James: Oh, Jesus. Um, I don't know. I'm not sure how useful I'm gonna be in this interview. Favourite Fringe memory. I really don't know. Might have been in 2011, but they'll all be… hearing horror stories from other cast members and things that other people in the group did, that I was usually not there to witness, but usually things where one of them has without realising offended someone else, or said something really inappropriate in front of the wrong people. And hearing stories that usually happened when people were flyering as well, or when people were going to other people's shows – I'm trying to think of a specific thing. I can't, sorry.
JG: That's alright; we'll come back to it. What advice would have for people flyering?
James: Do it a lot. Especially if you don't have backing of any other kind. When we flyer, the only reason – because we don't have anybody else doing it for us – the reason we've sold any tickets at all when we have, is because we're out there a lot, we're out there most of the day, working really really hard to get people in. It staggers me when you speak to other acts that are up there, and they're going: “Oh we're only getting in 2 or 3 people a night, or 4 or 5 people a night”, and you ask them: “Well, how often are you flyering”, and they only go: “Well, we're sort of flyering on and off a little bit, and we've not really set anything down, and we're just sort of flyering when we feel like, but it's hard, and it's boring.” Flyering's not fun. It is for like the first day, and the novelty very very quickly wears off, but I would say if you're producing the act that's doing it – if you're running it, you should arrange a schedule; we found that was really useful for us. We put a flyering rota up, that pretty much you have to stick to, unconditionally.
And it allows you time to go see shows, and it's not always the same time each day, so there's always flexibility, but you have to flyer for a certain amount of time each day, and that's worked for us. And the other thing on that note as well, is we've not – it's not always the case, and sometimes you get really really great paid flyerers, like you guys – Ditto's flyerers are really good, but I'd be wary of spending money on flyerers if they're just gonna be handing them out blank-faced: “Free comedy tonight”, or “Comedy tonight”, blah blah blah, and not actually sell your show, for that £8/hour you're paying per person to do it. The person that can sell your show best is you, and so if you're doing it yourself, and you're actually able to strike up a conversation with people and tell them about the show and get them interested, it's much effective than just handing out pieces of paper that people just won't look at.
JG: Cool. How do you deal with reviews?
James: Well, it's funny, 'cos in the last year reviews mattered to us a bit less. I think to begin with they were very important; first time I ever did Edinburgh they seemed so much more important than they were than I think they are now. If you've never been reviewed before, and then if you're getting 4* reviews, say, for something you've done, that feels like a real achievement, and it feels like “yes, it was worth coming to the Fringe for this 4* review from this website, that really matters”, and with bad ones – in our first year in Edinburgh we got a 1* review from Kate Copstick [The Scotsman] which I think I may have told you about. We put it on our flyers since, basically. It was genuinely really gutting, at the time. I don't think – it's certainly not a show that I'd say I'm proud of any more, but it wasn't a 1* show – at the time I really took it hard, it was really difficult. Especially, there was a couple of times I remember flyering people, and they'd go “No thanks mate, I read your review in The Scotsman”. Ouch. (laughs) It was really horrible.
But after that we put the 1* review and quoted it on the back of the flyers in 2011 and 2012, and that sold us more tickets than it cost us the previous year. And it was usually the kind of thing that would get people into the show. You'd get people thinking that was weirdly honest of you, and you'd get people thinking – just admiring the fact that you're kind of treating it as, I dunno, if you want to be grandiose about it, as like a battle scar or a badge of honour, or whatever, like: “You got a 1* review, but fine – you're still here.” But the more we've done it, and the more we've gone on, the more we're realised that – the less reviews have mattered, basically. Especially because as we've gone on, we've had a clearer sense of what the show is, so reviews now are less about validation, and more about selling tickets, because the unfortunate truth of the matter is if you don't have those reviews stuck to your flyer, then people are much less likely to come – it's so important to get the press in, and it's so important to court all those silly websites that are only up for the course of the Fringe, as well as big publications and magazines and big websites and whatever. Because after a certain point, after about the first week in the Fringe, if you don't have reviews on your flyer, you are not going to sell any tickets.
JG: Do you have tips for getting these reviewers in to see you?
James: I think a lot of other people are better at this than I am and we are but the thing that I have found useful and the thing that has worked, is trying to strike up a relationship with writers – with journalists and with writers, and not just pester them for a review, and not make that your only communication with them, and not feel like they owe you a review or a write-up or they have to come to your show. The best thing we found with reviewers is by – especially getting in touch with people via Twitter personally – not necessarily the publication's official Twitter page, but finding individual writers who work for whatever publication, and getting in touch with them, because the nice thing about that is a.) if you can develop a relationship with a writer who is a human being at the end of the day, and talk about other stuff, and other comedy, which is will usually be their interest, then they're much more inclined to come see you, and then also you'll make a friend out of it, which is nice, and-
James: Yeah. (laughs) And we've got a couple of friends now who obviously don't come and review us as friends, but they work for certain publications and that means it's much easier for us to get a review because we've got relationships there, which is nice. So I'd say striking a personal note, and not blindly begging people to come and see you would help.
JG: How do you go about selecting a venue for the Fringe?
James: Well, in the first year we did it, we basically went up not really knowing anything – we were in theSpace in the first year, and if you're doing comedy that's a mistake, but we didn't know any better, so as a first-time thing going up, we looked at it, we looked at the floor plan, we looked at the location, all of which were good, and we did sell tickets. I mean that was the only show we did that technically qualifies as a sold-out run, but it doesn't get you the kind of recognition, basically, or the sense that you're doing comedy. Now when it comes to choosing venues, we try and go for – we haven't got into The Pleasance yet, [they have now] or the Underbelly or the big four, but it's worth getting into those if you can, but otherwise, find one that's going to suit your show, and don't be too – it's better to go for less seats than more, because if you go for a room that's too big, you're never gonna sell it out, and if it's a small room and you can make your show work in a small room, then you're much more likely to sell it out, and if you're show's selling out frequently, that's how you're going to be able to generate a buzz, so I s'pose it's finding that balance between a space that will fit your show, if you're doing comedy a venue that's recognised as a good comedy venue, so if you can't get into Pleasance or Underbelly then a venue like Just The Tonic is good at an entry level, and not being too over-ambitious with size of the room, because half-empty rooms are rubbish.
JG: What's your average Fringe day like?
James: Average Fringe day-
JG: Not that there is an average. What's a day in the life of you in the Fringe?
James: A day in the life of us in the Fringe. Actually, it is quite routine now in a lot of ways. For us it is, anyway. Because as I said, we don't have people flyering for us – our daytime is usually spend promoting the show. We – between the group of us – will cover about 7 hours. So what tends to happen they'll be – people won't tend to wake up until 10 or 11. There'll be a flyering shift starting at maybe 12 o'clock, 1 o'clock, for a set amount of time – if you're on that one then you go and see shows in the afternoon, or the other way round, depending on what shift you're on, basically. Then it's eat dinner, have pre-show briefing just to go over stuff from the previous night – anything that's worth bearing in mind for the night ahead, whether we've got press in, or anything like that, then there’s warm-up, go to the venue, do a show, and usually then go out, I don't think – people don't tend to go straight to bed, people don't tend to get back until the early hours, then start again, which is really nice for a while, and then gets really tiring. (laughs)
JG: What's your favourite place in Edinburgh?
James: Favourite place...I really – it's almost a bit of a cliché, but I do like Black Medicine coffee house – it's the one that mega-popular, and everybody goes there, but it's the sort of hip, trendy independent one that everybody likes, but it is really nice. Aside from that...I'm just trying to think if there's anywhere else in particular I went...no nothing – yeah, Black Medicine coffee house. But I do – what's quite nice is on the other side of North Bridge and St. George Bridge [he means George IV Bridge] is basically where our flat usually is, and that's so much quieter than everywhere else, and there's venues there and it's where the Stand is, so you can just walk up the road and go see some comedy, but it's a lot quieter, and a lot nicer, and there's lots of beautiful buildings so it's quite nice there, and it's nice not to be living in the middle of everything as well for the time you're up there.
JG: Any tips on postering and poster design?
James: Getting a good poster designer is vital. Same for the flyers as well. I've genuinely seen people handing out hand cut-out, photocopied, black and white flyers with their show information on, and those people don't get any people in. It's worth paying for good art design and good flyer design, because we've genuinely sold tickets just off the back of the design – it doesn't matter if nobody's heard of you; if your artwork is good enough, people will come along, people will come and see it. And if it looks like you've knocked it together in 5 minutes, people will think your show's been knocked together in 5 minutes and it probably has, and then they're not going to come along, so I'd say it's really worth – I mean we do Edinburgh on a shoestring budget, but we will always pay for flyer design and poster design, because we make our money back on it, easily, and it's just worth it. I don't have specific tips for postering, apart from print a lot, because if you put any up, they're going to be covered within the space of about 5 – I think we checked once and I think within 2 minutes, a poster you've put up on the Mile will go. There's no point giving specific postering advice for where to put them, because that will be obvious, just print enough of them so you don't just lose them all in the first day.
JG: Do you have tips on the Free Fringe vs. the paid Fringe?
James: I've got very little experience of the Free Fringe; I produced a show there in 2011, which was late-night, which was half midnight, and that was on the Laughing Horse, and Casual Violence did only one afternoon a week, doing the show there in 2012 – that show, the one we did last year, was really, really good – it was good in the sense that it was just a lot of fun to do. It was a chance to do something a little looser, and not have to worry about being over-elaborate and theatrical and just do something a bit more relaxed and a bit more fun, and it was much easier to get people in – just much, much easier, if the show's free – again, if the poster design is good, and the show sounds good, and it's free, then that's enough to get people in. And the nice thing about doing that alongside a paid show is that you get crossover audience and people who come and see you do a show for free are then much more likely to come and see you do a paid show. So I'd say – we're gonna do a longer run of it this year – I'd say that the Free Fringe is really really worthwhile, especially alongside a paid show, but it's really really come along in the last couple of years, and if you can't do a paid show, it is worth doing a free one.
I think the only thing to bear in mind is the quality of the venues really varies and it's very much worth doing your research with the Free Fringe – much more so than with a paid venue and finding a venue that's going to work and be right for you, because if you're not careful, extremely careful, chances are you're going to get up there and you're gonna be in a broom cupboard that literally doesn't have any lights or anything like that – thankfully that's not happened to be personally, but I've heard similar stories from other people, and that's just not what you want getting up there. So if you do your venue research, Free Fringe is really worth while.
Laughing Horse – Laughing Horse we found were quite hands-off. Laughing Horse we got there, it was ok, we sort of did the show, and we did it for the run and that was fine. I haven't had as much experience with PBH, but you get the sense with them that they're much more sort of hands on, and they're much keener to create a sense of community with it, and in some ways are successful with that, and in some ways they're not, but they try a lot harder than Laughing Horse do to create a sense of community with it, and so I'd say I'd probably recommend them over doing Laughing Horse, and I'd say they've got a better choice of venues.
JG: Any tips on accommodation?
James: Again, do your research and get it booked as early as possible (Laughs) basically. Chances are you're going to get ripped off, it's never going to be mega-cheap, unless you're very lucky. Don't – and it's an obvious thing – but don't book anywhere that's going to be more than say a 15-20 minute walk from where everything is, because if you need to pay to travel into Edinburgh, then you're doing yourself a disservice, and you're going to feel like you can't be bothered to travel in; you need to be able to walk in to go and flyer, to go and do what you need to do.
JG: How do you travel up to Edinburgh?
James: Usually by train. A couple of the others have taken a Megabus, which by all accounts isn't a pleasant experience in any way. Train's fine. Not much more to say about it. I recommend a train – if you're really, really strapped for cash, the Megabus will get you there, which arguably is all that matters, but it's not particularly pleasant from what I can tell.
JG: Sure. How do you spend your day off?
James: We do get one or two days off, and I try and cram in as many shows at that point as I can see. I do get to see shows on the days I don't have days off, but only in a very limited window. The problem with the full days off that we get, is there are shows you'd like to see that would otherwise clash with your show, and there's usually more than one – there's usually 3 or 4 - and having to choose between them is quite tough. But I tend to use a day off to book in as many shows as I can go see, and almost back-to-back them, and go see as much as I can reasonably afford.
JG: What are your tips for after the Fringe?
James: I don't think I've got any tips – September's the month off, really. If you get opportunities or offers out of the Fringe after that, then great – obviously you want to field those things and chase anything up, but September is a great time to do nothing. 'Cos if you get into the Edinburgh Fringe pilgrimage cycle, then everything builds up to that all year, and a lot of people – myself included – will start thinking about next year's Edinburgh in September - which is fine – but if you're gonna get into that cycle of going every year, you need to allow yourself a bit of time off. September's the time to take a holiday, because you probably didn't take one in the summer, and just allow yourself a bit of time to relax and be relieved you got through it.
JG: What do you see the Fringe as, career-wise? Or as a stepping stone?
James: I don't think there's anything in the country that’s better – especially as a comedy act – for getting exposure. First time we did it, it was just – if you don't do the Fringe, even if you do things like Brighton Fringe or anything else – if you don't do Edinburgh, you will be playing to family and friends, possibly for ever, until you give up doing it. If you do the Edinburgh Fringe, that is going to get you exposure that nothing else will; people will take a punt on you in Edinburgh, and they won't do that anywhere else, unless you've got a reputation that you would've got from doing Edinburgh. Brighton Fringe is the biggest arts Festival in England, and Edinburgh's is the biggest in the world, and the difference between the two is absolutely staggering. And having done both, and having known people to do both, it's very easy to think: “Oh we're doing Brighton Fringe, the biggest arts festival in England, people will go” - people won't go, unless you've got a network on family and friends there, or you can spend a lot on publicity. If you want to get people to see you who aren't your family and friends, and you want to build an audience, and you want to get seen, however that is, y'know get seen either as, y'know, by - not that we have – but you know agents or promoters or anything like that – but more importantly, just people, just audience, general public. The only way to make that happen is to do Edinburgh.
JG: Best Fringe flu remedy?
James: Best Fringe flu remedy? Hot toddy, probably. There seems to be a lot those going around. A lot of lemon, a lot of honey. And a lot of vitamin C tablets; they're good to start taking before you get ill, to try and head it off at the past. I've been lucky in that I've never been – actually there's an obvious one: sleep! (Laughs) Get enough sleep, it's very, very easy to – especially at the beginning when it's all starting and it's all very exciting – it's very easy to be up all night, and you can do that for probably up to a week, but then it's gonna really start to get to you, and second and third week are gonna really kill you, unless you're getting enough sleep. If you get enough sleep and don't get smashed every night, that's gonna really help.
JG: What's your advice for people putting on a Fringe show for the first time?
James: Remember that promoting it well and effectively – oh I s'pose, your show can be brilliant, it can be one of the best things anybody's ever done, but if you are not prepared to promote it and work hard on that side and work on the production, on the producing side, on the publicity and get the word out, it's not gonna happen: people aren't gonna come to your show. Doesn't matter, it could be brilliant, it could be a 5* show, and – doesn't matter, 'cos the reviewers won't come see it, and people won't come see it, and nobody will care – there's 3000 shows up there every year – more, 3,500 shows, and if you're not prepared to sort of slog it to sell your show, then nobody will come see it, and it will have been a very very very expensive and exhausting waste of your time.
JG: Worst Fringe disaster?
James: During our show last year we had a blackout – we had a powercut midway through the show, which was pretty disastrous, and I think most people – we were warned that it might happen, but we didn't know for certain that it was going to – we were warned the night before that it would, and it didn't, but then the second night it did. And after a few seconds of blind panic – what the fuck do we do? - we basically rolled with it, and a couple of us went out and started doing other sketches that we knew in the dark, that would work in the dark-
JG: So it was a radio show.
James: Exactly, did the radio comedy thing, which worked, basically, and we were able to cover until the lights went back on. Myself and Alex decided to do that, but the others really freaked – I remember one of them going: “James, what are you doing? Don't go out there” really kind of panicked by it. So that was nearly a disaster, but maybe not an actual one.
JG: Sounds like you covered it very well.
James: We covered it, it was ok, but it nearly went horribly wrong.
JG: Finally, to return full-circle: favourite Fringe memory.
James: Oh for fuck's sake, I still haven't got one. My favourite Fringe memory I don't think is printable, because it's really specific to us, but again, most of my Fringe memories I think revolve around other members of Casual Violence doing or saying things they shouldn't. Dave and Luke in 2011 went and met The Silky Pair, and went to go and see their show on the Free Fringe, and Dave and Alex have been nicknamed “Sleazy” and “Creepy” by us and other people that know them better. All I remember from this particular incident was Luke coming into our flat laughing his head off – doubled over laughing, because at the end of Silky’s show, when they were holding out the bucket for donations, Dave went up with some money in his hand, and before he put it in, he went: “Wow, beautiful and talented” and then put the money in. It was horrible. It just sounds horrible, but it was so funny, and we've never, ever dropped it, or let him forget it.
JG: Rightly so.
James: So probably that, but that's unfortunately very specific to us, and doesn't put Dave in a very good light. I've got horrible stories about all of them, unfortunately. I kind of wish I didn't.
JG: If there was one thing you had to nail, when sorting a Fringe show, what would it be?
James: Try and do something different. Comedy is the biggest category up there, and there's so many sketch shows, and so much stand-up, and unless you've got – I think the bit that's difficult to nail is doing something different and original that's not a gimmick, because when people think: “Oh I wanna make my show really different”, they will tend to put in something really really gimmicky, and true, nobody's doing that, but it doesn't really add anything – it might get you some audience, but people will see through it as a cheap, lazy thing to do. So the thing that we've always done, for better or worse – genuinely for better or worse – is, try to do something that other people aren't doing. And usually we have found that people will respond to that – they might not always like it, but – and it might not always be successful – but it's much much better to nail that balance between doing something that's a bit different from everyone else, without slapping quirky, gimmicky things on. It's much more rewarding to do that and get it right than anything else, and usually you'll find that if you do nail it, that people will respond positively to that, even if they don't think your show's the best thing ever. It gets you brownie points.