July 31, 2022

Edinburgh Fringe Q&A Stuart Goldsmith

It was great to talk to Stu Goldsmith about his love of the Edinburgh Fringe, his experiences as a performer and promoting a show.  His show is 4-11 Aug at 13:25

So this isn't your first rodeo as it were, you've been to the fringe before. How many times have you been up there?

I think 28, 28 Yeah, I went there when I was 16. I don't think I went when I was 17. But maybe I did. And then I haven't missed one since., I think that lots of comics go to the fringe and think I hate this. This is mad and chaotic and uncontrollable. And I want to get out of here as soon as possible and you know, bounce on TV and never have to do it. And then there are some people who clearly love going every time and I'm one of them. I sort of approached it and my view to the Edinburgh Fringe was always how can I make sure I can come here every year for the rest of my life. I just absolutely love it. 

I imagine it's kind of the best of times, and the worst of times being there. It seems like it's a huge opportunity. But it's also a huge opportunity to kind of bankrupt yourself. Has it become more commercial?

Oh, I mean, unquestionably Yes. But then so is everything. Everything has become more commercial. I always liken it to student unions: you had a student union building, which was sort of like a pub run pretty much by students and a bunch of old sofas there that you'd taken from the tip and what have you, and now what a student union is, is flat screen TVs on the wall with adverts that you can't turn off.

I guess it’s like a lot of areas where some people do it for love but there’s others (often not the performers) who are there to make money from it

And just to talk about the money, I approached it from the position, like I don't like to be in debt. So I didn't go and spend all the money in Edinburgh until I've made all the money to spend because I thought I don't want to be in debt. But I was in a very privileged position …So I was able to spend a lot of time taking risks and you know, becoming a comic in a way that the idea that now I sort of go, oh, yeah, if you don't have a sort of special skill you can make money from or rich parents or replacing London or, you know, there's all sorts of things just as in life, there's all sorts of things that will give you an enormous advantage.  And a lot of them if you don't, if you don't have your head on square about them, you'll think they were all your hard work without recognising the privilege. I mean, I read a fascinating article today by a guy called Conrad Koch, who's a puppeteer in South Africa, who talks about the, you know, we work in a festival, like all human life is here, and it goes, No, it isn't. There are billions of people, literally billions of people on the planet who are being exploited and enslaved and oppressed, and none of them are at the Edinburgh Festival.

So you do need to sort of you need to recognise that the whole thing exists in a sort of mad bubble of privilege within which there are, there are many levels of privilege, you know, we all know it's exactly it's very hard for working class, people with no financial security, to break into the comedy industry, it's really hard in a way that people are only just kind of realising, but even they live in Britain often, which is inherently privileged, even if you are poverty stricken in Britain, you're not living in a shanty town in Cape Town, for example, I don't know why I'm saying all this, simply, that there are multiple levels of privilege and multiple things acting on it. And I think I was very lucky in that I was both privileged and was blissfully ignorant at that at the time.

I guess that's the thing. It's the freedom to fail that is the big privilege.

Exactly right and I know that's it. That's it. I had the freedom to fail and then I didn't fail. So yeah, fantastic. That's a result. I always have to caveat this by saying like I’m neither rich nor famous. You mean, so I could have had a much more successful time at Edinburgh.

So I had this incredible barnstorming First Year and no one had my back and no one was getting in touch saying, hey, you need me to have your back. So that was hugely problematic in ways that I only became aware of five years later, like, oh, I squandered. I had an incredible show that year, I got fantastic reviews. And I completely squandered that opportunity, because I didn't have the right advice from people. Because my mentality is always like, throw yourself into it and work really hard. Years later, go, Oh, I did that wrong. I've worked really hard in the wrong direction.

It must be hard, especially for a solo artist that you want to do everything yourself, but obviously in hindsight, you can't do everything yourself. But you want that control. And I'd imagine being a comedian is being a bit of a control freak if that's not a bit of a cliché.

Some of us are some of us are maybe I think what you need is first contact, I'm obsessed with this idea at the moment, you need that kind of Star Trek idea of someone who knows how it works, pops down and visits you and says, Oh, by the way, this thing you're struggling with, don't worry, it works like this. I've done this, and I know all about it. And some people get that if you are sufficiently talented or interesting that you get a relationship with a strong agent or manager early doors, they in their team can say, hey, don't worry about that. Ignore that I know, everyone's freaking out about that. Forget about it, trust me

With the fringe did you start out earlier this year to say, I'm going to do a week? And then I need to write the show? Or did you have something you already had to say or bit of both?

It's an interesting one this year. I didn't know if I could write another show. Because I hadn't done any writing over the pandemic, I'd spent all my time on other projects, other kind of comedy adjacent projects, some of which I think I spoke to you about last time. And, and as a result, like, you know, some people wrote a book in lockdown. Some people wrote jokes every day and came out of it with two hours of new stuff. And I created a sort of suite of online products and things and worked on a couple of different business ideas and did that. So I didn't know if I could write another show. So I thought, I don't know if I can commit to a month of doing a show. I think that commitment would mean that I had to do it. But I don't know what I want next from my career.  I don't know if Edinburgh is suitable for achieving whatever I want next with my career. So why don't I do a week of work in progress? And someone mentioned, I think my manager mentioned, why don't you just do a week where you just do work in progress. And I went, Oh, yeah, that will Yeah. So the relief, I felt like yeah, good that that could get me back into the writing process. And I could remember I feel very untethered as a person. And so I felt like oh, maybe I'll never be able to write another show. But that's, that'll get me there, and now of course, we're recording this in early July and I'm thinking god I should be doing a month.

With regards to price, I had a quick look on the fringe website. So you've got tickets at £5, £6.50, £7.50, some days a two for one, and you've also got pay what you want. So in terms of those prices what was the thing behind these price points

I'm pretty sure my management said, Do you want to go at this point? And I said, No, let's do a bit lower than that. Because it is a work in progress. And it's more important to me to have a full room than to make money from this year.

 I've had some pretty incredible years on the free fringe where there were no overheads, and I'm good at asking people for money, I can look them in the eye and be proud. And people go, Yeah, you do deserve some money. So I had three years that were really, really excellent. And it's interesting, because much like the way street performing was a former career of mine, street performing made it impossible for me to have a boss

So in terms of the pay what you want, I mean, like you said, you've got a background in kind of putting it the best way, of asking for money.


Okay, that's a good way of putting it? Do you find that [now having] more of a cashless economy? Does that make a difference?

That remains to be seen? I'm sure it will. I see lots of very futuristic buskers now who have three Izettle’s you know, devices on a board for £5,£10 and 20 pounds, and you tap which one you want. Yeah, I mean, if I get to the stage of if I was doing this festival, if I was doing the free fringe now, I would do that. 

In terms of marketing at the Fringe do you think you're going to be a lot more old school, you're going to do leaflets, a guy with a sandwich board, those kind of things? 

Leaflets! Flyers, we call them Dan. But I do like the idea of leaflets, leaflets is what your dad would call them. You're gonna get some leaflets. I've done all sorts of hustles over the years. And one of my favourites that I saw someone else do actually was they had, they had something maybe a fifth storey window above kind of piemaker. And they had a fishing line. And they had a flyer on the end with a bulldog clip, and they would dangle it that people walking past and people would be intrigued and take the flyer and that was fun to do and it looked nice. I've done all sorts. I've had like a child's tricycle with a huge sign on the back for my show prick at the time, his little girls pink tricycle, I thought that was quite funny that I would look to places in an attempt to get the equivalent of 600 quids worth of advertising just by locking your bike up. I've seen people drive cars and vans around the place with a board on them. When I did live podcasts in 2012 I think that wasn't selling well. And so I just you know emergency bought some of that poly board with a thing saying starting in half an hour live podcast blah, blah, blah and just got someone to stand outside with a big stick and it doubled the sales. 

I know, there's a big controversy at the moment (Talking in Early July) July, with the fringe app, because there is no app, there's just a website, and it's not quite, you don't get the serendipitous people walking past at twenty past one, for example, past your show, they might say, Oh, well, you know, I could go to lunch or I could watch the show.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It's terrible. It's really bad. I kind of see it from both ends, I kind of get that they haven't got any money. I don't know where the money goes. I don't understand what it's like to run a big organisation. But certainly there's always been the peace between the the performers and the organisation which we think is there to facilitate us, but which has its own designs on what it's there for, whilst loudly proclaiming that it's there to facilitate us. The peace between those two groups has always seemed quite uneasy. And yes, I don't know, you know, it must be very difficult to organise an update and maintain an app. And if they took a decision not to do that, then it would have been good for them to tell the performers when they took the decision, but I suspect they knew that if they told the performers at the point of telling them that decision, most of the performers would say, well, in that case, I'm not gonna pay you any money. 


Catch Stu 4-11 Aug at 13.25, more details and tickets here.

The full podcast this Q&A is taken from is available here along with other episodes from people in creative industries talking about the financial, promotional and marketing side of their work