Ashley Frieze – Everyone’s a Critic

It’s true. You get to Edinburgh thinking you’re a perfectly normal, rational, non-insecure individual, and then all of a sudden there’s a frenzy of reviews and you end up in the corner of a room beating yourself up over something someone said/wrote/felt. Surely it shouldn’t matter?

With comedy, of course, the most important reaction is the immediate response of the audience – that’s part of the drug which keeps you coming back for me. That instant hit of appreciation/disapproval; if you have a certain personality trait, you seek that out, or at least learn to depend on/love/hate it.

There’s a routine I do in my stand-up – it’s not all that funny written down (or spoken, probably) about this. It genuinely happened to me. I was walking down the street grinning away to myself and a drunk girl, on the other side of the road (it was North Bridge, fact fans) saw my smile and decided that I, along with the whole world probably, was laughing at her. “Aye, very funny!” she shouted and I immediately thought “Oooh, that’s a good review”. It gets under your skin.

In a way of reminding myself to keep reviews in perspective as they start coming, or worse still, don’t start coming, in response to the show I’ll be doing in a few days, I’ll point out that a review is just a single person’s opinion, based on sitting in a particular seat at one individual show. Adam Bloom once pointed out that if you do a bad gig and get a review for it, it’s a win win, as a good review is triumph out of a bad gig, and a bad review is not to be worried about if you knew the gig hadn’t been you at your best. Nice thoughts.

Everyone sees the world their way. You’ll see ThreeWeeks, The Scotsman and Chortle give the same shows wildly different numbers of stars, sometimes in no particular order. It’s just subjective. It’s not important. A bad review isn’t read by that many people, unless you’ve really done something so obnoxious that it’s news in itself. Good reviews are probably not read by that many people either, though you can draw people’s attention to them, which is really what they’re there for.

However, some reviews hurt. Here they are in order of increasing hurtfulness:

Some student journalist – some young buck, eager to make their name by saying what they think, but who doesn’t get the point of what you’re trying to do can make you the butt of their ego. That’s not cool. A review is not about the reviewer. It should try to understand the show and see the pros and cons. That said, being slated by a kid can feel like more than just a minor irritant. Kids today, eh? They’re only interested in iPods, hoodies and looting… what would they know? Sadly, sometimes they’re actually right!

A respected journalist – shit. I agree with a lot of what this man/woman/anemone thinks. If they’ve just explained why I’m shit, how am I going to rationalise my respect for them as a journalist with my desire to protect my ego from believing bad things about myself. In this situation, it’s best to concentrate on their spelling and punctuation to find something to pick at that’s irrelevant and a useful distraction.

Another act – we’re all in this together, right? Well, apparently some acts would rather tell each other that they’re shit than share in the same fear of ego-bashing that comes over all performers in a performing situation. If possible, stick with the Noel Coward response to another performer’s work: “Darling! You’ve done it again!” – you can’t take too much away from that.

An audience member – the problem with an audience member review is that they’ve really got no axe to grind. They don’t even have to review you. In fact, they have to deliberately go somewhere and write a review for you to see. If they really didn’t like you so much that they wrote how much they didn’t like it, it’s actually genuine, heartfelt and the reaction of the very person you’d set out to entertain. Ouch!

Your loved ones – sometimes all you want from your partner is for them to give you a hug and tell you that they liked you. A detailed breakdown of everything you did wrong isn’t always easy to take.

The backhanded compliment – I once had someone come up to me after a show and say “… well I liked you!” Ow!

And that’s it. Best advice is not to focus too much on the reviews. But don’t be precious about it. Don’t be all prima donna Frank Skinner about it and demand never to hear about them. It’s only words, and that’s really all we’re peddling here people – abstract concepts can’t hurt you!

Ashley Frieze – The Seven Deadly Sings (Remastered), 2:30PM, 13-28 August, Pravda Room, Espionage, Venue 185. Part of the Free Festival

You can also follow Ashley on Twitter.

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