Edinburgh is invading London. After the Festival, the Perrier Pick of the Fringe Season takes up Her Majesty's Theatre in the West End during September and October, while the Short BAC and Sides Festival occupies a whole month at the Battersea Arts Centre beforehand.
Bill Bailey, who was nominated for a Perrier last year and appears at Short BAC and Sides next Friday and Saturday, says it's all become a bit of a joke. "Some cynical comedians last year were saying that a lot of people turn up to Short BAC and Sides because they can't be bothered to go to Edinburgh," he said. "Audiences at the BAC could find themselves some deep-fried pizza and get absolutely smashed. Then they'd really think they were in Edinburgh."
He underlines the sadistic nature of the BAC audiences. "It's a place where people get pleasure out of watching comedians sweat as they try to remember new material," Bailey said. "People come along to watch us twist in the wind, as Rich Hall puts it. I've seen many comedians, myself included, with crib-sheets at the BAC."
Still, he prefers that to the pressure comedians now experience once they get to Edinburgh. "Last year I felt the need to prove myself every night to people going, `Come on, so you think you're funny'," he recalls. "Edinburgh puts comedians too much in competition with each other. When I first went up, I was a student and it was just fun taking part. Now if you're a comedian, you're there because it's a business. There seems to be less experimentation and more people thinking they'll get a sitcom if they get noticed."
For all that, the line-up at Short BAC and Sides over the month is pretty mouth-watering. Some of the highlights are Al Murray's hilariously yobbish pub landlord (20 & 27 July), spoof supper-club crooner Lenny Beige (21- 22 July), dark sketch-troupe The League of Gentlemen (23-24 July), Dylan Moran (26-27 July), Scott Capurro (27 July), bubbly Richard Herring in "Excavating Rita" (30 July-2 Aug), Mark Little (30-31 July), Angie Le Mar (1-2 Aug), Stewart Lee (31 July-1 Aug), Sir Bernard Chumley's Grand Tour (5-7 Aug), Mel, Sue, Gerry and Emma (6-7 Aug), Donna McPhail (8-9 Aug) and the world's last left-winger, Mark Thomas (9 Aug).
EYE ON THE NEW
Following on from Alan Parker - Urban Warrior, Simon Munnery now hosts a clever, self-styled "Futurist Komedy Kabaret". It's at the Pleasance London (0171-609 1800) tonight and tomorrow, and the Grace Theatre, Battersea (0171-223 3549) Thur & Fri.