Edinburgh Festival was set up in 1947 following the Second World War as a celebration of the arts. It was invitation only, but eight uninvited theatre groups arrived and decided to take part in the festival anyway, and so Edinburgh Fringe was born. Now it has essentially become the comedian’s trade fair and has expanded beyond belief, being worth £260million to the economy and as a performer you find yourself constantly being asked “Are you doing Edinburgh this year?”
Gone are the days of driving “around Edinburgh under cover of darkness in a panel van, fly posting illegally with pots of paste and brushes… Nobody on the Fringe had seen anything like it. Advertising!” like Stewart Lee and Simon Munnery in the ’90s, gone are the days of sleeping “in a church hall with no running water, but in a city that, until 1995, still had a 50p public bathhouse.” Edinburgh Festival is now big business, costing anywhere between £2000 and £10,000 to put on a show for the month, and often leaving performers in massive debt.
I do see the value of working at Edinburgh – in 2013 I was a Venue Technician for one of the big venues and the connections I made there kept me in work for the next 2 years, and as Frankie Boyle said in his autobiography “Edinburgh itself has always felt a bit inauthentic to me… [it] is full of mainly white, middle class, Presbyterians… [but] Jimmy Carr saw us at the festival and gave us a job writing for him on his quiz show Distraction.” And similarly, Russell Brand said in his autobiography that his career was helped by Edinburgh as “some people from MTV came to see me perform in Edinburgh, and asked me to audition for them when I got back to London.” Even so, surely it’s more beneficial (financially, if nothing else) to just do all the other festivals instead?
There are at least 50 fringe festivals across Britain and Ireland every year, with most big cities having their own festival, and often the fees to take part in these festivals are much more affordable than Edinburgh. Below are examples of the registration fees for 2018/2019 to do the whole run at 6 UK Comedy festivals (the fees are less for shorter runs).
But then I do love a deep fried Mars bar…