The Edinburgh Fringe is over for another year and Mitch Benn says it’s been a good one.
So the Edinburgh Fringe is over for another year; I’m not going to start bandying figures about but suffice to say I’ve had a really good one, both in terms of audience numbers and response.
This is gratifying in and of itself but also an immense relief; the 2018 Fringe, it’s safe to admit now, was not a good year for me. My audience had been in decline for a couple of years and suddenly fell off a cliff. This meant that if I were to continue turning up at the Fringe, I’d have to make some fairly radical changes in how I went about preparing and promoting myself. These changes were indeed implemented and seem to have worked like a charm.
And so, as that small but comforting glow of success in which I’ve been basking for the past couple of days dims a little, it’s time to head back to the real world.
One curious side-effect of doing the Fringe every year is that it seems to accelerate time to a rather alarming degree: one’s whole year seems to consist of two events (the Fringe and Christmas), and the build-up to these events.
Such is the bizarrely extended time-frame of preparation for the Edinburgh Fringe that you have to decide whether or not you’re ‘in’ pretty much as soon as the year begins in January. Most of the haggling over slots and venues happens over the next couple of months, then in order to meet the print deadline of the big A4 Fringe programme, you have to have decided on the content (or at least the title) of your show by late March.
There’s a bit of a lull during April and May (during which time you’re supposed to be writing the show) then previews begin in earnest around the start of June. The previews come thicker and faster as we get into July (many towns in the UK, mindful of the fact that there are hundreds of comedians trying to hammer Edinburgh shows together in early summer, have started hosting comedy festivals of their own in June and July in order to take mutual advantage of this), then it’s August and we’re off up to Edinburgh.
As soon as Edinburgh’s over, autumn sets in. It goes dark, it gets cold, a few weeks later it’s Halloween then a few weeks after that it’s Christmas. Then pretty much the minute the New Year’s festivities are over you have to start thinking about whether you want to do the Fringe this year, and the cycle begins again. Years now zip past me the way weeks used to.
It’s always a jarring adjustment, returning to reality after the bubble universe that is the Edinburgh Fringe, so with this in mind I’m staving that adjustment off for a little longer. I’ve headed north to the Isle of Skye for a few days’ tranquil decompression.
Few places do tranquillity like Skye; it’s not just breathtakingly beautiful (as is the whole of north west Scotland, in fairness; on the drive up here there’s a constant danger of swerving off the road as one gazes open-mouthed at the majesty of the scenery) it’s also welcoming to me in an ancestral way.
I’m Macleod on my mother’s side (no we weren’t made up for Highlander, we’re a real clan) and feel connected to this place on a cellular level.
But, as was one of the principal themes of my show, you can’t avoid reality forever. And the reality that now confronts us is one which must be faced head-on.
Brexit, that movement to “take back control” and whose opponents are routinely slandered as “enemies of democracy” has led us to an unelected prime minister attempting to shut down parliament to ‘deliver’ an outcome which precisely nobody voted for and which he himself assured us was impossible. Homer himself couldn’t conjure such hubris and irony.
The proponents of Brexit have always fought dirty, and now they’re past caring who knows it. We’ve got a hell of a fight on our hands these next few weeks, folks. This has always been a battle to determine the future of Britain; it’s become a battle to determine the nature of Britain. We have to decide what sort of a country we are, what sort of a people we are.
Are we the sort of country that allows itself to be governed by unelected cheats and liars? Are we the sort of people who watch complacently as our rights, our freedoms, our prospects are tossed casually aside to excite racists and enrich vampire capitalists?
It’s clear that we’ve reached the stage at which protest, signing petitions and going on marches – while still absolutely essential – is no longer enough. And I’m not even sure what comes next. But I’m in this for the long haul. Because we have no choice.
The Fringe is over. No more jokes. Resist.