The sordid destructive world of reviews is now in full flow up here, and every year a new spanner gets thrown in the works as most of us desperately try to avoid them. I’ll be honest, there perhaps won’t be anything groundbreaking about what I say in this today, to the comics who read this I’ll be treading well-discussed ground that you perhaps won’t want to be bothered with just now.
The attitudes of comedians to the reviewing process are, roughly speaking, in three groups;
Firstly, there are those who read them. Not only that, they find out who is coming in to review and on what night and then destroy not only their own lives but those of the people around them as the stress mounts, the uncertainty thrashes and every last reason for expressing yourself in this medium flies out of the window in favour of working out cynical ways to get five stars.
Secondly, and for me the most sinister of the three, is the comic who maintains amongst their peers that they don’t read them or care, and then secretly google and search, whilst publically declaring ignorance and announcing that the show is going well and they are enjoying just going doing it with no distractions and that’s all they care about, all the while secretly pregnant with this inside knowledge that will never be anything but a devil baby that ends up biting your face off when you least expect it.
And thirdly we have the genuine article, the ones who steadfastly refuse to get involved in any of that bollocks, which oddly ends up being the most potent a being. So ingrained is the importance of hearing nothing, that every conversation becomes a minefield. It should mean that those stresses are off, but those stresses are replaced my insane paranoia that the next person you speak to is going to be the one who breaks your rule, is going to be the person who announces how great your so-and-so review was, or denounces the criticism about you that you’d worked so hard to avoid.
I personally fall into the third category, with a slight hint of category 2 as there is an increase in review knowledge being unavoidable. In previous years, the way you saw your good reviews regardless of your ignorance policy, was on strips on your posters. Those strips of paper with quotes on them that get pasted up over your posters to further elevate you and persuade the punters. The claim in certain quarters that these make no difference is the most ridiculous Fringe claim of recent years – they make all the difference. They are the single most important aspect of Edinburgh publicity without question and there simply isn’t an argument the other way. I’ve heard nothing from anyone that has ever persuaded me otherwise, and in terms of numbers – unarguable tickets sales – I have sold well when they are on my posters and not sold well when they aren’t. As I said the other day about twitter, it is stupid to have a tool at your disposal that you do not utilise, at the Edinburgh fringe if something doesn’t do any harm, do it.
So, if you’re lucky enough to be fondly reviewed you are more than likely to see this review on the street, the temptation to read something pasted to your poster is too great and it’s massively unusual for the things pasted up to be negative. Relatively safe.
The other, far more unnerving practise that is on the rise, is publications @’ing in an act that they are tweeting a review about. I am assuming that most people, certainly within the industry, are aware of the overall policy of most acts to not indulge reviews at the fringe. We pay PR people thousands of pounds/wine to deal with this aspect of things, entrust them to just get on with it and sell our shows whilst we worry about the actual show itself. We bring the talent, they sell it and either exploit or suppress the aftermath… that’s the general idea. I genuinely don’t know why any reviewer or publication would think that it was fair practise to @ in somebody they’ve reviewed. Good or bad incidentally, I know Chortlethis year have a policy that they will only @ in a show that has either a 4 or 5 star review from them. Now, I know that comes from a good place and a bit of thought has gone into that, but had that thought continued then the flaw in the scheme would become instantly apparent;
If an act knows that Chortle have been in to see their show, is told by somebody or sees it with their own eyes in their audience, then they also know that over the next couple of days they either will or won’t receive a tweet from Chortle. If they do, they’ve got a good review but have the distraction of actually finding that out (not always a good thing to find out by the way, can encourage complacency and arrogance which aren’t always the greatest bedfollows when you are standing on a stage relating to normal human beings), and if they hear nothing, they know they’ve not had a good review. I am aware there is an argument that 3 stars is fine, and it is, but we none of us wish to be just fine. Another fact from behind the secret comedy curtain is that 99% of us would take a one star review over a three star one. A one star review you can revel in, can spout about how they had fundamentally missed the point or whatever, but a three star review leaves you feeling like you have provoked nothing but indifference. They may as well star it as “meh”. There is absolutely no sense to that on the part of the comedian by the way, outside of this stupid Edinburgh bubble (or ‘cell’ as I personally see it) a three star review is a good review, there should be no complaint about it, it falls the right side of indifference in reality. If stars were awarded out of six then yep, middle of the road, but they are not, it’s just the old glass half empty thing tapping us on the shoulder.
On the subject of three stars however, I chatted with a comedian the other night who I shall not name as it could make him potentially seem bitter and he very much is not that, and we came to the conclusion that no professional comedian at the Edinburgh fringe is ever worthy of anything less than three stars. If you make a living from comedy (which admittedly not all fringe performers do) and play the clubs and take home money for your jokes, you are at least three stars when you arrive. You don’t suddenly forget your skill, you don’t suddenly become unable to perform at a level beyond two stars, so chances are, if you do see a two star review for a professional comedian, then there’s something underhanded going on there, or the night that was reviewed is not indicative of the norm.
Oh and please don’t assume from me saying this that I’ve had a two star review or something because I have absolutely no idea if I have or not, nor would I wish to know, and would react violently (possibly physically so) if somebody were to reveal reviews to me. Indeed the other day on the street, somebody said to Ed and I, “That’s good news” which I misheard as “good reviews” and immediately announced that I don’t want to know about reviews before flouncing off. It has you properly on edge, we live in fear of somebody saying “do you read your reviews…?” – even that is far too near a clue and won’t get you a happy answer. Best bet is, just don’t mention them, not even jokily or in passing, you’ll only ruin someone’s day.
I got four stars on Chortle by the way. They tweeted me. Whatever they marked me down on they were wrong.
RAY PEACOCK – HERE COMES TROUBLE – 9:25pm Underbelly, 30 July-24 August 2014. Tickets at underbellyedinburgh.co.uk or 0844 545 8252