Don't make me laugh
10 August 2007 - The Guardian www.guardian.co.uk
The complaint has surfaced again this year: comedy is taking over the Edinburgh Fringe. Are comedians dragging people out of their homes and bashing them over the head with rubber chickens and whoopee cushions? Have Paul Merton and Frank Skinner formed a political party and stormed the council offices? Apparently so. The Fringe director, Jon Morgan, fears comedy is squeezing other art forms, and others say the Fringe is out of control with comedy: there are 630 comedy shows this year compared with 435 in 2005. So? That's the Fringe; it's meant to be out of control. People are meant to be doing stand-up comedy at two in the morning outside your local graveyard. In Edinburgh, everything is a venue. I attempted to board a bus this week; it turns out it wasn't a bus, it was a gig. I have been in similar gigs in lifts and taxis. If it was possible to do a gig in someone's pocket, someone would do it. Even the old people's home round the corner from where I'm staying has been turned into a venue. God knows what's happened to the old people. They're probably doing an X-rated Irvine Welsh adaptation in an adventure playground.
If performers want to come here and do theatre and dance, they can, no one is stopping them. It's condescending to assume nobody is interested in these art forms because they're all busy queueing up to see Ricky Gervais, clutching their autograph books in their sweaty palms. There are over 2,000 shows to choose from, so it's not all comedy. There's more variety than ever, and comedy happens to be popular. There was a time, not so long ago, when it clearly wasn't.
I was in a ticket queue, when the couple in front of me said to the woman in the box office: "Can we have tickets to see someone famous?" She said, "Yes, who would you like?" "Anyone off the telly," they replied. Crimewatch should do a Fringe show. It'd be a sell out, in both senses of the phrase.
With the rise of comedy on TV, people want to see famous comedians off the telly. Telly brings the arts into people's living rooms, and the Fringe makes those arts even more accessible to them. Audiences have a choice. There wouldn't be comedy without the demand. If people wanted to watch South African morris dancers moving to the noise of saucepans, they'd go and watch a show at Homebase.
The stand-up in Edinburgh is innovative and adventurous. If theatre and dance feel like they are being taken over, they should do a show on a moving double-decker bus at four in the afternoon. I bet loads of people would come and watch that.
I've done shows that were listed under comedy, but people left crying rather than laughing. So it pays to go and see someone really famous - they might be good. What's great is that you can actually see somebody famous, without booking six months in advance, pawning your jewellery or going to a 6,000-seater venue. You're also likely to see somebody famous in the pub, or queueing for tickets for another show, or shouting loudly into their mobile phone as they puff their way up the Mound. We should celebrate the fact that there is so much talent in one city for a month rather than complain about it.
As for the killjoys who want to "control comedy at the Fringe" - what are they going to do? Employ comedy police to enforce strict no-laughter zones? Force performers to endure a comedy entry test at Waverley Station and send them back home if they say something funny? Nothing will stop comedians performing. They need the money.Theatre and dance really mustn't worry. There will always be space for them at the Fringe. Even if it is in a Portaloo.