This Is Your Laugh comedy nights will be venturing up to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time this year, going under the moniker of This Is Your Trial. The event organiser, David Allison, has so far planned five shows between the 5th and the 9th of August which will be staged at comedian Bob Slayer’s new Fringe venue, Bob’s Bookshop. The event is currently being financed by means of a Kickstarter crowdfunding page. and there are still a few days for you to help fund this great, unique comedy event so all help is more than worthwhile.
Barry Castagnola has been making waves over the last few years as a highly talented comic performer, writer and actor. Aside from performing as a stand up on both the UK and International comedy circuits, he has devised, appeared in and penned quite an array of television projects. Most recently, Barry created and performed a variety of comedy characters for a number of new television shows – ‘The Secret Interview’ (Channel 5), ’Public Eye’ (Channel 4, to be broadcast later this year) and Dom Joly’s prime time ITV show ‘Fool Britannia’.
Kate Copstick, Glasgow born actress, is nowadays considered the mother of all Edinburgh Fringe reviewers and has been writing for The Scotsman for many a year. Many will be more familiar with her following her recent appearance as a judge on last year’s series Show Me The Funny on ITV – a role she is more than familiar with, having sat on the judges panel at both the Perrier Comedy Awards in 2003 and 2004 and Malcolm Hardee Awards in 2008-2011 at the Fringe. Given her all-encompassing experience in Edinburgh we took it upon ourselves to find out just what she thought of last August’s festival, particularly in the light of the EdFringe Society censorship that took centre stage.
Phil Nichol, acclaimed actor, award winning comedian, producer, presenter, writer and musician. This year, he performed his 14th solo show Phil Nichol Rants at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to rave reviews all across the board whilst also appearing in Dave Florez’s drama The Intervention. Now, six years after originally recording his two shows Nearly Gay and The Naked Racist, which were never originally released on DVD, they have both been unleashed.
Matt Roper is probably best know for his creation of Wilfredo, a musical character comedy phenomenon that has gained quite the cult following on both the British comedy and music festival scene for his rather extravagant performances and Bohemian beliefs. Matt shares his North London dwelling with his guitar, camera and apparently doesn’t own a single decent pair of shoes. Having earned rave reviews all across the board at the Edinburgh Fringe, accompanied by Uncle Ignacio on the guitar, Wilfredo will be putting on a single, intimate performance at the Leicester Square Theatre. We hadn’t spoken to him since before his Edinburgh run so we were eager to find out what he’d been up to. Get ready for a grotesque, crude and utterly deluded night out in London.
Hi Matt. For the readers who don’t know, tell us all about how Wilfredo came to be?
When I was playing around on my guitar, singing ‘Woman’ by John Lennon in a silly accent. There was never any intention to create a character. It just sort of came to be and it developed while having a few laughs and not taking it at all seriously. Then I did a benefit gig for a friend and it snowballed from there.
Once again, your Fringe show was critically acclaimed. It’s been hinted that you’re a big part of the allure for many people travelling to Edinburgh. What sets you aside from the rest?
Maybe that Wilfredo has a very positive approach to life… there isn’t an ounce of cynicism. He’s tuned into a very interesting frequency that people seem drawn to. In his mind, he has a complete inability to fail. Total self-belief. Very positive. That resonates among his audience… and then there’s a punkish quality to counterbalance it that people find outrageous, I suppose. That people are willing to part with money and sit themselves right up at the front to be spat over and have abuse hurled at them for an hour… it’s amazing. They reduce themselves to a childlike state, they really do.
You are very popular amongst the ladies too. Wilfredo has had some notable affairs over the years, including Victoria Beckham and Michelle Obama. Anyone on the radar right now?
Wilfredo would probably tell you that he’s married to his career. But he’ll also slip in a bit of gossip about Angelina Jolie too. He’ll tell you all about Wilfrangelina if you’ll listen. Dita Von Teese keeps texting him but he’s keeping her on the back-burner for now. He’s keeping all his options open. You know… as he does.
I guess this is all down to your style, which is obviously very alternative. Do you ever find people not used to this are turned off by it, or do you think Wilfredo always has the ability to recruit new fans?
I think people like him on different levels for different reasons. Some are endeared by his charm, others love the music, others love the delusional aspect of him… Some people are genuinely liberated by his bad manners. The way he trims the fat and gets on with things. But there was one woman in the audience during the Edinburgh run who was sat with her husband. He couldn’t get enough of it, and was giggling like an excited schoolboy right the way through, but her… she just couldn’t take it. The husband couldn’t have cared less, but he kept patting her on the knee every now and then, reassuringly, as if to say “everything’s going to be alright”. And of course in the end, it was.
So, how did you get into comedy? And more specifically, what persuaded you to get into this particular type of comedy?
I got my proper start, or what I recognize as my proper start, by playing characters in sketches and stuff when I was about twenty years old. I’d also done some straight stand-up by that point but not more than, say, ten or fifteen minute sets. But this character, Wilfredo… there was no persuasive or contrived element to it. I wasn’t even thinking of returning to performing. I’d been away from it for a space of about five or six years, I felt very uninspired so I went off to India to think about my purpose… So after that benefit gig, when I’d got back, there was such an encouraging response to it, it was so much fun to do, so I’d pimp Wilfredo around music festivals, coming onstage very late at night. It was all so funny seeing people tripping or gurning and seeing their response to it. It was very slowly at first, in that environment. Anything goes at festivals. That’s why I love them so much. People are just open to everything and they’re in such a great place, if even just for two or three days.
I’ve spoken to a lot of other character comedians, and found that they sometimes fall into character without knowing. Has this ever happened to you?
That’s the sort of question maybe my friends could answer for you. I have noticed one or two character comics adopt one of their voices when they really want to say something directly, whereas otherwise they couldn’t, as they’re too polite. Ah… I suppose I do it myself, Wilfredo’s voice… sometimes for example when I want a cup of tea and nobody is offering. You know when you’re round at a friend’s place or whatever. Because he’s very controlling and direct. Very useful, Wilfredo, from time to time.
And what about before you did comedy full time, what were the worst jobs you had?
Data entry for the overpayments section of housing benefit at Brent Council around the end of the Nineties. I lasted about four weeks. I was also a bartender at a theatre in London for a bit, too, around the same time. All of us were treated like shit. I remember it was the premiere of a musical and Elton John was there and we were all briefed that nobody should “look at Elton” under any circumstances, as if we were all gagging to. That same night, I walked into a storeroom to find a corkscrew and found a very famous footballer being mounted by a tall blonde lady. I was very, very young and didn’t know what to do. I think I might have even apologised, then walked out of the room backwards, the way people do when they’ve just met the Queen.
Wilfredo seems to have an incredible rapport with the crowd. Is it natural talent that makes you so quick witted, or is there a new energy drink on the market that I don’t know about?
I don’t know if it’s a natural talent or an acquired skill. I owe a lot to working in front of audiences since a very young age… I’ve been up against all sorts of audiences, eventually something kicks in, some survival technique.
Wilfredo is a very emotional character. Is any of that mirrored in the man behind it, or is it a pure creation?
I think all performers are emotional people who are not afraid of showing it, which is what makes us so good at what we do but then, on the other hand, we’re so fucking socially inept. For example, I took the train to Brighton the other night for the opening of an exhibition and I nearly chewed my hand off with anxiety… I think I left London at four o’clock and I was back here in my flat by nine. I’d love to say he’s a pure creation. He’s about a ninety percent creation… such a lot of it is of my imagination, but there are parts… there are elements of myself thrown in here and there. Such as his peacenik attitude… I try at least… and his love for people. You see I genuinely do love people. Just I really, really don’t want to live with them. You know when people say it’s best when you can hold a baby and then hand it back? I feel the same way about adults too.
How do you keep shows fresh with the same character?
One of the nice things which has come from performing this character is this dedicated following, so I can elaborate on his story with each show and so the character can age and grow along with his audience.
And what would you class as Wilfredo’s greatest achievement so far?
Ah, probably playing Italy. To be able to clown around successfully without a shared language. Also Wilfredo has introduced both Jarvis Cocker and John Cooper Clarke onstage at festivals. John Cooper Clarke…. I want him on the fifty pound note. Jarvis can go on the tenner for now. I’ll get to see Jarvis more often but John Cooper Clarke can be the rare treat.
I think Wilfredo on a bank note would be an even better idea. Is that on of Wilfredo’s plans for the future?
No notes for now but there’s a documentary film – a short – which has been in production for the last few months… a sort of portrait of Wilfredo. Him in the recording studio and out and about. I’m not so interested in schlepping around the comedy circuit, people always ask me about gigging but I don’t feel it’s Wilfredo’s natural habitat really. We’ve played all kinds of places with this character. Gigs I’d never have been asked to do if I’d resigned myself to the comedy circuit, and that’s thanks to the music festival background actually, which attracts a great range of people. From that breeding ground, Wilfredo’s played all kinds of places. Artist collectives, cabarets, a gay club, even a birthing ceremony once. You can never predict it but he seems to bring out all sorts of hidden layers of people’s personalities. I’d quite like to take him to San Francisco, just to see how they respond to him, and maybe even Burning Man next year. We will see.
Obviously the character is very musically involved. Did you yourself come from a musical background?
My Dad was a stand-up and back in his day there was a huge club circuit which was focused on variety, really, so as a kid I would be taken round lots of smoky clubs and theatres. This would be in the mid-Eighties when it was all starting to die off. Singers singing all types of stuff which I would never have been exposed to otherwise. And big bands with brass sections… I would say personally I feel more of an affinity with musicians than other comedians, which I suppose is quite telling, really. Definitely musicians… and photographers too… I don’t know why that is.
You’ve met and worked with some great musicians and comedians alike. Are there any you think could rival Wilfredo in terms of obscenity?
I’m trying to think and I’m not sure. There are cabaret artists out there who are probably more aligned with the spirit of Wilfredo than the stand-ups. A critic at the Fringe described it as “almost Sadowitzian humour” which apparently is bang on in some respects. I was watching Margaret Cho recently, an American comic, and she really is outrageous like you wouldn’t believe. Beautifully obscene.
If you could go back and change anything, what would it be?
I don’t really get regretful about anything at all really… there is little point. Perhaps there are some gigs I’ve said yes to doing instead of saying no to when actually I’ve known it wasn’t quite right for the character in the first place. It’s got to be just right, otherwise there’s no point at all. Be open. But listen to your own core instincts as they’re usually right.
Who would you most like to duet with as Wilfredo?
I’d be very pleased if Morrissey would be up for a two part harmony on ‘This Charming Man’. Love Morrissey. I guested on Mike Joyce’s (ex-Smiths drummer) radio show in Manchester recently and he understood Wilfredo immediately. He couldn’t get enough of it. But then he’s a drummer, and drummers usually can’t. The drummers are always the comedy junkies…
And what about your comedy kicks? Who are your influences?
When I first came to London, at nineteen, I would spend a lot of my spare time in all of those secondhand vinyl shops in Notting Hill. I got obsessional about Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe, the Secret Policeman’s Ball… Derek and Clive… which were never played in our house growing up. It was a revelation actually. I suppose Peter Cook is my great comic hero. The ultimate satirist and improviser. Then when the League of Gentlemen came along it was like a glorious blast of fresh air. I’d waited years for that! All their characters were grotesque, and the warmth and vulnerability was all there. The way they suddenly took everything to the extremes, and then came right back to the middle again. There are contemporaries of mine who I could describe as being influential, but they get enough publicity. So fuck ‘em.
This is the second time you’ve been interviewed by PPSF. is there anything you’d like to say to the dedicated readers? Any advice to any young enthusiasts who one day hope to be as bizarre as Wilfredo?
To the potential grotesque wannabes, just to go back to the improv rule… to say ‘yes’ and just see where it takes you. I’d like to say to the readers, thank you for staying with us until the bitter end. I feel I may have gone on a bit, like Castro… I’m idealistic and I talk too fucking much… the self-proclaimed Castro of Comedy. I’m such a cunt…
Well, on that note, I think it’s best to leave it there. Thanks very much Matt.
We look forward to catching you again on the 17th of October at the Leicester Square Theatre.
Stephen K Amos. You’ve heard of him. He’s that one off the telly. He’s also on panel shows, the News, Breakfast TV, everywhere! In fact, if you want to avoid him, you’ll probably have to close your eyes for a while. He gets invited to do all of these things seeing as he’s rather good at what he does. If the above list wasn’t enough food for thought, he’s also got a book out, a new show in October, a radio show and a sit-com in the pipelines. We just had to ask him a few questions about all of these projects, whilst discovering who he is and why he loves what he does.
Hi Stephen. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. You’re obviously a busy man as a ‘Live at the Apollo’ favourite, day-time TV and News frequenter, giving your opinion on important topics. Why do you think the public have taken to you so well?
Now that’s a question I can’t really answer! I am very pleased that people like my sense of humour as I am currently in a semi-autobiographical phase. I also like to have a spin on things, looking at life with my own honesty and point of view.
You’re an actor, comedian, writer and presenter, among other things. What is your favourite aspect of what you do?
Nothing beats going out on the road and doing a live comedy gig, be it in a room above a pub, a festival or a large theatre. There is something about the immediacy and energy that a pre-recorded TV appearance cannot give you. In this regard, I am my own self-censor and I can absolutely say what I think, believe and like. I can’t think of any other job that gives you this freedom with no other agenda than laughter.
You smile A LOT. What is your own personal key to happiness?
I genuinely do have a positive disposition, though believe me, like everyone else, I don’t smile all the time! Can you imagine how nauseating that would be? Just an annoying grinning clown? I don’t have a key to anything apart from my house. I do think we all have the ability to respond to whatever life throws at us in a particular way, which will determine how you move forward.
You used to joke that Lenny Henry would have to die before you got on TV. He’s still alive and there you are addressing the nation! What has changed?
All I think that has changed is that people in TV land, I hope, are looking around and seeing that there is a significantly more diverse range of comedians out there. In America, there are so many programmes and channels reflecting the ethnic make-up of the nation including hosts, sitcoms and comedians. I struggle to remember when two ethnic comedians were on any TV station at the same time. I’d like to see a new talk show hosted by me! A trip onto the comedy circuit in the UK and you will see a variety of performers who deliver.
Tell our readers how your Edinburgh Fringe show ‘Laughter is my agenda’ went.
The Edinburgh run was a new angle for me, as it was work in progress for the new tour. I had a chance to try things out and even take risks to see what would happen. The Edinburgh Fringe is simply the most all-around amazing arts hub of the world.
How will your October tour differ from the Fringe show? Sell it to me in 5 words.
The progress has been done!
What is your favourite joke?
My favourite joke is one by a comedian friend of mine, Carey Marx. It is a beautiful and well-constructed joke. His ability to challenge our perceptions of words is amazing. It is a joke that works on many different levels and I won’t repeat it here!
You are described as honest and charming, with a child-like joy.
Am I? I bet that person didn’t meet me after a heavy night out…
Your book came out on the 20th of September entitled ‘I Used to Say My Mother was Shirley Bassey’. What’s all that about?
The title refers to the naive innocence we had as children, when all we want to do is fit in and get on with it. Not being cynical or jaded, I took pleasure in telling a little white lie! Tell me any little kid who hasn’t, and I’ll show you a massive liar.
Is this strictly autobiographical or have you stretched some of the truth for comical effect?
The book is actually a memoir, a collection of anecdotes from my past and starts when I was quite young, so through the eyes of child me!
Did you learn anything about yourself when writing the book that you hadn’t realised until you put pen to paper?
The only thing was the immense flood of memories that came back, including smells and feelings. I really wasn’t prepared for that. I guess I learned that I was always a person who felt on the outside, on the fringes, and have dealt with most of life’s issues by finding the funny, laughing or dare I saying keeping a low profile.
What have you got planned on the horizon? Any telly projects in the pipeline?
I am on a short UK tour in October, excited about my book. I’m also doing a new Radio 4 series, out in January and I’m in talks about a sitcom too. Next year, I plan to return to Australia and the US. All in all I’m very busy and grateful that I am doing a job I love.
Stephen’s book is available from Amazon.
He’ll be setting off on an extensive tour tomorrow and you can find out when he’s coming to a town or city near you over on his website.
Gavin Webster is one of the UK’s Top Professional Comedians, and he has steadily built his reputation on the professional comedy scene in the last two decades. Having worked with some of the best names in the business he’s making a big name for himself.
Gavin has appeared on The Eleven O’ Clock Show, Never mind the Buzzcocks, The Comedy Store amongst other TV and media work. He has his own weekly show in Newcastle, at a branch of one of the great comedy franchises ‘The Stand’. Not only that but he also wrote and starred in ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, the star studded BBC Comedy Sketch Show. A Writer, Actor, Comedian, and Voice-over artist: is there anything he can’t do?
Keen to find a bit more about the real Gavin Webster, and the man behind the mic, I, PPSF Associate Features Editor, Andy Chambers, persuaded Gavin to take five minutes out of his rather hectic schedule. Despite his many commitments, Gavin stopped for a drink and a chat in one of Newcastle’s real ale bars. Having gigged with him before, I know he can be a bit mischievous, and today is no exception.
Andy: Gavin, thanks for coming. You’ve been doing comedy for almost twenty years now. What prompted you, so long ago, to have a go at a pub in Gateshead? Did you have any comedy influences when you started taking it seriously?
Gavin: I was kind of forced into it by my mate who was really keen on us being a double act. The second comedy gig I went to, I was on. I know that’s become a cliche answer in interviews but it’s true in my case.
I kept going because I felt like I had something to say and I enjoyed it. I was influenced by all the local acts that were around at the time, most notably The Big Fun Club, Tony Mendoza, Vladimir McTavish and a very young Ross Noble.
Andy: I’ve gigged with Vlad. He’s quite special. It goes without saying you’ve worked with some of the finest in the business. Are there any acts you started out with that have made it to the same level?
Gavin: Well, in the case of Ross Noble, he went higher than everyone and is still a huge box office attraction and has been for over 10 years. Stefan Peddie is still on the local circuit and Vlad McTavish is a bit of a legend at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Andy: I do like Steffen. He’s a natural! You’ve been doing comedy professionally for a long time now. Can you remember what your worst jobs were before you finally caught a break?
Gavin: Building sites were hard. I worked in a brush factory which was particularly grim. That’s industrial brushes, not sweepy ones! I remember in one factory I worked in, I was lowering metal components into melting lead to give them a lead coating. I had to wear a mask, but the fumes were going right to my head. Apart from that, I did photocopier demonstrating, a call centre job that lasted a couple of years and delivering hire cars was my last employment.
One day, after designing a works rota without consultation, the new boss complained about me not turning in on a day when he’d scheduled me to. He was a bit of a prick and I thought ‘I’m sick of working for pricks’ so I quit and never returned to the world of work.
Andy: It must be nice! You’ve been described as a cross between Bill Hicks and Geoff off Byker Grove, yet you named your 2012 Fringe Show ‘Bill Hicks wasn’t very good’. For the readers that haven’t seen this live, tell us a bit about why you don’t like Bill Hicks.
Gavin: The show’s over now, so I can come clean. In my view, Bill Hicks wasn’t very good. I thought he was excellent. There’s still some fuckwit reviewers that didn’t get this twist.
Andy: Haha. I wish I had caught the show at the Fringe! Are there any live comics you actually can’t stand?
Gavin: Andrew Dice Clay is pish. I don’t like that Dane Cook bloke.
Andy: Agreed. Your preceding Fringe Show, in 2011, was called ‘All Young People are Cunts’. Can you give us a bit of insight into this?
Gavin: It was my disappointment with young people and their lazy culture. I went into detail about their language, their obsession with irony, with boxed sets, TV dinners and rubbishy music.
The fact that they were apolitical and decadent as well as arrogant, self righteous and generally dull. Tongue in cheek? Well, once again, one or two critics missed the point royally.
Andy: Aside from stand-up, you do have a lot of side projects. What are you busy with at the moment?
Gavin: Writing my blog, writing comedy projects, walking my dog, being a Dad, brewing beer, running my six-a-side football team and other projects that keep me sane.
Andy: Wow, you really are busy! I think I’ve probably been to most of your weekly shows at The Stand Newcastle on Sundays since you’ve started doing it. Tell the readers a little bit more about the setup for the show, and the reasons behind a show entitled ‘Northumbrian Assembly’.
Gavin: There was a campaign for a North East regional assembly a few years back, if you remember, and it was rejected. The no vote won hands down. Well, I have my own assembly every Sunday night. We keep it as Northumbrian as we possibly can: a meat draw, a comedy quiz with prizes of pease pudding, stotties and pictures of ex-Newcastle players from yesteryear. There are Northumbrian flags draped on the backdrop as well.
Andy: It certainly is a bit special Gav. I know, like me, you’re a huge Newcastle United fan. I’ve heard you run a strictly Comedians six-a-side football team every week. That might be a totally unique type of team! Who’s on the team? And are you guys any good?
Gavin: There’s myself, Andy Fury, John Whale, Kai Humphries and several others. We’re not a bad side. We’re in the second of three divisions.
I play on a Monday then walk like John Wayne for the next three days. I’m not getting any younger.
Andy: None of us unfortunately! Like a lot of pro comics, you do a lot of charity work. With so many worthy charities to support, are there any that you’re particular keen on supporting?
Gavin: Tiny Lives. They provide support for people coping with a premature birth and obviously some of the money goes to research to help keep new born prems alive. Our daughter was born prematurely. She’s fine now.
Andy: That is a really good cause. You obviously spend a lot of time on the road. What do you do in your downtime? In other words, what quietens and settles the busy mind of Gavin?
Gavin: Doing nothing is good! I watch Newcastle whenever I can as well. I do enjoy a drink. I’ve got a weakness for blended whisky and dark and red ales.
Andy: So the bar at the Stand is well funded? I hear you have a very keen interest in music in films. What in particular gets your creative juices flowing?
Gavin: I like Mike Leigh films, Ken Loach films, many more British films…the kitchen sink era…erm…screenplays written by Alan Clarke, Ken Rosenthal, Willy Russell, Alan Bleasdale and the like.
My music tastes are many and varied, but I’m a big fan of the punk/new wave era. Bands like The Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers, Stiff Little Fingers and many more.
The cynical attitude we comics have today all come from punk in my opinion.
Andy: Maybe your generation of comics. Many performers have little quirks, routines or particular items on their person before going on stage or whilst on stage. Do you have anything like that Gav?
Gavin: …I don’t like to have keys in my pocket when I’m on stage. Mo Farah wouldn’t have keys on him while running the 10,000 metres.
Andy: So no keys on stage, but a meat raffle is fine? Do you have any other big passions outside of comedy and media?
Gavin: …Many plans of wonderful dastardly acts but I couldn’t possibly share them. They’re top secret.
Andy: Ominous…and finally, what advice would you give to up and coming comedians who really want to make a go of it?
Gavin: Don’t listen to any advice. Generally, people who give you advice know nothing or they’re keen on giving you duff advice to try to stop you in your tracks. Make your own mistakes. Now was that genuine advice or am I trying to stop you in your tracks?!!! Who knows.
Andy: Thanks for clearing that up. Thanks for coming down Gavin.
Apart from his nationwide gigs, you can see Gavin every Sunday night at The Stand in Newcastle, Bigg Market.
We caught up with Comedienne Danielle Ward at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Admittedly a good few weeks ago but hey, we’ve been busy providing you with amazing content! Eight years of performing, Timeout newcomer of the year in 2006, Mock the Week appearances, writer for many UK TV favourites including The Lee Mack Show and a regular Sunday morning podcast with none other than Dave Gorman. We really were insanely lucky to be able to pinch a sneeze of her time.
Our meeting took place in the Pleasance Dome after a performance of her solo show, which she admits she is doing just for the love of it. She apologises at the lack of a prop:
‘I’ve normally got a severed head on stage. It’s a watermelon. I dropped it the other night and it’s gone really disgusting’
Obviously taking inspiration from Gallagher there…
I ask her where she gets her ideas from because, to be honest, her show was far from what I expected (in a good way) and some of the ideas were a little whacky!
’I really like telling short stories and so that’s what that is. I have got a stand-up show! This show is just me being able to piss around and paying for the privilege. I just wanted to do something that was weird and silly and that’s what that is’
Now as this was my first face-to-facer, rather than research into methods of conducting a proper interview like a real person, I wrote a brainstorm of some of the most random questions imaginable on a sheet, and in an Ouija-board style fashion, Danielle picked questions and then endured the wrath. Here is how it played out:
Q: ‘What is the funniest word?’
‘Knickers. I nearly called my show ‘Knicker-less Cage’. It was meant to be a feminist title’
Q: ‘What is the worst job you’ve had?’
‘I worked at the South Korea embassy. I’ve also worked in Moscow so I can speak Russian. At the Korean embassy my job was mainly being asked stupid questions. The ambassador once asked me if Edinbrough and Edinburgh was the same place, and then he made me check by ringing the Scottish tourist board! I worked at Blockbuster video too in Nottingham when I was living with my Nana and Grandad. I really liked it! I worked in a casino and a fire station. I’ve done so much, that if I’d listed them all in my show there would have been no jokes, it would have just been a list of jobs…
Q: ‘What is the most awkward date you’ve been on?’
‘I‘ve not really been on many dates. I didn’t go out with anybody until I was 24 and I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 22! In the meantime, I was just being really miserable. I once went on a date to a Wetherspoons. It was half a good date and half a bad date. I was taken to see Battle Royale which was brilliant, but then we went to a Wetherspoons so I wasn’t quite sure he was the right one for me..’
Q: ‘Do you get weird thoughts?’
‘Yep, all of the time! Which is why you have to stay focused. I’m doing three shows today so I’ve taken five pro-plus just to try and pep myself up a bit.. I don’t think it helped..’
Q: ‘Tell me something random…’
‘Hmm, I used to think octopuses only had 1 eye like a Cyclops’
And then we had a bit of banter about the festival. Danielle doesn’t think she’ll return because there are just too many shows and it’s not what it used to be. The best shows in her opinion are the cabaret acts (Frisky and Mannish being one of her favourites, The Boy with Tape on his Face being another) and that’s what the festival has become. If somebody asked her what shows she would recommend, she said that she’d tell them to go and see The Dark Knight Rises instead as you pay 6 quid for 3 hours of entertainment! And then we chatted about that film for a while. I wasn’t sure we’d ever get back on track actually. She’s quite the conversationalist, but we did:
Q: ‘What do you think is the funniest accent and can you do it?’
‘South African. My South African accent is terrible. Didn’t you hear it in the show? At the end I was doing my Nottingham accent, the woman in the sketch who was the cleaner has a Nottingham accent. I’m from there so I’ve had practice.’
Q: ‘Tell us about a time you laughed so hard you cried’
‘When I was 14 I went to see Jack Dee. It was the first stand-up I ever went to see and was amazing. I was crying with laughter. I didn’t laugh so hard that I pissed myself but my Nan has done that. She once got stuck on a slide and laughed so much she pissed herself. Because she was on the slide you could see it coming down. She has a good sense of humour’
Q: ‘How much would you need paying to French-kiss Boris Johnson?’
’50 pounds? Hey, I am losing a lot of money at this Fringe. I’d take 50 for a frenchie with Boris right now’
And then I brought BoJo out! Nah I didn’t, but that would have been pretty spectacular, and a PPSF first!
‘When you’re doing stand-up at club you have to change what it is you want to do but when you’re at the Fringe you can do whatever you want. At a club, if you fail at comedy then you’ve failed at your job because the people are on a night out. You end up spending time doing material, that you don’t necessarily like, to get by, and then you think you may as well just retrain as a plumber. Some comics can go into auto-pilot but not me. If I did, you’d be able to see it in my eyes.’
Q: ‘Who pisses you off?’
‘Loads of people.’
Q: ‘Who makes you smile?’
‘My dog makes me smile. I miss my dog, his name is Buddy. He’s a cocker spaniel and he’s only four months old. We considered calling him Jarvis Cocker-spaniel but decided it was a bit too obvious. My boyfriend is very funny.. Bridget Christie makes me smile a lot, Michael Legge..’
Q: ‘Who’s stupid?’
‘Reviewers who say things like “she was so funny I forgot I was watching a woman”. That’s NOT a compliment! People think if you go and see a female comic they’ll talk about periods and stuff and that’s just not what happens! Female comics don’t do that. It’s become a taboo subject. I did bits in my show about it because if you give me a taboo subject I will put it in my show. That’s why there is a bit in my show about vagina-plasty. It’s horrible, and you can actually get your vagina cut! You see NOW I’m getting passionate. The idea that as a woman you would ever want to get your vagina trimmed… that’s where we are as a society. What a terrible thing..’
And then we chatted about feminism and how she doesn’t have a hate for men, but a hate about the fact that we could make a joke about a woman being raped but if it was the same for a man, that would be taboo. Then she defends her one-woman show (pointlessly, as I really enjoyed it) and tells me a bit about her actual stand-up show, which she assures me is really funny. After this, for some stupid reason (I think I was drunk) I’d included the question ‘Name something beginning with L that you wouldn’t put up your bum’. ‘Leslie Ash’ comes the response, lightning fast. The reasoning? Leslie Ash got her trout-pout done to please men, and then issues the advice that she probably shouldn’t get her labia cut off.
Danielle was an absolute pleasure to chat to. I’d love to do it again. I can see why she received a grant from the BBC to write because if she says a fraction of what she’s thinking then we are all in for a treat. I give her show 4 stars for sheer originality and balls (which I think she’d be proud to hear) and highly recommend that if she’s ever in your neck of the woods, or you fancy travelling for a good night out, then check if she has a show in your area. If your boyfriend is a sexist, leave him at home. Or even better, take him. He’ll leave with his tail firmly between his legs.
The first show I caught at the Fringe was Heath Franklin’s Chopper in A Hard Bastard’s Guide to Life and it couldn’t have started much better (read the four star review here). Straight afterwards, I stuck around to find out how he’d been finding Edinburgh since his last visit.
Howard – So Chopper how’s the Fringe been treating you so far?
Chopper – Really good. It’s been really nice. I was here about five years ago and I don’t think I was quite ready to be here so I’ve gone home and hit the gym, so to speak, and I’m ready for a rematch. Last time was like Rocky One, which ended in a draw. Hopefully, this one’s going to be a lot more like Rocky Four, which is the one against the Russian guy, I think.
Since you’ve been here, have you had any strange/unexpected encounters on the streets of Edinburgh?
During the Fringe, almost every experience is strange and unexpected really. The main thing I’ve noticed is that the weather, up until this point, has been absolutely mind bendingly good. You know, everyone’s out in the meadows, drinking cider and getting slowly hammered. Yeah, it’s great.
How have audiences been taking to your show so far? Has it been going down well?
Yeah. There seem to be a lot of people with tiny bladders who have to go in and out of the room, but for the most part it’s gone down really nicely. I’m really happy with it.
When I was here last time there were lots of Aussies coming out to see me, which is nice, but this time there’s been a lot more Scots and British people.
Towards the end of the show, audience participation takes centre stage. You’ve included your own little sitcom pilot sketch. Does it always work out the way you want it to or are you more comfortable performing your material on your own?
Well, you spend all this time writing jokes and you come up with these weird and wonderful scenarios and there’s always bound to be some freak in the audience who’s a lot more interesting than you are. You’ve got to remember that. You’re not the only person in the world that’s got something to say, or who can be a bit “odd”.
Has anyone ever walked out of the venue because of you offending them?
Yeah. Usually it’s people who have decided that the show was a conversation and not a show and so you ask them to be quiet and you make a couple of jokes. They keep going, and then you crack a few jokes and you have to get personal and aggressive and that’s usually when the tears start to roll.
You were particularly kind to a few latecomers tonight. That totally took me by surprise as I expected you to at least make a few quips about them.
Well, I’m not here to alienate anyone. In Australia I do big shows with at least half the audience consisting of drunk morons so I have to spend half the time policing them. It feels a little like day care for alcoholics. Over here, it’s been pretty decent and really tolerable so I don’t feel the need to be as unnecessarily aggressive. I give people one or two chances. After travelling all this way, I just love having faces in the crowd really.
It’s nice doing a show and having at least one other heart beat in the room besides my own.
I’ve read a few early reviews of the show and the critics felt you opted for a safer route and played it safer than you tend to. What would you say to them?
Well it seems a bit odd that people let their expectations define what I do. If you want me to get aggressive I can always tell them all to fuck off and jam a stick in it: if you didn’t think I was aggressive enough, I’ll come round to your place and saw you and your family in half over the course of the week. If you want I can be really aggressive. I can get messed up. I will brutalise your kneecaps with a hammer, but I kind of thought comedy shows were about having a laugh so I thought I’d give that a fucking crack instead.
Chopper, you seem like quite an irate person pretty much about anything and everything. What do you do to let off some steam?
I like destroying hotel rooms, as I mentioned tonight. I have a little bit of a whinge about the type of music people listen to. To relax, I think there’s nothing like a bit of face melting guitar solo to do a bit of air guitar to, or some noisy guitars and some fucking drums and stuff. Anything to make you feel good about yourself. Charge through the meadows with a punk song ripping through your headphones. You feel like you can take on the world. I mean, I used to be a bit fucked up about it, and used to go around fighting strangers, but you know, that’s what fucktards do.
Back to that TV pilot you wrote. Have you got any plans for any TV in the future in Australia?
No. It’s not going to happen. Australia is obsessed with this mindless, garbage reality crap with a bunch of people who want to be F grade celebrities or close ups of people crying basically. That seems to be the holy grail on television these days.
Would you ever consider going on something like Big Brother yourself then?
Fuck no! I briefly touched on this in the show. If you want a bunch of degenerate morons who aren’t very articulate having an argument, just go outdoors. They’re everywhere. You don’t need it broadcast into your home. I mean, if you’re sat in the lounge watching Master Chef and your partner is in the next room cooking dinner, that makes you a bit of a fuckwit, I reckon. Just go for a walk. Check it out.
Chopper has just completed a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe followed by a week in London. He told us he’d be off for a month long holiday in Germany so we won’t be seeing him for a while. As soon as we know when he’ll be back, showing us how to harden the f*ck up, we’ll be sure to let you know.
Australia was ravaged by firestorms equalling 1500 atomic bombs in 2009. Now known as Black Saturday, this has gone down in history as Australia’s greatest natural disaster. Actress and Writer, Ali Kennedy Scott, inspired by interviews with survivors of Australia’s Bushfires, took it upon herself to write a story to portray the courage and hope of survivors as they struggled to put the shattered pieces of their lives back together. This is Ali’s first solo show and although tackling a dark subject matter, she assures us that Edinburgh audiences will also discover a touch of humour hidden amidst the adversity.
Your show is inspired by the ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires, known as Australia’s greatest natural disaster. How have you managed to portray this in a live event on stage?
The Day the Sky Turned Black follows the story of 5 people who lived through the fires – 3 survivors, a journalist, and the mother of an arsonist. Each has their own unique experience, context and reaction to the fires. With such an epic event in Australia’s history, no one person’s perspective could appropriately capture it, so I tried to build a 360 degree view of the fires and, in addition, use news reports to give the facts and narrate time and place.
The show is said to include ‘unexpected humour and tremendous tenderness’. Did you intend to bring humour to the show or it this something that just emerged on writing?
One of the incredible aspects of the people who lived through this time was their ability to find humour even in these dark days. They are a real inspiration for me. Consequently, there had to be elements of humour in the show. One of the characters is a 6 year old boy who hides from the fires in a wombat hole. He is so full of life that his humour just jumped off the page.
Which moment at the Fringe best sums up the Festival?
Walking along the mile and passing new Fringe friends all flyering for their shows – one in a Cinderella costume, one dressed as a Vegas show-girl, one man yelling Zombie apocalypse reloaded at the top of his lungs. The passion for their art and love for what they do for all the world to see.
What was your weirdest experience there?
I think it’s about to happen in the Best of the Sydney Fringe photo call… I’ll let you know once it’s complete!
Here, everyone does a run of preview shows but you have taken the show all over the globe already. How do you find the audiences in different countries and what has the reception been like?
I’ve been really lucky to be able to perform the show around the world. The story really has universal themes so it has been very warmly received. In New York the audiences were the most vocal – laughing and crying through the show. It won an award for excellence in solo performance which was lovely.
In Australia, audiences have a personal connection to the show, so it can be very moving for me as a performer to see their reactions during the show. Aussies overseas have been amazing too, bringing me vegemite in case I was homesick and sharing their stories.
In the UK, audiences typically remember the fires and the themes tend to resonate strongly. People often stay back to share their stories. It’s pretty special to get to talk to people after the show and hear about their experiences. That’s the great thing about the Fringe… you are in and out so quickly you almost exit with the audience!
Have you had to change much of the material since your started the show?
I’ve written a new opening and the show is now narrated by the journalist, so it has changed a little.
What was the first thing you did on reaching Edinburgh?
I recovered from the long journey with a refreshing ale in one of Edinburgh’s lovely drinking establishments.
Which other acts will you be catching there?
There are so many shows I plan to see! At the top of my mind are Rob Drummond’s magical theatre show ‘Bullet Catch’. Also, the Suzuki Company of Toga at the Edinburgh Festival perform Waiting for Orestes. I’ll definitely check out all the other Best of the Sydney Fringe shows – Confession of a Grinder Addict, LadyNerd, Scientist or Comedian and Tubular Bells for 2.
What is the first thing you will do as soon as the festival is over?
Have a deep fried snickers bar and get working on my next show! (ideally on a beach in the South of France).
Why should people be heading to see you at this year’s Fringe?
PHILOSOPHICALLY: If an actor performs and nobody sees it, is she really an actor?…If you love theatre or even like it a little, you should check out The Day the Sky Turned Black. It’s made up of inspiring stories about how people pick themselves up when times get tough and ultimately about hope. It will make you laugh, cry and everything in-between.
THE CREDENTIALS: It was people’s choice for Favourite show at the Sydney Fringe, was called “Enthralling” by the New York Times, and Fringe Guru said it was “the best of the many one-actor shows” he had seen at the Fringe in 2010.
You can catch the show daily at 3pm daily at the Assembly Roxy until the 26th of August so it’s perfectly located after lunch and before dinner!