Saturday, 17 August 2013

Free vs Paid Again...

Other than the shows I've posted reviews for, my Fringe has mainly been taken up with compliation shows. Some that I have seen include:

Pick of the Free Fringe
Hilarity Bites Comedy Showcase
Revill's Selection
Rik 'N' Mix
Big Value Comedy Show

...and of course Shaggers

There are now hundreds of them.

Ten years ago, you had Late and Live, Spank, Big Value Comedy and that was about it. Now they are a dime a dozen. Often 2/3 new acts that don't have an hour of material each will get together and put on a show.

In later blogs I'll be doing a list of comics I've seen and enjoyed within these compilation shows, but before I do that I want to talk about the debate that keeps running and running and getting bigger and bigger and that is free shows versus paid shows.

If you are a regular reader of my blog (I'm not sure if many people are given that most of my hits come from people googling a particular performer that I have reviewed) then you will know a couple of things about me...

1. I don't have thousands of pounds to spend on shows so I spent my money wisely and rarely turn down a free ticket for a show, especially if it's nearby and about to start,

2. Through having a comedian staying at my house a few years ago that my brother knew from working in a venue, I have met a few performers, and also some of the people who run the Free Festival, so I feel I should mention that given the side I'm going to come down on.

I see a lot of free shows. If you want to go and see 7-8 shows a day, which I've been known to do, you can't avoid them, and more and more frequently, you're drawn to the compilation shows because you don't always want to take a risk and you know it'll be a safe bet - even if one comic is bad, the others will mean the show as a whole will be at least average, and sometimes you can get lucky and see three great acts one after the other.

I've also paid to see a lot of shows including the Chortle Fast Fringe and the Big Value Comedy Show.

What is quickly becoming apparent to me is that the difference between the paid compilation shows and free compilation shows in terms of quality is zero.

Looking at solo shows, whilst you can be fairly certain that an act in one of the bigger Pleasance venues is going to be better than a show in the Jekyll and Hyde at midday, the gap between free acts and paid acts is getting smaller.

When it comes to compliation shows it has already completely disappeared.

A quick example... The Big Value Comedy show that I saw was on Sunday. It was the 7.30pm showing. My friends had paid £5 at the half price hut. I had to pay £10 because I decided to go last minute. Not exactly big value but my fault I guess.

The show was in a venue that was fit for habitation only by a troll (the old fashioned kind). Damp, dark and hot and under a bridge. The "whale's vagina" as more than one of the comics called it (the second not realising that the joke had already been used that night and wondered why it never got a laugh).

Two of the three comedians were OK. One had a bad night. The first guy was black and did "If it wasn't for us your music would all sound like Eurovision" material. Standard fare for a black comedian. The final guy was from Yorkshire and most of his set was about his stereotypically tight Yorkshireman Dad. Again, hard to call it anything but hack. (I have googled the show to try and remind myself of their names but they don't appear to be listed anywhere and the Fringe listing only lists comedians who have done the show in previous years - presumably because they decide the line up after the deadline for listing the show).

Both comedians got laughs and they are competent open spots, but it was barely worth braving the heat for. The less said about the girl in the middle the better!

Afterwards I ventured over to the Pick of the Free Festival at Espionage, and saw 3 acts, all of whom have hour long shows at the fringe. I then went to Shaggers where I saw 5 comedians, four of whom have hour long shows and who have been doing the Fringe for years and one newer act who was outstanding.

The only show I paid for that day was the worst one.

On other days:

At Sy+ I saw Marcel Lucont - now getting TV gigs - for free. At Espionage I saw Ian Cognito, who has been gigging for 20 years or more - free. I also saw Bruce Fummey who is one of the top full time Edinburgh acts.

At Hilarity Bites I saw Diane Spencer, John Gavin (another local lad with a good reputation) and Diane Spencer's boyfriend Kevin Shepherd... for free. (It's great watching them do Shagging material one after the other and hearing both sides of the story).

The list goes on and on...

10 years ago the Big Value Comedy Show was exactly that £5 and good value... Now, it's £5/£10 more than you need to pay to see a show that is just as good if not better.

25% of shows at the Fringe are now free to get in, (whether it's through laughing Horse's Free Festival or PBH's Free Fringe) with a voluntary donation at the end and the free section is getting bigger every year (the main reason the total number of shows at the Fringe is on the increase too).

A lot of acts that pay thousands to one of the big venues to put on a show one year, are switching back to the Free Festival the following year because they are at least guaranteed the money in the bucket at the end of the night.

What will happen next? Those in the know seem to think that the bigger acts will switch to free shows, thus stopping the smaller/newer acts from getting slots at the Fringe at all.

I disagree. I think it will force the big paid venues to charge less for their performance spaces, which is a great thing. It'll mean performers have a chance of making money. Something that is near impossible at the moment.

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