It’s been a tough two years for Edinburgh festivals – canceled in 2020 and scaled back last year due to COVID restrictions.
But as the Fringe bounces back into shape this year, those hoping to laugh off some of the darker issues we’ve faced will need to — according to comedian Andrew Maxwell — err on the side of caution.
“People in the room have to trust that you’re on the corner side,” he told Sky News. “You can’t just play with people’s feelings or cheaply bring up an extremely sensitive topic.
“If you haven’t established a relationship with an audience and you go into something like that, they’ll feel like you’re not cheap. That’s when you lose a audience.”
But Maxwell thinks humor, right now, is an important release.
“You know, it’s that kind of thing where if you have a really sad moment in your life, sometimes a sad song cheers you up.”
The post-lockdown elephant in the bedroom
Maxwell’s way of tackling the most serious things in Edinburgh this year is through the explosion of the Krakatoa volcano in the 1870s, “the world’s first global news event”, as he puts it.
“I just think it’s a crazy world we’re living in right now with so many unpredictable things… Ukraine, Taiwan, covidinflation, Liz Truss, you know, the whole spirit is that we live in unpredictable times and the volcano is a visual metaphor for that… there’s a lot of death and depression on the show, it also happens that ‘there’s a volcano and me in very tight shorts.’
In the wake of the pandemic shutdowns, political uncertainty and a cost of living crisisit would be fair to assume there wouldn’t be much of an appetite for something too dark at the moment, but for Edinburgh audiences, a whole host of shows this year attempt to tackle topics darker.
Many comedians have died Edinburgh, but how about making death the center of your performance? New material from multi-award-winning physical comedy troupe Ugly Bucket is, they say, a cathartic reckoning of what lies ahead of us all told through antics, personal testimonies, all set to hard-hitting techno.
For performer Angelina Cliff, it’s about confronting the post-lockdown elephant in the room.
“I don’t care – I’ll be dead”
“We [collectively] didn’t really have much time to talk or think about what we just went through.
“Sometimes there are no words to be able to communicate grief accurately, so watching something so ridiculous is the best way to start the grieving process.”
While the company has always sought to tackle taboo subjects head-on, this particular show was created to honor their former comedy teacher Tim Miles.
“He was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he asked if we could do a short ten minute play about death to play at his memorial.
“And we were kind of like, ‘Are you sure?’ and we asked him ‘is there anything in particular you would like us to do?’ and he said, “It’s okay. I’ll be dead!” So he really gave us carte blanche to do whatever we wanted.”
Comedian Bilal Zafar – whose stand-up set Fringe looks back on his time working in a nursing home after college – thinks comedy is at its best when it doesn’t shy away from the serious stuff.
Positive rather than self-destructive
“Personally, I’ve always preferred comedy that says something… when it feels like it’s not really about anything, it’s just not as meaningful, right?”
For some comedians, Zafar says, a little lockdown-induced soul-searching has been a chance to press the reset.
“I think for a lot of artists it was kind of nice to have a big break because usually you go there all the time and there’s so much pressure…then suddenly everybody couldn’t nothing for a while, and I think that changes your mindset quite a bit.”
Lew Fitz – whose stand-up show Soft Lad addresses his family’s multiple bereavements during COVID – felt it was the only thing he could write about.
“If you’re going to get through the pain in life, you might as well use it in a positive way, and that’s the only way I could have channeled it to be positive rather than self-destructive.
“It would have seemed dishonest to write about anything else at this exact moment because, with what happened, you are consumed by it.”
Andrew Maxwell: Krakatoa runs until August 14, August 16-24, 26-29, 9:30 p.m. at the Ballon Doré Teviot
Performances of Good Grief run through August 14 and August 16-29, 3:40 p.m. at Underbelly Iron Belly
Bilal Zafar – Care runs through August 14 and August 16-29, 5:30 p.m. at Underbelly Bristo Square
Lew Fitz: Soft Lad Runs Up 14 August and from August 16 to 29, 7 p.m. at the Ballon Doré Teviot