Photo: Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival

Photo: Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

Last year at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival there were 627 events in seventeen days across the City. This year promises to be bigger, better and funnier, but at what cost to the audience?

Fortunately for us, there were many free and relatively cheap shows at last year’s Festival and looking at the events schedule for this year; there will be plenty more. The society we live in has made us a bit sceptical about free things, with us most likely asking “what is wrong with it?” or “what is the catch?” I can assure there is nothing wrong with free laughs, and the only catches involve queuing; which we are all supposedly so good at.

The free shows this year range from start-up comedians to niche comedians to well-known comedians in the comedy circuit. One of the main venues to see free and cheaper shows is at the Leicester Creative Business Depot, with relatively new promoters and venue managers, Heroes, making it possible.

It is all well and good for us to pay nothing for shows but where do we expect comedians to earn money from? After all, performing comedy is their job. There is an alternative idea of ‘Pay What You Want’ shows, where the audience pay exactly what they feel the comedian deserves on exiting the venue.

Comedian, Bob Slayer, self-confessed ‘comedian, promoter, tour manager, and idiot’ seems to be a firm supporter of ‘Pay What You Want’ shows. He told writer John Fleming: “Not only is ‘Pay What You Want’ a more honest description of Free shows, it is a more honest name for most Paid shows where, many shows give away tickets for free due to low sales – or ‘papering’ as it’s called.”

Heroes originally came about to try and bridge the gap between paid and free shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They used the ‘Pay What You Want’ model at last year’s Fringe and The Scotsman described them as an “eccentric promoter who has found a new financial model that champions creative independence.”

Even though a show is ‘Pay What You Want,’ people are still able to buy tickets in advance to make sure they get entry into the show. For Dave’s Comedy Festival, Heroes advises people with tickets to the show to arrive before the start time as they are seated first.

If there are spaces left, the queuing ‘free’ audience will be let in and they can either leave some money or their ticket at the end of the show. In order for you to see a show for free, you need to rely on other people not buying advance tickets as you may struggle to get in if it is already full.

Bob Slayer explained just how well it worked at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival: “what we also found was that, by telling punters that some folks had already paid a fiver, they were prepared to give more to the performer at the end.

“In an ideal world, punters would pay what they wanted in advance as well, but the Fringe Box Office can’t cope with that at the moment. Maybe in the future…” It seems almost like reverse psychology.

Shows are all based on what we as the audience are willing to pay. If we are willing to pay more for a well-established, prominent comedian then there is not really any need for them to adopt a free or ‘Pay What You Want’ model, economically speaking.

However, audiences may be more likely to see unknown, or less established comedians if shows are free and they may pull in a wider audience who may not usually go to comedy shows. Whatever your budget, there is definitely a wide spectrum of shows for you to enjoy at this year’s Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival.

By Daljeet Kaur Sandher