Review: Ian Fox’s Edinburgh Fringe Comedy ebook

Ian Fox’s ebook

IN the course of researching The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, I conducted about 70 interviews with actors, comedians, venue managers, producers, publicists, critics and editors. What this brought home to me was something I knew instinctively: that everyone’s experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is unique. No two stories are quite the same. I could have interviewed another 70 people and discovered 70 more unique perspectives on the world’s biggest festival.

My approach when writing the book was to encapsulate as many of those perspectives as possible. Your experience of the Fringe won’t be exactly the same as any of them, but I hope it has similarities to a few. More to the point, by establishing a set of general principles, The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide offers a template you can use to tackle the Fringe on your own terms. Get the basics right and you can make it work for you.

Comedian Ian Fox has taken a different approach. In his self-published ebook, How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show, he writes primarily from his own perspective. He is someone who has been performing on the Fringe since 2002, doing solo shows and ten-minute spots as well as producing mixed bills. Much of his experience has been on the Laughing Horse Free Festival, so he knows about the ups and downs of doing comedy to an audience that hasn’t paid, in a room in a pub that is often not designed with stand-up in mind. He’s also performed on the paid-for Fringe, so understands some of the advantages and disadvantages there too.

This first-hand experience is the book’s strength. Whether he’s telling you about the likely costs, the challenges of dragging your props through the streets of Edinburgh or the hazards of doing accommodation on the cheap, Fox has been there. In the final section of the book, he slips into anecdote mode and recounts a whole series of entertaining stories involving drunken, impoverished, egotistical and unlucky comedians. No reason any of the same things should happen to you, but they serve as a warning of the kind of thing that could take place.

I’m probably not the right person to judge, but it seems to me Fox’s book complements The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, but is not an alternative to it. There’s a small amount of overlap between the two books, but mainly what Fox offers is an extra level of detail from his own very particular perspective. If in doubt, buy both – you’ll still have change from £15. 

What he has to say will be most useful if you are his intended reader – a stand-up comedian, probably performing in one of the free festivals – and will be less relevant if you’re not. Even then, you’ll still find it interesting; the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is an endlessly fascinating place and this book adds more colour to the picture.

On the downside, How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show does bear the hallmarks of being self-published. Fox has complained about how long proofreading took, but it should have taken a lot longer. I’d say there was an average of one typo per Kindle page. It’s probably my bad reading rather than his bad writing that persuaded me the entire cast for one of his shows had testicular cancer, but you get used to skipping over repeated words, filling in the missing phrases, mentally adding the apostrophes and translating the homonyms.

There are also some factual errors: the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe began in the same year – 1947; the population of Edinburgh doubles during August, it does not increase seven-fold; and it is not illegal to hand out flyers in places other than the High Street and your venue.

As I understand it, e-publishing allows Fox the chance to make corrections, so I imagine he’ll iron out these details, thus improving a valuable attempt to make sense of a multifarious festival he loves as much as anyone.