Comics who owe their careers to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe should help keep flagship awards going - Brian Ferguson
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The old adage of there being no such thing as bad publicity was never truer than at the event.
Acts have been courting controversy and publicists dreaming up PR wheezes around shows long before the advent of the internet and the arrival of social media helped amplify controversies.
I’m sure I can recall a time when these were largely confined to August, when ticket sales needed a timely boost. The Fringe certainly generates year-round coverage these days, but not perhaps the kind that performers and companies are looking for.
The last year alone has seen flare-ups about the non-appearance of the festival app, lower-than-anticipated audiences, the impact of rail and refuse worker strikes, the costs faced by artists and audiences trying to stay in the city, the cancellation of events with veteran comic Jerry Sadowitz and MP Joanna Cherry, and the UK Government’s decision to support the event for the first time – with ring-fenced funding for a new Fringe Society headquarters.
It is still hard to believe the charity overseeing the festival managed to secure a £7 million pledge from the Treasury for the event – even though its hands appear to be tied over where this money could go.
The UK government funding, the first of any significance for the Fringe, was the first thing I thought of when news emerged this week indicating the return of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards was in doubt over the loss of its headline sponsor.
If it was something of a mystery why long-time awards director Nica Burns waited until this week to issue a plea for “potential heroes to step forward”. There were also understandable questions over how the costs of putting on the awards was now more than £200,000.
That has been put down to the sheer scale of the mini-machine behind the awards, including a 35-strong team of scouts, judges and administrators. Like every other element of the Fringe, the costs are not insignificant and have been on the rise.
Ms Burns, a leading West End theatre producer, has effectively admitted defeat over the awards securing a new headline sponsor – like Perrier, Foster's or most recent backer, TV channel Dave – given the post-Covid landscape companies are operating in.
Although she may have left it late, there appears to be a lot of logic behind her tactic of securing the support of several backers willing to put smaller amounts into the pot.
It was notable Ms Burns limited her direct appeal for help to “the comedy industry and all potential partners”.
But the one thing that is indisputable about the awards is countless high-profile performers and entertainers would simply not be where they are today without the crucial launch provided by a win or nomination over the 40-odd years they have been running. In some cases, they owe their entire careers to the event.
Given the huge sums of money which can be made on the live touring circuit around the UK’s convert halls and arenas by the biggest comedy acts, now feels like the time to give something back.