The Financial Fringes: Free & PWYC shows at Edinburgh Fringe

The Edinburgh Fringe is costly – ever more so in 2022. Here's our guide to enjoying comedy shows on a budget this August

Feature by Polly Glynn | 26 Jul 2022
  • Ali Brice

Purse strings are tight for both performers and audiences. With your average Fringe comedy shows this year costing between £10-14 (at the big venues at least) and a show setting performers back about £20k (if you factor in accommodation for non-locals, PR, venue costs, flyerers etc), the festival isn’t accessible for lots of people. 

However, thanks to a wave of Free Fringe shows (PBH and Laughing Horse) as well as some venues having a pay-what-you-can (PWYC) model where audiences can buy a ticket to reserve a seat or queue and chance it (Monkey Barrel, Just the Tonic, some Laughing Horse shows), getting to see your favourite comedians is made more affordable. Ali Brice (6-28 Aug, 4.50pm, Banshee Labyrinth Chamber Room) says “I love the Free Fringe. I love that it levels the playing field to a certain extent.” His show this year is with the longest-running Free Fringe collective, PBH, named after founder Peter Buckley Hill. Established in 1996, the collective now programmes free shows in 26 venues across the city. “PBH is completely free and that makes it so much easier to come to the Fringe. And 'free' doesn't mean 'lower quality', it just means more choice and more acts. Sometimes it feels like comedy is a conveyor belt and if you're not on it and not at the Big Four you aren't part of it. The Free Fringe changes that!”

It also keeps the traditional ‘take a punt’ approach to Fringe alive: read a flyer or check if a show’s about to start and see what you find. “The PWYC model just reduces a bit of the friction involved in going to a show – you don't need to type in any card details or go to a box office, you can just be wandering the streets and see something starting in a few minutes and make a snap decision,” says Sunil Patel (3-28 Aug, 1.55pm, Monkey Barrel, Monkey Barrel 1), who’s been bringing solo shows to the Fringe since 2016. If you like what you’ve taken a chance on, brilliant! Tell someone you really enjoyed it. If you don’t, you’ve seen something a bit different that you wouldn’t have otherwise. “I'm just happy people would choose to spend an hour of their lives watching a show,” says Patel. 

Comedian Heidi Regan sits crosslegged in front of a teal backdrop. She wears a white jumper with black, yellow, pink and blue stripes.
Heidi Regan. Photo: Karla Gowlett

For acts like Heidi Regan (6-28 Aug, not 20th, 21st, 5.55pm, Voodoo Rooms, French Quarter), it’s the notion of audience choice which elevates the show and makes it a joy to perform in a PWYC space: “When they get to decide at the end how much to pay then I feel so much more playful on stage, like I'm earning their goodwill with each joke rather than trying to justify the set amount of money they've already had to pay to get in. That playfulness in turn makes the show better and more fun for all of us.” Brice agrees, saying audience members who’ve gambled on a show  “are friendly and up for taking a chance on things and also open to lesser known stuff.”

Alongside Regan, Patel and Brice, here are a few of our top PWYC recommendations: high energy beat-fanatic Amelia Bayler (3-28 Aug, not 15th, 2pm, Monkey Barrel, The Studio), Midlands-based silly sketch duo Good Kids (4-28 Aug, not 15th, 6.25pm, Just the Tonic @ Mash House, Just The Cask Room), heavy wokeflake irony from Sam Nicoresti (6-28 Aug, not 17th, 8.55pm, Banshee Labyrinth, Cinema Room), professional Nadine Dorries impersonator Sooz Kempner (6-28 Aug, not 17th, 2.20pm, Banshee Labyrinth, Chamber Room), fiery feminist Jessica Fostekew (3-28 Aug, not 15th, 4.45pm, Monkey Barrel 1) and the best in working class comedians at Best In Class (4-28 Aug, 8.45pm, The Counting House, The Lounge).

NB: It’s good Fringe etiquette to act like Louis Theroux (his money don’t jiggle, jiggle – it folds) when you pass the bucket on the way out, and most folk now have a card machine with pre-set amounts (£5, £10) to take the guess-work out of donations. But above all, lots of acts are simply chuffed you’ve come. If you’ve seen a brilliant show and you’re skint, don’t worry too much about making a donation even though we know how awkward it can feel leaving the performer empty-handed. Instead, make a racket about what you’ve seen and tell people to go to it – social media, your pals, people in the queue ahead of you.