Top comic says Fringe acts face ‘impossible’ odds

Bridget Christie, winner of Foster's Comedy Award in 2013, argues in her new book that sky-high rents are killing off the spirit of the Fringe. Picture: Contributed

Bridget Christie, winner of Foster's Comedy Award in 2013, argues in her new book that sky-high rents are killing off the spirit of the Fringe. Picture: Contributed

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ONE OF of the most successful female comics to emerge at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has launched an outspoken attack on the event – branding it a “trade fair” where acts are now facing “impossible financial odds”.

Bridget Christie, who became only the third woman to win the Fringe’s biggest comedy award two years ago, has warned the festival is no longer the place for acts to experiment.

Writing in her new book, she complains about “sky-rocketing rents for accommodation and venues combined with the sheer volume of acts taking shows to the Fringe.”

Christie said the Fringe is treated by some comics as a “route to fame” which, once achieved, is seen as “some Scottish offal to be scraped off their shoe”.

However, she praised comedy promoter Tommy Sheppard, who has booked her in recent years, for the financial deal he offers acts, which sees his venues shoulder the financial risk. Sheppard, founder of The Stand comedy clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle, was elected as an SNP MP in the general election earlier this year.

Christie shot to fame when she won the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2013 – almost a decade after embarking on a career as a stand-up – and subsequently went on to win a South Bank Sky Arts Award for her show, A Bic For Her.

Christie’s book is said to chart “12 years of anonymous toil in the bowels of stand-up comedy and the sudden epiphany that made her, unbelievably, one of the most critically acclaimed British stand-up comedians this decade.”

Writing in A Book For Her, the former actress said she
was virtually ignored as a ­comic at the Fringe until she started to discuss feminism in her act.

She writes: “Most stand-ups will consider going to the Edinburgh Fringe at some point. I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that. Whether to perform in a showcase or do their own solo show, they will want to go.

“The Fringe is seen by some comics as a trade fair, a place to be spotted for other things. A route to fame, and when that fame is achieved, Edinburgh is nothing but some Scottish offal to be scraped off their shoe. To others, it’s where they get better. It’s where they work out what they’re doing, what they want to do, and what they don’t want to do. It’s where they take risks and fail.

“In the last few years, it’s ended up being the place where you definitely do not experiment. Sky-rocketing rents for accommodation and for venues, combined with the sheer volume of acts taking shows to the Fringe now has meant that we’re all competing for space and coverage against impossible financial odds.

“At The Stand, if your show doesn’t sell a single ticket all month, the cost of your venue is absorbed. So you might not make any money, but you won’t lose anything either.”

Christie has spoken out three years after her husband, fellow stand-up Stewart Lee, sparked a huge furore with an outspoken attack against big-name venues who banded together to promote their own “Edinburgh Comedy Festival”.

He branded the directors of one venue, Underbelly, an “Etonian cabal”, comparing them to David Cameron and George Osborne and accused them of creating an “in­creasingly grotesque Philip K Dick-style wasteland of alcohol-banner festooned architecture around Bristo Square”.

At the time, Lee also wrote: “It can cost so much to perform in the Edinburgh Fringe now, and the very people being deterred by these costs are just the sort of independent minds we used to value as a society; the same people now demonstrably priced out of further education.

“It’s another example of the erosion of access, the reversal of social mobility, the entrenchment of privilege, and the gradual silencing of diverse voices.”

A spokesman for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe told Scotland on Sunday: “This year the Fringe will feature over 3,000 different shows taking place in over 300 venues across the city.

“Artists and performers will travel from all over the world to take part and they will do so for a variety of different reasons. The shows they present will be incredibly diverse and extraordinarily creative. The artists and performers who are at the heart of the Fringe push the barriers and defy the norm every year.”

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