Is Your Face Still Tied to a Lamp Post?

Robin Ince's Final 2023 Fringe Diary

Is your face still tied to a lamppost?

53 solos shows – 27 melons punched. 

Sometime in the last six hours, the final performer said the last line of the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe – I wonder what it was? 

By the end of week, the people of Edinburgh will be able to walk their streets without being implored by the eyes of comedians and their charcoal black stars from publications that mean the world during the festival and nothing by the time you cross The Tweed. 

This is the Monday where thousands claw through their hangovers to find some sort of point to their August adventure.

Were they a critical success?

Were they a creative success?

Were they a financial success?

I avoided the reviews and made a decision not to obscure the artwork of the poster with quotes and stars, but I am aware that there were some four and five star reviews. 

More importantly, I was happy with the shows.

I have spent my life finding fault with myself. Should an audience member tell me they had enjoyed the show, I would explain to them that they had had an awful time and seen me fail them in a variety of ways. That voice has been predominantly strangled now which means that I have freed up swathes of mental space that can be used to create rather than admonish. 

Losing that critical voice doesn’t mean I no longer care, I have never cared so much. 

I hope that none of may shows were the same show twice. I keen to be as loose as I could be throughout the shows, but with a conclusion which, if not cast on stone, was at least shaped in Play-Doh. 

Reactions were heartwarming. I wanted people to leave both shows full of joy but also emboldened. I can’t deny that I am on a mission. 

I love the connections that are made in that hour. 

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It was lovely to have comedians come up to me after Melons and say that the draining nature of the fringe had started to rob them of the “why” when it came to performing and the show helped rekindle that. A trans teen approached me and said that they had never felt more seen in a comedy show which also made me happy as much of Melons is between the lines and they found that.

After Weapons of Empathy, I heard many stories and was given many reading recommendations.

Some of the stories were profoundly moving including a couple who had recently lost their baby at 36 weeks. They had found a positive in their pain and their story has left a deep impression.

I think I am one of the fortunate ones as I will not leave the Fringe in debt. This was greatly helped by my friends Ian, Miranda and Jo whose kindness meant that I was not fleeced by a landlord.

The fringe certainly felt very different to me. I have not been there for five years and it felt far more as if I was in a city doing shows rather than in the middle of a fringe festival. This might be because I am 54 years old and don’t have many TikTok followers. This was not a negative. I think I am quite good at being a loner browsing their way through the streets, after all, that is most of my touring life.

On a more negative side, the fringe does not seem such a friendly place for fringier acts. I saw friends who received fantastic reviews but still struggled to find an audience. As I have seen throughout the year, it seems as if audiences and promoters are often playing safe.

I am also not a fan of how centralised much of the fringe is. New Town is now incredibly dead and that seems to have made it harder for acts with The Stand. This worries me as I love The Stand and, as usual, all the people who worked there were excellent and interesting (as they are at the other all year round Stand venues).

There were also established performers playing to tiny houses, some rarely getting into double figures and, with the rents so exorbitant, I wonder how many will want to return next year. The fringe has been a lottery for quite some time , but I think the stakes are too high for many now.

On the plus side of the fringe, the Free Fringe seemed busy and buoyant when I visited shows.

I leave the city with two new shows – I don’t know what will become of them – there are so many people on tour and so many people have less money than before that I am not sure how much space there is for me to add to the numbers.

I am currently writing about The Masque of Mandragora at high speed, and then will structure five episodes of The Infinite Monkeys’ Guide to … before finishing the week at three music festivals 0 End of the Road, Camp Wildfire and Moseley Music Festival and of that’s not nice, I don’t know what is.

Huge thank you to producer Trent Burton, to my technicians Fraser, Josh and Jim, to Megan and Kirsten and all at the Museum of Scotland at The Gilded Balloon, Lighthouse Books and to everyone at the brilliant Stand.

Congratulations to everyone who created – I only managed to get to about twelve shows and wish I could have seen much more. My family loved Paul Zenon, The Dark Room and Winchester Mystery House. My stand outs included Gavin Webster’s You Can’t Say Nowt Nowadays, Adam Scott Rowley’s remarkable piece of theatre You Are Going To Die and Paul Sinha’s Pauli Bengali.

Next Scottish gigs are Wigtown Festival and Ness Book Festival at Inverness, plus Ullapool Bookshop and Heron and Willow in Jedburgh.

Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster.  As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Prof Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London. His latest books are The Importance of Being Interested and Bibliomaniac.

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