How was it for you? Paul Sneddon on the Edinburgh Comedy Festival

The Skinny discusses the introduction of Edinburgh Comedy Festival with Fringe veteran Paul Sneddon. Part of 'How was it for you? - Scottish comedians discuss key events of 2008'

Feature by Ariadne Cass-Maran | 28 Nov 2008
  • Vladimir McTavish

This year ‘the big four’, the Pleasance, Underbelly, Gilded Balloon and Assembly Rooms formed the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in the name of corporate sponsorship, throwing the Scottish comedy community into hysterical worry. The corporate monster might have elbowed out the Stand, the Free Fringe and outside venues who either boycotted or simply could not afford to join in. But when the Fringe came, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival had failed to gain any sponsorship at all. Scottish comedian Paul Sneddon tells The Skinny why his feathers remain unruffled.

The conversation begins with a very sanguine appraisal of what really happened, which is that the public didn't notice a thing. Business went on as usual, and in spite of the threat that was felt by the comedy community and the negative press which surrounded the furore, nothing changed.

However, the coalition was motivated by greed and cynicism. They branded themselves as the Edinburgh Comedy Festival so that it would make more money. "If that was the image they wanted to cultivate, if that was their intention, I think they should have the courage to take it out of the Fringe programme for a start and actually they should hold it at a different time of year, see how many fucking people turn up then."

The Skinny giggles gleefully. Sneddon continues: "The Jazz Festival is on at a different time of year, the Film Festival is on at a different time of year. Other people have festivals at different times of year. If they wanted to do that they absolutely should, but they shouldn't do it off the back of the Fringe. They were using the Fringe brochure, they were using the Fringe box office, which was a disaster this year."

Sneddon is, like many comedians, angry about the misappropriation of Edinburgh's name and what that implies for the rest of the comedy scene during the Festival. "They were trying to imply that either a) all the comedy in Edinburgh was at their four venues or b) anything that wasn't showing at one of their venues wasn't worth going to see." The quality of acts outside the ECF was proved this year when an act at the Stand won the if.comedy award this year, which proves to Sneddon that not every act at the four venues is of a high standard and that it is heinous of them to imply that this is so.

And what of their reasons for forming and asking for sponsorship to begin with? Did they really make a loss of over seven hundred thousand pounds in the previous year? Sneddon splutters, "Liars! The stories I've heard from other acts about how much money they've lost putting on a show at the Pleasance! Where does all this money go? It can't just disappear. The contract an act signs is geared towards the venue not losing money. You will get a box office split, but it's a sixty - forty split. If nobody turns up for your show, then you owe the venue. There's no way they could possibly lose money."

What is the future of the Edinburgh Fringe if, horrors of horrors, the ECF succeeds in gaining sponsorship? At this, he displays the superb indifference of long experience. "All that sponsorship can do is to allow them to spend more money on publicity. And to be honest, how much more can be spent? Ultimately we've experienced a kind of saturation of publicity anyway. How many more brochures can they print?" He reiterates his earlier point, wickedly: "Sponsorship might make a difference if they moved the Edinburgh Comedy Festival to a different time of year completely. July, September, October; any month would do. That would make a difference." But would they have the nerve?

http://www.edcomfest.com