The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a festival unlike any other. The 65-year-old whirlwind event lasts the entire month of August and is essentially a free-for-all: interested performers merely have to book their own venue, travel, and accommodation, then show up, self-promote like mad, and pray you get butts in seats. It requires stamina, hustle, and an open and adaptive mind.
Not only are there music, theater, literature, film, cabaret, visual arts and street performance components competing for audiences, this year there are also 996 comedy works from all over the world. Here seven Los Angeles comedians discuss how they're faring, how the audiences are different in the U.K., and some of their most memorable Fringe moments.
Paul Provenza, comic and producer: I've come almost every year since my first time in 2001. I've done my own solo shows, I've produced other artists' shows, I've played parts in friends' shows -- anything interesting that I could do here and fit into my schedule, I did. A couple of years I came with no solo show of my own, and just did late night stand-up spots in the countless cool, odd late night shows that happen here. (SPANK! - You love it! is a favorite, by the way.) Interestingly, those particular years were the only years I actually made money at the Fringe.
I've grown to think of the Fringe as a place to develop ideas I've been toying with and felt might become something interesting to do. I developed The Green Room here, and after a couple of years of feeling it out and tinkering with the format over 28 audiences in a row each year, I worked out what was interesting in it, and eventually even worked out possibilities of the format for television.
We are doing the same thing with Troy Conrad's genius format, Set List [which gives comics a list of topics to riff on right before they go onstage]. We've introduced this amazing show to the international comedy world here, and continue tweaking and playing with it all Fringe long, giving more comedians an opportunity to experience it and fall in love with it. Doing both The Green Room and Set List at the Fringe also gave other international festivals a chance to discover those shows, and invite them both all around the globe.
Troy Conrad, creator and co-producer of The Set List: We've just come off shooting most of the episodes for The Set List TV series on Sky Atlantic, and ran the show earlier this year at festivals in Melbourne, Sydney, Chicago, and Montreal, so Paul Provenza and I worked on writing creative topics for the comics on the show and fine-tuned what we give the performers on their "set list." Doing these other festivals let us evolve and develop the show along with co-executive producer Barbara Romen. We came into this one ahead of the game in terms of preparation.
Greg Proops, performing his self-titled show and hosting his The Smartest Man in the World podcast at the Fringe: Over the decades I have performed at the Fringe a thousand or more times. My first year, in '93, a man had a heart attack at my show. He was huge and just keeled over with a loud thump. He was carried out by paramedics and the show resumed. I said, "It would have been awful if he died, but what a great story." Because he was British he wrote me an apology for having a heart attack at my show. I comped him in later in the run. He lived. Last year I just did improv, The Set List and my podcast -- where to my delight Scottish people brought up Satchel Paige because I speak of him on the show.
Kumail Nanjiani, who has a self-titled show at the Fringe, and co-hosts The Meltdown at Nerdist Theater: Unfortunately I had been busy with other projects, so I had been unable to really perform too much in order to prepare for this run. But I have been doing stand up for 10 years, so in a way I've been preparing for it for 10 years I guess.
Rick Shapiro, performing Rebirth at the Fringe: I am lucky because my show varies from night to night...so my prep was very, very different this year. Around me were people that never would have normally entered my life. I had trainers to help me get my legs back (60 days hospitalized and six weeks to get on a plane to Scotland). There was the "Princess Queen, best dancer ever" (self-titled), and Lance the All-American porterhouse, lock-stock-and-barrel athlete that were with me daily and then there was the yoga. Come on, if you have seen my face or my act, you know damn well I don't meditate and there is no serenity in my life. But they got me moving, and now I am here.
Provenza: This year we've brought over Eddie Pepitone, [San Francisco's] Will Franken and from The Aristocrats, Billy The Mime. All of them have been performers I've been working on getting to Fringe for a while, as I felt they would each find an appreciative audience that had never seen anything like any of them. Imagining them all sharing a flat is just a hilarious bonus.
Up next: Billy the Mime, and how U.K. audiences are different