History of Gilded Balloon

“A venue with a touch of class”The Evening News

The Gilded Balloon was established in 1986 and is now one of the largest and well known venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Gilded Balloon has experienced a dramatic evolution from its modest origins of one studio theatre with seven shows per day in 1986, to operating 22 venues, with over 240 shows per day featuring performers from across the globe in 2019!

Gilded Balloon’s position as a premier venue is based on intriguing, imaginative, adventurous and international programming covering exciting dance and physical theatre, spine chilling plays and challenging drama, children’s shows. The venue’s reputation however comes from promoting, supporting and nurturing comedy, presenting the cream of stand up, improvisation and character comedy.

Gilded Balloon is notably renowned for producing its own in-house late night comedy line-up show, Late ‘N’ Live. Funny, outrageous and more than a bit sweary, Late ‘n’ Live is the last stand of proper , raw, live comedy – where anything can, and does happen because the audience are still very much in control. Nowadays, Late’n’Live takes place seven nights a week, 1am – 5am, during Fringe inside the Debating Hall of the Gilded Balloon in the Teviot building. Many a household name has cut their teeth on the Late’n’Live stage, from Dylan Moran to Rhona Cameron, Tommy Tiernan to Peter Kay, Bill Bailey to Tim Minchin and the infamous Russell Brand ; the list of comedy pedigree is endless.

In 1988, the Gilded Balloon devised ‘So You Think You’re Funny?’ in order to discover new comic talent; it has now developed into the most influential competition of its kind in the UK. The pedigree of the competition is reflected in the list of past winners: Bruce Morton, Phil Kay, Rhona Cameron, Lee Mack, Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and Peter Kay. These individuals are all now established comedians, with successful careers.

It takes time and patience to establish and gain a reputation within a festival arena and over the years the Gilded Balloon made its mark on various venues, but its constant home for 16 years was in the heart of the Cowgate. The Studio, where it all began, was well known for its music and intimate bar, while the old favourites included Backstage I, II and III and the all year round Gilded Saloon.

In 2001 the Gilded Balloon expanded to Teviot Row House to include a more diverse range of entertainment including children’s shows, cabaret and physical theatre; housing five venues and seven bars it proved to be extremely popular. In 2002 the infamous Late ‘n’ Live moved permanently from Wilkie House to Teviot Row House, taking over a larger space with a 5am bar licence and a live link to the prestigious Library Bar. It was in hindsight a fortuitous decision, as no one could have known what was going to befall the Gilded Balloon later that year…

On 7th December 2002 a fire in the Cowgate destroyed part of the heart of Edinburgh’s old town. Although the fire brigade arrived within minutes the fire had quickly spread to the South Bridge before consuming the Gilded Balloon. The fire burned for four days and a total of eleven buildings were destroyed in one of the worst fires Edinburgh’s living memory.

Although devastating, the Gilded Balloon, not to be defeated, dusted itself off and focused on Teviot Row House.

Since then, Gilded Balloon has expanded across Edinburgh to present shows at Teviot, the Museum, the Rose Theatre, Old Tolbooth Market and Adam House in 2019. Gilded Balloon are always on the hunt for new and exciting locations to present work in the future.

Always with its finger on the comedy pulse, Gilded Balloon has consistently selected top notch acts to fill its comprehensive Fringe programme, bringing a veritable international Smörgåsbord of talent, capable of satisfying any palate. And every year we endeavour to grow and diversify in a way that captures punters, performers and the arts world alike.

Karen Koren, Artistic Director, is the founder and continuing creative force behind the Gilded Balloon alongside her daughter Katy. Over the years, Karen has earned a deep respect throughout the comedy and entertainment industry both in the UK and abroad. The award winning track record at the Gilded Balloon is ample testament to her success in innovative programming and in her instinct for unleashing previously undeveloped potential.