Comedy awards boss warns Fringe's 'big four' over split

A BREAKAWAY by the Edinburgh Fringe's "big four" comedy venues would be detrimental to the festival as a whole, leading arts figures said today.

Last month, The Assembly, The Pleasance, Gilded Balloon and Underbelly revealed that, while still remaining part of the Fringe programme, their shows would be billed as The Edinburgh Comedy Festival, fuelling fears of a future breakaway.

The Comedy Festival has also produced 400,000 copies of its own programme, despite its acts also appearing in the main Fringe publication released in June.

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Nica Burns, promoter of the if.comedy awards, formerly the Perrier comedy awards, said: "Any proper breakaway would not be a good development in my view.

"I would be very sorry if every comedy show at the Fringe was not in the main programme.

"It would not be good for the public and not be good for the comedy shows themselves.

"If this is just a way of marketing for the four venues, then fine, but if it turns into more than that, then that would be a great shame in the context of the Fringe as a whole."

The Stand director Tommy Shepherd and C Venues director Harley Kemp were also said to be against the move.

Reports today also quoted unnamed Fringe insiders claiming that a breakaway could be "a disaster" and "the end of the Fringe as we know it".

However, Fringe director Jon Morgan said the comedy collaboration may be necessary to shore up what he calls the event's "fragile economies".

He added: "The cost of running a venue and a show is rising – accommodation, licences, none of these are going down.

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"A lot of the planning is highly marginal – often the management of a Fringe venue or show is on a knife edge of happening or not happening.

"So I totally understand why they want to do this. We have met with them and all agree they should be part of the Fringe and they still are.

He added: "It is not my role to tell venues how to run their businesses."

Pleasance director Anthony Alderson move to assure detractors that his partners do not want to separate from the Fringe.

He added: "It is exactly like the kind of collaboration we have done in the past.

"We do not want to be separate from the Fringe, just give comedy its own platform. It's still part of the Fringe, just like the music festival T on the Fringe is part of the Fringe.

"We are not declaring independence from the Fringe, we would be fools to do that. It would not make sense for us to part from the Fringe."