Our comedy editor, James Macfarlane, chats to Tiff Stevenson on her tenth visit to the Fringe with her new show, Sexy Brain.
This show asks if I am becoming my mother or having a mid life crisis
My first question I’m asking for all my interviews this year, which I feel has become more important to ask since the pandemic: how are you doing?
I’m ok! I feel I’ve gained a lot of personal insights. Like maybe you were the kind of person who set up a new business, wrote a book or reinvented yourself. Or maybe you are the kind of person who qualified as a doctor. That’s what I did… well I diagnosed encephalitis on Grey’s Anatomy because I had seen it on another medical drama. I completed Netflix and Amazon Prime which is an achievement right? More seriously on a personal note it distilled where I want to be, who I want to be and the kind of society I want to live in. I feel online people have lost their minds on social media a bit with pile ons and public shaming when people make mistakes. We should want to be on the right side of history. Examining how we think and uncovering any bias we may have is important. However, trying to pretend we never have them ourselves , whilst pointing the finger at everyone else is what will truly undo us.
Can you tell us a bit about your show Sexy Brain?
It’s an attempt to understand why I think the way I do and to a larger extent middle aged women! My overthinking ADHD brain is constantly trying to see all sides and unpack stuff. I take a tour via my own mum who specialises in Chat Nav and nonpliments. A bit of nature versus nurture. The last show explored my experiences as a step mother. This show asks if I am becoming my mother or having a mid life crisis. Hopefully it’s a hymn to middle aged women everywhere. It will be political, personal and very funny I hope!
This is your tenth Edinburgh show, congratulations! Why is the Edinburgh Fringe so special to you?
Well firstly my brain needs deadlines and the Fringe is perfect for providing that. It gives shape and focus to the year. I build a show, debut it at an amazing arts festival and then it goes around the world. My Edinburgh shows are my babies! There is nothing quite like it in terms of atmosphere and creativity. It’s kind of like training at altitude for comics. You are surrounded by the best and brightest so you must up your game. You always come away better after a month of doing an hour at night . On the flip side there is Mitch Hedburg joke that goes… ‘I wanna mountain climb just to hang out at basecamp. You grow a beard, you drink hot chocolate. "Hey, you goin' to the top?".. "Soon...". Sometimes the idea of Edinburgh appeals to comics… the awards, artistic cred, the kudos but not everyone can make it to the top of the mountain but it doesn’t matter because hanging out at base camp is still pretty great.
Your last Edinburgh show Mother resonated with a lot of women – mothers and step-mothers in particular. Is there an intended audience with this year’s show, or a message you’d like to get across?
See above! Yes I hope I get some middle aged women and young women too. Although to be honest I have a lot of guys who come to the show because there is a universality to the stuff I talk about classism, ageing and who we are applies to everyone.
Your fiancé works in comedy as a director of stand up. Has he been giving you any tips for this show? If so, what are the dynamics like working with him as a director?
He has been directing the show. Normally he is trying to get me to add steps so the audience can be keep up with my racing brain. He’ll be like ‘I know where you are going because I know you but that just needs more explanation’. Also editing, he will get rid of the waffle. We work pretty well together although sometimes I’ll fight for my jokes or bits that we just don’t have time for. I’ll be like ‘I love this, it’s really funny’ and he will say ‘That five min rant on cat puke doesn’t fit with the theme of the show’ or ‘it directly contradicts something you said earlier’. Having outside eyes on the show as a whole is important for me. He does it the best because he knows me and my comedic voice inside out. Although he is very busy directing TV and film stuff at the moment so my access to him is getting rarer!
Since we saw you last, you’ve created a fantastic Twitter thread where you write male characters as badly as some male writers write about women. Do you think social media, in particularly Twitter, is having an influential effect on comedy nowadays?
Oh most certainly but even more than Twitter I think TikTok and Instagram Reels. Way less gatekeepers now to say we will put you on TV or whatever. It used to be that you could only tour if you were put on three or four of the big TV industry showcases. Then certain agents have sway and producers have people they like. Now performers are building followings online and selling out tours. That’s great to see.
Finally, do you have any hot picks for this year’s Fringe?
Oh lots of things I want to see! I would recommend Michelle Shaughnessy ,Eleanor Tiernan, Kai Samra, Laura Davies, Sam Morrison, Alice Fraser, Yuriko Kotani, Alfie Brown, Rachel Fairburn, Josh Pugh, Lucy Porter, Emmanuel Sonubi… I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads.