By Pearse James
Edinburgh. August. An ocean of culture floods the city and it’s easy to drown in its deep waters if not careful.
As a stand up fumbling his way around the comedy circuit like an anxious teenager in a bra shop, I was very glad of an island oasis appearing last year at The Beehive Inn on the Grassmarket. The debut of the Scottish Comedy Festival in 2012 firmly raised a flag up the comedy mast and gave a platform for established and up and coming acts, right in the heart of the city.
“Many terrific acts working primarily on the Scottish comedy circuit find that, come festival time in Edinburgh, they are pushed out of their own capital city by acts and promoters with bigger profiles and a bit of money behind them,” says Ben Verth; comedian, writer and organiser of the Scottish Comedy Festival.
Much like a Queen Bee, I never strayed too far from The Beehive last year – the wealth of acts on offer every day made it a real honey pot for comedy fans. “We ran twenty shows a day, in two rooms of sixty capacity, for twenty-six days,” explains Ben, “It was rare for us not to be rammed.”
From my days flyering for my short run show, I was buoyed at the constant flow of people willing to take a chance on an anonymous comic. Offering free entry helped. The blind faith that audience members would donate, relative to their enjoyment, into the ‘bucket of guilt’ at the end was liberating and put less pressure on both me and the attendees.
“Some of the shows we offer are free entry with a donation bucket at the end if you’ve enjoyed it, and some of the shows are paid entry – all in the £5 region, which is a pretty fair and reasonable price tag,” says Ben. “It’s a bridge between the ‘free’ elements of the Fringe and the ‘paid’ venues, though neither ‘free’ nor ‘paid’ are the main selling points of the SCF. It’s all about the comedians, their talents, and the meat and drink that are the shows.”
The bill of fayre is certainly tasty again this year, with some prime local Scottish comedy beef in the line up. You can expect solo shows, special one-off performances, sketch shows, podcasts, panel shows and raucous late night extravaganzas.
When I asked Ben why people should support the Festival, he quickly put me straight. “Comedy in Scotland has nowhere near the advertising money that promoters in London can fling about,” he says. “But just because there’s a lack of money to help promote an act doesn’t mean that what they are offering is not just as good. Don’t come along to support them and think you’re in for a so-so time. Most of the acts who took part last year and who are doing so again this year have many years of experience, have honed their craft and are cast-iron enjoyment guarantees. You just haven’t heard of them!”
So if you’re setting sail to the Fringe this summer (he said, trying desperately to call back the seafaring metaphor of the first paragraph) then drop your anchor (?) at The Beehive and scrape some comedy barnacles off your… oh Christ. This is getting ridiculous. Just go there. It’s very good.
The Scottish Comedy Festival runs from 1st-26th August
Ben Verth is performing at the Beehive 2 at 4pm. Follow Ben on Twitter @BenVerth
Pearse James performs ‘Comedy has the right to Children’, Beehive 1, Sunday to Thursday at 11pm. Follow Pearse on Twitter @PearseJames