Well the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has rolled around again, and with it the regular bleatings that the Fringe “isn’t what it used to be” and that true alternative entertainment has given way to commercialised blah blah blah.
I did notice that one of these articles was written by a comedian whose show details were included at the end of the piece, thus proving his point and rendering it somewhat hyprocritical at the same time.
Part of me wants to bite back, and whine about the whiners; tell them that there are plenty of acts creating new and exciting shows at the Fringe, and that if at this stage of your career you are still walking away from the Edinburgh Fringe owing your management more money than you made, perhaps you should consider new representation.
However I shall refrain (apart from the above paragraph) and instead choose to remind you of just a few examples of “True Fringe Spirit” – whatever that is.
Lewis Schaffer is returning to Edinburgh in a show called…actually it doesn’t matter what his show is called. Lewis Schaffer is returning to Edinburgh! The self-referencing American has been coming here for years, the last few doing shows at the Free Fringe – charging nothing for people to enter, asking only for a fee if they feel like it on the way out. In 2009 he announced he would be sponsoring the Edinburgh Comedy Awards – a stunt that won him the Malcolm Hardee Award. He is unique, off-kilter and doing it for the right reasons.
Setlist is a brilliant concept for a show. A line up of well-known comedians are challenged to create a stand up routine live, on-the-spot, according to the topics shown on a screen behind them. I took part in two of these shows in Montreal last week, and found them to be the most liberating of any show I have done. Scary, unpredictable, raucous and astounding.
I don’t know much about Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory except for the facts that 1) my friend Tara Flynn is in it 2) it is a musical theatre production 3) it has been going quite well in Ireland 4) although certain religious groups are outraged by it. It’s new, it’s a musical, it has offended some people, it’s what the Fringe is about.
The Fringe is also about experimentation, as in the cases of Michael Mittermeier and Trevor Noah. Both are from countries not know for their stand up comedy (Germany and South Africa respectively) and in the case of Michael Mittermeier, making the first attempt to translate his comedy into English. Mittermeier is a huge name in his own country so although the risk isn’t financial, the brave step of taking to a new country, in a new language, to crowds that have no idea who you are is still a brave one. Both are produced by Eddie Izzard, a clearly well-established comedian who is using his powers and profile for good, lending a hand to some new and adventurous talent.
Hannah Gadsby is a friend of mine who is doing a solo show based around the traditions of marriage and their implications on a modern world, and another show about the depiction of the Virgin Mary throughout the history of art. Both are funny, timely, smart, funny, challenging and funny.
Rick Shapiro is an act I came across in Aspen a few years ago. I was told he’s the guy that every comic will watch, because they have no idea whether he will be amazing or simply self-destruct. With a life-story that involves time as a rent-boy, and a recent bout of amnesia, he is actually the act I wish to see more than any other this year. Dangerous, awkward, risky, edgy, bizarre…Fringey.
Mick Foley is a former WWE Wrestling champion and novelist who of late has been trying to hone an act in sparsely populated venues across America. He doesn’t need the money, or the fame, or the reviews, but he really wants to tell his story to people that may want to hear it. Where else in the world could you see a man who was once set alight and exploded for the sake of Wrestling entertainment tell stories about campaigning for one American President and meeting another?
There are so many more acts I could mention that embody the risk-taking, creative, original display of the arts for which the Fringe is renown – The Boy With Tape On His Face, Michael Workman, Adam Riches (whose bizarre, extreme audience-participation last year won him the Award That Should Be Known As The Lewis Schaffer Award), Sam Simmons, Dr Brown…
Look, I’ll be honest. I’ve not researched this blog. The above-mentioned acts are simply those that are top of my mind right now. My thinking is this: If I can name a bunch of shows that embody some spirit of inventiveness, creativity, risk and energy without once glancing through the brochure, how many more must there be?
If you are in Edinburgh over the next month, please explore some of the acts I have mentioned and many more that you may never have heard of, but on whom you feel like taking a risk. If the Fringe is in danger of becoming a benign collection of money-chasing comics, then surely the best way to fight that is to support the underdogs. The outsiders. The rebels. The weirdos. The people on the fringe.