And now, our final stop in this series is 2019.
Last year was my first Fringe since 2011 where I was without a full-time job, as I left that at the end of July. Despite taking my Fringe runs as holiday for the three years preceding – and revelling in the freedom that brought – I still had to kind of be ‘on call’ if anything went wrong and couldn’t properly switch off. I didn’t miss that, but I did definitely miss the pay slip at the end of the month.
For accommodation, I was staying with a local down in Newhaven. It was right on the coast, so I would regularly go out and sit on the edge of the harbour and gaze out across the water to escape the Fringe madness. I paid £600 for the month and was only sharing with one other person. The website I used proved a great source for bargains. One of the things I am most disappointed in missing out on this year is that I’d already booked a room for about the same amount and it had an en suite. That would be an unheard of luxury.
After a turbulent Fringe in 2018, I just wanted to have some fun in 2019. My other aim was to get through the Fringe without any persistent bowel issues. I wasn’t going to be doing a new show, just HTWAPQ; although I would have a new theme and writing new material for it.
My original plan was to make it the European Edition, but I semi-bottled it. I thought people would be sick of hearing about Brexit after three years, plus I tried writing some material about Europe and it turned out that there was far too much to cover in an hour. But then far better educated people than me have also struggled to come up with anything on Europe in four years.
I also considered making it the Space Edition, but didn’t know if there was enough I could do with that – despite space being infinite. So I picked another option and went for the British Edition. It wasn’t the most inspiring choice, but most of the new material worked and it did give me a chance to finally use Queen in my music round.
This was for the midday show at Stand 2. I was also doing a late-night show at Stand 1. Nine years after first visiting The Stand to see Stewart Lee and thinking how much I’d love to do a show there one day, that’s just what I was doing. I may have used a cheat code with my gimmick, but it was still happening.
I initially asked if I could do one show in Stand 1, but was then offered seven shows there for the first week and a bit. I was in two minds about accepting, because I was concerned it could split my audience. In the end, I decided that it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. Very few get such an opportunity, especially with as low a profile as I have.
So for the first week and a bit, I was doing HTWAPQ shows at midday, then again at 11.40pm and finishing just after 1am. It was a ridiculous routine, but I’m definitely glad I did it as it was a totally new Edinburgh experience.
I wanted to test myself and see if I could scale the show up for a bigger room. And on the couple of nights when I was approaching 80, it was a wonderful thing. In fact, there was only one night that was a struggle with a few arseholes in attendance who kept chatting amongst themselves, but I got through it.
Unfortunately, my hunch about ticket sales was right. The midday show sold much stronger than the late night one.
For the late-night show, I didn’t go any lower than 20 people, which I would have been delighted with in the 2014 run. But when the room can seat 140, I really needed a few dozen more. I ended up losing about £100 from doing these late shows, which is still not a bad loss at a festival where many the losses made by many acts run comfortably into the thousands. And I made up for it with ticket sales from midday. Nevertheless, it still stings.
On the days I did double shows, there was a noticeable split in ticket sales. I had my lowest ever HTWAPQ midday audience in Edinburgh one day with 28. But if you added the 20 people who attended the late-night show, then I would have been close to selling out the 50 seater.
Once I’d finish the late-night run, ticket sales picked up noticeably for the remainder of the run. But that first week meant that I would miss out on another official sold-out Jpeg by 4%. It seems ridiculous to think of selling 91% of tickets as being a less successful Fringe, so I will now make a point of slapping myself in the face whenever I do this.
Apart from the odd flat day and arsey audience review (singular), the shows were good fun. I even managed to keep the show going during a power cut.
For me, Edinburgh Fringe was never meant to be about ticket sales. But I’ve just realised that it’s become that way. It was meant to be about trying out different ideas, experimenting, and creating something that’s hopefully fun and interesting. Success, and trying to cling onto that, kind of got in the way. Still, I consider myself incredibly lucky all the same.
If I was to never do another Edinburgh Fringe again, I could retire pretty satisfied with what I’ve achieved there. Three official sold-out runs isn’t a bad accomplishment at all.
I will return there, hopefully next year with a totally new show. I just need to write it first. And preview it multiple times. Oh, and the festival will need to be running too.