"The largest arts festival in the world!" Pretty daunting, huh? If you've never been to the Edinburgh Festival before, it can seem quite overwhelming flicking through the Fringe brochure and deciding what to see. There are multiple approaches towards choosing a comedy show and a lot of the fun of the festival as a first time or returning Fringe-goer is customising your own approach towards discovering a show. However, if you're really stuck or don't have much time to research comedians, then these are a few ideas to help you choose a show.
Obviously, if you already have a favourite comedian or Fringe Favourite show then the edfringe.com directory will provide you with all the relevant ticket information and show details or the respective comedian's website. There's also a "Fringe App" that that you can download, which has the show directory as well as a venue map, which can be VERY helpful if you're not familiar with Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is often the most densely populated street in Edinburgh where most performers, promoters and producers congregate to flyer about their show. The Fringe Shop is also located on the Royal Mile where you can pick up a Fringe Programme for free as well as any other merchandise you might want to buy.
Depending on how long your trip is, it might be worth seeing a package show. Often performers in package shows will also be performing solo shows at the festival (either in a ticketed venue or a free venue) so a 10-15 minute set might be quite a good taster to help decide if you want to watch more. Most venues where you need to buy tickets offer their own package shows, however, lots of acts also compile their own package show - ranging from a double-hander (2 people on a bill) to 4 people on a bill, many of which are performed as free shows around Edinburgh. Some package shows have more than 4 performers and alternate which days each respective comedian will perform so if you're planning on seeing a specific performer, it's worth finding out if they've listed the bills in advance either on their own individual websites or the website of the organisation with which they're performing.
It's worth noting that although the term "The Free Fringe" is frequently used as if it is one entity, there are several organisations at The Fringe who organise free shows around Edinburgh - PBH's Free Fringe, Laughing Horse's Free Festival and a new organisation called La Favorita Freestival debuting this year. There's also Bob Slayer's 'Heroes of Fringe', which launched a new model last year whereby you can pay £5 in advance to see a particular show and be guaranteed a seat or alternatively turn up having paid nothing in advance and potentially not get a seat or even not get into the show at all!
There's a real mixture in terms of the style of comedy performed as well as the quality of free shows that you can see, some are excellent and might be some of the best shows you see at the festival, others might not be so much to your taste... but, the great thing about the Edinburgh Festival, and what people often refer to as the "spirit of the Fringe" is that you can stumble across a show, try something different, and embrace the opportunity to experience something you would never usually see. Lots of venues that host free comedy shows also turn into night clubs and music venues in the evening, so you could watch a show and hang out in the venue after.
Cost of Shows
The cost of seeing shows can get quite expensive so it's worth looking into 2-4-1 deals as well as cheaper ticket prices during previews at the beginning of the festival. Depending on when you decide to go to the festival, tickets may have sold out for certain shows, particularly if a comedian or a show generates a lot of "buzz" amongst industry and audiences. However, the weekend is usually the busiest time at the festival, so there might be more availability for certain shows during the week. The quality of shows spreads across all time slots so just because a performer isn't scheduled during a "prime slot" in the evening doesn't mean they're not worth seeing, so if you're excited by the idea of seeing talent before they make it big, then have a look at shows scheduled during somewhat "off-peak" times too.
There are multiple awards that take place at the Fringe. The Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards (formerly the Perrier award) are one of the most important and prestigious awards in comedy and many of the previous winners have gone on to become household name star comedians. It might be worth looking at the previous winners and nominees list as suggestions of performers to see although not every nominee/winner performs at the Fringe each year so you might have to see those that aren't performing at the Fringe on tour instead.
New Acts and Emerging Talent
If you're interested in seeing debut shows and emerging talent, it might be worth researching the winners and finalists of competitions such as So You Think You're Funny, Up The Creek One To Watch, Amused Moose Laugh Off, Chortle Student Comedy Award, BBC Radio New Comedy Award, The New Act of the Year (formerly Hackney Empire), London Sketch Fest Best New Sketch Act, The Musical Comedy Awards, Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year and Tickled Pig Student Competition. It's also possible to be part of the judging process for some of the awards that hold their final in Edinburgh, whereby the winner is decided by a combination of votes from both industry and audience scores. These can be interesting show choices because they offer a variety of performances, similar to the package shows, which makes it a useful way of seeing lots of performers except there is more of an overt competitive spirit, which might not be as recognisable in a package show. If you're interested in going to these shows, then the details will be in the Fringe Guide and you can search these quite easily online to see the array of awards shows available.
Many national news and entertainment publications, specific publications to the Fringe as well as specialist comedy websites compile their "picks of the Fringe". These can be useful guides in helping choose which shows to see, especially if you're only going to Edinburgh for a short amount of time. However, not every up-and-coming and exciting comedian is included in these recommended lists so if you leave time in your show diary schedule (if you even make one!), it's worth going along to venues and checking the "Sold Out" boards as well as talking to other punters about shows. The power of word of mouth and recommendations at the Fringe is, quite frankly, extraordinary.
These are just a few approaches you could consider when choosing comedy shows and comedians to see at the Edinburgh Festival. Whether you're going for a weekend, a week or for the entire length of the festival, the Fringe is a fantastic opportunity to embrace live comedy - stand-up, sketch, improv and more! There's nothing really like it. Have a wonderful festival!