Q&A: The Edinburgh Comedy Festival

Submitted by edg on Fri, 13 Jun '08 11.50pm

Wondering what the recently announced Edinburgh Comedy Festival is all about? Read on...

So I hear that Edinburgh has yet another festival?

Yes, the "Big Four" Fringe venues Assembly, the Pleasance, the Gilded Balloon, and Underbelly have launched the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. Together they will account for 253 shows across 55 different stages between 30 July and 24 August.

So are the Big Four breaking away from the Fringe...?

Yes and no. They are still part of the freewheeling arts monster known as the Edinburgh Fringe, and you can find them in the Fringe programme, but they are presenting themselves under the new banner of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. So effectively it's a festival within a festival within a festival. Kind of like the Edge, with a focus on comedy rather than bands.

So where is the Edinburgh Comedy Festival located?

The partner organisations are still operating as venues in their own rights, just as in previous years. There is no central comedy festival destination. At least, not yet.

So not much has changed: why are they bothering?

They are hoping to secure a big sponsor, although it doesn't look like they'll get one this year.

Last week, the venue bosses - Assembly founder William Burdett-Coutts, managing director of the Pleasance Anthony Alderson, Gilded Balloon founder Karen
Koren, and co-founders of Underbelly Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood - wined and dined some of us from the media for a special press briefing on the new "festival" (see picture). They admitted that realistically any sponsor with serious money would likely come on board next year as corporations usually decide where they will spend their marketing budgets up to 19 months or so ahead.

One change that has already happened is that all four venues are promoting their shows in one brochure and one web site (see related links). The Pleasance's Alderson reckons just getting the bosses of the Big Four venues this far was quite an achievement, bearing in mind they all have very different ideas about what needs to be done.

So what will they do with the extra money if they get it?

Last year the Big 4 venues, taken together, made a loss of £76,000. So the additional sponsorship money is needed to meet the escalating costs of putting on shows at the Fringe. But it's also for marketing and expanding the audience. The Comedy Festival organisers hope to raise numbers from 875,000 visitors expected in this inaugural year to over a million visitors in three years. Critics have argued that the Big Four will end up cannibalising the rest of the Fringe, but Comedy Festival organisers say that they will attract people to the Fringe who have never been before and everyone will benefit.

Sounds wonderful... what about the other comedy acts that are at the Fringe, but not in the new Comedy Festival?

There's a huge amount of comedy shows on the Fringe, but not in the new Edinburgh Comedy Festival. Naturally, other venues are not happy about the Big Four's move to create their self-described "home for the best of comedy." There's a fear that by creating a premier league of comedy that others wont be able to compete with its massive marketing budget. It's ironic, given it's called the "Edinburgh Comedy Festival," that there will be actually little local talent (you could try The Stand or the Fringe's free festival for that). Having said that, the Big Four venue bosses did emphasise that they would like to bring other venues and artists under its banner in future years. And what better way for budding stand-ups to learn than to have some of the best comedians in the world play on your doorstep?

What about the non-comedy elements at the Big Four venues?

That will continue as in previous years. In fact, the drama and other shows are listed on the other half of the Comedy Festival programme.

So who's showing at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival?

Here's a list of the highlights from each venue:

Assembly has Clive James, Brendon Burns, Ruby Wax, Count Arthur Strong, Russell Howard, Pam Ann, Jason Byrne, Frank Woodley, Ed Byrne , Adam Hills.

The Gilded Balloon has Bill Bailey, Rhona Cameron, Tim Minchin, Karen Dunbar, Jimeoin, Greg Fleet, Craig Hill, Miles Jupp, Gamarjabat, Fiona O'Loughlin.

The Pleasance has Omid Djalili, Mark Watson, John Hegley, Andrew Maxwell, Tim Vine, Stephen K Amos, Lucy Porter, Otis Lee Crenshaw, Paul Merton, Louis CK

Underbelly has Jerry Sadowitz, Richard Herring, Jim Jeffries, Jim Bowen, Scott Capurro, Jim Rose Circus, John Pinette, Tina C, Glenn Wool, and Dan Antopolski.

Sounds good but how much is each show going to set me back?

You're looking at typically £7 to £10 a show, but if you catch the previews in the first days of the show run you can usually get in for a fiver or so.