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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July, 2003, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
Barschak braces himself for Fringe

By Rebecca Thomas
BBC News Online Entertainment staff

As stunts go, Aaron Barschak's gatecrashing of Prince William's 21st birthday at Windsor Castle ranks among the most audacious.

Aaron Barschak
Aaron Barschak has 18 dates at the Fringe

The so-called Comedy Terrorist became a household name overnight amid the media frenzy that followed the stunt on 21 June.

What is more, tickets for his Edinburgh Fringe festival show - Osama Likes it Hot - have flown out of the box office.

Audiences will judge for themselves whether Barschak can continue the element of surprise on stage.

But in person, the 37-year-old Barschak certainly seems no ordinary Joe.

His chosen rendez-vous for an interview was outside an Ann Summers shop in central London.

His arrival, almost half an hour late, left onlookers open-mouthed.

Dressed in a traffic-cone orange boiler suit, a red beret and limping heavily from the effects of gout, Barschak cut a looming, curious figure.

Mental block

Walking with him along a crowded London street was a wit-testing exercise as he would suddenly veer into the middle of the road.

Once ensconced in the relative calm of a nearby Indian restaurant, Barschak - accompanied now by two male friends and his sister Tamara - began to talk.

I'm not the comic Messiah, I'm just a normal boy, but I feel paralysed by the expectation
Aaron Barschak

In between mouthfuls of onion bhaji and yelling insults at these friends, Barschak revealed he was not a happy man.

Since turning up at Windsor castle dressed as Osama bin Laden in a pink dress, he has lost all his "creativity", he said.

"People ask me what I am going to do in my Fringe show but I don't know. Up until the 21 June I had an idea but now everything has changed.

"Now I care, before I didn't. Now everyone is ready to carve me up because I've upset a lot of people - especially comics.

"I'm not the comic Messiah, I'm just a normal boy - but I feel paralysed by the expectation."

Whether this lament was genuine, Barschak certainly sounded like a man who had lost his way.

Aaron Barschak
Barschak: "You can take out ads but...you don't forget a man in a beard and a dress"

If it was not for his eloquence and forceful manner, you could almost feel sorry for him.

The question, then, is why - if it has made him so miserable - did Barschak go anywhere near Windsor that night.

"Edinburgh is the FA Cup. I'm up against really great comics and I thought how the hell am I going to fill a 100-seat theatre?" Barschak explained.

"You can take out ads here and there but let's face it, you don't forget a man in a beard and a dress."

He has a point, and his tactic has clearly worked, at least for his first sold-out Fringe shows.

Intent

But self-promotion was not always Barschak's reason for dressing up as an international terrorist and "hijacking" events.

He reels off a catalogue of unsuspecting celebrity victims, including Ulrika Jonsson, who have had Osama arrive uninvited and disrupt their gigs.

I don't want to die in the nobility of poverty - of course I am desperate for fame
Aaron Barschak

But when he started doing his "act" some nine months ago - in public and in clubs - it was simply because he wanted to "have a laugh" .

His most notorious public attempt pre-Windsor at raising a titter had to be his intrusion on a star-studded tribute to the late Spike Milligan.

Barschak was widely berated for his actions but he believes Milligan would have understood.

"It was a prank in the spirit of Spike. I thought the head of a terrorist organisation in drag would visually be right up Spike's street and very Pythonesque," said Barschak.

He added: "And, I heard laughs. Maybe a lot of people would say that was wishful thinking but how is that every time I am 'crap' I hear laughs and applause?"

Barschak's defence of his comedy suggests there is more at stake for him now than just gentle diversion.

His background adds to the impression that Barschak has always been bent on being "different".

In his 20s, he toured South America for four and half years. "I thought I was Ernest Hemmingway," said Barschak.

Six months of that time he spent working in a gold mine, to find out first-hand what working life had been like for his maternal grandfather.

Fortune and glory

Yet the desire to perform was always there and he went on to train as an actor before turning to comedy.

Barschak said: "If you become a performer it's because you just have to. It's a need in you."

But now it seems Barschak's motives have become confused.

Aaron Barschak
Barschak: "A lot of people say I've got no talent"

When pushed, Barschak's noble artistic motivations evaporate, to be replaced with a lust for celebrity.

"Everybody in this game is desperate for fame. Fame brings money and you can do what you want with money," Barschak said.

"I don't want to die in the nobility of poverty - of course I am desperate for fame."

And Barschak also thinks he could be a better kind of celebrity than those he generically describes as the "scum of the earth".

Helping to raise his profile are Barschak's assembled friends who are making a documentary about the "real" Aaron Barschak.

The film will take in Edinburgh and presumably keep for posterity a record of just how Barschak went down with the Fringe crowd.

Sink or swim, Barschak ends the meeting with defiance.

"A lot of people say I've got no talent but, though my comedy may need tweaking, I'm a lot more savvy, educated and brainy than a lot of people out there earning money and being shoved in my face as entertainment."

Osama Likes it Hot is playing at the Underbelly in Edinburgh.


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