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How to Be a Critic and Not a Twat

18/08/2013 20:18 BST | Updated 16/10/2013 10:12 BST

This week I find myself with something in common with Ed Miliband - we've both had people throw their groceries at us. The other day at 3pm people were throwing tomatoes at my face, well not my actual face, a photograph, but the principle's the same. When asked to supply a photo of myself for Peter Michael Marino and other disgruntled acts (or ones that just like throwing) to chuck missiles at on the Meadows I thought yeah why not? Well you would wouldn't you?

It's probably not the worse feedback I've received about one of my reviews. One woman posting on a comedian's website charmingly suggested that the reason I'd deigned to give him a 3 star review is that I hadn't got 'ma hole' that week. (She means 'sex' for those not fluent in Scottish though it doesn't even make much sense, surely for a hetero woman, it would be 'cock' but hey ho.)

I think generally there should be more consideration amongst some reviewers that you are, in fact, reviewing a human being, I don't mean that you have to only write nice things, of course you've got to say when you think something doesn't work but you don't have to be a dick about it.

My policy is to never say anything you wouldn't be prepared to say to someone's face. Though if you're perfectly prepared to stand on the Royal Mile call them a twat and tell them to fuck off well be my guest. Or suggest that they hadn't had their 'hole' that week mebbe too.

I'm not a big fan of the star ratings system, having to stick a number on every show you see. And for the record three's a good show in my book. Just not a fantastic one. Or a potentially fantastic one with a number of flaws. But give a comedian a three star and what the hell can they do with that star rating? Still I'm pleased when I spot that they've got a decent quote out of it.

That said, getting a quote out of a three, or even two, star review is fair enough but a one star? In a review of a show that was sadly a bit of a car crash my only real positive note was the enthusiasm of the performers and I noted that they looked like they were having 'a whale of a time'. So the quote on the poster when they returned the following year? You guessed it, 'a whale of a time.' Well you've got to hand to them for the audacity.

People question the role of the critic in the digital age. Surely everyone's a critic? Well yes everyone is entitled to an opinion about something and your average intelligent and sentient human being who can string a sentence together could probably write a decent enough review. However If you've seen a lot of comedy it makes such a massive difference. That's why publications that use new critics can be so inconsistent. When you've only reviewed a handful of shows your review is never going to be as well informed as the one written by the likes of Steve Bennett of Chortle who usually breaks the 3 figure mark in the amount of shows he sees each Fringe, or Fringe legend Kate Copstick. John Fleming blogs about comedy but he's no ordinary blogger who's seen a few Fringe shows, he's been on the comedy scene since the birth of alternative comedy and has 'been there, done that' several times over. The first time I came to Edinburgh to review I'd already been watching and writing about comedy for four years. A seasoned critic will spot a show that's simply a parody of another act, spot the nuances in a performance or writing.

Gauging an audience is a skill too. Just because you saw a show on a Tuesday afternoon where the audience is quiet doesn't mean it's a bad show or because you saw it when it was full of lubricated people well up for laugh the show may be a lot of fun but critically speaking it might lack depth or innovation, which is fine if that's working but might mean it's a good, three star, show rather than a five.

Inexperience can lead to bad behaviour amongst critics too. I don't understand the egotist that sits in the middle of the front row nosily turning the pages of their massive notepad.

One member of comedy troupe Dutch Elm Conservatoire once told me that a competition panel judge did just that one year and was holding the drink that sponsored it for all to see.

Displaying all the signs of being a reviewer sat in a prominent position in the room and looking mightily pissed off is pretty rude if you ask me.

Don't get me wrong, it was a joy the first time I saw my name in print and I still get a buzz when someone uses one of my quotes but really you can take self-importance too far...

Every year there's at least one newbie critic intent on making a name for themselves by being as vicious as they can. It's a rookie error that you have to be nasty to write an entertaining review. You can put together a readable and, dare I say it, witty response without tearing someone apart.

It has to be said that enthusiasm can wane a little when you're here for the full month and you've seen and placed a star rating on fifty shows. But every show is different and deserves the attention and respect (until proved otherwise...) you paid to the first one. Though I do worry about some reviewers' attitude to reviewing. At the beginning of the Fringe I over-heard a conversation in a café full of performers where a reluctant writer was bemoaning having agreed to review some shows 'wish I'd never done it now, I can't be bothered.' That's the spirit...