James Macfarlane sits down with André De Freitas to discuss his Edinburgh debut What If, some of the best advice he's received from his peers and the unexpected moment that got him his biggest laugh at his first ever gig.
The first time I performed, I fell off the stage!
My first question I've been asking loads of people since the pandemic is how are you doing? How is André today?
André today is very good! The pandemic was obviously tough. After a while I couldn't afford to live in England anymore. I had to move away and since then, I got to travel the world and tell jokes! So I would say it's been an upgrade. So yes, I'm doing very well.
Are you enjoying Scotland so far?
I really love Scotland. I was actually here about a month ago at Monkey Barrel Comedy Club. There were four days of great weather. I'd never seen Edinburgh with great weather before and it's like seeing the city in a new light. The weather in Edinburgh at the moment isn’t too good. Coming from Portugal where it’s very warm, I was unprepared. Hopefully it’ll get better. It's a culture shock!
For anybody who is not familiar with yourself or your work, how would you describe yourself as a performer?
So to the many people who are not familiar, I would describe myself mainly as a stand-up comedian. I’m a storyteller. My comedy is autobiographical, with a mix of observational humour. I know this all sounds very vague, but it's hard to describe yourself because you can never see yourself. It would be much easier for you to describe me, rather than me. But I’ll say that I’m a hilarious stand-up comedian from the known country of hilarity, Portugal. Because we all know when you think of funny, you think of Portugal!
So how did you get into stand up?
It was on my bucket list at first and I was so nervous! The first time I performed, I fell off the stage – the biggest laugh I got! I was actually studying theatre at the time and I really didn't like it. I found it to be very aggressive and very intense for me. Comedy had a much lighter feel. So, I remember the moment I did it for the first time, I was like, ‘yes, that laugh! That's what I want to do for the rest of my life!’ It's stereotypical story, but this is what happens to all of us.
What kind of a comedy scene is there in Portugal?
It depends whether you're performing in Portuguese or in English. Portugal was under a dictatorship until 1974. A large majority of the population didn't know how to read or write. At around the same time, the arts scene was already booming in places like London, Berlin and Paris. The art of stand-up took a long time to get to Portugal. There's not much of a history, and then there's been a boom over the last five years, but the opportunities are slim.
You’re making your Edinburgh debut at with your show What If. What can audiences expect from the show?
They can expect a very funny show! They can expect a very honest show, and they can expect a show that is sad at times, but ultimately optimistic. I like to say that the show is about being optimistic even when life gives you no reasons to be. It's autobiographical in the sense that it's my journey up until now. The road to becoming a comedian is tough and persistence is key. During that road, there's a lot of ups and downs. I think that's kind of the story that I try to tell in my show – despite all of the ups and downs, I've always stayed true to this dream that it will happen for me. In a language that's not even my first language! So it's a show about optimism. I hope what people leave with is a sense of motivation, maybe to pick up that hobby they've always thought about picking up but never quite did. Maybe to try that one activity they've always wanted to, but they were afraid of failing. I think the message of the show is ‘hey, give it a go!’ You might fail, but it's okay! It's just part of it. You will only truly fail if you quit.
The description of the show hints at some very personal moments being shared. How was the writing process?
It's my life, so I wouldn’t say it was difficult. It was just hard at times. The harder things were the more personal things and I wasn't sure I wanted to, or was ready to, share these moments with an audience. I worked those things out in therapy, and then I felt like they would actually provide the narrative necessary for the show, instead of just being loose bits throughout the set. I think finding the material wasn't hard. I think it was just allowing myself to write the personal stuff down and letting people get a full grasp of what my journey has been. It’s been a cathartic process, but I feel like, after the Fringe, I’m ready to put all these memories away – like releasing a paper lantern into the sky!
You've been the opening act for comedians such an Alan Carr, Russell Peters and Jim Gaffigan. Tell me about those experiences.
Each of those experiences was amazing. That I would even get the call up to do something like that, I’m so grateful for. Alan Carr was kind enough to even give me a quote that is now used on the poster for this show, as well as Russell Peters, which is on the back of the flyer! I've received precious advice from people who've been in this game for much longer than I have. I admire them all, not only because of their body of work, but the longevity that they’ve had in the business. They’ve turned it into a career for themselves and ultimately that’s my dream.
After receiving the praise from these big names, do you feel an extra sense of pressure?
I don’t. I was having dinner with Jim Gaffigan once and he said to me that he believed I was going to do great things. It’s something that I’ve taken with me. He told me to enjoy this time because it'll never come back. In ten years when it's all managers and businessmen, big tours and money, I’ll wish I could go back to doing these little rooms with my friends and fuck around, getting to go to different countries where no one knows me. I'm trying to enjoy being present at the Fringe. Expect nothing but appreciate everything, that's my motto.
Out of the thousands of comedy shows at the Fringe this year, why should audiences come and see yours?
Because there's only one Portuguese Papi, and that’s me! I think my show has a narrative that will resonate with a lot of people. It can be enjoyed through their own lens. Also, I'm a first-generation immigrant and this is my second language. I think my experience also reflects a certain experience of some people living in the UK that perhaps is not often discussed by many other comedians.
Finally, what other shows are you looking forward to seeing when you’re in Edinburgh this year?
There is one show that I saw and I thought it was really amazing, which is George Zacharopoulos’ Wonderland. It's a show about a love story that you think is the perfect love story. Then it all goes wrong in ways that you're just not expecting. It's a really traumatic experience, but he's been able to turn it into a really great show. I would definitely recommend people go see him. Another show I actually saw in Australia and I really liked was The Pursuit of Happy(ish) by Amos Gill. I would also recommend Darren Griffiths’ Inconceivable, Alexandra Haddow’s, Not My Finest Hour and Mike Birbiglia’s show The Old Man & The Pool.