CoDI Bootcamp 1: Summary of Key Points

This is a summary of the first Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas bootcamp that took place on 6th March 2018.

The focus of this first bootcamp was writing your show advertising text for the Edinburgh Fringe programme. The session was delivered by the Cabaret’s MC, Susan Morrison, and the Cabaret producer, Stephen Wright. It took place at the Stand Comedy Club and Malcolm’s biscuit provision was on point, as always!

What we need from you now

By 21st March (email to

  • The final 40-word advertising text for your show. (More on this below. Word count includes title. Please make sure your name is in here, but don’t try and squeeze in your organisational affiliation.)
  • A photo of you. (More on this below. This should be a simple head-and-shoulders picture of you.)
  • Details of how you will pay your show fee (or payment, if you’re using credit card)

When you can (no strict deadline yet – will let you know if/when this changes):

  • 100-word advertising text for your show. This can go on the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas website, and there may also be space for it on the Stand Comedy Club’s website. (In practice, you may find it helps you write the final 40 words to write the 100 words first and then condense it down. If so, just send this in with your 40 words on 21st March.)

What you need from us now

We need to send you Susan and Stephen’s suggested changes to the first drafts of your show advertising text that you’ve emailed in. Those of you at the bootcamp in person will have had feedback today, but we may email you more. We aim to get this feedback to you by the end of Monday 12th March.

Key question – are you now in the programme?

The programme isn’t over-subscribed, so yes, as long as we can all agree on the final version of your show advertising text, you have a plan for how to pay your show fee, and you’re happy with the rules of the Cabaret. (Some of these rules are quire directive, but they’re based on five summers of experience; no rule is for the sake of it, we promise!)


Key message: Have a way and a play with words!

Bottom line: Does the title tell people what the show is about?

Your title is your first chance to capture the wider emotional ‘light and shade’ that characterises a Cabaret show. Anything which provokes a reaction is good, and this reaction needn’t be a laugh – could be a groan, too (especially if a pun is involved!).

You will have words connected to your show which have double-meanings. Play with them. Sound-alikes and puns can be great. It’s usually a pun that wins the best joke at the Fringe, so don’t underestimate their effect! (For finding sound-alikes, slow down how you’re saying the word, slowly pronouncing each syllable.)

Also play with breaking words down to have different meanings. For example, ‘taxidermist’ (stuffs dead animals) -> ‘taxi-dermist’ (a skin specialist who goes everywhere by taxi), or ‘Spartan’ (ancient warrior) -> ‘Spar-tan’ (cheap supermarket tan).

Play with taking words out of context and opposites.

Topical references: be very careful. Things can change very quickly. The world may look very different, even by August. Don’t accidentally make your title dated.

Can your title tap into more than one emotion? For example, the title “Who do you want to wipe your bum?” is funny (especially if you’re a fan of British toilet humour) but also taps into a real fear people have about losing control of their toileting at the end of life (studies have shown people fear this more than dying in pain).

NO JARGON. In your title or anywhere else. Re-read what you’ve written and critically appraise it for jargon. If your average fourteen year-old is unlikely to know the word, it probably shouldn’t be in there.

Stuck for a show title? Try brainstorming with absolutely no self-censorship, and write it all down. (May be easier to do this with a friend/colleague.) You’ll start to see connections emerging between disparate things.

Words and word count

Have your name in the 40 words. Do include Dr/Prof if applicable – this is a real draw for the audience, who are paying to see an expert. (We know it takes a word, but it is worth it!)

There will also be a chance to have a 100-words blurb for the CoDI website (and possibly other sites), but there is less time pressure on this. However, if it’s easier for you, do write this first and then condense it down to forty words. Have your organisation (university, but probably not all the sub-units) in this longer description, but don’t try and squeeze it in the forty words.

It may go against everything you’ve been trained in as a researcher, but your show description needs to be almost tabloid-y: start with your controversial statement as a hook, then follow this up with a bit more qualification.

Sell what you’re going to say, but don’t actually say it. Think of your show description like a film trailer.

Stereotypes: these are generally viewed as a bad thing in life, but here they can be useful shorthand given you have so few words. At the same time, be aware of stereotypes: if your show is going against a stereotype, you may need to explain it a little more so that people will realise what your show will actually be about.


Your programme image must be your head and shoulders of yourself against a plain background. It’s a good thing if you look academic in this! It is you that people come to see.

No professional photographer will be organised centrally this year, but a smartphone picture should have a high enough resolution. A picture taken in good natural daylight, against a plain background, should be fine.

Your picture needs to be cropped down to a square for the programme (we will do this) so make sure it will work for that.

If you’re performing with someone else, you need a photo of the two of you together, and it still needs to fit in a square. If you can’t get in the same place at the same time, just pick one of you – as you’re (probably) not publicly recognisable, people won’t be searching the Edinburgh Fringe programme by your face.

Smiles are good but no essential. Depends on how you look when you smile! And also depends on the content of your show as to whether this is appropriate.

The same photo will go in the Edinburgh Fringe programme and on the large wooden boards outside the venue.

The photo needs to be as high resolution as possible.

If you want to play around with other images aside from your headshot, your other advertising (e.g. social media shareable images made in Canva) are a place you can do this. 

Some stuff about the show itself

Muck about with audience perceptions and expectations. People come in and there are people in costumes or it’s set up like a gameshow? Can be a hook to bring the audience in, especially if they’re not expecting that. 

You can choose your play in and play out music (sound technician will probably have access to Spotify).

Unsure about your format? Ask a question in the Facebook group.