The appeal of the Edinburgh fringe for comedy fans is being there. It’s the physical process of elbowing through flyer-waving crowds and trooping into an obscure Old Town pub basement in search of belly laughs, profundity, or both. With Scotland’s capital in cultural cryostasis, can that rarefied energy be recreated online? There are various comics prepared to try.
Brexiteer Mash Report pundit Geoff Norcott was supposed to be heading north for a month-long stint at the Udderbelly venue but has pivoted to a Zoom residency from 6 to 8 August (tickets available via eventbrite.co.uk). If you prefer to expand your horizons, Edinburgh fringe Japan is hosting a programme of online performances from 7 to 31 August that includes comedy from UK-based standup Yuriko Kotani and Tokyo mime duo Zeroko, who can do striking things with teacups. Meanwhile, 10 up-and-coming standups who had their 2020 fringe shows cancelled will also get seven-minute slots on Comedy Central UK’s Facebook, YouTube and Instagram channels, kicking off on 17 August.
Storied local venue the Gilded Balloon has put together a programme of podcasts, workshops and bitesize sets from acts such as BGT champ Lost Voice Guy and Irish comic Jarlath Regan, available on their YouTube channel throughout August. On Saturdays at 9pm they will be streaming retro highlights from the Gilded Balloon’s Late’n’Live bearpit including Dara Ó Briain, Shappi Khorsandi and Aisling Bea.
From 7 to 30 August, the popular Free Fringe will be streaming nightly live gigs on Zoom, Twitch and YouTube, including Sasha Ellen’s role-playing adventure Character Building Experience and US comic Robyn Perkins’s scientifically minded Comedy for the Curious. No one will be hovering at the back of your living room rattling a bucket at the end of these shows, but donations will help keep the comedic spirit of the fringe alive.
For the first time in its 73-year history, the Edinburgh festival will not take place. But crumbs of consolation are emerging for theatre fans. The Fringe Society has announced a host of digital theatrical offerings this year – with the emphasis on eclectic homespun entertainment, as well as ways to provide support to those artists hit hardest by Covid-19.
There will be no Best of the Fest shows this year, but there will be a Fringe on Friday variety show streamed weekly throughout August. This 60-minute show will showcase highlights across all genres, with artists keeping 100% of the money raised from ticket sales. Alongside this, the Fringe Pick n Mix will see artists upload 60-second films, including snippets of “shows that never were” or off-the-cuff new material. Viewers will be able to comment on the videos and pick select clips or watch a continuous stream of appealingly DIY shows.
A number of new ventures are providing financial and practical support for the artistic community. The Virtual Fringe Central will host more than 30 digital events – panel discussions, workshops and networking sessions – for artists adversely affected by the pandemic. The Fringe Society will also continue its community work, with the Fringe Days Out programme providing workshops and performances for local community groups.
IRL offerings are also beginning to pop up – both in Edinburgh and across the UK. Gilded Balloon recently announced the Fringe Search Party, a themed trail of games and puzzles that will see participants scamper across the city in search of clues, and visit some iconic fringe venues. More enterprising endeavours will no doubt follow, as the guidelines on open-air theatre in Scotland become clearer. Meanwhile in south London, the New Normal festival has sprung up following a call-out for cancelled Edinburgh fest shows looking for a new home. The festival runs throughout August and will feature the full fringe gambit of theatre, comedy, dance, magic and music.
Five ways to help performers
The FringeMakers initiative on crowdfunder.co.uk skips the usual admin fees: all donations in August go direct to any companies or performers who set up an appeal.
Practically every free online show staged this month will include a donations button so you can show your support in real time.
Make it personal
Your fave performers, particularly up-and-coming comedians, will likely have a Patreon or Ko-fi where you can sling them some dough. Check their socials.
Fringe 2020 will always be the festival that never was but it still has some pop-art-tastic merch on its website, with monies directed toward vital infrastructure. Sadly, the 1,000-piece jigsaw is already a sellout.
Edinburgh in August might be the centre of the arts universe but practitioners are developing work all year round. Supporting nearby venues and arts orgs during a gruelling 2020 will help.