Edinburgh. All dates are here.

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Merely Burble – I Am Just Showing My Working Out, But I Am Not Sure What the Question Is

this is not really a blog post, just some sentences I am using to try and work something out. You may want to leave now. Merely Burble.

When I was young and hair my was lustrous, did I imagine that with age would come greater certainty. Was I more sure of the world at 15 or 45? I was never that sure of anything, apart from the diseases I thought I had and that those people over there in the cafe were laughing at me because of my shoes, hair, walk or face.

Everyone else seems so sure. Are they all discreetly hiding their imposter syndrome, or do they really know what they know?
Maybe this scepticism was a bad idea.

It is the cocksureness (I prefer cockcertainty, but that doesn’t seem to be a word as yet) that I keep knocking my head into that is swelling my uncertainty about nearly everything.

So many arguments where facts are stated and never backed up by evidence.
So many universal truths that can only be traced back to rumour or misheard pub talk.
(Culture Wars: The Media and The British Left is a very good compilation of how those 80s staples like “they have banned black bin liners for being racist” sprung from).

I have been accused of being arrogant and smug for asking people where their opinions came from. Last week, someone accused me of criticising and dismissing the work of an individual who I had never heard of (nor did I know of their work). When I asked the accuser why they believed that I believed what they thought I believed, they flew off the handle, they started swearing and taking great umbrage.

When I was told some alarming foreign aid statistics that seemed improbable, I was told that I was an idiot for not knowing about them, and if I couldn’t find these statistics, I should look harder. I searched and came up with nothing. I was then told that everyone knew they were true and the fact they didn’t exist anywhere and could be backed up by nothing did not change their veracity.

Today, I read of there is a launch of an Anti-Feminist party, as we all know, men are the real victims now and “Feminism is a hatred, and it should be a badge of shame”. Misogyny is apparently very rare and… oh, I have to stop typing now, I must force myself to believe this is all a grand parody that will have a delightful absurdist reveal. I have to presume this man really believes what he believes. His reality is granite solid, he is certain of his truth.

I was asked to write a reaction piece on the Hebdo murders and free speech, but I could find nothing but banal and obvious observations, so I declined. I could think of nothing that I might say that could contribute, not even in a pay per sentence scenario.

I am only typing this to try and diagnose my illness, to try and locate the the thought blockage and decide whether it should be flushed out or if a sharp burst of a bicycle pump up the nose will shift it, or whether it should stay write where it is – a needed wall that should have been built some time ago.

I feel I should have opinions all the time.
“I haven’t tweeted anything for ages, quickly, think of a view of the world that can fit into 140 characters. Now monitor the reaction – was it an opinion that stirred or has it shriveled up and died on contact with the web?”

“Damn, that person’s opinion on the thing I was opinionated on has been favourited more than mine.”

What purpose this slurry pipe of my perpetual opinions? Is it just to air my brain before it festers and rots in fluid of aging, septic thought. Is the internet predominantly a trepanning tool?

How deluded am I? When people have created such impervious bundles of barbed wire around what they must and will believe, what is the point of butting in?

I think it is time to read Neil Postman on Media ecology, which he described as looking into “the matter of how media of communication affect human perception, understanding, feeling, and value; and how our interaction with media facilitates or impedes our chances of survival” – but will trying to understand really help, or should I just read less and drink more?

If you are not in London, information on my forthcoming gigs in Didcot, Bedford, Swindon, Glasgow, Salford, Swindon and on, is HERE

And info of USA gigs HERE

And Australian tour HERE

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Fade To Doubt – on the final few months of touring

I am relieved that the touring is almost done. Just under 6 months to go, then I will be an annoying obstruction in my house. The first few gigs of January were sold out, then came another rejection from the borderlands, with Berwick Upon Tweed expressing its disinterest. I take these rejections personally. The failure to muster an audience paints pictures in my head of each member of the community making a very specific decision to reject me, when most will have just turned the page or walked by the flyers on the bar without noticing. Having neither TV exposure or genius on my side, some dates are harder to sell than others. The Radio 4 listeners do not like the idea of hearing me without having their hands covered by marigolds and soapy water (a rather archaic image, but still one that people imagine is a true picture of the listener). I might experiment with a tour where I provide both rubber gloves and soapy water, or an auditorium filled with backed up traffic, to try and replicate the radio listening sensations and environment.

I have toured for too long. Few people would see my name in a brochure and think, “why, he may never come here again, we must grasp this opportunity hastily”. I am tenacious and resilient, I keep coming back to force more upon you. My last few months of touring are exciting, and much of it is new for me. A four city tour of the USA with Brian Cox, and then a city by city leapfrog across Australia with a science show jumbling up Feynman, Darwin and Neuroscience. Then, the last few towns I haven’t tainted for a while in the UK, then…STOP.

I am relieved to stop, because I think I may have run out of words. Going through my notebooks of inked ideas and half sentences, I am not sure I know what I want to say anymore. I have ideas, and then I think, “why do I want to say them aloud? Is there any reason to share”. It is not so much a comedic doubt, as a doubt about bothering with any opinions at all. As I continued my most recent tour, with digressions on reality tunnels, and how the mind makes our picture of the world, I enjoyed sharing my experiences. The next stage seems almost like repetition. When I have finished making my current notebook voluble, I might stop making notes for a while. There are so many opinions everywhere, so many statuses and updates and columns, that I reckon I’ll just be adding to crackle of background noise. Each month, I seem more uncertain than the last. I may have to doubt in silence.

I think I better get an allotment, grow cabbages and shut my face, on stage at least. Though until June, I’ll continue to shout until I am hoarse and then, in Kettering on 20th June, I might fade out, or, like Dinosaur Jr’s Just Like Heaven cover, stop abruptly mid sentence.

Where’s my trowel?

Until then though, these below…

If you are not in London, information on my forthcoming gigs in Didcot, Bedford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Salford, Swindon and on, is HERE

And info of USA gigs HERE

And Australian tour HERE

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Serendipity Led to a Rambling Monkey Cage on Luck and Judgment

For the first time in its recording history, we have finished recording the final episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage before the first of the series has even been broadcast. Let’s hope all the paradigms of science don’t change in the fortnight before we begin. It would be embarrassing for Brian if the standard model he talks about is standard no more.

The final recording was a rambling discussion of serendipity in science; how mishaps, chance, and accident have led to scientific innovation and advance.

Some talked of the presumed pigeon excrement interference that turned out to be the cosmic microwave background radiation of our universe, others talked of the seemingly pathetic glue that led to the post it note (actually, that some was the same man, Simon Singh).

There was also a lot of discussion of frogs in magnets. There is a joy in watching the nonchalance of scientists when discussing such things, eventually I had to interrupt to request if they could explain to the audience a little more of this scenario, as they may not be as au fait in matters of amphibians and magnetic fields (it was all part of the playtime of Andre Geim, currently the only human who is the inner of both the Nobel and Ignobel prizes, and he attended both ceremonies).

Further conversations also led to how serendipity led to the discovery of not one, but four artificial sweeteners. You would never be baking with Splenda and rejoicing in your svelte figure were it not for a youthful chemist mishearing “test” and believing his homework was to taste the chemicals on his work surface (fortunately, none violently exploded on contact with tongues and saliva). Later on, we discovered that there have been consumer industry advantages to some chemists poor hygiene regime, but I can’t remember which artificial sweetener came from the sweet, dusty fingers of one wash basin rejecting scientist.

Lee Mack manage to impede the anecdotes of Andrea Sella with a carnival of interruptions, and then broke Simon Singh for a while (and the audience too) with a joke that they just couldn’t decide if it might be racist or not – that laughter, followed by the frontal lobe interruption of “hang on, stop your laughter until we have analysed this effectively”. The seesawing uncertainty continued as Simon corpsed.

Despite the conjecture that serendipity was essential to grand discoveries, after the magnificence of Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, we found that chance and error had often led to stationery and fashion innovation. Remember that next time you are velcro-ing up your mauve jumpsuit.

The main summary, beyond my mentioning of the subtleties of Brian’s latest wig (Morecambe and Wise still influence scientific radio), was the importance of playtime. Scientific investigation should not be tied to a single track.
Inquisitiveness can and should err beyond an investigation’s specific intentions.
Sometimes the funder may not get what they want, they may get something much better – “so you didn’t get quinine, but see how the queen now has a mauve ribbon and now, from accidental colour discovery we’ve inspired a pharmaceutical industry?”
And also how experiments in the science curriculum should not be underrated.

This blog post is almost as rambling as our recording, you can hear the editing wizardry of our producer later next month. Unusually, it is now straight into next series production as we get ready for New York, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco. Time to queue outside the US embassy at dawn, last time I did that I was standing behind Martin Amis.

If you are not in London, information on my forthcoming gigs in Didcot, Bedford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Salford, Swindon and on, is HERE

And info of USA gigs HERE

And Australian tour HERE

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Noises in Buckets – Why A Free Fringe is Important for Us All

Writing articles about the Edinburgh fringe gets earlier and earlier every year. This one is even more premature as I won’t be doing a show at this year’s festival (well, I might be up for one day and I’ll try to fit in 17 performances like usual).
The more urgent issue is the Free Fringe benefit in London this week. This benefit goes to funding the PBH’s Free Fringe brochure, so that the performers and audience can still have an entirely free experience when it comes to August.

The rise of the free fringe has changed the landscape of the Edinburgh Fringe, and very much for the better.
The fringe festival had become a financially exhausting ceremony, where the two most important participants, the audience and the performers, were fleeced. The legends of acts coming away from the fringe with debt of over £20,000 are sadly true. The cost of performing their show was sometimes over £800 per day. Meanwhile, the audience were paying more and more for a ticket.
50 minute shows in clammy rooms with sweat dripping, paranoid eyed debtors, for £15.

This situation does not necessarily lead to the best environment for entertainment.

When I last did a show in what would have been considered “a major venue”, I don’t htink the worry about how much the audience had paid led to a better show. If anything, it curbed experimentation and curtailed risk that could have created a better evening. the fear of them getting their £15’s worth possibly led to them not getting it.

After that year, my son was born (there is no link), so the following summer, I decided to only do a few days on the fringe. I decided to play PBH’s Free Fringe, filling in for acts having a night off. I loved it. Each room felt very different from the commercial theatre, “you sit there and be the audience, I will do my contracted time, then please leave” sense that I had felt in my previous venue. There was a sense of event, a sense of us all being in cahoots, not dissimilar to the first fringe shows I had gone to as a teen.

The fact they had come in for free did not in any way reduce my desire to put on the best show I could. Most acts don’t look at an audience and place the weight of their takings against the effort they will put in (I hope).

A year before, I had been chatting to a couple at a gig in Middlesbrough who I had first met at one of my Edinburgh fringe shows. I said I hadn’t seen them there for a while and they replied that they had given up going because they couldn’t afford to see so many shows.

Two years later, I was chatting to them at a free fringe show at the Canon’s Gait. They had returned to the festival as the combination of free and ticketed shows meant they were able to immerse themselves in ten shows a day, an endurance test they clearly enjoyed.

The free fringe has helped incite a new spirit of experimentation in acts and audience.
In 2011, I was able to put on 4 different shows a day, some free, some at The Stand.
Quite a few people came to all four as, even including a reasonable contribution in the bucket, you could see the lot for £25.

To me there is a different relationship between audience and performer in these situations.
They have taken a risk and, if we pull it off, hopefully they reward us with change, even a note in a bucket.

When I first started doing these shows, some acts warned me that it could damage me, after all, what would people think, it’s almost busking in an underpass.

But now, it is quite acceptable for established performers to do free shows, even Phill Jupitus does it, and chart sensation John Otway, Red Dwarf star Norman Lovett, and on and on.

Rather than damage the ticketed fringe, it has enhanced the whole festival.

This Thursday, there is a benefit at The Bloomsbury, with a bill that includes John Otway, Terry Alderton and me. This one you have to pay for, but it is an investment for August and an investment in the arts, in helping to enhance and continue there being a vibrant comedy circuit of risk and energy and experiment.

At the end of my science shows on the free fringe, when I was throwing in a few lines to persuade some contributions into the bucket, I would explain that altruism was an evolved trait, that we were creating something together, and that people didn’t have to put anything in the bucket, but if they didn’t. I would presume they were an intelligent design proponent.
That seemed to help.

(But I would also say, “if you are a bit broke or a bit poor, don’t feel any necessity to put anything in, I will not scowl or mumble curses”).

There are a lot of tickets to sell for this week’s show in the spirit of Mr Smith Goes To Washington, I hope all of us can work out ways of filling the theatre and selling tickets so this brilliant endeavor remains. Tweet, facebook status update, shout in pubs, let’s give Peter Buckley Hill the night he deserves.

If you are not in London, information on my forthcoming gigs in Didcot, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Salford, Swindon and on, is HERE

And info of USA gigs HERE

And Australian tour HERE

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