The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
New York-based comedian Maria DeCotis is currently performing in two solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. When asked why she would do that to herself, DeCotis laughs, saying, "That's a great question." But obviously, Decotis has the stomach for a challenge. Her serious answer is: "I'd always wanted to do Fringe."
For comedians across the United States, the Fringe is the place to be if you're a comedian and you want to take your career to the next level. After all, Mike Birbiglia, Alex Edelman, Robin Williams, and many more got their start at the Fringe. "Different artists travel here and post about it on Instagram and stuff. And it looked really fun," DeCotis says. "And it also looked like a fun opportunity to have your work seen in another country, and seen by people from all over the world."
Though she went viral during the COVID-19 pandemic for lip-syncing to an audio clip of Andrew Cuomo, and she opened for Mike Birbiglia during The New One, DeCotis is still pounding the pavement working.
At the Fringe, she's doing a dramatic one-person play called Before the Drugs Kick In by Mike Lemme (running through August 26). In this bracing and intense play, DeCotis plays a woman named Lynn T. Walsh, speaking from an insane asylum, about how she felt abandoned by her family after attempting to take her own life. And how society abandons women after they're no longer deemed useful. It's styled like a comedy show, with DeCotis speaking into microphone. DeCotis so disappears into her performance that you forget she's 28, and not actually a middle-aged woman with two kids. The character is based on Lemme's own mother.
Then after that afternoon 12:55 pm show, DeCotis gets ready to go to the Laughing Horse for her 9:45 pm show, Emotionally Unreasonable, where she has a different challenge: playing herself and making people laugh (running until August 27).
Below, DeCotis talks to Playbill about what a two-show day is like at the Fringe.
Why are you doing two shows at Fringe?
Well, actually, I'd always wanted to do Fringe. I'm a stand-up, so I have this hour-long stand-up show that I've been working on myself. And Mike Lemme approached me because he wrote this show. And he created this character. And he was like, "I can't think of anyone else. I wrote it with you in mind. And so I'd love for you to do it." Mike and I met a few years ago in New York doing stand-up stuff together. And then last year, he brought a show to Fringe and I did some voiceover work for him. So, I wasn't physically here, but my voice was. So, maybe it's not actually my Fringe debut, but physically it is.
So anyway, Mike was gonna pay my way, my accommodation and everything. And the only reason I hadn't done Fringe before was because I just couldn't afford it. After researching it, it just seemed like it was gonna cost $10,000. So the fact that Mike was financially backing me for the travel and the accommodations was a huge burden taken off.
And then I found out about the Free Fringe. And I was like, "Oh, well, this is gonna be the perfect opportunity. I'm already gonna be here, I'll already have my accommodation and everything taken care of. So I won't have to worry about that. And I'll just do my show through the Free Fringe." Which is, like, the cheapest way possible. So I decided to do that. And it has been very intense. I think I knew it was going to be intense. But I didn't realize how intense it was gonna be.
For the Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival, do you have to pay anything to the venue?
There is a small venue fee, but it's much, much less than the normal Fringe. But the Free Fringe venue fees are, like, $200 to $400. And anything you make at the door, you just take home with you. So you pretty much make that venue fee back.
What do you think the appeal of the Fringe is for comedians?
I think that the Edinburgh Festival is a chance to get your show reviewed in ways that you couldn't if you just did a run in New York—it might be hard to get people to come out to see it or review it. But here, there's so many reviewers, who are around and who you have contacts for. And so you can at least get one good review and bring that back with you.
A lot of people come here to see the festival. So, when you go to those busy areas where they're flyering, people want to take the flyer, they're like, "Oh, yeah, I'm here for this. I want to see a weird show in a basement. That's some weird shit that I would never get to see anywhere else." And that's cool.
And also you get to be exposed to audiences from all over and see how they react to the material. Because I know, especially for my stand up, there are some things that I need to change because it's very American.
What are you hoping comes after this?
Well, right now, Mike is working on doing a run of the show in New York. I think his goal is to have it at the Soho Theatre, starting with an Off-Broadway run. I would love to take this back to New York and do a run, and see how the audience reactions are compared to how it's been here and see how the work grows.
For my stand-up, I've been developing this hour. Right now, it's pretty much stand-up, there's like a bit of storytelling in there. And there's some musical comedy. The shape of the show is still revealing itself to me. And I think doing this run is hopefully going to inform me on how I want to present this as my special. I've been in contact with some production companies who are interested in it. And I want to make it my first special, so that's my goal for my stand up show.
What's been your schedule?
It's been pretty rough. So this show [Before the Drugs Kick In] is at 12:55. We're staying at Queen Margaret University [just outside of Edinburgh]. So, I would take the train and do this show. I tried to stay in the city all day until my show, which was at 9:45 pm. I did that one day. And it was just too much. I've started going back in the middle of the day to take a nap.
I warm up my voice there because there's no place to warm up [for Before the Drugs Kick In]. You get two minutes to go in and get your costume on, try the mic, try the lights, and then you just do it. There's no preparation, there's no time to even get into the world of the play or the character, which is very challenging.
And with my show, I would go home for a little bit of rest. Come back into the city, flyer for an hour or two before the show, and then do the show. It's been pretty intense.
And then you do the second show. And then what happens?
And then you're dead tired. And then you do it all again the next day!
How do you keep your energy level up?
I don't know, coffee? And honestly, I think there's something magical that happens when you get on stage. It gives me energy. The crowd gives me energy—I'm feeding off of that. And I try to remind myself to be grateful that I have this space, that I have this time to share my work and that people are here, and they're here to listen to it. And let me give them something good. They spent their night to come here to this weird basement bar. So, let me try to make them laugh and have a good time.