August 2022 was my Edinburgh debut and it went pretty well. It was the first time in my life there was peace, a feeling like I was doing what I was meant to be doing. Things worked and I made good money.
Realistic goals. I am a shit for setting lofty goals and not appreciating my success. Getting ahead of this will be the best thing you can do. No reviewers came to my shows and I didn't get nominated for Best Newcomer- booooo. I did feel a little sad about that. But I also sold out my run by focussing on the performances and the people.
I set myself 2 goals for each day: more than 3 people in the room and after that have fun. The lowest I ever had in was 4, and I did have fun. I win.
There is no shame or scam in tactics. I made A LOT of tactical choices, and I also had a lot of really meaningful interactions. I wanted those meaningful interactions, I want those relationships.
I HAVE AN AGENT
My agent Susanna Clark did all the organising in advance because I am insane. I'm incredibly indebted to her. That said, we mainly filled the forms in together and it was more to make me sit down, do them, and not sell myself short. You can do that. I could do that, with enough coffee and sensory deprivation. Grab a friend or other comic who believes in you. Sell it baby.
That said, I am a queer, mentally ill comedian from a council estate. I have no drama school or funding backing me up. I earned the money through tiny savings from work over 2 years and making impossible choices with food and bills and whatnot. I would look at that £1000 in my bank account as I skipped dinner in the final lockdown when all help had run out.
COST BREAKDOWN (OUT)
The run was self-funded, I spent approx £1000 in total, but over 2 years because of the pandemic. Susanna paid for a £100 poster for me, and I paid her back when I got the presales for tickets.
£270 Early bird registration
£100 Laughing Horse Venue Fee
£100 flyers and posters. I postered the inside of my venue and a few other places but without the columns on the mile, I ended up with a load of posters I could have sold or signed. I got a deal on Festival Print that Laughing Horse emailed to me.
£100 trains, because I booked the wrong day home like a moron and couldn't get a refund. This is why I need Susanna. It should have been £60. Railcard, book in advance, SplitSave, be from Nottingham in 2022. I just seem to have luck with trains.
I'm not including food.
COST BREAKDOWN (IN)
YOU NEED A CARD MACHINE HOLY SHIT. I use SumUp, it's tiny and quick to set up.
I made £80-£150 a day, with the average being about £100 between card and cash. Most of the cash I made went on food (Mosque Kitchen) and shows, because I was bank account broke and didn't make as much home food as I wanted. I still came home with about £250 in cash.
The card machine money takes a few days to a week to come through, so most of that came through post fringe.
Then I'd completely forgotten about the prebooks, which came through in September time. I never counted it all up because I have a day job now and my taxes are someone else's problem.
But in total I made about £1250-£1300 in my estimation.
My friend and comrade Leslie Ewing-Burgesse is a Fringe veteran and got me into a cheap and really nice room in an 8-bedroom uni accommodation flat. Double bed, kitchen, ensuite, 20 mins bus outside town or about 30 mins walk. £40 a night. Bargain. Buddy up with your pals is going to be a recurring theme for this blog post but it's a lifesaver.
BRING YOUR OWN MUG. 8 mugs for 8 rooms won't work if people don't do their dishes, which they won't consistently because Fringe is stressful and I totally get it. But I arrived late and was morning-cup-of-tea-less for most of my run. Bring a mug.
Go small, prioritise location.
For a budget, choose a free fringe, obviously. PBH says to only apply to one, ignore this. I applied to PBH in 2019 and didn't get a venue, in 2020 I applied for both and got in with Laughing Horse. They held my place for 2 years for covid, the angels. I have met and gigged with PBH himself and I get lots of gigs from Chris O'Neill from PBH who is a sweetheart and I love working with him. I have no preference for free fringes whatsoever.
Get the smallest room you can. Selling out is a wonderful bridge you can cross when you get to it- you can look to the runaway success of Jordan Gray for that. She had extra 450-seater venue shows, plural, that were arranged to cope with demand and went on to sell out. More space isn't the issue. I sold out a show in my Edinburgh run, which was easy because my room was 30-capacity. Remember my goal of 3? 3's a crowd as the saying goes, and 3 feels much better in a box room than in a big theatre.
I got into the Counting House which was a lifesaver even without the Edinburgh Fringe App. I'm thanking my wonderful agent Susanna Clark for sorting this. Close enough to the big venues for 'What's On Near Me?' on the website, even if it only worked on iPhones. I know I got loads of people from that. The Counting House also has some prestige as a destination venue, with so many shows and such a lovely atmosphere. People have heard of it, which means a lot even if you're in their tiniest attic.
I was on at 12 midday. What fucking time is that? Most Edinburgh people are barely out of bed at that time, right?! Apparently not. I always had people in who were in town and my only competition was compilation shows and lunch. I had so many people taking a punt because I was the only thing on. I also was the first on the bill and I fucking love props, for my sins. I had as much set-up time as I wanted, so I got there at 11ish and set up, then had half an hour to cool my nerves and flyer. The worst thing with an early show is it makes flyering beforehand challenging. I think it only ever got 1 couple in during my run. Eventually, I'd just do 10 minutes of flyering for good luck and to get me in the mood- and also to see the Fashion Spy's cast who were always flyering opposite me or joining in with the roving acapella troupe that walked by at 11:43 on the dot. I had fun and made friends. Flyering sucks, always have fun and make friends. The best thing with an early show though was that my show was out of the way early. I'd do my afternoon flyering and feeder gigs, but ultimately it meant my days were fun and free-ish of anxiety. My mornings were quiet: make-up, breakfast, bus, set-up, flyering, show. Any social thinking or plans were afterwards. It was very freeing for an anxious and paranoid creature like myself.
Summerise your show in 5 words or less, with easy reference points.
I learned this flyering for my inimitable friend Ben MacPherson, writer, improviser, director, and a gazillion other things. His 2017 show was The Fall of Byron Montrose: Poet. Gentleman. Lover, a filthy, pun-filled historical character show. His micro pitch was "Milton Jones meets Blackadder".
These were simple and instantly recognisable to the target audience. Ben's show was hugely unique and original, but you want familiarity in your micropitch.
Focus on tone rather than content. I am more compelled by how something will make me feel than the content or plot- even if it is a unique concept. I know others don't feel that way, but you're reading my blog.
Mine was "Vic and Bob meets Nanette/Hannah Gadsby". They are the two most opposite influences on my work- very silly, surreal characters and deeply personal, powerful anecdotal storytelling. That conflict is also good. Both acts are slightly more niche and the combo has a "how does she make THAT work?" effect.
Flyer every day. Given the early hour of my show, I didn't flyer much beforehand, but I did the afternoons, feeding into the next day.
On the Royal Mile, find a sweet spot near the street performers. Their large crowds bottle-neck traffic. Working in the open is a lesser hit rate as people will rightly avoid you. Do not take this personally, especially if you've ever refused a flyer. People are getting on with their lives, let them. In previous years working as a flyerer I would hide behind one of the big poster columns near the bank so people couldn't move to avoid me, and I surprised them with a grin and a flourish of A5 card. It worked.
Another bonus of working near the street performer is you can watch them if it's grinding you down. I also enjoy the company, it feels like we're part of the ecosystem together, almost like that alone around people feel. Also, performatively watching the street performer, joining in with genuine enthusiasm, and then remembering to flyer is cute and endearing. Don't pull this gimmick too much, don't be fake. I deeply love clown and acrobatics and all these incredible feats. I'm so into them, genuinely. We're looking for the vibe of joking around with a colleague behind the tills and then remembering you've got to serve customers. It's a nice atmosphere. Pay the performer after they're done. You've used their performance, it's only fair. It's also good luck, especially if your show is PWYW. Keep that circle moving. I remember my partner looking horrified when I finished a flyering session and put a tenner in a performer's hat "You worked so hard for that tenner and you gave it away". The performer had stuck swords down his throat balancing on a cobbled hill on a unicycle/ladder combo and blocked the street almost entirely- I'd pay £10 to see that act in a venue and get no flyering done at all, so when you think about it I was still in net profit.
If I'm flyering someone, I look them in the eye, say my micro-pitch, and smile. If they smile and take it, I will generally compliment something specific about that person. I do this on tills at work all the time. If someone has good hair or a tastefully colour-blocked outfit or earrings with real ferns in glass or an Iron Maiden shirt or anything purple. These are real people I flyered 6 months ago, who came to my show, and I remember them. Because of my unique look and incidental-to-my-comedy make-up skills, I receive compliments all the time, and I got used to giving them back. Go for something that is a specific creative choice someone has made, nothing sexual or creepy.
You can judge people's appearances. You're allowed. I snapped up any goth I could find, chasing them down and bee-lining across roads with oncoming traffic. But my best audience members are people I wouldn't have necessarily picked out of a line-up. Be open as well as specific. Quality control without gatekeeping. This is part of those micro-interactions when flyering. You'll get a vibe for those people. You're not desperate, you're sharing. You're allowed to pick who you share with.
I work in retail, which is a lifesaver for flyering. If someone doesn't take my flyer, years of handselling in shops gives me the faith that someone else will come along, eventually. I'm good at hand-selling stuff I think is good if I'm allowed to be honest and a little cheeky. It's the same skillset and I recommend it. I remember in my first retail job being terrified when told to approach somebody who was obviously interested in a phone in the glass cabinet. I don't know how I would have flyered without those years of customer interaction training.
This isn't some superficial, Dale Carnegie shit. I'm part of that alternative comedy nerdy crowd making stuff for me, for them. I'm genuinely happy to meet them all. It's because I want them to see my show for sure, but because I think we'll have a great time together, and I'll generally get along with people who like my work and I'm a social person at heart.
Keep to the zones. Flyering on The Mile or the like is acceptable as it's part of the social contract. If people walk down there, they know they'll be flyered. Being seen isn't enough to turn a flyer-ed person into an audience member- they need to like you. Being forceful or annoying will get flyers out but it won't get bums on seats. Sometimes you will be annoying, or sometimes you won't approach enough because you're worried about being forceful. These are both things you'll get an instinct for. You're not pulling fast ones, these are invitations. Respect your audience.
FIND YOUR PEOPLE - COMEDY
I'm an alternative comedian. I am, even though I'm pretty fucking good at mainstream clubs I don't shine as bright as when I'm held by a group of similar weirdos. This is a weakness on my home turf, there's a relatively small comedy scene and no alternative home in the midlands, as far as I can gather.
BUT. At Fringe, the alternative comedy fanbase is strong and very interconnected- less nebulous than mainstream comedy fans. People are more willing to take a punt on something they like the sound of if it is part of that subculture.
What I consider my 3 home gigs are: XS Malarkey (Manchester), Blizzard Comedy (Manchester), and the Troy Club (London). These rotate as my favourites and are my people. I know audiences are the best for me. Others include ACMS (London), Quantum Leopard (London), and Valhalla of Decadence (Leeds). From these, I get contacts, exposure to my people, and I also get a good look at the audiences. A wishlist.
Blizzard did a lot of online stuff during the pandemic and still do. I've made friends with them and because it's online, I've met a lot of comics and had a lot of exposure from them. I got a spot at Quantum Leopard without applying because of Blizzard. I put them on my flyers, even though they're not a big club or massive online presence because I wanted their fans. Also, they say very nice things about me. <3
Doing ACMS (Alternative Comedy Memorial Society) was huge. I'd been trying to get onto that gig for nearly 5 years. I did Just the Tonic before that 7-minute insane asylum. The club changed hands and locations and there was a pandemic and I nagged them, I had my friends nag them, I cold Whatsapped Thom Tuck because I couldn't find his email but someone gave me his number. ACMS is an Edinburgh institution, it was the place for me to be. I squealed when I was offered my spot. Find your genre of comedy's cult Edinbrugh home, and do it. If you're musical do the big fun musical gig, if you're filthy do Shaggers, get those big influential names. The shows you love to see will probably have your audience.
I did ACMS 2-3 days into my run on a Sunday. This was tactical. I was settled in and the weekend was over. It's a midnight-3am gig, no one was coming to my midday show on Monday. But they kept me going for the rest of the week with a steady trickle of weirdos. I did the gig, and then I chatted with every act, I wasn't staying to the end at 3am because I had a fucking midday show but in the break, you BET I personally flyered every audience member in that room, some multiple times. I made some follow me on social media in front of me. After gigs now I have a mailing list available and ask people to sign up on their way out- there's no shame, you're only asking. They can say no, and you love them all the same. If you've killed a room, eat it's copse. You earned it. And besides, you're using every part of the animal it's respectful etc. etc. etc. I'll talk about flyering a bit more in the Bums on Seats section. When the Fringe was over and I was doing XS Malarkey, someone in that room in Manchester, who lives in Cornwall, had seen me that night at ACMS in Edinburgh. The alternative comedy fandom stretched out far and wide, but that is what makes the concentration of Edinburgh even more powerful. Luxuriate in the density of comedy nerds and grab them close while they're at hand.
I used my Comedy Family. Andrew O'Neill was my favourite comedian as a teenager and we've been friends for nearly a decade now, I think. They have always supported my work, giving me advice and kicks up the arse, tour support and good-mouthing me about the place. I love them. We also have similar styles, since they were the main influence for a while. It was going to happen. I used to shame myself for that, but now my influences have diversified and I've got in touch with my own artist enough to own that as a genre thing. Andrew offered to me to flyer outside their venue every day at the end of their show, and they put me on their Top 10 Shows To See publically, but hosted on their Patreon- directly to the fans who loved Andrew's work the most. I think in the past I would have sought to distance myself and get out of that shadow. But I had tickets to sell, and I knew my show was my own. I accepted their help. I didn't miss a day of flyering at their venue: 60-150 flyers into the hands of my target audience within 10 minutes. If you have famous friends in the industry whose stuff is similar to yours, ask if you can flyer their audience as they leave. Sometimes Andrew would shout me out, tell the audience my show was wicked and incredible. Sometimes they wouldn't. It's their show, I'm not entitled to that space. I'm grateful for my spot holding the door open on the way out, handing out flyers with "One of Andrew's Top 10 Picks of the Fringe!".
On a similar vein, I made a friend of Wil Hodgeson this year which rules. I've been an admirer of his work since I was a teenager, and I'm surprised how easily I've accepted him as my non-binary comedy uncle. I saw his show on my second to last day and he'd been shouting out my show at the end of his. He's a sweetheart. And when he shouted me out, I flyered his audience on the way out. Always have flyers in your pocket. I did apologise to the Just the Tonic staff, but they didn't give a shit, they know how the fringe economy works.
I did Dark Room. This is a big Susanna one. Cerys Bradley is in my same agency family, and they'd been on Dark Room- they told me at Comedians Night Off. I've been a fan of Dark Room for years, and I want that crowd. I demanded with the brattishness of a Hollywood starlet "Susanna you NEED to get me on Dark Room". Veruca Salt couldn't have kicked up such a stink. I did dm John Robertson on Twitter but got no reply, but given his large online presence, I imagine his dms are very busy and/or silenced. We've since interacted on insta which is lovely. My agent sorted it with his agent. I was onstage for half the show, pitched my show, and then he literally launched me into the crowd. I'm not saying that being crowd surfed by a sweaty Australian made my run, but it is a tactic worth exploring. I nearly fell headfirst, the group of friends that pulled me back up when my face was 6 inches from the floor came to see my show the next day and sold that fucker out. Find Your People. Again, I exit flyered, I chatted with people in the queue to take a photo with John gushing about how good the show is, building relationships with people. Got my photo with John and thanked him in person. Find your people.
FIND YOUR PEOPLE - OTHER STUFF
What niche groups are you in? Are you gay, Christian, Millenial, Muslim, Gen-Z, Jewish, Irish, goth, Black, Indian, a metalhead, working-class, trans, into gaming? Do you like cinema, cycling, minimalism, yoga, or astrophysics? Do you make jokes about science or dogs or the weather?
There WILL be a compilation show for this. Do it.
Make your poster reflect it. I am blessed to be one of about 10 goths in comedy, and the only one with my specific look. I had people come to see my show because of my big fucking gothic poster. I saw a man in an Iron Maiden shirt and decided not to flyer him because he wasn't in the popular flyering areas and it wasn't fair game. He actually was on the way to my show already, which has Iron Maiden jokes in it, because the poster looked metal as hell. Creatively I'm more than a goth comedian, but they can find that out when they come.
KEEP YOUR PEOPLE
Andrew O'Neill has drinks with fans after their shows. This was amazing to me as a teenager. I would bumble through sentences, starstruck, watching casual conversations. I made myself hyper-available after shows, drinking* with people most days. With the content of my show as it was, I ended up having conversations about people's suicide attempts most days. We saw each other and it was beautiful and easy. They will probably come to see my shows again, which is great because I love them and want them there. We're sharing drinks and stories and art. I really believe in it. *not always alcoholic drinks, it was lunchtime.
I wish I'd asked people to sign my mailing list after the shows. I made them follow me on social media but that's not enough. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES.
Much of my philosophy came from my several re-reads of The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, my favourite musician who has a solely crowdfunded practice and a unique relationship with her fans. I recommend this book beyond anything else.