David Mitchell, in his groundbreaking ‘rich white guy finds things to whinge about to a deadline’ column in The Observer last weekend, spaffed out 1,000 words about his hatred of street performers. I’m a street performer. Have been for thirty years. So I was curious about what, exactly, about my artform had so irked Mr Mitchell.
Was it, perhaps, the beautifully egalitarian way a street show is open to any and everyone? It’s one of the very few forms of entertainment to truly be able to say this – with a busker’s audience, there’s no admission charge, nor a preferred type of audience member.
The price of a ticket is simply a desire to watch, and everyone is welcome, and treated equally. Street performers are experts at making their work accessible to the young and the old alike, those that understand the language spoken, and those that don’t. You don’t even have to have any money to watch – those who can pay, cover those that are unable to – it’s a beautiful thing. Socialist, populist theatre.
Maybe he found the artform too broad. Street performing offers a cocktail of disciplines and artforms unmatched anywhere else. Wander down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile during the Fringe and buskers might come in the shapes of Japanese slapstick maestros, Australian hula-hoopers, Spanish clowns, Dutch magicians, American acrobats, and, if you see me, a British juggler in a fantastic suit.
And did he really just call us ‘hippies’? What kind of half-assed dad-insult is that, in 2018? Hippies haven’t been a thing since before David was in public school. You’ll find no hippies among our number – just international theatre makers, globally recognised physical comedy virtuosos, world class circus performers, and dozens of other hard-to-categorise artists who travel the world entertaining audiences in theatres, clubs, festivals, and, yes, on streets. Ironically, given his distaste for people who work on the street, perhaps David likes his shows a little more pedestrian.
No, of course that’s not it. He’s very clear about why he doesn’t like buskers. It’s not about us, it’s about him. He is, he says, very anti-group fun. Always a peachy quality for a comedian, that. But there’s more. He talks about being a Finge performer himself, a few years back, handing out flyers and struggling to sell any tickets, then seeing people like me having Fun on the streets with huge crowds and seething as he watched.
Oh babe, that’s just the Fringe – everyone struggles sometimes. You weren’t failing because you weren’t any good. You were failing because people didn’t care. The street performers that made you ball your little fists, though? They were succeeding because they were good. They’re masters of an artform you don’t seem to respect enough to really understand. Which is a shame, because despite your stated assumption that we’re all twats, we’re actually pretty lovely, so perhaps if you’d said hi, you might have learned a few tricks that could have helped you fill your venue.
In his column, David says that street performers have big crowds because people know the show is free. Nope. They have big crowds because over years, often decades, of honing one of the last remaining Fringe theatre forms, they’ve learned how to charm passing strangers, conjure a theatre from cobblestones, and deliver something that people enjoy so much, that many of them voluntarily choose to donate money at the end, when they could so easily, not.
Being a street performer trains you in bulletproof stagecraft, improvisation, timing, tight scripting, stage presence, and fearlessness, in a way nothing else can. Just ask people like Eddie Izzard, Penn & Teller, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, and dozens of other household names, all of whom developed their unique performing styles on the streets.
Only an idiot judges a show by its venue, and that’s double-true at the Edinburgh Fringe.
My feeling is that David figured buskers are an easy target. Glorified beggars, right? I mean, if your punches are going to be this lazy, you need to be throwing them down, not up. His grumpy middle-aged man schtick is played out and obvious, and if not carefully managed can easily come across as elitist assholery.
Look, we’re all entitled to our opinions, but to be so lame and mean-spirited about one of the few remaining elements of beautiful, chaotic, surprising Fringe spirit? Seems like a waste of a column. I mean, what kind of person, with such a fantastic platform in the national press, uses it to whinge about a whole artform, that millions of people enjoy, just because they once had a shitty day at the fringe.
David, are you a baddie?
Underneath David’s free column which people only like because it’s free, there’s a little bonus paragraph. It’s from the Guardian itself. It suggests that if the reader enjoyed the piece, we might want to consider contributing some money. Guess we’re not so different, after all.
Mat Ricardo Versus The World is on at City Cafe, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, at 12.30pm. He has added an extra show at the Counting House at 6.40pm on Monday. Unsurprisingly, it’s a pay-what-you-want sort of show…