Fosters vs Fisters: Choosing the Best Edinburgh Fringe Comedy

Submitted by edg on Thu, 23 Aug '12 9.55pm

Is technology improving the Edinburgh Festival experience?

You'd think so. At least, it should be making it easier to pick a show that you are going to like.

Google manages to routinely index and ranks billions of pages a day. Collating user rankings from around the web into average scores has become fairly mainstream. What's 2,695 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe?

Of course, many Fringe shows are new. According to the Fringe Society there are 1,418 world premieres in Edinburgh this year (although it doesn't list all the shows that have travelled to Edinburgh).

But even before the Fringe was under starters orders, we had video promos, the teasers, the trailers, that hinted at promise (or not) of upcoming shows. Musicians, comedians, magicians, poets, and even actors now have a video track record online.

It's so much easier for a Fringe newbie to get up to speed on who's hot or not. 

If you've got time that is.

Given the constraints of time, it's not surprising to see more people heading to Twitter this year for its bite-sized analysis of individual shows. Or for sharing tips with friends. We've certainly seen a pop in traffic to EG for those festival reviews that we tweet about on our @ediguide account.

However, Twitter's waterfall of content can also be overwhelming after a while.

Which is where EdTwinge comes in. It's been sucking in Twitter posts about Fringe shows and churning out crowd-sourced reviews each year of the Fringe since 2009.

Scanning keywords within Tweets the technology compiles a "karma" score for individual acts based on the number of positive opinions it gets. It also monitors the "noise" level around a show - the number of tweets mentioning an act.

It's an interesting use of online word-of-mouth if it works.

So does it?

Sort of. There are a few technical "issues" with the results, but I can see it would it be useful for quickly narrowing your choices.

Fisters vs Fosters

It's interesting to compare the current EdTwinge list of top comedy shows against the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Awards shortlist, which was just announced.

Just as an individual critic has his or her own bias, so too EdTwinge seems to reflect its more techie  base with a Dr Who show (My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver), a geeky comedy act (Helen Arney - Voice of an Angle), and an online phenomenon (The Blanks' Big Break) in the top five shows in all categories.

The early favourite to win EdTwinge's (Fisters) Comedy Award has been interactive, comedy mime act The Boy With Tape on His Face. There are plenty of videos online of New Zealander Sam Wills's performances as the Boy in previous years. The gentle comedy act, with its audience participation, has won over many professional critics and filled the 700-seater Pleasance Courtyard theatre.

The show is not on the Fosters shortlist, but as you would expect, the crowd has chosen a crowd-pleaser. So on that score EdTwinge has done well.

Joe Lycett is the only Fosters nominee in EdTwinge's top 10 overall (including other genres like theatre, music, kids' shows). Of course, the EdTwinge ratings are dynamic and can change between now and Saturday when the Fosters awards are made, but if the crowd was deciding Lycett would be pocketing the £5,000 cash prize.

Tony Law and Claudia O'Doherty look like the EdTwinge favourites among the line-up of Fosters nominees for the main Comedy Award, with both in the top 10 of the Comedy category of EdTwinge. Overall Claudia O'Doherty is placed 14th with Tony Law 16th, giving her the edge.

Three Fosters nominees appear to have slipped through the EdTwinge net.

Claudia O'Doherty to win Fosters Comedy Award?

Here's the EdTwinge current top 5*:

  1. The Boy With Tape on His Face (Pleasance Courtyard)
  2. My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver, Toby Hadoke (Gilded Balloon Teviot)
  3. The Blanks' Big Break (Gilded Balloon Teviot)
  4. Helen Arney - Voice of an Angle (Underbelly, Cowgate)
  5. Joe Lycett - Some Lycett Hot (Pleasance Courtyard)

Nominations for Edinburgh Fosters Best Comedy Show are:

  • Claudia O’Doherty – The Telescope (Underbelly, Cowgate) EdTwinge placement: 14
  • Doctor Brown –Befrdfgth (Underbelly, Cowgate) EdTwinge placement: 64
  • James Acaster – Prompt (Pleasance Courtyard) EdTwinge placement: n/a
  • Josie Long: Romance and Adventure (Pleasance Courtyard) EdTwinge placement: 45
  • Pappy’s: Last Show Ever! (Pleasance Dome) EdTwinge placement: 77
  • Tony Law Maximum Nonsense (The Stand Comedy Club) EdTwinge placement:16

The nominations for Edinburgh Foster’s Best Newcomer are:

  • Daniel Simonsen – Champions (Pleasance Courtyard) EdTwinge placement: 193
  • David Trent – Spontaneous Comedian (Pleasance Courtyard) EdTwinge placement: n/a
  • Discover Ben Target (Underbelly, Cowgate) EdTwinge placement: n/a
  • Joe Lycett: Some Lycett Hot (Pleasance Courtyard) EdTwinge placement: 7
  • Sam Fletcher – Good on Paper (Bannermans) EdTwinge placement: 209

* All EdTwinge rankings at time of writing and may change.

You'll see no score for James Acaster. He was impossible to find on EdTwinge. The site search didn't return anything. Possibly he was added under his promoter Phil McIntyre Management, but I couldn't find him under that either among the 12 listings returned.

David Trent, another Phil McIntyre Management comedian, was also not listed. Nor Ben Target, again with Phil McIntyre. Acaster and Trent are relatively new signings to the promoter so possibly EdTwinge performers' database (or maybe it's the Festival Labs app which EdTwinge uses?) has not been updated.

I've tweeted EdTwinge about these and will post back here if I get more info.

Other technical issues

Aside from the Phil McIntyre issue, I noticed mid-festival anything tagged with @freefringefest (the account for Laughing Horse who have a multitude of shows) was attributed to one performer, Nick Hayman. It looked like he had a karma score of 92 and was in 5th position.

I now see that the act is "n/a" with a karma of zero, even though there are two more shows to go. Sounds like a case of bad karma, although it's not made clear why there was a sudden drop off.

There's also still problems with making tweets relevant to an artist's Fringe show rather than other events. For example, during the Fringe Camille O'Sullivan had a new album out, an EIF show, as well as her Fringe show. EdTwinge appeared to have difficulty differentiating between these, with her show trending in sixth place. Maybe that didn't matter so much as positive comments on any of these three things reflect her clear talent, but it does reveal that the technology isn't as exacting as it could be.

Another example: Belt-up Theatre have three shows at the Fringe (Outland, A Little Princess, and The Boy James), but one listing on EdTwinge. Tweets for all three shows were appearing under "Belt Up Theatre's The Boy James", with the show placing in the top 10 of the Theatre section. How reliable is that?

Users can notify the site that certain tweets are "irrelevant", but really that doesn't fix the underlying problem.

So an interesting project, definitely useful (with caveats), and clearly needs some tweaking.