I’ve been asked a bunch of times to give advice to American performers who are thinking about going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I figured I’d been asked enough times that I’d just post this since other people might be wondering as well.
First and foremost – Edinburgh is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Especially when the sun comes out. And even when it’s raining (which is most of the time) it feels like a city that has thousands of secrets around every corner, just waiting to be explored and discovered. And nothing compares to walking back to your flat after a huge festival night, crossing North Bridge and seeing the sun rise over Arthur’s Seat. It is a magical place.
And the festival itself is amazing and insane. The level of talent and the number of shows is simply overwhelming. And if you just want to go and experience this – go. Do it.
But here’s some advice for American performers who are wondering if it makes sense to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival:
(Note: This is for performers considering doing the festival “proper”: staying for the full month and doing 27 or more shows in the actual Fringe, not the Free Fringe. I have nothing against the Free Fringe, and in fact have heard great things about it. I’ve just never done it.)
Why are you going?
The main reasons I see for going to Edinburgh (from a career perspective, not a beauty and life perspective) are a. if you’re interested in touring the UK, Australia, and Ireland, b. you are interested in pitching UK TV, c. you just have a super boner for Scotland.
If you just want a place to go and do your show 30 times in a row to get better and have fun - Edinburgh will definitely do that - but I can think of a bunch of easier ways to do that.
Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing place, and you’ll meet tons of great international comedians and make friends and get drunk and have a good time. But it is VERY expensive, and a VERY grueling schedule, with crowds who are not always open to an American perspective. Or who are just really drunk.
How are you going?
Don’t go unless you’re being produced or you are independently wealthy. Edinburgh milks artists for their money. In ways that no one will even tell you about until you get there. Like charging you 500 pounds to simply list your show so people know it exists. (And that’s just the beginning of the weird hidden costs.) And I’m pretty sure every person in Edinburgh lives rent-free by basically renting out their flat for one month at 10 times it’s actual rent.
Be prepared to slip into a lack of sleep/too much alcohol depression around week 2. This is usually accompanied by a flu. And you still have to do your show. Every night. To sometimes hostile crowds. It’s a tough haul often.
Basically, Edinburgh is a REALLY weird system. UK comedians are expected to produce a new hour of material every year and debut it at the fringe, then if it goes well, they’ll tour with it to all the other festivals around the world. That’s how they make their living. Which is amazing, because in the UK LIVE PERFORMANCE ACTUALLY PAYS. And the culture really cares about going to see live comedy. It’s amazing and awesome.
But that doesn’t necessarily work out with how it happens in America. In order to reap the rewards of Edinburgh (i.e. touring internationally) - you need to leave the US for long periods of time, taking you out of “the game”. Again, if you’re being produced and are just doing it for fun - go for it. It IS fun. And it’s totally fascinating how strange their culture can often be, even though it seems so similar.
And this is coming from someone who has had the full range of Edinburgh experiences – I’ve done the festival 5 years. My first year there I lost $10,000 (along with the other members of my group). My second year there I was nominated for the Comedy Award (along with my comedy partner). I’ve had the full range of Edinburgh experiences.
It’s also REALLY rainy and cold. All the time. Even in August.
I hope this helps shed a little light for anyone thinking about going. And I hope I didn’t dissuade you. Remember, I’m a jaded asshole.
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Kurt Braunohler hails from the backwater diners of Neptune, NJ. He moved to Baltimore, then Brooklyn, and now resides in the City of Broken Dreams, LA...more
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