F E S T l V A I. _ comedy/PREVIEW
With the traditional end-of—Fringe Benefit Nights approaching, Ross Parsons talks to STEPHEN FRY, host of the massive 0n the Fringe of Hysteria show, about the pros and cons of charity bashes.
he lugubrious figure of Stephen Fry cuts
a lot of ice in the world of comedy these
days. As befits a comic of his status, he is
very selective about the benefits he
does. ‘We got over the first ﬂush of
them, when there was one-a-fortnight, a few years ago,’ he enunciates in his fruit-laden voice. ‘One tries to help where possible but you do get asked to do too many. You know, you get asked to do one for the Birmingham Six, or the Renault Five or whoever.’ Which underlines the importance he attaches to the On the Fringe of Hysteria night, which he will host at the Edinburgh Playhouse on 24 August.
As an ad hoc Pick of the Fringe plus people-who-happen-to-be-in-the-area show, it will feature Vic Reeves, Mark Little, Emo Philips, Archaos, Rita Wolf, Roland Gift, Norman Lovett, and a rackful of American comics among many others. It will also be of enormous significance to a variety of AIDS-related charities. Each of which is currently struggling to get adequate financing.
However, every benefit night has its side-effects. While generating funds and heightening awareness of specific issues, they can also be seen to act as a disincentive for the government to shoulder its responsibilities. The more actors, comedians and technicians voluntarily donate their time and energy to such shows, so the argument goes, the less pressure there is on the government to stump up badly needed funding.
Fry is too wily not to be aware of the potential double-edged effect of Beneﬁts: ‘Yes, it is indeed the government’s responibility. Unfortunately, I’m not so highly trained a Marxist as to be able to turn my back on present suffering, by merely saying that it’s not our job and if we help by subscribing to charities then we are allowing the government to abdicate its responsibilities. It’s very hard to argue that what we should do is actually make the problem get worse by contributing nothing, so that eventually people will rise up in insurrection and force the government to do it.
‘There are those presently suffering who need help and if the government isn’t going to do it then you can’t just say it’s in the interest of future generations who may suffer, for the present generation to die unattended. At the same time one can make a lot of fuss and noise about the fact that the government are doing nothing about the problem, which I think is what ‘we are doing.’
The Edinburgh show is a follow up to the one at the Albert Hall in which John Cleese and Tina Turner were among the many who performed for nowt. This time, The Hysteria Trust, chaired by our man Fry, have, as well as utilising the varied talents on offer at the Fringe, enlisted the help of John Smith MP in an effort to achieve the primary target of a great night of entertainment. Our host will be performing a sketch with the Shadow Chancellor. So is the politician a closet comedian? ‘Not to my knowledge, but I daresay we’ll find something to do together which will be quite good fun.’ Or, is the comedian a closet politician? ‘Oh no, no, no, but it is always good to keep in with future Chancellors. I wouldn’t mind a bat at politics one day but I think at the minute, comedy is more urgent, people need it more urgently, there is a desperate, desperate need of good quality gags.’ Though he agreed a good quality chancellor wouldn’t go amiss just now.
Stephen Fry is among the best known of the new generation of comics who began their careers at the Fringe. He first appeared up here in 1980; the clearest memory he claims to have is of sore calves from tramping up and down hills. ‘When I first came up here, there were hundreds oflittle venues. Then slowly the Assembly Rooms and places like that started to emerge and people would go around saying “I just think that the spirit of the Fringe is being ruined by these Super Venues,” and then next year they’d be invited to appear there and they’d say, “Well actually, I think the Assembly Rooms is a really brilliant venue, it’s a fantastic idea.” ’ And the next step up for Fringe performers? Being asked to participate in a charity gala show, of course.
On the Fringe of Hysteria (Fringe) Various Artists, Playhouse Theatre (Venue 59) 55 72590, 24 Aug, midnight, £5—£ 15 ; tickets from Playhouse and Assembly Rooms only.
The List 24 — 30 August I‘M) 13