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- Fringe who's who #1 - johnny foreigner
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Edinburgh Fringe 2011 – Adam Riches and all that
Some closing thoughts on this year's festival
So that's the Fringe tucked up in bed for another year – what is the verdict on the Fringe 2011?
The general consensus seems to be that it was a decent year, if not a vintage. There seemed to be fewer outstanding shows around – Edinburgh is Funny and up-and-coming comedy outfits Chortle and British Comedy Guide all posted a lower percentage of 5-star reviews this year – but there was still an overall high quality, as born out by the large number of 3.5- and 4-star reviews.
Some people were bemoaning the lack of big hitters this year – doesn't bother me though, quite the opposite. If a few more Ricky Gervais's and Jim Jefferies don't feel the need to come up to Edinburgh then that means some more bums might well find the seats of less renowned comics – the Fringe may be more corporate and career-driven than ever before, but it stands a chance of retaining some of its Fringeiness if the top layer is skimmed a touch. It's a nice bi-product of the fact that more comics are making their money the year round and don't need Edinburgh as much in that respect.
The exceptions I would make are the bigger comedians who were performing new material for a limited time (eg Mark Watson) or in a small-ish venue (eg Omid Djalili).
Riches takes the spoils
Meanwhile, character comic Adam Riches (above) won the Fosters Comedy Award (read a review of his show here). Well done to him: it's been coming for a few years now and he was probably owed a nomination from previous Fringes. The decision can be counted as good news amid the general suspicion that comedy – or at the least, comedy that receives exposure – is blanding out. Riches is a lot of things, but he's certainly not bland. In fact, if anyone hasn't seen his shows yet, they are pretty terrifying.
Riches' win does throw up a quandary for him, though. Namely, where does he go from here? There are fewer TV/radio slots available to a character comic than a stand-up (he's unlikely to appear on the big ones, like Mock the Week and McIntyre's Roadshow). A stand-up would also play more venues and bigger venues – this is dead cert for Riches and hopefully loads more comedy fans across the UK will see his show in the coming year.
But there's a hurdle to overcome with thrusting Riches into any old venue – audience participation plays such a big part in his shows that the effect may get lost in venues that are big-ish and up. Comedy tends to flourish in smaller rooms and Riches is a particular case in point. In the sweatboxes of the Edinburgh Fringe, he is able to take a room virtually to hysteria. In his review of Riches' show this year, EiF correspondent Ben Clover noted that one audience member laughed to the point of farting. I can't think of many comics who could elicit such a response – but few comics rely on audience energy so much, and provincial arts theatres and (hey you never know) west end theatres will be trickier to conquer.
Having said that, Riches is a runaway train of comedy testoserone, forcing himself upon audiences with neither fear nor truck for personal boundaries – so if anyone can stir Cambridge Corn Exchange from its slumber, it's him.
Bright young things
Meanwhile, and by way of supporting my indifference to the relative lack of big names, this was a particularly strong year for rookie comics. The awards panel snouted out some of the more apparent talent – Josh Widdicombe, Cariad Lloyd, winner Humphrey Ker, Thom Tuck etc – but there were plenty more debutants with bright futures: Tom Rosenthal, James Acaster, Michael J Dolan and David Morgan to name a few.
Champagne moments happen every day at the Fringe etc, but I think this year's has to be when satire behemoths John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman reunited at the Stand's late-night Political Animal show, Oliver travelling over from his now hometown of New York.
The Fringe this year was also divided by cock. The dick stickers handed out by Kunt and the Gang on the Free Fringe to audience members inevitably found their way onto the almost every poster in Edinburgh. A bit of fun, you might think – but not to some comedy agents/the council, who temporarily lost their sense of humour and started to invoice Kunt's ass, if you will. A very welcome bit of mischief, so props to Kunt and Bob Slayer for their scheming.
One of the most extraordinary nights I'll witness at the Fringe, I'm sure, with comedy duo Max and Ivan assembling a bunch of pro wrestlers and comedians to fling themselves at eachother for 90 minutes. Some of them knew what they were doing, and it was pretty exhilarating, then by contrast there was genuine panic in the air when Patrick Monahan climbed up to attempt a show-stopping body slam. Brendon Bruns and Andrew Maxwell were immaculate as the commentators, as was Matthew Crosby as the clipboard-wielding prefect-y roving reporter. Quite rightly won Fringe Panel Prize. The Wrestling also stood out given that Invisible Dot, which has provided the Fringe's refreshingly original stunts in recent years, focused more on shows this year. BOOOORIIIING!
Facts and figures
At the business end of things, ticket sales were up about 2.5% this year, with an estimated 1,877,119 tickets issued compared with 1,829,931 in 2010 (not including free non-ticketed events).
There was also an increase in show at the Fringe 2011, with 41,689 performances of 2,542 shows (Fringe 2010: 40,254 performances of 2,453 shows, and Fringe 2009: 34,265 performances of 2,098 shows.) And 607 shows at the Fringe in 2011 were free, compared with 558 in 2010.
That's all for now with this year's Edinburgh coverage, except for the Behind the Fringe backstage picture gallery, which will have more photos added to it over the next few days.