Who and what the hell are you and what are you bringing to the Edinburgh Fringe?
I’m Mark and I’m bringing a brand new show for my alien character Mr Susie. It’s called “Last Chance Cabaret” and it involves the clueless extra-terrestrial trying to save cabaret without having any real idea what cabaret is. The show includes a brand new character – Marcia Godella-Birdo – who is a faded old has-been who gets increasingly drunk as the hour progresses.
What is it about the Fringe that makes you want to perform here and how long have you been doing comedy at the Fringe?
In terms of working in live comedy, the fringe is the single most intense experience a performer can have. The shows and guest-spots come thick-and-fast which means the learning curve is steep, there are always new things being thrown at you and you have to think fast to survive. It’s not as brutal as it sounds, since if you do ‘fall off the horse’ you don’t have much time to dwell on it with lengthy introspection because you’re immediately required to get back on and try again. It’s brilliant. I grow and learn every single festival.
This will be my fourth consecutive year doing comedy at the fringe, and my third consecutive solo hour.
Last year your show was in a cave, are you looking forward to performing in a venue less riddled with cholera?
LOL! I‘m switching from a paid venue last year to a venue that is part of the PBH Free Fringe. I’d say there are pros and cons with each. I loved performing at The Caves last year and the support staff were amazing (though it was hot and damp and I only just-about broke even by the end of the month). I won’t get any official support this year, but the venue is stunning and the ethos of what PBH are doing is incredible. And there’s a chance I could come away with a modest profit.
What’s your technique for picking people out of the street to come to your show?
I flyer in character which is a chance for me to effectively warm-up before the show starts. It also allows me to test out material (particularly the many interactive bits I build into each show) and I genuinely love doing it. I don’t believe I have a ‘target audience’, I think it’s pretty universal what I do (as long as you’re open-minded / open-hearted, and old enough to get in to this year’s venue which is 18+) but flyering like this allows me to filter out people who just aren’t going to enjoy the general silliness. It’s a win-win in that I can spare a wasted-hour for punters AND avoid having grumpy people sat with arms folded thinking ‘what the hell is THIS’ throughout my show. If you don’t like my interaction in character when flyering, then the show’s not for you (and you’re not for me)!
I once heard you practiced your show in front of an audience entirely made up of Mr Potato Men. Otherwise who would be your perfect audience member?
I’ve had stranger (and more silent) audiences than the throng of Mr Potato Men. Last year a whole audience was made up of Germans who had little or no English between them. They sat there in bemused silence throughout. The only English-speaker in was a reviewer and she didn’t give me the benefit of any doubt, deciding that she hated it even though she did understand what was going on. She gave me a two-star review, which was a bit of a shame as it read like a one-star review and that’s much more a badge of honour.
The perfect audience member would be someone who is playful and open-hearted. Rowdy in the right places, and yet respectful of the gentler moments. It’s very rare I get rejected or embraced by 100% of an audience, and the range of reactions across the spectrum is genuinely fascinating to me.
What’s the best/weirdest thing you’ve ever seen at the festival?
Last year was a vintage year for seeing great shows. I absolutely loved Stuart Bowden’s “She Was Probably Not A Robot” and that has to go down as one of my favourite things I’ve ever seen, along with Doctor Brown’s Foster’s-winning show from 2012. Weirdest (but still great) show last year was “The Half Naked Chef” at Bob’s Bookshop. Inspired clowning in a show that was utterly different every single time it was performed.
How do Fringe audiences compare to ones from your neck of the woods?
I don’t really notice a difference, to be honest. Because what I do is fairly weird, I find that audiences are (on the whole) pretty generous. They are just as likely to go with it here as they are anywhere else I perform. The only time I’ve noticed a sharp difference in audience behaviour is when I perform at festivals where people are camping, since most of those punters are completely mangulated in a way that even drunk, late-night audiences sat in a solid building (rather than a tent) rarely are.
What’s the best/worst heckle a Fringe audience has thrown at you?
Someone shouted “When is this going to end” barely ten minutes into my 2012 show. When I confronted him about it he claimed he was really enjoying it and just felt like joining in. I politely informed him that he could have chosen something a little more helpful with which to enter into the proceedings.
Then there’s the time my stage was invaded by three crack-heads (yes, literally, three people on crack). One tried to take all her clothes off, which would not have been pleasant, one attempted to dance with a chair and the third sat by the microphone solemnly ‘mooing’. I abandoned all material and did my best to integrate the three of them into the stagetime I had left. I don’t think anyone there will forget it!
And then, just last week, when I was previewing the new show, someone came to the front of the stage and seemed outraged that I had stolen their jacket from their clothes line. They weren’t joking, they were suddenly, intensely convinced that I had indeed stolen their jacket and was now brazenly wearing it whilst performing. The fact that this jacket is gold and sparkly and cut like a ringmaster’s attire probably gives some indication as to the state of higher consciousness this particular audience member had achieved.
You’ve just been trapped in an elevator with a ‘critic’ who panned you last year and didn’t feel much for your ‘love’. How would the next hour pan out? You also might happen to have a Sony Walkman in your back pocket with a Now 25 cassette at the ready.
I try not to let publicity (good or bad) affect my mood or my approach to each show but the fact remains that a harsh review does cause a dent or two. The reviewer from last year who I’ve already alluded to is someone I would like to gently question on the responsibilities of a critic. It is a difficult thing to do and it is not, or at least SHOULD not, be about their own particular tastes and preferences. A decent critic places an artistic offering within a defined context and then assesses whether it hits its targets regularly or successfully enough. More and more reviews are “I didn’t like it” or “I liked it”, and both are next to useless to all but close associates of the reviewer. The star system is also a frustratingly evil shorthand, since it’s all anyone really looks at. Like an instant stamp of “worthwhile” / “garbage”. My reviewer last year is perfectly free to describe my show as a failure but I think it would have been infinitely fairer to explain that 99% of that particular audience at that particular show didn’t understand a word I was saying. The next day I had a standing ovation from 60 people and it was the same show in the same venue.
That all sounds like I’m damaged by negative reactions, and in any final analysis I don’t think I am. I want to do good shows that the audience enjoy watching as much as I enjoy performing them, and if I can do that then I will be very happy indeed, regardless of what is written about me. Besides, word-of-mouth at the fringe is far more powerful than anything in print. Finally, last year’s description of my show as “a pointless hour, devoid of meaning” is actually something I would be drawn to go and see, so every cloud and whatnot. . .
With exception to your own show, who do you recommend people go see?
Wow, that’s so difficult to answer. I’m looking forward to Stuart Bowden’s new hour – ‘Before Us’. Although I can’t actually see it at the festival because it clashes with mine, so I’ll catch it in London later in the year. I am also excited about “Dead Ghost Star” from Cheeky Kita and Mr Dinner. There are new solo shows to check out from favourites such as Sarah Callaghan, Catriona Knox, Henry Von Stifle, Laurence Owen, Jack Samuel Warner, Trevor Locke, Rachel Stubbings, George Ryegold and Lindsay Sharman (as Madame Magenta). Many more to list (and if I’ve missed out some obvious ones then I’m sorry). I LOVE August for all the things I get to see, over and above the buzz I get from performing my own stuff.