Bennett Arron: Behind the Fringe


Comedian Bennett Arron has decided not to go to Edinburgh this’s why:

This year I have decided not going to the Edinburgh Festival. I have performed there 5 times in the past few years and thankfully each time has been very successful. I’m often asked what it’s like to be a performer at the festival. So let me tell you…

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as you might know, is an annual event where over 1000 performers attempt to bring tourists and visitors into their shows. These shows range from modern interpretations of Shakespeare (are you still awake?) to stand up and sketch comedy. The Festival lasts for around three and a half weeks and by the end of it everyone is emotionally, physically and financially drained. And that’s the audience as well as the performers.

Accommodation during the Edinburgh festival is at least three times the normal price.

Edinburgh people rent out their flats and houses to performers and charge anything from £500 to £1500. Per week! This means that performers try to cram as many people in to share the costs. I know of one particular two bedroom flat that managed to house 8 people. Straws were drawn to see who was lucky enough to get the bath. The person who did the best drawing of a straw was declared the winner.

As well as doing their own shows most comedians try and do other gigs as well. The majority of these are either unpaid, or paid in alcohol and they run throughout the whole day and night. If someone on a normal weeknight rang me and said; ‘Do you fancy doing a gig at 3 o’clock in the morning for a shot of Tequila’ I would ‘politely’ refuse. But during the festival everyone chips in. And some even do it for chips. Some of the shows I performed at included; The Free Beer Show (where audience and performers receive, as is suggested, free beer), Spank (a late night show where, after the comedians have finished, the audience is invited on stage to strip!) and 60 Comedians in 60 Minutes (where each comedian has one minute in which to perform). There were other shows as well, but, to be truthful, they’re all a bit of a blur.

You see, no one really sleeps or eats properly throughout the festival and there’s quite a lot of drinking carried out. Twenty Four solid days of drinking to be precise.

Each night, after my own show was finished, I would meet up with fellow comedians and sample the delights of Scottish drinking establishments. As Edinburgh’s licensing laws are, well, laid back to say the least, it is possible to find somewhere to drink  - without admission charge or preposterous prices – 24 hours a day. Most sessions in which I was involved finished between 5 and 6 am. These would then be followed by the traditional visit to Café Picante. Although the name might conjure up thoughts of Mediterranean delights, this was actually an oasis of fast food where you could order anything from Mars Bars, Haggis or Pizzas  - all Deep Fried of course – to the magical mouth-watering combination of chips, cheese and beans. There was also a range of side dishes varying from wine and beer to whisky or Bacardi Breezer.

Apparently Edinburgh has the highest cases of Heart Disease in the country. It’s hard to see why.

For comedians The Edinburgh Festival is a Trade Show. It is a place to go to sell your wares in the hope that a passing producer or agent might look kindly upon you. It’s an investment and one which can run into the thousands. I know two performers this year who have lost £8000 each on putting on their shows. So comedy isn’t always a laughing matter.

Although some of the shows are really in competition with each other, there’s a great feeling of camaraderie as everyone can sympathise with each other’s pain, suffering, distress, hangover and financial ruin.

Then of there are the ‘Awards’ where a panel of judges decide which comedian is the best. It must be a difficult decision to make. In a way it’s like choosing the best wine. Some you taste and instantly don’t like, some you find too sweet or too bitter whereas with others you might like the look of the bottle but find that the content has no substance. Sometimes a vintage is overlooked; sometimes what should have been immediately spat out is chosen to win. It’s all very subjective.

In 1997 I was joint runner up with Peter Kay in the BBC New Comedy Awards. I’m not sure what ever happened to him but I heard he’s doing okay.

Will I do it again? Well I’m thinking of doing it again next year. But first I’m going to have a meeting with my heart and liver and, if the three of us think we’re up to it, then I’ll accept.

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