Times article about posters and stuff
August 6, 2007
Am I offensive? Good
Edinburgh Fringe comedians all want to sell tickets. But can their shock tactics go too far? Our correspondent hears some pitches
How, in a city filled with more than 300 comedy shows, do you get yours noticed? Well, if you’re the Australian comic Brendon Burns, you black yourself up and stick a bone through your nose. Then, when you’ve done that, you sit in a wheelchair and imitate a paraplegic, then mock up a shot of you nailed to the cross. You stop shy of adding an image of a woman giving fellatio to your crucified image, but for aesthetic rather than moral reasons: “It made the poster too busy,” says Burns.
This, the poster for Burns’s show So I Suppose This is Offensive Now, is calculated to provoke. But though Burns is cheerfully abrasive he is also a comic with moral ambition. If the poster were there purely to shock, he says, he couldn’t defend it. He argues that, in going too far, he’s making a sociopolitical point.
“The poster is not taking the p*** out of people who say, oh look, your poster is racist,” he says. “No. My poster is taking the p*** out of the people who think it isn’t. That’s why it’s funny. It’s deeply offensive, that’s the point.”
He got the idea for the show when he was back in Australia this year. “I was at Uluru and I met with a tribal elder,” says Burns. “He started explaining his culture, what Uluru meant to them, and I thought, this is bulls***!” But he wasn’t sure quite how he could express such a heresy on stage.
* ‘Honey, I shrunk the festival’
Burnsy provokes interest by provoking outrage. But what other fiendish methods do Fringe comedians use to get noticed?
CHANGE YOUR NAME
“Hello, Lionel Richie,” says Lionel Richie whenever he answers his mobile phone. He didn’t always say that. Until a couple of weeks ago Lionel Richie was called Barry Fearns. But after doing several Fringes and not becoming famous, he decided he needed new tactics. He changed his name by deed poll to that of an American pop star.
This Sketch Show Belongs to Lionel Richie is a smorgasbord of stunts – they’re also doing a performance on Arthur’s Seat, giving two competition winners a private-view show with a massage and are available on free call-out to perform sketches.
Ingenious, or desperate? “I wouldn’t put it as desperation,” says Richie. “Edinburgh is so ruled by big promoters, big money, nobody would be interested in an interview with Barry Fearns. I still answer to Barry,” he says. “But I introduce myself as Lionel.”
This Sketch Show Belongs to Lionel Richie, Underbelly (0870 7453083)
ADMIT YOU’RE RUBBISH
The London comic Russell Kane has named his show Easy Cliché and Tired Stereotype, quoting a review. Lest we be convinced by such self-immolation, Kane also litters his poster with raves. “It should come across as playful,” he says. “But it’s a very British thing. I went to America and tried being self-deprecating, and they just thought I’d lost the plot.” The masters of self-knocking copy are Richard Herring and his former partner Stewart Lee, who once coopted a viewer’s complaint that they were “Ugly Young Men Presenting Drivel”.
“Saying you’re great doesn’t look like comedy,” says Herring, “it looks like you think you’re fantastic.” Last year’s Herring poster proudly told us that he had been The Daily Telegraph’s Worst Comedy Experience 2005. “If everyone likes you,” says Herring, “you’re probably not doing your job.”
Russell Kane is at the Pleasance Courtyard (0131-556 6550); Richard Herring – Oh F***, I’m 40! is at the Underbelly
DO IT FOR NOTHING
The first two times Peter Buckley Hill played Edinburgh, he charged money and lost money. Then, in 1996, he did a free show, took a collection at the end, and lost less. Now he’s the ringmaster of the Free Fringe: 61 shows in seven venues. “With tickets at a tenner,” he says, “what member of the public is going to take a chance? Free, you can take a chance. It’s the proper Fringe.”
Buckley Hill uses venues that rely on bar takings for their cut. His own shows now make a small profit, thanks to the contributions bucket. “The biggest problem is people’s understandable belief that free means substandard,” he says. “So I’m selective with who I put on.”
Peter Buckley Hill is at the Canon’s Gait, www.freefringe.org
SWEAR YOU’LL BE GOOD
Oh no, not again. The brilliant black American comic Reginald D. Hunter is following last year’s controversial Pride and Prejudice and Niggas with this year’s F*** You in the Age of Consequence. “I wanted to call this show Coonraker,” he says, “but my management talked me out of it.” But he insists the swearing does relate to the show. “F*** you is a philosophy,” he says, “I’m relating this back to the advent of Reagan and Thatcher – how selfishness has a consequence.”
Reginald D. Hunter is at UdderBelly’s Pasture (0870 7453083)
Andy Ofiesh: who? But The Naked Comedy Showcase – ooh, tell me more, Andy. “We’re doing two things that everybody is afraid of,” he says, “public speaking and being nude in public.” The Bostonian comedian has performed starkers for years (he also works clothed). But he knows genitalia can’t carry the show. “Being nude buys you about two minutes of not being funny,” he says. “After that you had better make quick with the jokes.”
The Naked Comedy Showcase is at Gilded Balloon Teviot (0131-668 1633)
BE NAKEDLY AMBITIOUS
The Irish comic Jason Byrne always has an animal motif in his show titles. This year it’s Shy Pigs, with Wigs, Hidden in the Twigs. But his other new show, Jason Byrne’s Telly Idea Which May Also Work on the Radio Show!, was named with what can only be described as ruthless whimsy.
Jason Byrne’s shows are at the Assembly Hall (0131-623 3030)
DON’T TURN UP
The best joke at last year’s Fringe was Tim Vine’s massive billboard in a prime position on Cowgate. “Tim Vine . . .” read the Vegas lightbulb lettering, as you came down the hill towards it, “. . . is not appearing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.” What a stunt! What a wheeze! “Tim almost became the star of the festival without turning up,” Nigel Klarfeld, his manager, says. “One promoter told me that I was a bastard: he wished he’d thought of it first.” Klarfeld won’t reveal how much this quixotic gesture took out of his client’s account. “I don’t know if it led to more work for Tim,” he says, “but everyone’s going to remember it.”
Tim Vine is not appearing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival either
USE A NEW MATERIAL
Jess Ransom and Sarah Dean are aspiring comedy greats and keen knitters. So when they started work as Girl and Dean, they chose to knit all their props themselves – knitted nunchucks included. Sponsored by a wool company, they’ve sent out promotional hand-warmers, ties, scarves and hats. “People like to see that you’ve gone to an effort,” says Ransom. “We’ve had a lot of knitting help from people who get no more than a free ticket and a thank you. All the same it’s been a bit of an ordeal, we’ve both got arthritic hands now!”
Girl and Dean are at the Pleasance Courtyard
BE A SELL-OUT
Fringe maths can be the most inventive discipline in town. You’ll be sitting in a half-empty performance one year, then the next year you’ll see the same act claim that show had been a Total Sell-Out. Eh? In fact, acts can claim the official Fringe Sell-Out Show logo only if they sell 95 per cent of the Fringe Office’s allocation for the run.
But some performers like to preempt any suspicions of their creative accounting. Brendon Burns’s latest poster claims that he’s sold out since 1996 – with a tiny caveat for each year. He was Sold Out in 2001: “Definitely on the weekends, anyway”. And he’ll be Sold Out in 2007, too: “Bound to get free publicity,” he suggests, “from the blacking up and the Jesus.” Burns always knows the value of a good gimmick.
Brendon Burns is at the Pleasance Dome (0131-556 6550)