Gardeners & Pie-Eaters
It’s getting to the time of year when the atmosphere in the comedy community suddenly pivots either towards hyper-competitiveness, or towards the opposite extreme, one of mutual nurture and support, depending on people’s attitudes to the Edinburgh Fringe. As soon as it starts slouching over the horizon, people either start to nervously measure their own progress against the perceived progress of other people, and use that measurement to fuel paranoia and anxiety over their own creative work; or they start to get excited about getting to be part of the biggest arts festival in the world, and to share their work on such a big and unusual platform. As it bears down upon us in its full form for the first time since 2019, I thought I’d share one of my favourite creative analogies, which Miranda first introduced me to, because I think it helps to foster a good, healthy attitude to big, daunting things like the Fringe – the principle of gardeners and pie-eaters.
Gardeners and pie-eaters are the two types of person it’s possible to be in your approach to making creative work (or, indeed, any work, maybe). Pie-eaters believe that the potential rewards available to them for their work take the form of one big pie, which is inherently finite. There is only so much attention, acclaim, interest, work, money, whatever, available as a result of your work, so it’s incumbent on you to try and get the biggest slice possible. So, if you see anybody else getting a large slice of the pie, it inherently means there’s less pie available for you, so you’ll have to fight harder for what’s left. This is an attitude that generally breeds jealousy, cynicism and contempt, though it probably also breeds a ruthless competitive edge that perhaps has its advantages in some lines of work. I would argue that comedy is not one of them.
Gardeners believe that the potential rewards available to them for their work take the form of a garden – the potential reward is limitless, and grows proportionate to the amount of care you put into it. Not only that, if the garden is being tended by multiple people and you’re taking care of your own patch to nurture and create your own version of beauty, the fact that somebody else is over there tending to their patch only enriches the garden as a whole. People can work on their own parts of it and achieve their own rewards, and that will feed back into the vibrancy and beauty of the entire garden, and create new ways in which people’s efforts can intersect and enrich one another. If it’s not clear, in making creative work you want to be a gardener. You also want to surround yourself with other gardeners. Pie-eaters are to be avoided at all costs.
A picture of a pie with a slice missing, which I believe illustrates the idea perfectly. Thanks to Google Images for this one.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how to save the Fringe from itself – this article by the brilliant Rachael Healy points out all the ways in which it has become prohibitively expensive and taken its toll on artists’ mental health. I obviously don’t think that a simple shift away from egocentric thinking and towards collective creativity is going to simply solve all the systemic problems of escalating prices and so on, but I do think that if we can start to unpick the things that make us concentrate on ourselves, and measure ourselves against other people, and start to focus instead on nurturing our patch of garden in order to enrich others’, and to allow our patch to be enriched by theirs, then maybe we’ll start to find a way forward that involves collective action and shared responsibility rather than cynical pie-guzzling.
With that in mind, this week I released a little making-of mini-documentary about Blink to try and create some more openness and transparency about the collaborative process in the making of “solo” work, and how the sharing of that stuff only enhances the end product. It’s not suddenly going to change the Fringe overnight into a force for good that’s accessible to everyone as it used to be, but perhaps it can be part of a trickle that becomes a stream. Let’s be gardeners. Put that pie down and pick up that trowel!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Don’t know, to be honest. Everything’s become so Fringe-centric I don’t know what to put here. I can’t just put “The Fringe,” I’ve been banging on about it for months already. Maybe nothing cool happened in comedy this week. Am I wrong? Prove me wrong!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – I’m reading a book about the history of magic and today learned that Howard Thurston used to invite kids up onto his stage to inspect his levitation apparatus and whisper “If you tell anyone you saw those fucking wires, I’ll fuck you up” in their ears, prompting looks of astonishment which the audience interpreted as proof that the illusion was real. I cannot begin to describe how funny I think that is.
Book Of The Week – Still finishing Hiding The Elephant, the aforementioned book about magic. I’m so sorry. Mea culpa. Forgive me.
Album Of The Week – Black Acetate by John Cale. I’ve recommended so many John Cale albums in this newsletter. I’m going to see him with Alan Larter later this year, so have been trying to explore his discography. This one’s good! Quite Peter Gabriel-y.
Film Of The Week – The Way Way Back. This is just very sweet and nice. Steve Carell plays a horrible step-dad who takes Toni Collette and her son to his beach house for the summer, but the son has such a horrible time he runs away to a water park to befriend Sam Rockwell. Who among us would not do the same??
That’s all for this week! As ever, if you enjoy the newsletter, please do share it with a friend, or encourage others to subscribe! Take care of yourselves until next time,
PS Here is my view from my desk – I have been watching this gull sit on this roof for weeks now. He can not yet fly well enough to get back into his nest in the chimneypots, having fallen out about a month ago. I’m rooting for the little guy. He breaks my heart.