Edinburgh Fringe: Bob Slayer on the Festival's Future

As the Fringe is packed away for another year, The Skinny speaks to promoter Bob Slayer about the festival's future

Feature by Ben Venables | 01 Sep 2015

"I was carrying one of our listing boards across town," says Bob Slayer, "and someone asked if I had nicked it from The Pleasance – such is my reputation."

The question should have perhaps come as little surprise for comedy's own renaissance man. For though Slayer is a comedian, promoter, tour manager, 'fat jockey' and registered keeper of a bus, he's also shrewd when it comes to anticipating both Fringe and business trends. Anyone who saw his Heroes roster at The Hive or on the BlundaBus at this year's Fringe would naturally make the assumption these acts spend August in more edifying surroundings than a sticky nightclub and a retired double-decker. But this assumption would be wrong, and there are good reasons why.

"If an idiot like me can attract the cream of Fringe shows within a few short years of starting promoting, then the established players probably need a bit of a rethink," he says. "All our shows are packed out, pre-sales have more than doubled on last year, there have been great reviews and, most crucially, the comedians are seeing the lionsshare of the door money. There is also a really supportive feeling among all the acts."

Slayer is no stranger to tackling the so-called 'comedy industry' head-on. Four years ago, 'cockgate' was in full swing: agents and production companies sent invoices and even threatened to sue Slayer, after musical comedy act Kunt and the Gang defaced/improved many Fringe posters with penis-shaped stickers promoting their own show, before playing at The Hive – where Slayer was involved with a different Fringe organisation.

However, it now seems former doubters are now looking to Slayer's Pay-What-You-Want model as one the only viable ways for the Fringe to work. With PWYW people have a choice of guaranteeing a seat in advance for £5 or turning up on the day and paying what they think the show was worth on exit. Furthermore, comedians do not take on the costs of performing at one of the big venues but still benefit from a business model which still has upfront sales for tickets.

"Yesterday, someone from the very company that once threatened to sue me told me our model was the very best way to do the Fringe. It seems that even 'big industry' know that the game is up. You can no longer expect to continue working with the most exciting new performers while persisting with a model that puts them in debt.

"It is promising to see that this year both the Pleasance and Just The Tonic are following our lead and trialling Pay What You Want. They are learning that it is a distinct and different model to Free and has more in common with paid shows. The rise of the free shows was a successful protest vote against the Pay-to-Play Fringe that puts marketing above creativity, but the next step in the evolution of the Fringe is a model where acts can take the best features of both free and paid."

Yet, surely with the greater resources afforded by other Fringe organisations, shouldn't Slayer be concerned about others adopting his model? It seems he is at ease with the prospect:

"I hope the big producers, agents and venues are successful at finding performer friendly models, because once they put acts first and offer them fair and proper deals, I won't need to promote anymore and I can simply concentrate on having fun on my BlundaBus.

"Anyone can start their own Fringe venue, all you need to do is always put performers and creativity above marketing, keep your costs down, have great staff and also know that Pay What You Want really works."

Slayer is adament the model means the Fringe is led by the artists, as it should be:

"A cultural change is happening at the Fringe, a change that is being defined by independent thinking acts, with the industry following behind."