It’s an increasingly well-known fact that comedians don’t make any money at Edinburgh. If you do manage to sell most of the seats in your venue, that money is then split with the company that owns the venue and you’re lucky if what you have left comes close to covering room-hire, advertising, PR, management fees, accommodation and pies. Of course, if your venue happens to seat 400 or more punters the numbers swing dramatically in your favour but according to last week’s Review Show on BBC2 the average Fringe audience is still just 7, and even though I’ve never believed that statistic it certainly supports my argument.
So why do it? Another Fringe cliché states that Edinburgh is comedy’s shop window, and whilst not being the perfect metaphor, I’d definitely go along with this one. The idea that every show is written and performed for the benefit of some mighty media shopper does reduce the art to stock and us to little more than funny prostitutes but it is true that most of us are hoping to get something more from the festival than a month’s worth of gigs. My last two shows were turned into books by people who’d seen them in this shop window. That is a successful transaction.
But even without the business side of the comedy industry, the Fringe can still be seen as one enormous frontage past which normal people, without BBC passes and television haircuts, can stroll, occasionally pausing to stare, admire and maybe even laugh. Because this is the one time of the year that comedy is pushed to the front of the display, spot-lit even, and as a performer, that’s fun.
It is also, however, quite disconcerting. For eleven months of the year I am never recognised as a comedian. Why would I be? I’m not on Mock The Week. But up in Edinburgh I can sometimes feel like a household comedy name, a familiar face from the telly, someone like Dee or either Carr. Strange people have said hello to me because they saw shows I’d done in previous years. Observant people recognise you from the posters. Everyone know there are ‘stars’ here and everyone wants to spot them. I do it too. I saw Alan Cumming the other day and actually pointed at him, which wouldn’t have been too bad except that I was being introduced to him at the time.
In reality, I don’t have a face familiar to anyone but my family and friends, a fact that has been made clear to me on three occasions over the last week. On Monday a beardy man stopped me in the street and asked me to sign his little book. I took it in my stride, confidence soaring. ‘What should I write?’ I asked. ‘Oh, just “Best wishes, from Jim”’, he replied. After some delicate enquiries I foundout he’d thought I was the folk singer Jim Moray.
On Tuesday night a less polite more drunk man accosted me – harangued me, even – for ten minutes, thinking that he knew me. ‘I saw you one year’, he said, ‘and you were AMAZING. But then I saw you the next year and you were really weird.’ He thought I was the brilliant but unpredictable comic Phil Kay.
Then last night, as I was strolling home from a late gig, a gaggle of teenagers passed me on the meadows. One of the girls raised her hand to her mouth, clearly impressed by my own visage. ‘Is that..?’ she stammered, ‘is that... John the Baptist?’ Her friends laughed, and maybe that is why I’m here.
Alex Horne will be performing his one off show ‘Taskmaster’ on the 27th August at the Pleasance Queen Dome at 00:20. For full details see www.alexhorne.com