While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fringe 2008: Dave Bloustien

Dave Bloustien – Beastly
7.10pm Monday 5 August

You can still feel ripped off when attending a free event. You have to give up an hour of your time (plus howeverlong it takes you to get there, then get where you’re going next). Sometimes it takes a lot for these ‘free’ acts to break even / make it worth your while. Dave Bloustien seemed to know this. He made a point of expressing his gratitude to those of us who packed the tiny Kasbar (inside the larger Espionage night club cum festival showcase). He really wanted us to enjoy the show. When we didn’t laugh (audibly) at some of his jokes, he apologised for having more fun than us. It was hard not to like him.

A bit of background: Dave Bloustien is an Australian (grew up in Adelaide, now lives in Sydney) of Jewish decent who recently travelled to Africa with his wife who is a ‘Death Specialist’ (grief counsellor). And that is basically where all the material for his show came from. There were times when his compulsion to engage the crowd (‘Where are you from?’ ‘Zimbabwe’, ‘How long since you got out?’, ‘I still live there…’) threatened to derail his show, not to mention his authority to talk about Africa and the problems with various charities, but his likeability kept the crowd on his side.

His non-African material was pretty Australian focussed (not surprising as this show was first performed in Australia), but he managed to keep it general enough for the non-Austro crowd to follow.

I found out after the show that Bloustien had written for one of my favourite Australian TV shows, the sadly now cancelled The Glass House. Which makes sense given the political content of his show and the light touch with which it was delivered. He was not the most polished comedian I’ve ever seen, struggling to mix-up his set list to fit his conversations with the crowd, but he definitely made me laugh enough to break even and even make a decent hall in the tip-jar afterwards.

Which is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Some of these marginal shows that charge £5 or £10 for 50 minutes must have days where they play to only a handful of people (one of whom is probably a reviewer). Surely it’s harder to be on form in such a demoralising situation. On the other hand, Dave Bloustien’s show is pretty much ‘sold out’ (it’s free but you need tickets… there’s a couple left for this week, get in quick) for his 10 night run. This is good for the performer (more chance for laughs, more people to ask ‘Where do you come from’, less chance of feeling like you’re performing for your sub-conscious) and good for the audience (it can be awkward being the only person at a show and not finding it funny; the free performer is motivated by tips to put on a good show). A take of three paying audience members for £10 for a non-free show versus thirty audience members who tip a couple of pounds each for a ‘free’ show… Both paths involve a gamble (for performer and audience), but after thinking this through, there should be no stigma attached to ‘free’ shows.

Now if only people would tip for free reviews…

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