Although it is a major Fringe venue, with people like Jim Jeffries, John Bishop and Five Guys Named Moe among its current attractions, I went to McEwan Hall this morning to attend a meeting. I think it might have been an extraordinary one, although for me, to attend a meeting of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society is already out of the ordinary. In a nutshell, the Festival Fringe Society Ltd was founded in 1969 to give performers control over central services. Over the years, this control has, in the words of Our Glorious Leader, Peter Buckley Hill, who founded and runs the Free Fringe, “been hijacked by non-performers. To reverse this, it was always possible, but difficult, to join the Society for an extra £10 and vote for new directors.” Sadly, for us, they stopped taking new members while the Society underwent a consultation into its very constitution. Peter’s, and thus the Free Fringe’s, position is simple: “Performers pay for the Fringe; performers make the Fringe; performers should run the Fringe and all directors should be performers. One show, one vote.”
Because this Utopian ideal is threatened, all Free Fringers were required to attend today’s meeting – which, it has been suggested, was held at 10 in the morning precisely to discourage hungover performers from turning up – and voice their views. I was happy to do this. Not since my time in the NUJ have I felt such an urgent need to collectivise, agitate, organise and raise my hand, as it were. There was certainly a sense of camaraderie as we assembled outside McEwan Hall, Peter clearly delighted that so many of us had turned out, despite the hour. (Luckily, I only drank pear cider last night with Justin and co., and was thus not hungover, even though Richard will insist that I must have been.)
To be honest, it was not exactly an exhibition match by the Fringe Society. It was a large meeting, held in a cavernous concert hall, and yet to begin with, no microphones were in use. They rustled one up, and, after more grumbling, a second one, so that it could rove and give those in attendance amplification for the “views” apparently so enthusiastically called for. A blue sheet and a pink sheet were handed out, setting out the options for both membership, which as I say is currently suspended, and election of directors. I couldn’t stay much longer than 11.30, as I had a show to do, but I was there long enough to taste the tension in the room between those inside the citadel, many of whom seemed offended by the noisy presence of so many Free Fringers and performers in general, and impatient when thorny questions were asked. If this was an open exchange of views and information, you could ask, why weren’t these sheets made available before the meeting? (Peter upped the awkward squad ante very early on, asking the “facilitator”, a professional from outside the Society, what his qualifications were, and how much the Society was paying him. You’ve got to love this man.)
Much harrumphing seemed to come from the members, and a similar amount of spikiness from the Free Fringers. There seems to be a schism: the Society seems hell bent on keeping a cap on membership, while those outside are desperate to blow it wide open, so that everybody who registers with – and pays their not inconsiderable dues to – the Fringe programme is automatically eligible to join for a hopefully modest surcharge, which means they have a say from day one, and can then affect decision making, especially with regards election of board members. Sorry if this sounds very dull. I’m sure you’d rather read about which comedians I have had a sandwich with. But such matters are vital to the continuation of the Fringe spirit. It’s fine that venues and promoters are represented, but only one of the current 15 directors is a performer, and that’s all out of whack. Without performers, there is no Fringe. Just a few false beards, discarded unicycles and Converse baseball boots in an Edinburgh gutter.
Anyway, I left before the end, so have no idea if there was an actual riot, with chairs being thrown, but it was a bracing event to start the day with, and stirring to hear such eloquent speakers, and a couple of non-eloquent, frankly self-serving ones. (Hey, you give a performer a roving mic … ) It was interesting to hear from Tommy Shepherd, who founded and runs the venerable Stand venues, where Stewart Lee now exclusively plays to assuage his guilt for operating in a commercial world – he put the case forward for option one, ie. non-automatic membership for any Tom, Dick or Harry, very eloquently. Although I’m enough of an 80s idealist to go only for option two: total anarchy. The consultation process rolls on.
For the first time at Bannermans, I was able to get into the building before midday, and start setting up in plenty of time. Also, they had an electric fan on, which made so much difference to the comfort levels in that tunnel. I was markedly less soaked at the end of my hour today, and I hope the audience were happier too. Another full house, although this time not actually packed to the very limits of fire safety, which I actually preferred, even though it meant comparatively less laughter. I am a little worried that I may lose spontaneity a bit if I get too slick at remembering my words, as the best stuff – for me – is the rambling; stories which I have literally never written down. That said, as long as I don’t get complacent, there’s no reason why my show can’t improve. The Secret Dancing demonstration at the end, with, today, two male volunteers, remains a simple way out. I discovered two more bits that can be safely dropped today. It’s amazing how ongoing the refining process is.
Ended up going into Caffe Nero after the gig, to “spend” the partial loyalty card a nice couple gave me outside the Pleasance last night (I already had one of my own endeavour with two stamps on it). I got chatting to a splendid couple from Lincoln (actually Louth), who I’m guessing are younger than my parents but – with the utmost respect – in the same approximate generational ballpark. The man of the couple is retired, although this must have been early retirement, as he is using his retirement by walking around listening to AIOTM on his iPod and laughing in public. What a cool retired man he is. Just as they were leaving, my tour guide Tony and his friend Helen walked in. Honestly. You could just sit on your own in a coffee shop or bar all day and night in this city at this time of year, and you would never be without someone to talk to.
Nobody in the flat got a Tweet in G2 today, which is a tragedy. But the rain earlier has paved the way for sunny skies, as is Edinburgh’s offputting wont. Saw Paul Putner in the street again, except this time, he was walking past Kevin Eldon, who was being filmed on a street corner. That’s more interesting than a load of shit about a meeting, yes? Oh, and last night, I forgot to mention, as I was queuing for Justin Moorhouse, I saw comedian Josh Howie centring himself round the back of a Portakabin, sitting in a sofa and eating a banana before his Pleasance show Gran Slam, which coincides with Justin’s. He shouted over to me: “You should come and see me!” in imitation of a petulant, jealous child. I promised him I would. I only met him for the first time ever on Sunday. Now I have an obligation to see his show, which I aim to honour, naturally. The more comedians you meet, the longer your list of obligations becomes. I haven’t even seen Robin Ince, Michael Legge, Gutted or Tom Wrigglesworth yet! Or Gary Delaney, or Sarah Millican, or Margaret Cabourn-Smith, or Carrie Quinlan, or Alex Horne! Help! You can understand why Richard Herring locks himself in his room all day, with occasional trips out to not go to the gym.
(Oh, and a nice Scottish man Alistair Braidwood has interviewed me about the Fringe for his blog.)