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The Comedy Promoter: Brett Vincent from Get Comedy

By | Published on Saturday 18 August 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves, and top tips on how to get the most out of the experience. This time, we are talking to comedy promoter Brett Vincent.

Brett started out working at the Fringe for comedy promoters Bound & Gagged, later joining Underbelly, before setting up Get Comedy. Through that business he now both manages and promotes an impressive roster of comedians throughout the year, as well as programming comedy stages at various music festivals and running his own comedy festival in the Alps, Altitude. Plus he continues to promote a roster of great shows at the Fringe each August.

We spoke to him to find out more about working in comedy.

CC: Let’s start with the basics, what does being a comedy promoter at the Edinburgh Fringe involve?
BV: We are the link between the performer and the venue, and are there to make the Festival as stress free for both of them. We also take the burden of PR and promotion off the artist, so they can concentrate on the show itself. And we find the best accommodation as required, near to the place where the comedian is performing. Basically, any problems, the performer comes to us first, so they can just deliver the comedy while we eliminate the complications.

CC: How do you decide which shows to work with?
BV: That’s a very hard question to answer. Every year I have shedloads of requests to be under the Get Comedy banner, but usually I won’t go over twenty shows, because then it would be hard to give each individual performer the attention they deserve.

The acts I represent full-time hopefully come with me first. Then it’s people I care about and who I know are prepared to put in as much hard work into their shows as I will.

I very rarely go with someone who has cobbled together an hour of their last five years of circuit material, nor a TV face who is bouncing off their recent fame. I might take a punt on nostalgia though. Over the years I’ve brought ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’, Roy Walker, Jim Bowen, Dick & Dom and Jim Rose Circus up to the Fringe.

Ultimately, it’s the performers and shows that make me laugh. I’ve taken punts on shows that no one has ever heard of because that person has struck my funny bone.

CC: Once you are on board with a show, what do you most need your comedians to do?
BV: Previews, previews and more previews. At least three or four ‘find-your-way’ shows before August. You can’t arrive in Edinburgh with ideas on bits of paper, not any more, those days are over. Punters have paid to see an hour of great comedy and the “it’s only the Fringe” mantra is long gone. Work on that show from the moment we’ve agreed we are working together. Then I’ll do all the stuff I mentioned earlier, and help you find an audience every day or night, rain or shine.

CC: How does being a comedy promoter at the Edinburgh Fringe compare to promoting comedy elsewhere?
BV: The Fringe is a unique animal. Every show at whatever time is competing with around 700 other shows. That doesn’t happen with a tour, a comedy festival, or – for that matter – any other Fringe festival on the planet.

CC: How did you get into the comedy promoting lark?
BV: I came up to Edinburgh in 1997 and fell in love with the Festival. I came back in 1998 just to DJ, flyer and party. There were so many great parties back then! But it wasn’t really until 1999 when my brother, comedian Andre Vincent, asked me to play tunes in his Edinburgh show that I really got properly involved in the Festival. His promoters that year, Bound & Gagged, asked me if I would flyer and help in the office in exchange for a bed and wage. They were happy with my donkey work and offered me a full-time job. I learnt everything from Nigel Klarfeld – the bossman at Bound & Gagged – he is very much my mentor.

CC: When and why did you set up Get Comedy?
BV: I had to get away from Nigel Klarfeld, he was driving me mad! I later joined Underbelly, but they drove me mad, so I had to get away from them as well! Then I found out that a big entertainment company called GetInvolved was looking to launch a comedy department and I jumped at it. And so GetComedy was born!

CC: Get Comedy does lots more in the comedy space. For example, you manage acts as well as promote them. What’s the difference between promoting an act and managing an act?
BV: About £8k a year!

CC: You have also produced comedy stages at a number of music festivals. How does that compare to promoting shows at a fringe festival like Edinburgh?
BV: As I said above, I was originally a DJ and I still love my music today. I adore working on the music festivals. It’s a breeze compared to the Fringe. You ring an act, ask if they want to see, say, Madness or Elton John or Missy Elliot, and if they do, I’ll tell them I’ll give them a wage to do twenty minutes of jokes as well on a smaller but nicer stage. Easy. Love it!

CC: You’ve also been involved in setting up an entire comedy festival. What did you learn from doing that?
BV: It’s hard for me to delegate, I am so hands on. I need to know about the bar, the food outlets, the merchandise, the toilets, everything. I know now that I have to trust others to do things, but it’s hard. Also, when you’re dealing with town councillors who only speak German and they want it one way, and you know it only works the other way, you have to learn to compromise. Or just find and book their favourite comic!

CC: What tips would you have for a self-promoting comedian bringing their first show to the Fringe?
BV: These days you have to find your own audience, and YouTube, Instagram, Facebook or some other form of social media will probably play a key role in that. We have definitely seen that work and grow in the last few years. Today, you can be a reviewers’ favourite but it still might not put bums on seats.

CC: What tips would you have for early-career comedians trying to find a promoter or manager to work with?
BV: Try and do it off your own back the first year. Try the Free Fringe and do everything yourself, preferably with a mixed bill or a double bill. And once you discover how hard it really is, you’ll better understand what it is the promotor does! Go see an act you like. Then walk around town and see if you’re happy with the number of posters and leaflets that act has out there. Do they have a ‘presence’ on the Fringe. If so, find out who is looking after them and watch how they work, for all the different shows they represent. Talk to acts and find out from them who has impressed. So, basically, do your research and then reach out.

CC: And finally, what tips would you have for any budding comedy promoters?
BV: Good luck! Most venues, PRs, performers and audiences are pain in the arse!!!

LINKS: getcomedy.com