by Michelle Newton
Comedians look like they’re having a lark up there on stage, telling jokes, taking pratfalls and making people laugh, often using their own lives as material. It doesn’t look like a place to test out your business smarts.
In Princess Nikki of Britton is Abdicating Adulthood at the Sydney Fringe Festival, comedian Nikki Britton is valiantly trying to hold adulthood at bay, at the same time as building a name for herself as a comedian and performer.
Riotously railing against the absurdities of adulthood, Ms Britton takes shots at baby showers at which the hostess forces guests to sniff the (simulated with melted chocolate) contents of a nappy, lunch hours spent standing in line at government institutions so you can hand over your hard-earned cash, or people who buy a sign to hang in their bathroom that commands “WASH” … a reminder against the forgetfulness of age perhaps?
Abdicating Adulthood might be described as Ms Britton’s cri de coeur – a reaction to the success of her first one-woman show which she took to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, earning four and a half stars from the Adelaide Advertiser, then to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, where it garnered four stars.
When she took Flaw Plan, her first show, to Melbourne earlier this year, Ms Britton was a relatively inexperienced stand-up, having only been performing for about two years. The experience, she says, almost broke her.
“You do 22 shows in a row,” she said. “It’s relentless.”
After Melbourne, Ms Britton felt exhausted.
“I thought, ‘you broke me comedy. I’m broken. I give up, I’m done’.”
“It was successful, it was fun but I’m not putting myself through that again,” she said.
So exhausted was she that when she was approached by the organisers of the Sydney Fringe, she at first said no. In denial until the eleventh hour, she quickly had to write her show the week before the festival started.
Doing the festivals has been a huge learning experience for Ms Britton, not only in terms of performing, but also in the business of comedy.
“I’ve never been interested in business whatsoever,” said Ms Britton.
“I’ve gone from zero business knowledge or comprehension of publicity and marketing to every day of my life has something to do with my ‘brand’.”
She says in the comedy world, performers will do either Sydney or Melbourne fringe festivals, and sometimes both, then everyone will come together to do Adelaide, the biggest of the fringe festivals in Australia.
Then, if they have “stable mental health” they might go to Edinburgh, the big daddy of fringe festivals.
Ms Britton has never done a solo show there, instead fitting in a number of gigs, but imagines it’s “excruciating”.
She said there are around 3,500 shows in one city over three weeks. And you can just turn up.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival says it is “proud to include in our programme anyone with a story to tell and a venue willing to host them.”
Which means for a relative newcomer like Britton, finding your own venue, finding your own audience, and hoping to come away from it having covered your costs.
For the Melbourne and Adelaide festivals, it’s a similar situation – you find your venue and go hard at promoting your show.
She said it’s like investing in a business course because you learn so much while you’re there.
Mark David from comedy venue Happy Endings Comedy Club in Potts Point, agrees that the business side of comedy – and the entertainment business in general – can be difficult.
Mr David has been in the business of producing and promoting for 12 years and has seen countless people and venues come and go.
He said while there are many reasons a person will want to do stand-up, many do it because they are in love with the art form.
Comedy is also much harder than people think it is – and most people are aware that it’s hard to do. It can be a huge investment with no obvious benefit, according to Mr David.
“The old adage ‘don’t look at the prize, focus on your art’ rings true,” he said.
Ms Britton echoes that sentiment. She loves what she does, and knows that she has now earned her stripes as a comedian and perhaps in that little-known art form, business … despite trying to run away from adulthood.