tiktok edfringe

15 seconds of fame | How TikTok is reshaping the Edinburgh Fringe

From the way audiences interact with the festival to the shows themselves, social media might be en route to reinventing the Edinburgh Fringe – one TikTok star at a time.

At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe launch in July, unsubtly held in the TikTok UK offices in London, a certain social media giant was keen to stress their shared values with Scotland’s cultural behemoth.

On the surface it’s hard to fault their logic. Both ‘platforms’ have made names for themselves with public images of meritocracy. Both promise that any creative with the right stuff can shoot to stardom, whether it’s online or a fifty-seat theatre in a basement.

That’s probably why, for the second year in a row, TikTok are not only sponsoring the Fringe but have been anointed their “Official Virtual Stage.” Promising everything from behind-the-scenes access to, er, the best restaurants in Edinburgh, it’s fair to say whatever that title means is unlikely to rock the festival to its foundations.

READ MORE: The Edinburgh Fringe is becoming unaffordable | Is the festival near its breaking point?

But TikTok’s real impact on the festival is far more than purely financial. Laura Ramoso is one of the more high-profile social media stars translating a strong following into a Fringe debut. With more than 350 million views across multiple platforms, the sketch comedian already has the reach most Fringe-goers are hoping will spring from the festival itself.

Ramoso joins a handful of acts hand-picked by the corporate powers that be to make their stage debuts in 2023, and just like last year an act’s TikTok follower count is a familiar sight on the hundreds of flyers soon to be littering Edinburgh’s pavements.

Sketch duo Jackman & Bones hadn’t used TikTok the last time they did a Fringe run in 2019. Now, with more than two million views under their twin-sized belt, the platform is not only changing their audience, but the way they write shows.

jackman and bones edfringe

Sketch duo Jackman and Bones have grown a large online audience since they were last at the Fringe in 2019 (Credit: George Blackman)

“We did feel like we ‘had’ to include certain elements from our TikTok content in the show for the people who’d come from there,” the duo said.

“We had TikTok followers show up at our London preview, which feels pretty crazy.”

Amused Moose-nominee Phil Green is perhaps more positive about the app’s impact on live comedy than most, but is wary about relying on it too heavily.

“I think TikTok is a great thing for performers as it can help showcase your writing and build your brand, but you do need to work out what you want out of it,” he said.

“I’ve had quite a few of my videos go viral but I’m not actually in many of them… I’m not sure this translates to people coming to see me.”

phil green edfringe

Phil Green is bringing his show, Four Weddings and a Breakdown, to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Credit: Phil Green)

“TikTok is a great platform to create videos on. It’s a good platform for building up an audience. It’s less clear how to actually reach that audience reliably,” US stand-up Chris Grace said.

“I definitely went through a phase trying to figure out how to game the TikTok algorithm to try to create popular videos, but I think worrying about that is a hindrance.”

For many live acts, though, it’s difficult to find ways to communicate their brand online beyond simple stand-up and sketch characters.

Shamilton! The Improvised Hip-Hop Musical’s Al Samuels said “Our performances are improvised so it’s always been a pain in the ars-I MEAN IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT OPPORTUNITY-to show the magic of the shows on video.”

READ MORE: What happened to the Great British sketch show?

Things are even harder for acts outside the comedy bubble. It’s hard to see how a serious drama can meaningfully tie its content into the sort of rapid-fire joke-telling or informative videos which make up much of TikTok’s top content.

For many, it seems easier to leave social media to the influencers.

“I have no intention of riding the TikTok wave,” comedian Anu Vaidyanathan said.

For a festival so firmly rooted in the physical experience, how far the Fringe can truly head down the social media rabbit hole remains to be seen. For now, though, TikTok seems determined to pull the Fringe, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 runs from 2-28 August. Details on all the artists mentioned here are available below:

Anu Vaidyanathan: Blimp (Underbelly, Bristo Square, 19:15)

Chris Grace: As Scarlett Johannsson (Assembly George Square Studios, 13:40)

Shamilton: The Improvised Hip Hop Musical (Assembly George Square Studios, 17:20)

Baby Wants Candy (Assembly George Square Studios, 21:05)

Phil Green: Four Weddings and a Breakdown (Banshee Labyrinth, 14:40)

Jackman & Bones: Framed (Just the Tonic at The Caves, 12:40)

Laura Ramoso: FRANCES (Pleasance Courtyard from 2-13 August, Pleasance Dome from 15-28 August, both at 20:20)

Leave a Reply

More like this