Opinion: Why Michael McIntyre's 'work-in-progress' show is a sham
The comedian is charging full price for a work-in-progress show
In a 2008 interview, Russell Howard declared that he was done with the Edinburgh Fringe. Not because he was sick of the month-long slog or disgusted by all those generally positive reviews. He put an abrupt end to spending August in Scotland because he felt a little queasy that his status as a major stand-up draw would have a negative effect on his comedy brethren. ‘That’s just stealing from your mates,’ insisted Howard. ‘If five years ago, some Bobby Tellypants had rocked up and people were all going to see him, I know that would have killed me. A lot of my really good mates were playing to audiences of about eight and that’s not a reflection of their talents, there’s simply just not enough people to go round.'
The situation where big-name comics invade the Fringe has long been a source of tension. One side maintains that having Jimmy Carr playing four nights at the Conference Centre adds to the prestige of the festival without having a serious effect on tickets sales around Bristo Square. The other lot think that Ricky Gervais erecting massive billboards to proclaim that he’s sold out Edinburgh Castle for a ticket price which dwarfed the amount you’d have paid to see world-class opera at the International Festival finally doused any residual ‘spirit of the Fringe’.
But what, really, should we make of Michael McIntyre’s antics? His two dates in early August at the Edinburgh Playhouse are down as ‘works-in-progress’, which normally take place in less salubrious surroundings. So how much are people being charged for half-complete jokes, unfinished silly dances and ill-fitting Morningside accents? They’re being charged £31. Of course, they’ll sell out (if they haven’t entirely shifted already) thus depriving those struggling comedians crawling up and down the Royal Mile just about mustering the strength to force a rain-soaked flyer into a Belgian’s hand. Were any tickets left on sale for it, you could have seen Daniel Kitson’s new show three times for that sum.
Please don’t assume that this is just another cheap dig at the British stand-up who probably divides opinion more than any other comic in the land. Personally, my distaste for McIntyre didn’t set in when he started playing rooms vast enough to accommodate a ludicrously large neon ‘MM’; I was equally as fond of him when he was half-filling Pleasance sweatboxes at the start of the century. And yes, diary-spotters, Frankie Boyle is also playing two nights at the Playhouse on the eve of the Fringe, but his entrance fee is a fiver less for a proper touring show whose ‘work-in-progress’ dates were a regular residency at The Stand.
Via his Comedy Roadshow, McIntyre is credited with helping to give aspiring stand-up comedians a brand new audience they might otherwise never have tapped into (Kevin Bridges remains grateful for his big break). Hopefully someone somewhere in his inner circle would have made him aware that such ironic showboating is simply not cricket.
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