Opinion: How Many Previews Does A Comedian Need?

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

Before the Edinburgh Fringe Festival started officially on August 1 I couldn’t help noticing how many previews there were in London. There seemed to be more than ever before, with some acts seeming to do previews all over the city at every opportunity. I interviewed Sara Pascoe in June and she mentioned that from July she would be doing nightly warm-ups.

So I was surprised when I received a text from Bridget Christie’s publicist earlier today asking me if I would come to review the show a little later in the run. I had originally arranged to come in for her third show on August 4. She now wanted press to come from August 6 – her fifth show in Edinburgh, her sixth since Saturday if you include an evening show in Glasgow on August 4.

It is entirely within Christie’s right to do this if she doesn't feel her show is ready and she wants to change it around. West End plays move press nights if not everything is ready all the time. But in the comedy cauldron of the Edinburgh Fringe this does not feel fair. 

Christie is in a particularly special position. She won the Foster’s Award last year and you can only win it once, so she is not in competition to win it again. I presume she wants her reviews to be as positive as possible, even if she doesn’t read them. And she is lucky that because she has been so feted by judges and press over the last year she can do this. They will still come, even if it means crossing someone else off their Aug 6 reviews list.

By contrast other performers felt compelled to invite press in from their very first previews last Wednesday when they were a long way from being perfect, just to stand a fighting chance of getting a review. In the past I’ve even reviewed shows in preview in London before they come up to Edinburgh, such is the desire to get an early buzz going.

As I said, Christie doesn’t need to worry about attracting press like other acts as they will come anyway, which means she has more time to hone her act at The Stand. This is despite having done probably more previews in London than almost any other act, including a work-in-progress residency at the Soho Theatre.

The problem of previews runs deeper. Back in London before the festival there seems to be something of a two-tier system evolving. The big acts had so many preview spots in small clubs this made it tougher for other comedians further down the food chain to get as much stage time to develop their Fringe set. 

Before the festival a comedian told me that because he was having difficulty getting one hour preview slots this meant that he put together his show differently. Instead of having a theme and a narrative arc – the sort of thing Foster’s judges tend to adore – his show was more likely to end up as a combination of shorter successful club routines joined together. It would still be a very funny set, but probably not the sort of thing that is looked upon favourably by chin-stroking prize-giving panellists. 

In the light of these pre-Edinburgh issues Christie’s decision to postpone reviewers feels wrong. I’m sure her show will be great. It was great a few weeks ago from what I’d heard. She can do what she likes of course. A lot of comedians say that their show improves over the month in Edinburgh. Maybe Christie should wait a bit longer and invite press in on August 25.


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