Opinion: Are Comedy Critics The Enemy Of The People?

Are comedy critics the enemy of the people? Or to be more precise are comedy critics the enemy of the people performing at the Edinburgh Fringe?

There has always been an undercurrent of tension between critic and comedian but this year it already seems to have boiled over. Before the Fringe had barely started Paul Sinha had blogged about The Sotsman's Kate Copstick having a major hissy fit because The Sinnerman wouldn't let her review his first show. Then the i's Arts Editor Alice Jones had an exchange with Luisa Omielan over review tickets. After Jones said that shows should be ready for both press and public on the first Friday of the Fringe Omielan tweeted: "My show is ready, just based on previous, I don't trust you to review content sensitively."

Edinburgh is stressful for everyone. Performers are hoping for a break, which good reviews might help to facilitate. Critics are hoping to earn a living, maybe discover some new stars and enjoy some new shows in a world where budgets and space to cover the Fringe have been slashed dramatically in recent years.

Earlier today a comedian posted a comment on Facebook about a review that had said of a show: "comedy perhaps more for audiences than critics: it doesn’t push boundaries, blur fourth walls or anything like that". There was an immediate pile-on of comedians putting to boot into reviewers. Well at least that makes my life easier, that's half a dozen comics I can strike off my potential reviews list.

Just before Edinburgh started The Times' Dominic Maxwell did a little listicle of the all-time great comedians. There was a discussion among comics on social media disagreeing with his judgement. Mainly because he had missed out their favourite comics. The list was never going to please everyone but the opprobrium heaped on Maxwell felt way out of proportion. 

Maybe it was always like this, but nobody ever said it to my face. It's just that social media spreads opinions that are usually kept hidden or only muttered about to other comedians late at night in bars after a few drinks. What concerns me is that this mood seems to reflect the mood that is being created by Donald Trump. That journalists are not to be trusted, that they are either idiots or spread fake news. I have a recurring nightmare that one day at a rally Trump is going to work his supporters up into a lather and set them on the reporters at the rally and there could be a very nasty incident.

Back in Edinburgh I think comics are not quite as likely to behave like Trump voters or even say these things to critics' faces. But the fact that these opinions are all over social media is scary enough. This is a world where we both need other. Of course critics would be out of work if there were no performers, but if there were no critics would the good shows get noticed? (maybe but nowhere near as quickly). It is a funny old messed up world where on the one hand comics are telling critics they don't know how to review a show while on the other hand publicists are constantly texting critics asking them to review their acts. And for all the criticism of critics comedians don't mind posting their five star reviews on Facebook and don't mind sticking their stars onto their posters.

Sorry, I've got to go now, a PR is on the line asking me to review another show.



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