This month Bristol’s Comedy Box at the Hen and Chicken has laid on a nice little season of Edinburgh previews – in which top circuit comics give audiences a sneak advance look at the shows they’ll be taking up to this year’s Edinburgh Festival. Everyone’s a winner, it seems – comics get to try out the new sets, and gauge reactions, before bedding them in for the extended run up north; promoters, and thus audiences, get some box-fresh new shows, at lower ticket prices than usual.
“Preview season is an odd one, because on the one hand the audience is made up of people that want to see ideas at their genesis – so you’re dealing with a far more savvy audience who need less spoon-feeding than a broader festival crowd,” reflects no-punches-pulling UK-based Australian comic Brendon Burns, who pitches up at the Comedy Box on July 27.
“Plus, in general, with previews one can go ahead and presume you’re dealing with people who are already fans of your work so there is a shorthand between you that you don’t necessarily have with a more general crowd. Preview crowds are also super-useful as they give you an indication of what’s hack or obvious. As they may have seen a number of other festival previews one can gauge from their reaction if you’re not bringing anything particularly fresh.”
Brendon will be performing Race Off, a double act that he shares with fellow Australian Craig Quartermaine. “I’m a white Aussie and Craig is indigenous, and it’s the story of how we came to be a double act and just how relevant the division between our communities is to the rest of the modern world. I guess it’s your classic buddy movie dynamic, two blokes just trying to get along with a lot of obstacles in their way.”
Steve Lount runs the Comedy Box and put the programme together. “Previews are a good way to interest audiences in work-in-progress shows before they go to the Fringe. It’s also a good way to encourage audiences back into venues in the middle of the summer when you’ve stopped doing your weekend ‘club’ shows.” This year’s impressive lineup also includes Carl Donnelly, Glenn Wool, Stephen Bailey and Ellie Taylor.
“Edinburgh previews are the most important, and often the funnest, gigs of the year,” adds Bristol-born-and-raised John Robins (pictured top), who also looks in with his new show. “Comedy is pretty unusual in that you need an audience in order to practice, and when you’re making connections onstage it can be a really unique experience, both as a performer and as an audience. Also, the tickets are cheaper!
“I guess mental health is an underlining theme of my new show. But it’s not about mental health: it’s about a guy who hates himself, but can’t stop laughing at that. Over the past year a lot changed in my life, and a lot went wrong. I’m lucky in that my job means that when everything falls apart, I’m able to go ‘OK dickhead, this is the absolute worst. Now, what’s funny about it?’”
Read more: Interview: Simon Amstell