If you’ve only been to polished tour shows, or seen them on TV, the idea of a comedian trying things out and failing may seem a bit of a surprise.
Is it fair entertainment to go to a show and see people who are most likely to mess stuff up? Is this a guilty pleasure, like the opening rounds of X-factor? Or is this something more special, exclusive, and worthy of your time.
With the Edinburgh Fringe fast approaching, it’s now that silly season where every man and his dog is hosting a run of Edinburgh Preview shows up and down the country. We’ve already covered some of the best venues in London and Manchester.
Previews can range in quality from a well-intentioned open mic slot (extended to six times its length and often, unfortunately, a twentieth of its average quality), or it may look like a top whack comedian messing up a few gags and appearing to write and rehearse their show before your eyes.
If you’ve never been to a new act or new material night, then we urge you to give them a try. These nights are always one-offs as the comedians are often doing things for the first time, or without a specific idea of how an audience will react to them.
It’s about as live an experience as you can get, though not every line is guaranteed to work.
A Fringe preview might prove a bit full on for the uninitiated, but if the act is good enough, then what you’re seeing is the embryo of a show: the ideas forming, reforming or even occurring to the performer who is trying to pull together their strongest offering for the next festival.
If you approach it with the right attitude, you’ll have a good time. Even if the jokes aren’t funny, you’ll be able to say “Well, I was there at both the first and last performance of THAT gag!”. Good times!
Here are 11 things you might expect to find at an Edinburgh preview.
- Notes, notes and plenty of notes – often scraps of paper, sometimes an iPad or other fancy pants notepad
- A lecturn on which the notes may be placed – often put in the wrong part of the stage, so the performer keeps having to race over to it
- A big glass of water for the particularly dry mouthed comedian
- A higher GPM – Gestures Per Minute – as the comedian tries to telegraph the funny that they haven’t written words for by using sign language
- PowerPoint – the last resort of the comedian whose show needs filling out
- Dropping out of character to explain – as a missing chunk of the show is narrated by someone who doesn’t really know what it’s about yet
- Apologies – the comedian acknowledging the bits that they know aren’t there yet in a pact to keep you listening because they’re not mental, they’re just not finished
- Surprises – “ooh that’s a joke now is it? Brilliant, that’s staying in!”
- Big names going cheap – all of a sudden the big room-filling acts are in the smaller (safer) comedy clubs because that show won’t edit or road test itself
- Marks – little ticks on jokes that have been good and little crosses on jokes that need to go away and have a long hard think about what they’ve done
- Gratitude – the performer will genuinely love your support as they need it to help drag their show to done. It’s a lovely two-way street.
Photo by Statianzo