Siân Davies on working-class comedians at the Fringe

Showcasing a host of exciting new acts, comedian Siân Davies is taking her crowdfunded show Best In Class to this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Feature by James McColl | 10 Jul 2018
  • Siân Davies

Championing working class comics, Best In Class is giving nine acts the chance to perform at the Fringe with no costs to themselves. The aim is to showcase talented working class comedians chronically underrepresented both in Edinburgh and the arts in general. As Siân Davies puts it, Best In Class is an antidote to the current system. "I wanted to do something to make a change. I think a lot of people are talking about how there’s not any working class representation and how difficult it is for working people to perform at the Fringe because of the rising costs... I had a bad experience myself, whereby I was dropped from an audition because I didn’t have the money to go and do it and I thought 'this isn’t right'".

Indeed, Davies decided to take positive action and help other acts who face similar obstacles. "It was made clear to me that it wasn’t the done thing, and I just thought well, why not? We’ve been really successful in fundraising because people believe in the comedians we’ve selected and people want us to do well".

Davies is using Kickstarter to raise money for Best In Class, a stand against the overwhelming disproportionately middle class takeover of the Fringe and the cultural pricing-out of working class performers. With fundraising shows in London, Manchester and Liverpool helping the effort, these showcases also direct attention to the online crowd fund. "It’s all crowdfunded and it's profit sharing as well. Everyone is going to get a share of any profit we make at the end of it. No one has to pay to be a part of it. I’ve put in the money myself… and we’ve been crowdfunding to make that back".

Ultimately, the hope is that the financial drain of costly Fringe accommodation, travel, venue hire and time away from work will not deter working class acts from the biggest arts festival in the world, which is also a major talent scouting event for the industry. Over a hundred acts applied for these limited slots, a testament to the need of such a showcase and to the Fringe’s lack of class diversity and accessibility. "I probably could have staffed the show just from people that I know from the circuit but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to get people from different areas, people from different cities, people that represent different viewpoints. That’s the whole point, we’re all working class but my experience of being working class is not going to be the same as the next person’s experience of being working class".

Recently published figures from a sociological study on social mobility in the cultural industries show that on average, less than 20% of people working in the creative sector (taken from a range of different industries) identify as working class. "It's easy to discriminate against working class people because we don’t fit into a tick box," says Davies. "There’s different things contributing to it and if I’m honest, I can’t even define it. People ask me to define it and I think well, it is really difficult to… that’s why no one in the industry says 'let’s get these working class comedians in', because people start asking questions". She adds: "If you look at any kind of struggles for any sort of equality or recognition, unfortunately it always does come from the bottom up… it’s about making the people at the top take notice".

Best Of Class runs daily at the Free Festival venue Laughing Horse @ Harry’s Southside, 12pm, 2-26 Aug. It includes Vince Atta, Lindsey Santoro, Tom Mayhew, Cheekykita, Drew Taylor, Jamie Hutchinson, Nena Edwards, Kathryn Mather and is compered by Siân Davies.

You can support the Best Of Class project via Kickstarter