For the past few years comedy promoter Bob Slayer has joined the likes of the PBH Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Festival in offering a genuine comedy alternative at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that allows more experimental acts scope for pushing boundaries at a fairer price for audiences than the Big Four.
With its pay-what-you want ethos, Slayer’s Heroes of the Fringe has thrived in recent festivals in DIY bookshops, the always brilliantly sticky The Hive and this year’s very interesting looking BlundaBus
Its major successes include Adrienne Truscott home the Edinburgh Fringe Panel Prize for her daring and challenging show about the perception of rape of in comedy, and this year’s line-up is looking incredible, as seen in our round-up of recommended free and PWYW shows at the Fringe.
With such a pedigree, we asked Bob to come up with his own personal Heroes of the Fringe.
They say you should never meet your heroes, but I’ve never been much for rules. I have also previously worked with both Children (as both a Shopping Centre Santa and a Nanny when I first moved to London, yes I really did!) and with Animals (I used to be a Jockey and no I didn’t eat the horse!). So when in 2011 I reluctantly started booking acts for the Fringe it was my heroes who I first set about approaching. You see I didn’t really want to be a Fringe promoter but I did like the idea of surrounding myself with people who I could happily spend the whole month with.
One of the first acts I booked for our first Fringe was Phil Kay. He’s been one of my favourite performers ever since watching him on TV in the 90’s. So it was lovely to do some dates with him around the UK in early 2011, we got chatting about the Fringe and he told me that he was considering giving it a miss that year. He felt he wasn’t enjoying Edinburgh in August as much as he had done in the past. I believe that if Phil Kay is not at the Fringe then it will collapse as sure as if the ravens leave the Tower of London and so I persuaded him to come and do a show with us. He really enjoyed the freedom, independence and chaotic nature of our set up (we didn’t know what we were doing) and he got his Fringe Mojo back.
Phil is universaly and quite rightly acknowledged as a unique and very special talent. He is a beautifully positive performer who weaves amazing stories out of the here and now. Other aspects of his reputation can sometimes vary depending on who you speak to. However this will be our 5th Fringe together and I’ve also promoted numerous dates around the UK including Leicester and Glasgow Comedy Festivals: He has been consistantly beautiful and amazing. When he is given freedom and an audience who has come to see him then he is simply in a class of his own. He continues to develop and expand with every year, he should be an essential show on everyones Fringe list.
At the Hive in 2010, before I booked it, my show followed a one woman show about rape. It didn’t get very good audiences and many who did come along would leave before the end. On more than one occassion I turned up to see her performing to a totally empty room. I asked Jamie the sound tech what was happening:
“Tha audience snuck it efter ten minutes but she has th’ lights sae bricht ‘at she cannae see th’ they hae aw gain, an’ ah huvnae got th’ heart tae teel ‘er…” was his explination and so she carried on to the end on her own, overrunning by 7 mins just as she did every other day.
Despite this experience when Miss Behave told me about a performer who was developing a “One Woman Rape About Comedy” I was interested. The fact that the full title and description seemed to be very aware that this could be a very bad idea led me to believe that this show would be different. It was even singled out by Chortle as the worst titled show at the Fringe, something which perfectly helped the shows early infamy and fed into the word of mouth that helped make the show a success. Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy And Little Else! went on to win the Fosters Comedy Award Panel Prize, making us the smallest venue to won one of them awards. She also won the increasingly prestigeous Malcolm Hardee Award and was nominated for a Total Theatre Award. She is an amazing lady that I loved working with for two years.
Im a little saddened not to be promoting Adrienne’s new show this year however I really look forward to seeing it at the Gilded Baloon. We have no desire to become larger and so we can’t possibly hope to offer the variety of rooms to suit everyone.
After two years seeing the lions-share of ticket money with us Gilded Baloon had to offer her a more artist friendly deal. I don’t see this as losing an act, I see this as more of a win for us and the Fringe!
Last year I was setting up the Bookshop, where we ran our own bar. We recieved a visit from Health and Safety. As he came in he looked to see that the exit sign above the door was illuminated, it was and he ticked something on his list. He then went down the stairs into the cellar and commented that they were a bit DIY. Of course they were DIY, there was only a ladder into the cellar when we turned up and I had done these myself!
The stairs did look ‘interesting’ largely due to my idea of joinery being to keep adding wood and nails until something stops wobbling. I told him that it was purposefully rustic and he muttered as he put a rather reluctant tick on his form. Then he looked at the Two edifice toilet cubicles I had created out of doors I’d found in a skip. He raised an eyebrow and looked at me. I shrugged and he had to conceed that as these recycled materials were firedoors the toilets perfectly doubled as tiny fire panic rooms!
In an emergency situation they were probably the safest place in Edinburgh. All was looking good. Then as we went back upstairs, disaster struck, the exit sign went out. Now, there was a reason for this, unable to get it working before he had turned up we had shoved a torch into the light as an intermim measure. It seemed we had spent too long inspecting the work of art toilets downstairs and it had run out of batteries. He muttered about the light being essential and started to have a closer look. If he discovered the torch then he would know we were trying to pull the wool over his eyes. He’d throw the book at us. That was the point one of my favourite comedians and heroes Tim Renkow, who had been sat quietly in the corner, chose to pipe up:
“If there is a fire in this room and people don’t know that the way they have come in is also the exit, then they deserve to burn…”
Tim had a point, but not one the Health and Safety man enjoyed. His brow double furrowed as he turned to see where this statement had come from. He was clearly about unleash a tirade about how this was not a joking matter blah blah, but that was when he realised that Tim has Cerebal Palsy.
His anger met his political correctnesss and resulted in confusion. This is where Tim thrives, smiling at the Health and Safety man Tim reached over and picked up a hammer. He shook it, because that is what he does!
That was when I chipped in: “Have you met Tim Renkow our carpenter?”
We’d confused the Health and Safety man sufficiently and he left abruptly. He said he might be back. He didn’t but if he had of done he would have seen that we simply wrapped the exit sign with some fairy lights.
Shit, I realise I am now running out of space one last Hero:
When I was a kid I got really into horses. I told my dad that I knew what I wanted to do when i grew up. I really wanted to be a jockey. He told me I could be anything that i wanted to be! It’s lovely to have supportive parents but to this day I am not sure if he heard me say Jockey or Junkie…