Opinion

"Why I'm Shunning The Edinburgh Fringe For London's Vibrant Comedy Scene"

"Why I'm Shunning The Edinburgh Fringe For London's Vibrant Comedy Scene"
Rose poses in front of a bright ink background, grinning and leaning to one side
"When it came to taking the plunge... something stopped me." Image: Rose Johnson

In June 2021 I got a job in an advert for a low budget supermarket (humblebrag alert!).

It's worth doing, I told myself at the time, because I can use the fee to go to the Edinburgh Fringe. In the advert, I had to stand at a counter and unpack some shopping while a man wearing a fake moustache and a sparkly outfit (which screamed 'highly flammable') writhed around playing two saxophones on the floor behind me.

It's worth it, I told myself again: think of Edinburgh! When I sat in the make-up chair, the make-up artist took one look at my face and said I didn't need any make-up because, "they're going for 'tired mum', so you're fine as you are".

For reference I have no children and had had 11 hours sleep the previous night. But still. Edinburgh.

A panoramic view of Edinburgh, with various spires jutting out from its grey buildings
Edinburgh might be beautiful but it's becoming unviable for many comics to perform here. Image: Kate Bielinski on Unsplash

But when it came to taking the plunge and actually booking my debut stand-up show into the Edinburgh Fringe this year, something stopped me from doing it.

It turned out I didn't want to be part of an arts festival that is gradually squeezing out all but the wealthiest, most privileged performers. I didn’t want to be part of a 'fringe' that increasingly feels like a game of chicken entitled, 'Who's Willing to Spend the Most Money on Huge Posters of Their Face'.

I didn't want to put my mental health at risk by staking such a huge financial risk against the tiny chance mine would emerge as one of the few 'buzzy' shows. I have huge admiration for anyone with the mental fortitude to perform their very first show under that pressure, but I am not one of those people. Which is lucky, because the fee from that supermarket advert, which I'd been planning to bankroll my entire Fringe? It would barely have covered my accommodation costs. There is a special place in hell reserved for those Edinburgh landlords, whose practices during the Fringe in recent years have been nothing short of exploitation.

Crowds outside Soho Theatre
Soho Theatre has an industry-leading program of shows, which can provide exposure worthy of even the most successful Edinburgh runs. Image: Londonist

So instead of taking my stand-up debut to Edinburgh this August, I’m doing some work-in-progress shows in London, a city with a wonderfully rich comedy scene, which I strongly believe offers just as many opportunities as Edinburgh to hone (and watch) great comedy.

There are of free-to-play venues like The Bill Murray, a comedian-run club in Angel that always attracts a brilliant, comedy-savvy crowd, and is perfect for trying out new material in a fun, supportive environment.

There are fantastic festivals like the Camden Fringe and Balham Free Fringe, which offer performers and audiences alike a fringe experience without the expense of Edinburgh. There are nights like Always Be Comedy in Kennington, which nurtures comedians from the start of their careers right through to warm-ups for arena tours, and is always a joy to play.

Rose Johnson poses i front of a bright pink background, wearing a polka dot dress
Image: Rose Johnson

And there's Soho Theatre, with its industry-leading program of shows, which can provide exposure worthy of even the most successful Edinburgh runs. Soho Theatre is a place I always dreamt of performing at post-Edinburgh. Instead the team there are supporting my decision not to go to the Fringe by giving me the opportunity to perform my work-in-progress shows there this summer. I want to have fun developing my material in front of an audience outside the enormous pressure of the Fringe. I want to prove that there is a pathway to industry recognition outside of Edinburgh. And I want to spend the money from my advert on something more worthwhile (two saxophones).

My show is on at Soho Theatre on 8 and 27 August. It’s about being in your thirties, negativity, Love Island and rats. I'd love to see you there.

Last Updated 27 July 2022