Matt Kirshen has performed around the world, including Singapore, Dubai, Holland, Germany, and France. In 2007, he enjoyed a successful run in NBC’s Last Comic Standing. Matt Kirshen has performed around the world, including Singapore, Dubai, Holland, Germany, and France. In 2007, he enjoyed a successful run in NBC’s Last Comic Standing. His other TV appearances include The world Stands Up half hour special, The Late Edition, 8 out of 10 Cats (writer), 28 Acts in 28 Minutes.
Why do you go to the fringe and do comedy festival shows?
For any number of reasons. To become a better comic, to spend a month hanging out with my mates (some of whom I only get to see at fests) and I’d be lying if I said some of it wasn’t because the industry pays attention to the Fest. There are some telly people who only really know of the acts who play the Fringe.
To save me from doing a lot of swearing at google, what is your history of Edinburgh shows?
First Fest was 2000, before I was a performer. 2 friends and I worked FOH and box office at Augustines and Greyfriars Kirkhouse in exchange for one hot meal a day and a mattress on the floor of a shared room.
In 2002 three other friends from uni and I took a terrible show up for the last 8 days of the fest. Our venue was in a meeting room in the Apex Hotel on Grassmarket (6 years later, I’d have a meeting in that room and wonder how the hell we fitted a show into it). Our flyers were an A4 sheet photocopied in my dad’s office, and cut into quarters. The show got one, 1-star review. We made money.
2003 picked up a bit. I did two package shows – the Big Value Late Show and the Hackney Empire showcase. Both great line-ups, decent sized audiences and not much pressure. A lot of fun.
2004 I was in a sketch show – Stickmen – at the Pod Deco, a venue that lasted exactly one festival
2005 I didn’t have a proper show. Visited for about a week and did various gigs.
2006 My first solo show. Also did a kid’s play during the day.
2007 Was meant to be doing my second solo show. Got on telly in America and had to pull it, but not before my advert got in the guide. My name was painted over on the Pleasance noticeboard. Quite possibly the most successful year I’ve had in terms of PR as more people were discussing me not being there, and why, than I think would have discussed my actual show.
2008 Solo show two. Only the one show this year. I’d learned my lesson.
2009 Solo show three. Mostly a lovely run, except for the night with the stag night dressed as cats who had to be removed by security.
2010 Year off. Didn’t even visit. Felt great until the final weekend when I started to miss it, but by then it was too late to book time off.
Do you choose themed shows or just a straight hour of stand up?
Somewhere between the two, for the most part. This year’s going to be the most themed one that I’ve done. 2009 was going to be very themed, but in previews, those bits didn’t work, so they started to drop away.
How do you assemble a show?
Same way I write material, really. A mixture of sitting down with a pen and paper to work it out, and taking it onstage to see what happens naturally. In the case of full length shows, though, I also bounce things off others. Often it’s Paul Byrne, who directs comedy and is an excellent sounding board for ideas. The backs of the flyers for my last three shows have been the scrawled plan from one of my previews, so if you’re especially keen to see how my mind works and how I link ideas, have a look at one of them. Chris Lince (who is another good ideas-bouncer) has them in his design portfolio. There are probably better ways you could spend your time online, though. Youtube has a hilarious video of a kitten I highly recommend checking out.
Best piece of advice anyone gave you about the fringe?
Don’t read your reviews, see things that aren’t comedy, get out of town on your day off, spend some time meeting up with people who aren’t involved in the fest, exercise and go easy on the late nights. I have never once managed to follow this.
What do you think the most common mistake acts make at the fringe?
Most effective way of selling a show?
I don’t think I could tell you anything that you don’t already know. Best way to sell a show out is to get a glut of 4 and 5 star reviews in the big publications and have everyone say you should see it. Or already be famous. Next best way is to get on the streets and talk people into coming. You can do a lot of good by storming a short spot in the combo shows during the day and flyering after.
When general flyering, don’t just go outside and put a piece of paper in as many people’s hands as possible – they’ll have handfuls of these by the end of a stroll down the Royal Mile and your blurb probably won’t be enough to get them into the show. You’ll do better really talking to 5 people until they’re convinced your show is worth seeing than blindly handing a leaflet to hundreds.
What’s your favourite memory of the fringe?
Too many to mention here. I know that’s a cop-out answer, but it is a joy. An exhausting, dispiriting, expensive joy.
Least favourite memory of the fringe
I remember reading once that shortly after giving birth, women’s bodies release a hormone that wipes some of their short term memory so they don’t recall so much of the labour pain. I suppose from an evolutionary point of view that makes them more likely to get pregnant again. I also think something similar is injected into you in Waverley Station on the last Tuesday. Either that, or the festival’s a breeze really.
Matt Kirshen – Wide Eyed, 8:35PM , 4th to 28th August, Underbelly.
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