Life & Culture

Edinburgh Fringe diary: ‘This city in August? It’s like Limmud on steroids!’

The UK’s only female Orthodox stand-up Rachel Creeger gives the lowdown on the Edinburgh Fringe


I’m coming to you “live” from the biggest arts festival in the world and by the time you read this I’ll be approximately 24 shows down out of almost 80 booked performances and, I imagine, 50 per cent happy, 50 per cent questioning my life choices. The Edinburgh Fringe existence for performers is surreal, relentless and exhausting but also invigorating, embracing and exciting. It’s like Limmud on steroids.

I arrived last Tuesday and immediately set off with my Fringe flatmates, comedians Adele Cliff and Philip Simon (my co-host on the Jew Talkin’ To Me? podcast) for the Big Shop. This is part of our routine — not the comedy kind — every year as we settle in.

We head off to the one supermarket that caters for all of us, including a vegan section for Adele and a kosher one for me because I’m not able to schlep my Mrs Elswood’s pickles on the train from King’s Cross. We’ve shared the same flat up here for a few years now, and it’s an enormous benefit to our mental health to have a stable base, where you know your way to everywhere, how the heating works and what your bed feels like.

The position is perfect for me, alongside the Meadows, meaning that we have a few minutes to walk along the grass and trees on our way in and out of the main performance areas, time to get in and out of our gig personas. It’s also 20 minutes from Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation and 15 from Chabad so my Shabbat arrangements are simple.

I’m very lucky, as this is my 10th Fringe I’m now part of the furniture of the Edinburgh Jewish community and they often joke that a twelfth of my shul membership should really be paid to them.

My comedy pals are often jealous that I get to switch off from the mayhem for 25 hours and become part of another community, one that feeds me both physically and spiritually.

On the podcast we often ask: “What’s the most Jewish thing that’s happened to you recently?” and within 24 hours of arrival here I’d bumped into American Jewish comedian Al Lubel in the corner shop, made a batch of chicken soup and been asked to speak on Shabbat between kiddush and lunch.

We’re meeting up with other Jewish acts, ostensibly to record mini-episodes but there’s also an element of connecting with our people in the intersection of the Venn diagram of Jews and comedians. It’s lovely.

This year is being pitched as a triumphant return of the Fringe post-pandemic, but it’s a tough year for acts. People often think we are paid to be here but that couldn’t be further from the truth. For comedians, the Edinburgh Fringe is essentially a trade fair where you’re doing what you can to pitch for future work and increase your fan base.

There are significant costs, for example our accommodation in a three bedroom, one bathroom, one reception room student flat costs more than double the rent of my house in London, and it’s considered a steal!

My show is with the PBH Free Fringe, a kibbutz-style operation where you don’t pay any fees to take part, and you’re given a slot in a pop-up venue which could be anything from a pub function room to a barbershop after its daily appointments have finished to an unused retail space. You make the best of it and have a “dayenu” attitude.

No tickets are sold for these, it’s first come, first served. If your show is with a paid venue, it can cost thousands to hire, plus technicians and other assistants, PR and marketing, and flyerers (that’s people to hand out flyers).

Most of us take on help with flyering for the hour before the show because the last thing you want to do before talking to strangers for an hour is to talk to strangers for an hour.

But I quite like flyering, there’s a knack to it and it involves a lot of what the police call “profiling”. Philip is performing a children’s show so he looks out for families. I’m performing a Jewish show so I look out for antisemites. They won’t enjoy my jokes and there are 3,499 other shows that they might prefer.

The big topic of discussion here is the absence of the Fringe App, which has impacted on those doing free unticketed (donation at the end) shows. In particular the “nearby now” function which allowed visitors to take a chance on a show they hadn’t planned to see when they have a gap in their schedule.

There’s a lot of bad feeling about the way that we were charged the same money partly because we don’t sell tickets or use other box office facilities, but mostly because it wasn’t made clear when we registered. App jokes are rife amongst the comics.

After two years away, I feel that this year’s festival is full of ghosts. Venues I’ve performed in that have closed down or aren’t part of this year’s events, flats I’ve stayed in that aren’t available (most memorably one in Bellevue where there were eight of us sharing and my room was so small that I could touch both sides without stretching). I’m remembering conversations I’ve had with friends and strangers, and I’m missing the late, great Lynn Ruth Miller more than I can say.

Bumping into her and going for a cuppa and chat was a much loved regular feature of my previous Fringe experiences.

We still have a couple of weeks left. As well as performing my solo show Pray It Forward and singalong improv show Choir? with Paul Richards every day except for Shabbat, I will be on the radio, host the Funny Women Awards semi finals online, record a live episode of Jew Talkin’ To Me? with a surprise guest and appear onstage at least another 50 something times.

I’m tired just thinking about it. But I love it.

Pray It Forward is on at 11.45am at The Globe Bar, and Choir? at Revolution at 3.55pm, both with PBH’s Free Fringe. The live recording of Jew Talkin’ To Me? Is on Wednesday 17 August at The Box, with Assembly.

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