In 1996. I put on my first Edinburgh festival fringe show, 6pm Time to Get up For Work in a now defunct Firkin pub. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. My cam-padres in that post office-worker-drinking-hour-nightmare were Peter Buckley Hill and Paul B Edwards. Nearly twenty years later I found myself working with them on PBH's free "pay what you want on the way out" fringe. And again, it was the best of times it was the worst of times.
The first few days were rife with a sense of panic and dread. How could I possibly get an audience without my big face plastered all over the city? Standing with a bucket at the end of the show? How demoralising. Opening night was an unmitigated disaster. I rang my wife crying and she put the whole thing in perfect perspective for me, "Brendon, every year you write a fake bit about how humble you're being. What could be more humbling than standing by the door at the end and thanking every member of the audience for coming to see you?"
It is fair to say I've had every type of Edinburgh festival one can have. In an industry filled with debauchery and hammered arrogance, I've been late night's go to car crash. I've rebuilt, settled down, sobered up, gone mental, lost and (apparently) returned to form. Lost and made £20K in equal measure, been booed off and got standing ovations in (even more equal) equal measure.
But I've never had as much fun as I did on the free fringe last year. Opening night disaster notwithstanding, if one can stomach the lack of vanity (and that is actually an issue) it's simply perfect for a mid level performer like myself. For the first time in however long I can remember I looked forward to going to work every night. I didn't worry about numbers or reviews. Just me, a room, a mike and people that actually like me. What's more, absolutely no one was coerced into seeing me. This, for me, is where true artistic freedom lies. Without the worries of needing to write a hit that somehow chimes with whomever walked through my door, I could truly cut loose with people who share my sense of humour.
This year if I feel like dropping the stand up set and doing a podcast instead I can. Last year, along with a regular hour of stand up, I did guest shows, a wrestling stand up special, taped hours of content for online and even hosted a BBQ simply because I felt like it.
The latter will not be happening again by the way - as it turned out cooking for eighty people was not the "day off" I thought it would be.
To my fellow performers I say - imagine an Edinburgh festival where you never see a poster and wonder where yours is, where you don't hassle your PR or promoter for those precious extra five bums on seats.
Every year the question is asked, why are comedians willing to lose so much money on the fringe? The reason is staring you right in the face. It's to delude ourselves we're famous for a month. Our face is all over the city with endless quotes declaring our genius (Not judging, I've done it countless times and I'll do it again) And we pay for that privilege. Oh my lord do we pay.
Everyone wonders why there is such a massive come down for performers once the fest is done and it's because we return to our homes and it turns out we're not famous, no one calls us sir or asks us if we need anything and we owe 20 grand. It's terrible that I actually find that funny now but I do.
Because most of all, when no one pays to get in I have the right to kick people out. Last year If somebody sat with arms folded and an "impress me" face I merely reached into their pocket and stole the biggest note I could and said, "Now you can be a dick".
We are all whoring ourselves up here to some degree. Ironically, by performing on the free fringe, I've become a high end hooker - one that can choose my clientele.
And for me, for that reason, above all, the free fringe is priceless.
Brendon will be on the Free Fringe every night in August at the Liquid Annexe Rooms off the Cowgate
And you can also see him every night with @coltcabana @StandComedyClub
Brendon will also be embarking on another "secret venue" tour this winter. If have an odd venue in mind contact: email@example.com