Life on the Fringe
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the Tour de France of the comedy world. Fringe debutante Edwin Mullane prepares to jump in at the deep end
FOR THREE weeks every August, the medieval city of Edinburgh is besieged from the inside out. Battalions of comics, street performers, actors, writers, poets, dancers, and artistic crusaders from all over the globe join ranks for the world’s largest arts festival. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (more commonly known as simply the Fringe) has ballooned since it was first established in 1947 as an alternative to the more highbrow Edinburgh International Festival. Two years ago, it was the heftiest festival on record, with 31,000 performances of 2,050 different shows in 250 venues.
This year’s festival promises to be bigger again, with Ireland’s finest artistic talents at the centre of the melee. The if.comedy award for best stand-up performance (formerly the Perrier award) has been a launch pad for some of our finest comedians, with winners Tommy Tiernan (1998), Dylan Moran (1996) and Sean Hughes (1990), and past nominees Ed Byrne, Graham Norton, Jason Byrne, Andrew Maxwell and David O’Doherty all gaining international success as a result. Irish playwrights and actors have also thrived at the festival over the last few years, with shows such as Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce (Fringe First Winner, 2007), Aidan Doorley’s Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer (Fringe First Winner, 2006), Abie Philbin Bowman’s Jesus: The Guantanamo Years (sellout in 2006), and Mark Doherty’s Trad (Fringe First Winner, 2005).
However, the streets of Edinburgh are not paved with gold. The Fringe offers most performers a publicity opportunity rather than financial gain – the majority of theatre companies and performers actually lose money during the festival. A modest theatre production, for example, can cost up to ¤15,000 up-front, with overheads such as venue hire, accommodation, and publicity at a premium. Match these costs to the gruelling competition and you may not be surprised when you spot established actors and comedians handing out flyers and feverishly promoting their shows on the streets during the festival. Indeed, the purpose of the fringe for many stand-up comedians and writers is to launch new material and obtain reviews and hype for upcoming tours. For less-established performers, the Fringe acts as a shop window for agents, casting directors, and venue managers.
Fringe veteran David O’Doherty returns to the Edinburgh festival for the seventh time this year, and is among a group of established Irish comedians, including Neil Delamere, Des Bishop, and Maeve Higgins, who hope to promote new material and compete with the world’s favourite comics. Doherty sees the Fringe as “the Tour de France of comedy”, and although he admits that “it doesn’t make financial sense”, he believes it “forces you to immerse yourself in the industry and write new material”.
He says the Edinburgh Fringe is the number one comedy festival in the world because, “it is the only major ‘organic festival’ where anyone can take part”. In this spirit, Doherty will perform three shows a day for the 26 days of the festival – his own solo show, Let’s Comedy, is at The Stand. Other emerging talents at Edinburgh this year include stand-up Jarlath Regan and comedy troupe Diet of Worms. Regan received rave reviews for his Fringe debut in 2007 and returns this year with a new show, Relax the Cax, at the Gilded Balloon. The Kildare man is one of Ireland’s best young comedians and performed at the Montreal Just For Laughs Irish Gala in 2007.
Sketch seems to be “the new black” in comedy at the moment and Diet of Worms, which performed its show in a swimming pool last year, returns to a more conventional location at the E4 Underbelly venue.
On the theatre side of things, Aindrias De Staic, a musician, playwright and actor from Galway, will perform his new one-man show, The Year I Got Younger, at Sweet venues. The comedy play is a stage adaptation of his documentary about a newly-sober gypsy fiddle player, which won best documentary at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
Another awardwinning Galwaybased compa- ny, Dragonfly Theatre, presents Married to the Sea at the Assembly Rooms. Dragonfly won the new writing award at last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival, and the outstanding actor award at the New York Fringe Festival in 2007. Shona McCarthy’s play was inspired by Declan O’Rourke’s song of the same name and travels to Edinburgh with an already wellestablished reputation.
Dubliner Abie Philbin Bowman is also travelling to Scotland on the back of strong reviews. The Scotsman dubbed him “this year’s face of the Fringe” in 2006 for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in his one-man show, Jesus: the Guantanamo Years. Bowman’s brandnew show, Eco-Friendly Jihad, follows an environmentalist who, desperate to reduce US carbon emissions, joins al-Qaeda. It will be performed at the E4 Underbelly venue.
My own one-man comedy play, Whacker Murphy’s Bad Buzz, will make its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, showing nightly at the C Soco space at C Venues. I’ve also been nominated for best actor, best production and best new writer at the Buxton Festival Fringe. After performances on London’s West End, and at the Brighton Fringe, Bath Fringe and Listowel Writers’ Week, the Edinburgh Fringe will be the highlight of a very exciting year.
The play is about a northside geezer who falls in love with Polish temptress Maria (“The wonder of Warsaw”). Whacker’s plan to get the woman of his dreams falls to pieces when he ends up in debt to Jimmy Mo Mo, the biggest nutbag around. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a great deal of help from Fringe veteran and comic genius Tom Hickey in the past six months. Still, the battlefield of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe is a daunting prospect for a young actor. David O’Doherty’s advice is to “load up on plenty of vitamins and don’t read the reviews”. My Pharmaton is packed.
Above, Edwin Mullane is bringing his show, Whacker Murphy’s Bad Buzz, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Also travelling to Scotland are (below, left to right) David O’Doherty, Maeve Higgins, Abie Philbin Bowman and Neil Delamere
Whacker Murphy’s Bad Buzz will be performed during the Dublin Fringe Festival (September 8th-13th) at Filmbase in Temple Bar. www.fringefest.com. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from August 3rd-25th