The Edinburgh Fringe: What Is it For?

26/07/2012 14:11 BST | Updated 24/09/2012 10:12 BST

Every few months my mother will telephone me and inform me that my old school newsletter has arrived, this is a moment of great excitement for her. I don't know why exactly but I always honor her request to open it and set about telling me all the news.

Invariably I can barely remember the names of the individuals mentioned in the cavalcade of reports that come forth down the telephone. The one striking thing about all the reports is just how successful, married or generally grown my ex-classmates sound in comparison to me.

Imagine my surprise when last month I received a request via e-mail from my former school asking me to contribute an article to this publication about my career and The Edinburgh Fringe. I immediately e-mailed them back to say how delighted I would be and jokingly signed off with, "if I accidentally encourage anyone to enter a career in the arts please don't tell their parents where I live".

The reply that came back was truly heartwarming, it said that given the current economic climate and general state of the world the school were encouraging the pupils to go off and have a bit of fun before settling down and getting a proper career. At the age of 29 I had become the gap year poster child, this was quite a depressing thought. My immediate reaction was indignant and I thought "that's not what Edinburgh is for! It's for... Umm well I'm not sure exactly, but it's not for buggering about". I then realised that I didn't have a definitive answer to the question "What is it for?".

This question had been put to me many times, normally at family occasions when you are put under an undue amount of pressure to explain what you are doing with your life. I should have answered it years ago, unfortunately I have never been particularly good at answering direct questions. So I tend not to ask them of myself, and when others do, I tend to scrunch my face up and change the subject. I have been going to the Edinburgh Fringe for nine years so I think it's probably a good idea that I at least have a stab at it.

The first analogy that comes to mind is that of an X-Factor version of Saving Private Ryan. A mad and bloody talent contest that has no jury, where the weak are destroyed with ruthless efficiency and very few make it on to the beach. The sort of people who go on talent shows are very much looked down on by the people who put on shows in Edinburgh. If you think about it that doesn't really make much sense, these are people who believe they have some artistic talent to offer the word and so they go to a sports centre in Milton Keynes and join a queue for a couple of hours and at the end of it they get a review. They do all this without spending any money, or really putting themselves on the line very much and they have a fairly good chance of getting on television.

People with similar aspirations in Edinburgh have very little chance of getting on television, they have very little chance of getting reviewed, and it costs thousands of pounds. It's virtually impossible to earn your money back, none of the top acts at the festival this year will be whisked onto television or radio with any great speed and only a few will return with their sanity intact. But like bloodied prize fighters refusing to take the hint we will all be back next year.

That boxing metaphor leads quite nicely to analogy number two. Edinburgh is a training ground, it is the main focus of the year for most of the people that do it. It's the culmination of a huge amount of work and the experience of doing the fringe makes you a better performer. The training it offers is unique as there aren't any other opportunities to get the experience of doing 25 shows in a row in a competitive commercial environment.

It's also a great education. If you like drama and comedy you aren't particularly well catered for most of the time. I live in London, so I'm spoilt for choice when it comes to live comedy and theatre but where I grew up and where I went to University were a little different. The first trip I made up there shifted my aspirations quite significantly when I saw what these individuals and groups were achieving with the tool set offered them by live performance.

So what exactly is its purpose? To educate people about the arts, train them to be artists, helping them get famous, or just parting them with their money? I don't really know to be honest. It's too complicated because it's so many different things depending on which angle you are looking at it from. I told you I wasn't good at answering direct questions. It's for whatever you want it to be for and it's for whatever you want to do there. That's probably what's so good about it, and why it's become so massive. It doesn't have any rules or entry requirements and this August, regardless of any other spectacle taking place in Britain, Edinburgh will be the most interesting, exciting and entertaining place on the planet.

Can't say fairer than that can you? Good. See you there.