The Gilded Balloon was started by myself in 1986 in the Cowgate. It was then just a studio theatre with 150 seats and I did 7 shows a day – it grew in the Cowgate to 14 venues with 120 a day over the 27 days of the Festival. I primarily started programming comedy, although over the years we have grown our theatre, childrens and music programme.
In December 2002 the main Gilded Balloon building was destroyed by fire. It was the biggest fire in Edinburgh in living memory and burned for 4 days. It was tragic for the Gilded Balloon. However, we moved our Festival operation to Teviot Row House, the Edinburgh University Students Union, where we have been ever since.
Unfortunately, we have been unable to find premises for a Gilded Balloon all year round as yet. However, the Gilded Balloon over these years has spawned shows like Late’n’Live, which has had the best and most outrageous comedians perform there over the years, and we have just been commissioned by BBC Scotland to make a 6-part television series about Late’n’Live. Another show that has come out of Gilded Balloon is the stand up comedy competition So You think You’re Funny? – the competition has showcases all over Britain and over the years there have been winners like Peter Kay, Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan, Lee Mack, Rhona Cameron.
Gilded Balloon is a very strong brand which is identified with comedy and discovering and nurturing talent.
Karen Koren: background.
I was born and brought up in Edinburgh by Norwegian parents. I was a PA at the Norwegian Consulate General for 17 years and in many varying jobs. I also worked in nightclubs, presenting jazz for a while in a small club. In the mid-eighties I had the first private members club and started putting on stand-up comedy and cabaret. I started the Gilded Balloon when I was in my mid-thirties. I was an agent initially but began producing, and the Gilded Balloon grew from there. In the early to mid-eighties there was no one promoting comedy in Scotland, which is what the Gilded Balloon started doing. I started the So You Think You‘re Funny competition initially to find new comedy talent in Scotland.
What gives Gilded Balloon its unique identity?
There is no certain style I look for. I look for a certain spark certainly, something different, exciting and something that can generate all emotions - from laughter, to tears, to exuberance. I have never liked elitist forms of entertainment; I like to create “bums on seats” and make sure a production is going to be talked about, in a positive way – not necessarily controversial. I want the audiences to come out feeling exhilarated and talking about what they have just seen.
As far as what I put on in comparison to other venues – I would say that I have the newer untested shows, but always strong quality.
This year’s line-up.
I’m excited about a lot of our shows this year. Briefs are an alternative circus act from Brisbane, Australia, and they wowed audiences at the Famous Spiegeltent in Melbourne this April – I saw them and they are a fun new style of circus.
Rich Fulcher, known from the Mighty Boosh, is absolutely mad and very very funny. He is also very clever, although you don’t realise it while watching – love him!
Sam Simmons is also along the same vain as Rich – incredibly clever and master of the absurdist. It has so much in it that makes you think.
Of course all of my programme is good – I chose it – but some makes you think more than others.
Edinburgh Festival? What makes it so special?
The Edinburgh Festival is the greatest Arts Festival in the world bar none. Nowhere in the world can you go to see as many forms of entertainment. There are so many different Festivals in one month, from the Book Festival, the Tattoo, the International Festival, the Art Festival, Jazz Festival and the Fringe Festival, being by far the biggest – where street entertainers fill the streets and young hopefuls thrust a flyer in your hand. Every young student should spend a summer working at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: it exhausts them but they have a wonderful time. It is a right of passage for every young person.
The Gilded Balloon is at the heart of the Fringe. Gilded Balloon is guaranteed to sell tickets for the show that comes – ultimately of course the success of that show is the content and talent within the show – but the Gilded Balloon is guaranteed to have identified that talent and helps make them known.
People should participate if they want to make it in the entertainment industry – it is a great starting point.