As the more foolish among us head up to the Edinburgh Fringe this week, I've been contemplating that age-old question; what is the Spirit of the Fringe? Perhaps a good starting point is to look at the past winners of the Panel Prize (often informally referred to as "the Spirit of the Fringe award"). It's a bit all over the place; in the first couple of years it went to exciting genre-defying shows. More recently though it seems to have gone to wildly popular genre-defining comedy shows.
The very talented Bo Burnham picked it up in 2010. I'm not entirely sure the reasoning behind awarding it to a young superstar American who was already signed up to be in movies and had a huge fan base. He'll clearly go on to do great things; perhaps giving him an award was a way of making sure he remembered the little ol' Fringe when he's working in Hollywood?
Last year the astonishingly talented Boy With Tape On His Face scooped the prize, under the justification that he had made his way up from street performer to theatre filler. Though I did hear some vicious rumour going about, that the real reason for the award was that the Boy's management, outraged to learn that he was no longer eligible for the main Comedy Award due to being in too big a venue, harangued the awards committee until they agreed to give him the Panel prize. The silent clown with the deafening management.
Thanks god for the Wrestling in 2011, otherwise who knows what would've happened. There is always the option of a cop out award, like in 2008 when in an act of desperation the award went to me! By which I mean it went to "every comedian on the Fringe for making it happen". I find it hard to believe there was nothing at all worthy of special mention. If there isn't one big special thing worthy of a prize then why not give out five awards to lesser-known things? The ideal award gives recognition to something that goes above and beyond, but would otherwise have gone relatively unnoticed.
There are so many quirky little things deserving of recognition, not because they are big ticket sellers or wildly popular, but because they are uniquely Fringe. Barry Ferns is making a tradition of doing a gig on top of Arthurs Seat (not just once as a publicity stunt, but EVERY DAY)! There have been shows in Edinburgh's world famous Fudge Shop and just about every other venue imaginable. Every year there are children's shows and dance shows (which I haven't been to see) that ensure the Fringe is accessible to everyone regardless of age or language, I'm sure at least one of them deserves a little award recognition. Or you could give an award to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee award, thus incentivising people to set up more awards. Or give it to the Gorilla and his rocking chair.
Is it really necessary to attach £5000 to the Panel Prize? I'd get rid of the money, I can't help but suspect it corrupts the process. Or make the exact amount decided by the panel for each award. And if they don't award all 5 grand give whatever remains to those people selling their art out on the street, rain or shine.
I worry that if the Panel Prize does happen to keep being given to acts with the most proficient management, then the award is not in the spirit of the Fringe. This was founded as an open festival where people can put on any kind of show they like. Do we really want a rigidly controlled inner circle that obsesses over working out who can be declared outright "winner" of the Fringe?
These articles have a proud tradition of unsubtle self-promotion, so I should probably make my ulterior motive clear. I am not suggesting that anything I have done, or ever will do, should win a "spirit of the Fringe" award. I certainly try to do my fair share of ludicrous things, like my publicity stunt of offering to give £3520 to 352 people, which is possibly just a subtle satire of how much money performers must throw at the Fringe (not that I'd want to discourage you from claiming).
I am also not trying to shamelessly promote my comedy, even thought I am performing my mildly anticipated second hour of comedy. No, I'm trying to shamelessly promote my political career! Because despite often doing poorly thought out things that irritate people, I am serious about getting elected as one of the Directors of the Fringe. I'm sure most of you reading, if we sat down and talked at length, would find our opinions on most aspects of the Fringe to be very similar. Unfortunately these opinions are under represented on the board, so that's why I'm getting involved.
FOOTNOTE: Some people seem to believe that I'm corruptly offering £10 to 352 people in the hope that they will use the £10 to buy membership to the Fringe Society so that they are allowed to vote for me in this election I speak of. That is not that case! If I wanted to do that then I wouldn't have created such a stringent claims process. Also, why on earth would I buy votes? I am the voice of the people; I have no financial ties to the Fringe and purely altruistic motives. Unless there is a major vote rigging scandal then I will be elected, because I have the support of the people. I assume.