In praise of the ‘Skeptics in the Pub’

The last – and only – time I took a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was in 2015. Irrespective of title, content etc., I kept it under the radar. I kept it under the radar for two reasons: it wasn’t ready, and took a good while to get anywhere near cohesive in its orientation; I also wanted to get an idea of how the whole Edinburgh experience worked. I say ‘I kept it under the radar’… let’s just say beyond attempting to get people in, on a daily basis, I didn’t go out of my way to court publicity, or achieve some sort of greater recognition.

If anything, the experience only served to confirm what I believe to be the biggest obstacle in relation to promoting an Edinburgh show: a lack of readiness. Whatever befalls the situation thereafter, taking to the stage having billed a show as a complete entity, and knowing that the idea is far from it, is a far more depressing scenario to serve unto oneself than any amount of negative feedback on the part of others (be it press or otherwise)… chances are, they’ll confirm this for you, anyway.

The 2015 experience highlighted that it can take an entire run to even begin to shape an idea to the point of satisfaction i.e. a consistent set of narrative ideas and/or themes throughout, with plenty of punchlines to spare.

So what are the potential solutions to the problem? It’s either case of running material in, over the period of year’s performing in the clubs, or get a really good load of previews leading up to the festival. Clearly the latter is the preferable route as themed shows tend to contain ideas that do not readily lend themselves to the club circuit. Getting ‘preview time’ is in a thing-in-itself though, with amounts available standing in direct correlation to perceived notions of profile, on the part of promoters.

To provide further clarification, one time – in my own capacity as a promoter – I offered some ‘preview time’ to a comic on-the-cusp of becoming a household name, which they were able to decline on the basis that they already had thirty previews in the book; not to mention the fact that they were also likely to be running in some of the more accessible bits via guest appearances at the clubs as well. Basically, if your star’s in the ascendant, the offers will so much more readily available: ‘to they that hath, shall be given’.

I should also mention that prior to 2015, I had previously succeeded in touring a show about teaching, which I took around the country’s various arts centres and theatres; in some instances on more than one occasion. I was able to do a certain amount of preparation via other festivals, and also through some of the events I promote under the ‘Barnstormers Comedy’ but nonetheless the show was considerably different by the end of the process, and – obviously – in much greater shape. A comedy idea is never finished really: it can always be improved and enhanced by continual performance and reflection.

So what is the point of going to Edinburgh without an idea that at the very least stands up (no pun) to a reasonable extent at the outset? In my opinion, none really… but happily, I feel justified in going this year with something that I feel is already taking shape to a very satisfying extent, and it’s no-small-part thanks to an organisation called ‘Skeptics in the Pub’.

I first came across the ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ back when I was living in Sussex. Scouting around for gigs in the locale, I noticed a fellow comic (of an arguably more polemical persuasion) was performing for the Worthing branch. Further investigation revealed the ‘SiTPs’ to be a worldwide concern that was very big on the business of debunking ideas across a broad range of religious and pseudo-scientific issues; and played host to many of the great and the good on hand, to facilitate the process.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that here was an opportunity to create something pertaining to my own past as a Religious Studies teacher, and – more recently – Humanist affiliate.

A few phone e-mails later, and I had a number of engagements in the book, on the basis that not only were the ‘SiTPs’ keen on a bit of comedy, my background as a Religious Studies teacher would – hopefully – make for an interesting Q&A, which always follows a performance/talk.

And needless to say – fast-forwarding to the present day – it’s been great process, developing the idea in conjunction with the organisation: not only have I been able to write about stuff that really interests me, I’ve also had space to breathe: there isn’t the pressure to conform to the three-or-more laughs-per-minute dictates of the club circuit.

Not that I didn’t want to get plenty of laughs all the same. I’m a little wary of individuals who bill themselves as stand-up comedians when what they do has more to do with ‘infotainment’ than comedy. By which I mean, if you stack a set-up with loads of information, the audience will forgive a weak punchline as they’ve already got a stack of educational nourishment, in the telling. The unfortunate flip-side, from a focussed comedic perspective, is that if the ideas aren’t working, it can seem – from an audience perspective – that they’re in the midst of a strange lecture from an individual who doesn’t seem to realise they’re relying purely on a continual stream of odd non-sequiturs, with little-to-no grasp of the linear process.

But, as suggested, it’s been a great experience. Sure, there were clunkier gigs – mostly – earlier on, but they’ve invariably been rescued by a very fulfilling Q&A in the second half: there’s plenty of interest out there, about the way in which the business of religion is taught in our schools. And that in part, is the thrust of the show: raising the question as to how best to teach the subject.

So thanks ‘SiTPs’. Thanks first of all for providing an excellent platform for discussion and investigation more generally, but also – in my case – for allowing me to present my ideas in such a way that I can be free from the expectations of the usual comedy set-up, and therefore free to succeed or fail on more relaxed terms. And apart from having met a stack of great new people, I can also go to Edinburgh with that little bit more confidence at the outset, and that alone has made the experience invaluable.

For more information regarding my Edinburgh show: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/kevin-precious-unholier-than-thou-the-non-believing-religious-studies-teacher

For more information regarding ‘Skeptics in the Pub’: https://www.skepticsinthepub.org/

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About Kevin Precious: Talking Out Of School

Kevin Precious is a former RE Teacher turned stand-up comedian. He previously toured the country's arts centres and theatres with a school-themed show entitled 'Not Appropriate'. He is currently working on a show called 'Unholier Than Thou' which combines his career as an RE Teacher with his outlook as a non-believer. The plan is to take it to Edinburgh in 2018. If you wish to book him as a stand-up comic, host or for teacher-themed events, you can do so by contacting The Artists Partnership, the details of which are below. Kevin also promotes and hosts stand-up comedy nights at a variety of arts centres and theatres under the Barnstormers Comedy banner. Kevin Precious Website Booking Kevin: The Artists Partnership Barnstormers Comedy Website www.facebook.com/kevinpreciouscomedy
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