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Before Baby Reindeer: Richard Gadd on the Edinburgh Fringe and eating soap Achi-News

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Before Baby Reindeer: Richard Gadd on the Edinburgh Fringe and eating soap

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I can’t give too much away without giving away the whole ending, but I will say it’s like nothing I’ve ever done before. It still relies a lot on video/audio elements but unlike my previous show, it’s much lighter and happier in tone, with a style and structure you won’t have seen before, at least from me .

But to keep you guessing, it somehow involves: prawn sandwiches, sign language, Eminem, the Little Mermaid, and a jacket made entirely of Christmas Tree lights. Does that help narrow it down? Probably not…

The best thing about the Fringe?

The best things about the Fringe – and I’m going to focus entirely on comedy here – is the Free Fringe. I am a huge ambassador for the Free Fringe. It’s a bunch of comedians/artists getting their hands dirty and putting on a show for an audience they don’t charge to watch. There is a purity to that. He does away with the ticket stubs and ushers and fancy lighting rigs and says “this is my art – take it or leave it.”

At the end of the day nobody loses anything. If the audience doesn’t like it, then they lose an hour of their life. No big deal. If the performer is having a rough time of it, then at least he hasn’t remortgaged his house to pay for a fancy location. No big deal. It removes that element of risk and brings the art back to the artists, which is the most important thing.

If the Big Four (Pleasance, Underbelly, Gilden Balloon, Assembly) were still ignoring the roost then every comedian would fork over a fortune just to get a decent venue and monopolize their own visibility. But thanks to John Kearns, Ben Target, Liam Williams, and all the successful shows in previous years on the Free Fringe, famous performers have started to turn to the Free Fringe to perform: Phil Jupitus, Robin Ince, Simon Munnery, Stewart Lee, Ed Aczel etc that show how much it takes over.

Furthermore everyone is waking up to the fact that you CAN do the festival WITHOUT losing any money. It’s not all about the money of course, but at the biggest arts festival in the world, why should the only people not making any money be the artists? It puts the control back with the performers and that’s exactly as it should be.

The Herald: Richard Gadd in Baby ReindeerRichard Gadd in Baby Reindeer (Image: free)

The worst thing about the Fringe?

I would say the competition is narrow-minded about prizes. Again, I’m focusing entirely on comedy here (let that be the standard for all my answers really), but the competitive nature has really started to taint Edinburgh’s comedy scene.

I think awards are useful and important to further your career, but the festival in recent years has become ALL about the awards. Comedians focus only on whether there are important people in and how they can tailor their set to those very people, ignoring the audience who have paid to see them at the same time. It makes no sense. It ignores why comedians started doing comedy in the first place – to make people laugh/make good art.

Comedians delay and delay their “first hour show” for years and years so that they have the BEST possible chance to win an award, and then only get hit with misery and disappointment if they fail. If they had fired straight out of the block and said, “fuck it, I don’t care if I’m not quite ready, I’m going to do an hour long show and do it as well as I can be” – how much further are you going to be by learning from the successes and pitfalls of putting on a show and taking risks?

The Fringe has become so buzzed with different awards that I worry that – in the eyes of many comedians – that’s all the Fringe is about. I’m not saying awards aren’t important, every performer deserves an award for doing what they do, but with tunnel vision towards “what the panels might want” I see that comedians ignore what they could achieve as performers.

How many years have you been coming to the Fringe?

This is my seventh year in a row, and my third hour-long show. I love the Fringe. It’s a lot like childbirth though. You go through a whole bunch of personal pain and turmoil performing night after night, you always end the month with an attitude of, “I’m never doing that again!” But month after month your brain and body make you forget the bad times and only remember the good, and then all of a sudden you’re excited about it again and arrive in Edinburgh full of hope. A week later, you’re like, “DAMMIT Brain YOU fooled me again!”

Favorite Fringe location?

I’ve performed in some really rough and ready venues on the Free Finge. I have had no doors, problems with sound bleeding, competing with bands, violent audience members, no working microphone, honestly the list is endless.

I’ve built doors to combat the noise and I’ve bought lights and microphones and all sorts of things to get the rooms in order and I always managed to get successful shows there in the end. I became very fond of the trial by fire experiences I had there.

So my favorite venue is the Southsider just off Nicholson Street where I did my first Cheese & Crack Whores show. This is where I had my initial success and this is where I learned the most. It may be hard to compete with an Irish folk band every Friday and Saturday night but it taught me how to hook and gig and run with it, regardless of noise and distraction. That is a good learning skill. The staff were lovely too. I still miss you Brenda!

Best peripheral memory?

Cheese & Crack Whores, my first solo show. I wrote my first hour show well before where I was in my career. All my friends told me I was crazy doing it. I felt crazy doing it, but I had a wonderful production company behind me (Brown Eyed Boy) and a great director called Gary Reich and we worked into a really good place. Come Edinburgh we burst out of the blocks and it was a huge hit. I still get shivers thinking about that month of my life. The defining moment was the number of people queuing for my show. It was a forty seater and I must have had over two hundred queuing around the block. It was crazy. I remember walking into the venue and some guy behind me shouting, “Oi mate! Queue like the rest of us!” and I was like, “But this is my show?!” It was a crazy-old time.

Best heckle?

I play a prattling psychopath on stage so my heckles are few and far between but I remember during Cheese & Crack Whores this guy was being very blunt and taking out his umbrella and playing around with or distract the audience from the show. There was a scene in the show where I eat a whole carrot cake (long story) but I choke on it and end up spraying it out of my mouth in waves. I decided I had enough of this guy and so I walked over to the guy and sprayed a huge amount of cake over him – like spray after spray after spray. It all went in his curly hair, in his drink and his bag. Then I shouted, “Where’s your umbrella now?” and the audience applauded. It’s probably one of the few times the heckler hasn’t gotten the better of me!

Craziest experience on stage?

I did a show during Breaking Gadd and I had a stag-do-esk crowd in and I had a bar of soap as a prop. They were so noisy and vulgar that the show was completely derailed at the end so once I had this soap in my hand they started chanting, “Eat! Eat it!” and so I did nothing just to appease them (a bad idea in itself). It burned acidic hot the moment it entered. I had to stop the show to get a glass of water because my throat felt like it was closing in and when I spit into a napkin, I saw blood. I went to the hospital the next day and they counted eighteen mouth ulcers. Then they gave me this soothing cream that was so painful when I put it on that I swore it gave me ulcers on top of my ulcers. It was brutal.

What’s on your rider?

Fluffy white towels. Diptyque Candles. Pianist Flowers. Fiji water. There is a masseuse.

How do you wind down after a show?

I’m not. I don’t wind up in life. I hardly sleep and so I drive the wave of adrenaline to the show the next day. I tend to record shows and watch them back straight after, obsessing over what I could do differently / better. It never really stops for me. It’s all very obsessive and weird and unhealthy. This sounds strange but I’m not really sure how to relax. It’s not something I’m particularly good at. I guess that’s why Edinburgh feels like a prolonged death to me…

What do you love about Scotland?

Everything. The character, the personality, the accent, the history. The fact that education and prescriptions are free. The fact that it is run by leftist politics. Ken Loach. My parents. The Traverse Theatre. The nightlife. Everything.

What do you like about Edinburgh?

The eleventh month the festival is not on and you will see how beautiful the city is, with the castles and the old building and Arthur’s Seat. There are no billboards and garish advertisements everywhere spoiling the eye. It truly is one of the UK’s most stunning cities.

What’s the most Scottish thing you’ve done?

… grew up there?

What kind of jokes does a Scottish crowd seem to respond to?

Other comedians, usually…

Favorite joke?

I am not a big joke fan persay. I’m much more of a theatrical comedian than a joke teller. I am jealous of the people who have the ability to write them, because the skill escapes me. My comedy is more dialogue-based, stylized, and character-driven, so I’ll have to tell any joke that comes out of Mark Nelson’s mouth.

Richard Gadd will be performing at Banshee Labyrinth on August 14-16 and 18-30.

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