Guest Blog: Paul Kerensa Just Can't Wait To Go FreeDate: 18 August 2010
This is my fifth solo show, my tenth year up here, yet the first year I’ve had a ticket price of zilch. So what went wrong? Well nothing, but that’s what a few people have asked. The implication is always "Oh dear. You can’t even give your tickets away...". Well I can and I have, which is why each night has been a full house. We’ve turned people away every night. I'd be eligible for Fringe Sell Out 2010, except that no tickets have been sold.
Compare this to my previous fringe: I paid several thousand pounds to hire a cave, had to charge a £10 ticket price at the venue’s insistence, and like most performers up here, I lost money. The 100-capacity venue was mostly half-full, and I was pleased with that. The truth of the matter is that for comedy, the playing field has changed.
It used to be that punters would do just that – take a punt. The comedygoers would maybe seek out a comic they’d heard of and a comic they hadn’t, as well as a play, a musical and a live band. That was when stand-up on the TV consisted of Billy Connolly touring Australia, Jack Dee walking down steps into a wine bar, and An Audience With Freddie Starr.
Now stand-up has found a place on TV, meaning that audiences recognise more faces. So unless you’ve been on Mock The 8 Out Of 10 Weak Cats At The Apollo, you just can’t charge a tenner and expect an audience. People don’t know you. I’ve been quietly happy earning a living and a reputation co-writing various sitcoms (BBC1’s Not Going Out, BBC2’s Miranda etc), but as a back-room boy, my name doesn’t scream at you from the poster like a familiar face you’ve seen on Would I Lie To You Have Been Watching Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Buzzcocks.
So last fringe, in that dank half-empty cave (it was half-full earlier in the article – I’ve become a pessimist in just 200 words), I had my "Road to Damascus" moment. I realised I'd rather the venue was full with no one paying anything than half-full of payers. You could put a hat round at the end: if they like it, they put money in, if they don’t, they won’t. That ups my game, and so I think this free show is as good if not better than my previous priced ones. Plus I get an enjoyable run of full houses, more people get to see the show (which is after all why I wrote it), and it currently looks to be the first Fringe in years that I’ll turn a profit.
To answer that earlier question then: "So what went wrong?" I didn’t think of doing a free show earlier, that’s all.
- Paul Kerensa
Paul Kerensa has been bringing plays, sketch shows and stand-up to the fringe since 1998. He's a BAFTA & British Comedy Award nominee for his writing on BBC1's Not Going Out and BBC2's Miranda, both of which he's writing by day during the Festival and performing at night.
You can see Paul's show, Borderline Racist in Canon's Gait, 7-20 August at 20.25.
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