‘Death of Fringe’ is no laughing matter for comic Stewart Lee

Stewart Lee has branded comedy festival chiefs an 'Etonial cabal'
Stewart Lee has branded comedy festival chiefs an 'Etonial cabal'
Have your say

Comedian Stewart Lee has hit out at the “big four” venues running the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, branding them “mendacious” and responsible for “an act of corporate cattle rustling”.

In a scathing article entitled The Slow Death of the Fringe, the stand-up – performing at the newly refurbished Assembly Rooms this year – railed against the increasing commercialisation of the world’s biggest arts festival.

Referring to those behind the Edinburgh Comedy Festival – the Pleasance, Underbelly, Gilded Balloon, and Assembly – as an “Etonial cabal”, Lee said: “Without asking the city’s permission, or notifying acts who had already paid to appear in their venues, the big four distributed literature giving the impression that the previously non-existent Edinburgh Comedy Festival had been responsible for discovering decades of talent, and set about re-
pointing the fragile but functioning ecosystem of the Fringe for their own ends.”

He went further in another article, stating: “If you’re one of the comedians appearing under a big promoter at the big four, you’re either an idiot who hasn’t done the maths, or you’re desperate to be famous at any cost, or you’ve been badly advised by people who haven’t got your best interests at heart.”

He has received broad 
support online, with fellow comedian Simon Evans – performing at the Pleasance this year – retweeting the article with the message: “I am guilty, but he is right.”

The Stand Comedy Club, now running the relaunched Assembly Rooms where Lee is performing, was praised in the article for underwriting the cost of all its performers’ shows.

Managing director Tommy Sheppard said: “The Fringe has become extremely over-commercialised and there’s a pay-to-play culture which benefits the rich kids. It really doesn’t have to be like that.”

Charlie Wood, from Underbelly, said: “We’ve never hidden from the fact that we’re Old Etonian twits. However, we’re also proud of the fact we’re not just hosting the 
comedy of Stewart Lee but also investing in producing shows at the Fringe and creating spaces to be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people.”

Karen Koren, of the Gilded Balloon, said: “I for one do not agree with Stewart that we are raking it in and taking advantage and ruining the Fringe. We still have the same ethics and values and still care as much as he quite obviously does.”

The Pleasance and Assembly did not wish to comment.


Tommy Sheppard, the man in charge of one of the city’s biggest Fringe venues, has announced his support for the Yes campaign.

Mr Sheppard, the former deputy general secretary of Scottish Labour and a campaigner for devolution, revealed he will be voting for an independent Scotland in 2014.

He also said he believed many others in the arts and creative industries would be doing the same.

“Back when I was running the Labour Party’s campaign for devolution, the sovereign right of the people of Scotland wasn’t in question, so I hope it won’t be now,” he said. “I have always believed that we should be in the situation where the people who live here are the people who have control over the country’s future.”