Dissecting the Fringe: Edinburgh Diary
As an inadvertent follow-up to yesterday’s post, I saw free shows by two professional stand-ups, each well-known enough to command paying venues.[i] John-Luke Roberts and Nat Luurtsema are very different comedians, and it was instructive to see how they each made their own use of the free venue. Luurtsema offered a straight-ahead hour of stories about herself, each observation expertly cranked up to the ridiculous. It would work in any venue, but with a crowd of seventy-odd at the Counting House (one of the more impressive free venues), she was able to generate the kind of momentum that only an audience of that size can make possible. Her show revolves around her break-up, last year, with fellow stand-up Tom Craine, who is also tackling the same subject in his own show at Pleasance.[ii] Craine’s might be just as good a show, but it would be a surprise if he regularly gets audiences of the same size. This is one of the big advantages a free show has for a professional with a reasonable Fringe profile – the chance to play to larger crowds than they might otherwise expect.
John-Luke Roberts is the polar opposite of straight-ahead stand-up. His stock-in-trade is high-concept silliness leavened with brilliantly sharp one-liners, best illustrated in a set-piece where he individually insults every member of the audience to lower our self-esteem. Nor is this the kind of off-the-shelf randomness that has flourished in the wake of The Mighty Boosh; the writing is left-field but consistently well-structured. This kind of show is going to divide audiences more than Luurtsema’s, and when put on for free has a higher chance of attracting floating punters who will realise they actually wanted something else entirely. But as a free show it carries less risk and less pressure to get a certain number of audience members each performance, and as a more off-beat effort than Luurtsema’s, it is less reliant on the audience getting on board in any case.