Were I not reviewing, I do not think I would ever go and see another “I am a bit OCD and here are some lame stories about rearranging the tins in my cupboard” show. Or a “I had a really messy divorce but now I can see the funny side” or “I was brought up in a cult” much less “my life in online dating”, “my drug/alcohol/eating disorder hell” or “look, I'm gay” show. An hour is a long time in comedy. Filling it with laughs is a superhuman task which most fail. Filling it with some mildly interesting story that would not, IRL, keep you in thrall for a second drink, plus a lot of padding, seems to be the go-to format.
An hour is a long time in comedy. Filling it with laughs is a superhuman task which most fail.
Perhaps if time slots were half an hour the Fringe would be a funnier place.
But there is wonder out there. There are shows that will stay with you, tickle and delight you long after you leave. There is glorious, creative craziness to be enjoyed from performers whose comedy comes from places where most of us do not get to go. Weird and wonderful places.
I do love me a weirdo. They are the heartbeat of my Edinburgh. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to pay twenty five quid to see Jack Whitehall doing whatever it is that he is calling Work In Progress at the EICC. I cannot imagine he will be doing much that would raise an eyebrow. For twenty five quid I want my jaw dropped, my hair raised and my heart stopped. Minimum. And that is not really lovely Jack's thing.
Mark Dean Quinn, on the other hand, pretty much does all of that by halfway through the show.
Of all the weirdos, you seem to be the one who takes it to the personal limit. Why? What is in this for you?
I want people to experience something that is real, to burst their comfort bubble, force them to feel, think and question. Pushing yourself into a position of extreme discomfort often forces the audience to engage in a way they didn't expect. The artistic self flagellation makes it easier to connect to the audience on a more emotional level but it often makes my friends distressed or worry. I do not have a tech doing my sound or lighting because I worry watching me daily can be traumatic. Sometimes I often wonder what's in it for me and the only thing that keeps me going is I think the audience seem to take a lot away from my shows. I was approached after one of my shows by someone wanting to thank me because their husband hadn't laughed for a long time because of post traumatic stress but he had laughed till he was in tears in my show. Moments like that matter.
What is your relationship with your audience? It probably changes with each show but are you trying to please them? Do you want them to like you? Fear you? Fear FOR you?
I don't really think about the audience when I first start writing a show. First I work out what I want to talk about, then a structure. Then I want to connect with the audience. I'd rather connect than please. I'd rather they believe in me than like me but if they do both it's really pleasing.
When you came up to Edinburgh the first time... why?
I came up with two shows because of two excellent friends that did all the admin, including booking the venue, accommodation, press releases, so all I really had to do was turn up. A subjective pub quiz called the Unwrong Quiz with Frog Morris. It was a quiz with only open ended question so no wrong answers and a show called Richard Dawkins does not exist and we can prove it with Charlotte Young. Where we mathematically disproved the existence of Richard Dawkins. Both went really well and I thought this Fringe is really easy. Eight years later I can confirm it is as easy or difficult as you make it so in my case it's often extremely difficult.
Who do you admire up here?
The comedy fans. They are beautifully mad. They watch comedy till they are completely laughed out. Over ten hours a day. I've watched Kitson and thought, in my own way, I'm that good, all be it not as verbose. I'm very different but I don't think, when I'm on form, many comedians are much better but the love of comedy some people possess, the time they spend, the money they invest in something they care about, I'm in awe of them. None of this happens without them.
Have you ever considered jokes as an option?
I've written jokes for some very successful comedians. It's just not what I want to do myself. Although there is always an underlying comedic structure to what I do. I put at least three jokes in each show for very observant audience members.
Do you ENJOY doing your shows?
I enjoy creating them and I love being at the Fringe. In between the idiots, arseholes and narcissism it's a wonderful place that I'm completely in love with.
Do you try to keep it weird, keep it unsettling? If you found yourself writing a really nice fun show, would you do it?
I try to keep it honest and often my ideas are unsettling and a bit weird. I'm writing a children's show that's almost completely about drug use and and the sad realisation you are probably going to end up working in admin for the sketch group I'm in Consignia. It's a rave set in an office that's also a jungle.
What would you say to someone sat in his bedsit thinking no one would understand him at the Fringe??
They probably won't, so do it.
In 2014 Michael Brunstrom did a show called The Human Loire, In which he was part human, part longest river in France. He has not disappointed since. Mildest mannered of men outside the performing arena. His own kind of crazy within.
Why do you do what you do? Comedically.
Three things underpin what I do. Firstly, I find life to be baffling, terrifying and occasionally hysterical, and at the best of times I have a minimal grip on what I'm supposed to be doing. I want to convey this range of experiences as vividly as possible. Secondly, I want to preserve and capitalise on the "liveness" of live performance, which is often lost these days as formats for comedy are treated increasingly as interchangeable. So I generally use imagery, actions and tone rather than narratives, ideas and facts. Thirdly, I want to stimulate the audience's curiosity and give them the opportunity to enjoy being astonished.
Were you born weird? Did you achieve weirdness? Or did you have weirdness thrust upon you?
I've never been good at joining in, so I've tended to cultivate idiosyncratic interests, and have always been quite clever but lazy, so I've never excelled in any particular field. I think I initially developed weirdness as a form of escapism, which is a bit sad.
You seem so mild mannered and nervous. Yet the kind of show you do takes great commitment and.. even bravery to do in an Edinburgh in thrall to Andrew Maxwell and Jack Whitehall. How do you do it?
In itself, performing comedy is seldom as risky as it seems, and Edinburgh is full of all kinds of comedy fans, including plenty of people who come precisely to see the sort of thing that I do. But I'm sure that if Jack Whitehall's fans came to my show by mistake they would be perfectly well behaved and they might even enjoy themselves.
Do you feel a kinship with other weirdos? Do you have a secret handshake?
We're an eclectic group, and we don't have much in common with each other. Nonetheless, the weirdo community is incredibly supportive. We have great respect for each other's unique creative processes and never feel like we're competing for the same territory.
Some people try very hard to be ‘surreal’, ‘left field’ and impenetrable. Is it worth the effort?
I don't enjoy bafflement for its own sake, and I don't consciously try to alienate the audience. I do think that most people have an appetite for surrealism. For a performer, the most important thing is authenticity, which is true whether or not you're a weirdo. Whatever your on-stage persona, it's never worth trying to be something you're not.
Have you ever considered jokes?
I enjoy jokes, but they really don't fit with what I'm trying to do on stage. I always feel guilty when a joke sneaks its way into one of my shows. My last show The Great Fire of London didn't have any jokes. World of Sports currently has one, unfortunately.
Who was it gave you the push to come up to Edinburgh?
It was Paul F. Taylor, who had seen me do a few odd cabaret-like turns such as The Human Loire and Homage to Alexander Fleming, who said I should put about six or seven of them together to make a show. I was very inexperienced at that time, but I'm glad I didn't waste time waiting until I was "ready" before starting to do Edinburgh.
Who do you admire, up here in this morass of comedy dogs eating dogs?
Comedy fans David and Carole Chapple are absolute heroes of mine. They have travelled all over the country, supporting live comedians with massive energy and enthusiasm, running gigs and raising money for charity.
Sports this year. Really?
It's an odd topic, isn't it? When making a show, I generally choose an evocative title first without knowing anything about what will go in it. I'm not much of a sports fan, but I enjoy the paraphernalia surrounding it – the enthusiasm, the equipment, the aesthetics and the statistics. The topic of sports provides a fun thematic and structural basis for a show that is more broadly about competitiveness and the will to succeed. That takes on an ironic relevance at the Edinburgh Fringe, which often seems more like a sporting tournament than an arts festival.
Interesting, and telling, I would suggest, that both these performers, when asked whom they admire, talk about audiences…
Finally, I spoke to Gary Sansome who has a day job as a regular stand up comic. But, in August, something delightful happens to him… he becomes Bald Man Sings Rhianna.
What was the impetus behind Bald Man Sings Rhianna? Pushing boundaries? A bet? An urge to put two fingers up to the Industry Comics??
It came about from a drunken conversation at a late night gig at the Fringe in 2014 with fellow comic Sean Brightman, I did about 10 mins on Rihanna and he said I should do a show called Bald Man Sings Rihanna – I've thanked him but he didn't remember and now he is after 10%.
And the show keeps coming back. By or despite popular demand?
It's great fun doing it and I update it a little each year, I don’t think anyone is battering down the Free Fringes office doors for it to happen but I've had really good numbers with no budget and not much flyerering each year so it definitely seems to have an audience, a few have even come back (also Sean Brightman says to keep doing it). For someone that know one has ever heard of it's a hard thing to let go when you are still enjoy doing it and people are coming.
I think it is seriously important to have shows like this in Edinburgh. Do you feel you are fighting the funny fight on behalf of comedy outsiders??
Thanks, I don’t know if I’m specifically important but I think the Free Fringe as whole is super important for giving Comedy Outsiders a chance. It generally offers a much more personal experience than the big venues and i think that’s great for audience and acts (mostly!) The big acts offer a great experience and have their place but the Fringe should really be about acts on the Fringes right?
Have the Comedy Award panel been in?
I thought I won it last year? One guy came in what was technically the year of my debut, he came up and said he really enjoyed it but it was the night before it was announced so was never at the races. To be fair I hadn’t courted them or industry attention.
What would be your best hope for the Bald Man?
Rihanna appearing in the show, she lives in London now so it is surely going to happen! I'd like to take it to do more fringes around the world. In March I went to Wellington (NZ Fringe) in New Zealand and Dunedin which was brilliant. I'm looking at more of the Fringes in Australia so that’s a target. North America would be even better!
It would also be nice to do it on a bigger scale with dancers and all sorts - but at the moment it's just a silly, surreal stand up show with a bald guy from Airdrie and I’m very happy with that.
Do you feel a kinship with the other weirdos???
I wouldn’t really claim to be a weirdo, some may disagree. I think of the show as not quite mainstream – so kind of a halfway house between a regular stand up show and the type of Weirdo show that you get with Heroes, but I don't quite fit in either box with this show. I'd say there is a kinship between comics at all levels I did Laughing for Palestine with Frankie Boyle (name drop) last year and it is no different to gigging with anyone else, the people on the free fringe are generally your class at school type thing and the camaraderie of putting up the seats and clearing out all the junk from the Cowgate Head does mean you are all in it together.