Kev F Sutherland is a comedian, writer, producer and comic artist. Since 2007 he’s been assisting hit comedy double act The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre.
Why do you go to the fringe and do comedy festival shows?
Same reason you do any comedy show, I guess. Basically it’s to make people laugh and to get paid for it. So the idea with the Fringe is that it’s bigger with more shows and more potential punters, ergo you should make more people laugh and get paid more than usual for it. As we all know, it doesn’t always work out that way.
To save me from doing a lot of swearing at google, what is your history of Edinburgh shows? Both producing and as a punter.
My wife Hev & I started going as punters in 1984. Yes, I know. It was a very different scale of event then, with theatre and the arts being what the fringe was about, and comedy being a small part of the big picture. On Chortle I’ve posted pages from the 84 programme that show how insignificant comedy, and its sister category Alternative Cabaret, were back then.
In 2001 I took up my first show as a producer, The Sitcom Trials which had a cast of 5 (Miranda Hart, Charity Trimm, Gerard Foster, Dan Clegg & Dominic Frisby) with me as host. In 2002 we went up again with a different cast – well (I’ll keep this as short as I can) no cast to begin with. Because of losing the sponsorship I’d got the previous year, I suddenly found I couldn’t pay for the actors accommodation, so instantly I had no actors. I made the show up at short notice using actors who were already up in Edinburgh doing other shows. James Holmes, doing a one man sitcom, stayed with us throughout. The others left after the first week and were replaced by whoever I could find, the best being a double act called Hough & Solon who I saw losing their heat of So You Think You’re Funny and asked if they’d join our show. They performed for nearly 2 weeks. At the end of week one we got a withering one star review including the line “I would happily have voted to have my eyes gouged out with hot spoons rather than endure another moment”, and by the end of week 3 we’d got a TV series. Laura Solon went on to win the Perrier a few years later.
Did one more Sitcom Trials in 2004, then in 2007 returned with the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre which brought new shows in 08, 09 and 10.
What’s the biggest change/difference in the fringe since you started going?
Comedy. There was next to none in 1984, there has been way too much since the late 90s. Too many people think Edinburgh is a Comedy Festival, and it’s not.
You do the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet theatre now . Previously you did shows stand up shows like Rude health, why did you decide to switch to puppets?
Rude Health wasn’t successful. For my pride as a performer it was good, as I proved to myself I could do a solo hour long themed show, on sexual health. But it was nigh on impossible to promote, its unique selling point being “a male, white comedian you’ve never heard of who isn’t on the telly”. That description makes you indistinguishable from literally hundreds of other acts, so it is no wonder that stand-ups struggle on the Fringe.
The Sitcom Trials was always easier to publicise because of its description, “a sitcom show where you vote for the best and only see the ending of the winner”, is intriguing. And word of mouth then spreads, if you’ve done a good show of course.
The Socks came out of a Sitcom Trials show in London, where I had scripts which I didn’t want actors to bugger up. So I wondered how I could perform the scripts myself, put some socks on my hands in the script meeting, and never looked back. Audiences found them funnier than anything I’d ever done as a stand up, and funnier than anything else in The Sitcom Trials, damn them.
Do you choose a theme for the sock puppet shows and if so how do you choose one?
I’ve tried to keep it simple. The Socks material grows through the year, and I’m left with a grab bag of unrelated items which I then have to contrive some connection between. I’m sure it’s not only me. The first show was just eponymous, year two was The Return Of.. eponymous (a bad idea for a title, by the way, as you appear in the wrong place in alphabetical listings. So ALWAYS name your show with Your Act’s Name First, then the subtitle), year 3 was “… Goes To Hollywood” and year 4 “..On The Telly”, both titles into which virtually anything can be shoehorned.
How do you assemble a show?
The Socks shows are a mix of songs and double act routines, some of which have been tried as YouTube videos through the year, some tested on stage. For 09 and 10 I was able to use their spring tours to try out new material so that the touring show could change module by module, leaving me with a show at the end of the tour which was half the previous Edinburgh show and half the new Edinburgh show. Then there are preview shows where you jump in the deep end and do the whole brand new hour, and you keep doing that until the untried stuff is as good as the tried & tested stuff. Then you hit Edinburgh and keep changing things until you’re happy. If you’re lucky the reviewers will come after you’re happy and not before.
Which shows have you designed artwork for in the past?
My background is in the visual arts. I went to art school (studied fine art), I write & draw for The Beano, Marvel & others, and my earliest jobs were in design studios, so I think visually first. The first comedy show I designed posters for was The Magazine Jokespace in Leicester in 1985, then The Monkhouse in Leicester, the Comedy Box in Bristol, and eventually my own show The Sitcom Trials. A big title, a big photo, a catchy strapline, quotes if you got ’em, time dates & price, easy.
Best piece of advice anyone gave you about the fringe?
If anyone’s given me really good advice I’ve forgotten it. In 1985 we were advised to join The Assembly Club cos that was where all the celebs hang out. It wasn’t. Most years since there’s been some similar hot tip of things to do or places to be, none of them right. Every year things change, from the advisability of paying for flyposting, to buying ads on the Fringe website, to which venue is hot and which isn’t. You have to feel your way.
What do you think the most common mistake acts make at the fringe?
Not flyering. You have to learn the difference between selling a show in Edinburgh and anywhere else. In Edinburgh there are punters on the street waiting to see a show, you just have to ensure they come to yours. That is a much better prospect than in London, where the people walking past your door are not potential punters crying out to be reeled in. So the flyer is possibly your best marketing tool. Stick that piece of paper into the hand of someone on the Royal Mile and 1 in 10 out of the people you meet might come to your show (1 in 10 has been my hit rate in the past).
Most effective way of selling a show?
Flyering. Your presence in the programme is your entry into the “game”, and since 2010 all acts get a photo, which is a great boost (especially if, like the Socks, you are visually distinct, and not just another white bloke holding a microphone). Now you have to compete with every other act to get bums on seats, and that competition takes place mostly on the streets, outside your venue and on the Royal Mile.
Word of mouth is your second best tool. Once you’ve got a good show, people will tell other people. For this reason it is a very good idea, if you’re not likely to sell out early, to give away lots of free tickets (“paper”) your show for the first few days. Of every week.
Remember every Sunday or Monday is the start of a new week. All the hard work you have put into building an audience for week One, you will have to do all over again from scratch for week two and again for week three. Punters come up for their holiday, and holidays run from weekend to weekend. You forget this at your peril.
What’s your favourite memory of the fringe?
Lots of fond memories of laughter, and good reviews, and getting on the telly. Far too many to pick just one.
Least favourite memory of the fringe?
Did I mention “I would happily have voted to have my own eyes gouged out..”?
The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre live on stage in Edinburgh