Only the old school and the unadventurous spend all their Fringe at the traditional venue hubs of the Pleasance and George Square. Some of the best, and certainly some of the weirdest stuff is to be seen in the Wild West that is the free fringe – venues where, as the performers will often tell you, it’s free to get in, but you pay to get out (basically, you chuck some money in the bucket as you leave).
There are multiple promoters running free or pay-what-you-want shows, and a whole backstory of dispute and rivalry as to who gets to “officially” refer to themselves as a “free” fringe venue (don’t go there!) A lot of fun, and a lot of “experiences” can be had dipping in and out of them, and you may just find potential award-winners on their way up. Here are some of the best of them
The Voodoo Rooms
Outside Fringe time, it’s where locals have their engagement parties and significant birthday bashes. During August, its function rooms become one of the hottest places for new comedy in Edinburgh. This is the venue from which Kieran Hodgson and Jayde Adams, now both at Pleasance Courtyard, got their Comedy Award nominations in 2016. For the buzz shows you now often have to queue round the block, so get there early.
#Dave: Literally the Best Magician, 4-26 Aug, 4.50pm – Ginger Geordie Dave Alnwick is a Voodoo Rooms regular who really ought to be massive
Susan Harrison Is A Bit Weepy, 4-25 Aug, 2pm – Multi-character comedy from likeable performer with several Fringes under her belt
The Counting House
For many years, the free fringe hub par excellence, and handy for George Square and the Pleasance if you’re seeing shows there. A recent reconfiguration means it’s not as easy to hang out there between shows as it was – no chairs in the bar area! – but there’s no shortage of things to see and some regulars swear by it. The upper rooms can become ovens, but if you’ve not sweltered to near-death in a Fringe venue, you’ve not lived.
Godley’s Cream, 2-26 Aug, 5.30pm – Every Fringe-goer needs to see Glaswegian mouthpiece Janey Godley at least once in their life
Dave Chawner: Mental, 2-26 Aug, 7.20pm – Heart-on-sleeve comedian is no stranger to this place with his autobiographical comedy
Another free venue with pedigree. The cinema room here is where Richard Gadd played his Comedy Award winning tour-de-force, Monkey See Monkey Do, in 2016 to way fewer people than actually wanted to see it. Plenty of bar space to hang around in, but queues build early for the big shows in tiny rooms burrowed under the city streets.
Eleanor Tiernan: Success Without A Sex Tape, 4-26 Aug (not 14), 1.40pm – Downbeat Irishwoman always has something pleasingly bitter to say.
Lloyd Langford: Why The Big Face?, 4-26 Aug (not 12), 10pm – Winner of Best Show at this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.
Maverick promoter Bob Slayer has been parking his double decker bus up at Potterrow for a few years now. It’s not technically a free venue. To guarantee a seat, you book tickets in advance, but you can just rock up, take your chance and pay what you want. Bob’s own shows can be, shall we say, unpredictable, but school-trippy chaos of misbehaving on a bus is always good craic.
Chris Betts vs The Audience, 2-26 Aug (not 13), 5.20pm – Betts bravely sets out to argue for or against any topic the audience choose to give him.
Yuriko Kotani: Moreish, 2-26 Aug (not 15), 6.40pm – Japanese comedian who made an impact at the So You Think You’re Funny? Awards a few years ago.
The Cowgate venue can be utter carnage. Bands play to beer-swiggers in the ground floor bar while comedians do their best to keep them laughing in makeshift performance spaces up and down this multi-level, tumbledown drinking den. Performer quality tends to be more variable, but there’s always some goodies, and you can easily lose days in a beery fuzz in this place.
An Imp-Revised History of the World, 4-25 Aug, 8pm – Edinburgh’s own improv troupe, Smoky Monkeys rewrite the history books.
Luke Wright, Poet Laureate, 13-25 Aug, 3.45pm – Outstanding spoken word performer launches his campaign for the top gig in poetry.