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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Ask the Edinburgh comedian
Dara O'Briain
Comedian Dara O'Briain answered your questions on comedy and the Edinburgh Festival.



Over 800,000 tickets have been sold for the world's biggest arts event, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which opened on Sunday.

Founded on the principle of open access for all performers, the festival is bursting with 20,000 shows in all manner of unusual places - including up a ladder, in a lift and in the back of a taxi.

The programme of fun lasts three weeks but it would take four years and 143 days to watch every performance back-to-back.

Irish comic Dara O'Briain is described as possibly the fastest talker in town after his stand-up show sold out at last year's festival. Host of BBC Two's Live Floor Show, Dara is returning to Edinburgh for another round of performances this year.

What would you like to know about the Fringe? What's it like to do stand-up at the world's biggest carnival of the arts?

Comedian Dara O'Briain answered your questions on comedy and the Edinburgh Festival in a LIVE interactive forum on Monday, 4 August.


Transcript


Robert Nisbet:

Hello and welcome to this BBC Interactive forum, I'm Robert Nisbet. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival kicked off yesterday and it's expected to attract record audiences. They'll have plenty of choice. The Fringe boasts 1,500 shows and a total of 20,000 performances over three weeks. But with such a huge programme, performers and punters may find themselves squeezing into some tight spots to enjoy the entertainment. There'll be a show in a taxi, one in a lift and even one up a ladder.

Well one person who's managed to secure a more traditional venue is comedian Dara O'Brien. His show is on at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar. But right now he's here to answer your questions. Good morning Dara. I understand you've had a very late night.


Dara O'Brien:

Yes, I only got off stage at half past three this morning so it's a bit early to be in again. But it's a feature of Edinburgh that shows go on and on and on.


Robert Nisbet:

Exactly - just don't sleep for three weeks. Now the first question is from Steve, USA who asks: I've never been to the festival or the fringe, despite loving Edinburgh. What would make me change my mind? What am I missing, if anything?


Dara O'Brien:

Is it possible to love Edinburgh without ever having come to the Fringe? What would make him change his mind? Well basically if Steve is interested in anything, this is the time to be in Edinburgh, whether it's photography, comedy, books, literature anything at all - pornography apparently, there's even a festival of eroticism going on at the moment. It is ridiculously broad the Edinburgh Festival and I'm just doing one part which is the Fringe, which is all the comedy and all the small theatre works etc. But really you'd want to be some sort of Philistine for there not to be something you'd enjoy over the course of the month there.


Robert Nisbet:

The next question is from Simon Wood, in Yorkshire who asks: There are so many acts in Edinburgh - as a visitor how do you make sure you're going to see something good, and as an act how do you make sure people come to see you?


Dara O'Brien:

OK, well there are two different things at work here; one of which is them looking for truth and the other which is us trying to lie to them - I can't give advice on both of those! There's no end of publications giving reviews - the key thing is word of mouth and talking to people. If you are around at the start of the festival you'll get a lot of free tickets. But sadly the beauty of the Fringe is there are some shows that you are going to go and see - take a punt on - and just not like. But it's good for soul, I think, to go and see something that you utterly hate every so often.

How do we get them in? Well I hate to pull the curtain aside and show you the wizard at work here. But there's all sorts of evil tricks involving fly-posting, handing out free tickets and just dragging people in off the street which works beautifully most of the time.


Robert Nisbet:

We've had one e-mail come in as we're on air from Simon Carr, Ottawa, Canada who asks: What does Edinburgh have that other comedy festivals like Montreal do not?


Dara O'Brien:

Good point. Montreal only goes on for a week and a half. Montreal is very much geared towards a twenty minute showcase - in fact twenty minutes if you're lucky, normally it's about seven minutes of a show case if you are doing Montreal and there are just far fewer shows, whereas the comics in Edinburgh will be doing hour shows at least and I generally do two a night, as do most people here and they're on every single night for a month. So you can see a lot more stuff here.

Montreal is an invitation festival, so they cherry-pick the best of what they want whereas Edinburgh is an absolute free for all. So they're quite different in spirit. You'll see a lot more stuff over here. You'll see it for longer - which can be a good and bad thing - and you'll also see people really trying to stretch themselves.

Montreal is a brilliant festival and I've played it but it's one of those ones where it's all about the business so you have to make it as tight as possible and by god you'll go with the best seven minutes you've ever done even if you've done them to death at this stage. Edinburgh is all about doing new stuff and that's probably the difference.


Robert Nisbet:

Jeremy Hawk, Andalucia asks: Other than your own show, which is undoubtedly excellent, have you any recommendations for this year's fringe?


Dara O'Brien:

Actually yes, I went to see a show last night by Rob Brydon called Marion and Geoff which is a spin-off from a sitcom here in the UK and it was utterly wonderful. It was before my show and then I didn't feel like doing my show because I didn't feel I could do anything justice after seeing the way he had done that.

It's very easy to pick up on the ones that you know are guaranteed to be good shows - Jimmy Carr, Adam Hills - very good - every year twice a Perrier nominee. There's a load of them - David O'Doherty - there's a lot of really great shows. To be honest there's at least twenty or thirty really good shows that are well worth catching and then there's a lot which could surprise me.


Robert Nisbet:

Yon Ten, Japan: I understand Mr.O'Brien is said to be possibly the fastest talker in Edinburgh. Will I be able to understand and enjoy his performance?


Dara O'Brien:

No, no. Quite safely any Japanese person would be completely lost. I did a gig once in Shanghai once and not knowing who I was or what I was going to do - they brought in 12 locals who were learning English and they lasted five minutes before they all trooped out.


Robert Nisbet:

We were talking about other people who were playing who were playing at the Fringe. Possibly one of the most famous in terms of people who read the newspapers and watch the media is Aaron Barschak who was the man who gate-crashed the Royal birthday party. We've got an e-mail from Head, Derry via Manchester: Have you punched (or at least chased) that Aaron Barshak fellow yet?


Dara O'Brien:

I haven't had to. I think Barshak, unfortunately, is going to be one of those stories that the comedians cling to of the person who's having a worse festival than they are. He's only been doing it a little while - possibly it was a bit sudden for him to be coming up with an hour show when he didn't have an hour show and then all of a sudden he pulls the greatest publicity coup in history and there's no way in hell he can ever live up to it.

So it's going to be a miserable time for Aaron - but we've all been there - we've all had to through our first show and it not work out. So while you believe that would give some solidarity - but no we are all just loving it that's it's definitely happening to him. In our lowest moments we want to know that somebody is having a worse Edinburgh than we are and this year it's going to be Aaron Barschak.


Robert Nisbet:

Mike, England asks: How would you react if during a performance you cracked a usually hilarious gag and nobody laughed? Has this ever happened to you?


Dara O'Brien:

It does all the time. Bizarrely you fall into the trap of presuming with any particular joke, if I repeat the same words in the same order with the pauses in the same place, then the audiences will always laugh and when they don't you're left speechless. It is bizarre but the audience change from night to night and you have to keep on your toes. That happens continually and then you just go to "plan B", followed by C, D and E - you just make sure you've enough safety nets behind you.


Robert Nisbet:

Andrea Hatton, Chiltern: How important is Edinburgh to you? What does it mean for your career?


Dara O'Brien:

It's our trade fair - not quite to the extent that Montreal is - it's not as diluted as that but it is really a chance for us to show off stuff and also it's our gun to the head because it's very easy to stand up and do the same twenty minutes over and over again and you could tour that around the clubs for the rest of your life. Whereas if you come to Edinburgh you absolutely have to come up with a brand new hourly show. Because we're all generally very lazy people, if we weren't we wouldn't be do this and we'd have real jobs and careers.


Robert Nisbet:

Darren, Scotland: Is it a good idea for a complete stand-up novice to start out at the Fringe? Bearing in mind that I don't like to be stared at! Also, will not being Irish impede me in any way?


Dara O'Brien:

Being Irish is a help I have to say. But being Scottish in Edinburgh should be a bit of an advantage. There are certain accents that just work well for comedy - Irish, Scottish, Nigerian - and certain accents that don't work well for comedy - South African, harsh Afrikaner accents, not very funny.

But if you're only just starting off though and if you don't like people looking at you, you might be going into the wrong game - puppetering might be more your thing. But it wouldn't be a place to bring a brand new person - come up and have a look at it, get a smell of it, do a few of little shows, but don't come up with an hour. It's terrible you see people who've come up too early and you know they're going to be great in a few years time but they've just come here a year or two too soon.


Robert Nisbet:

Kenny, South Park: Is stand-up comedy being edged out by sketch-based shows and comedians playing characters?


Dara O'Brien:

Not so much this year or indeed not so much last year as well. It depends on the way you view these things, the circuit is always going to be predominately stand-ups just because it's easier to carry the stuff around. But when it comes to the Perrier for example, last year it lurched back in the direction of unadorned, no frills stand-ups - people that were just manned with microphones. It's a broad church and there should be scope for all these things. I just do me with a microphone and one year reviews said Dara O'Brien, will never be the future of comedy, he harks back to an older, simpler era and the next year suddenly I was hot again. So we don't know where the zeitgeist is going on these things and it's up to every performer to just keep trying to get better. I think there will still be the uneasy mix of the three types as it goes on.


Robert Nisbet:

Mike, London has just e-mailed in: Is it true that comedians only write better material in the vain hope of getting better accommodation for the next year of the festival?


Dara O'Brien:

Yes, I'd admit I have bathrobes in the house this year which I didn't have before so it's very plush now. The only thing that's a great leveller is the flat will always be on the top floor of these old tenement buildings that everybody lives in in Edinburgh. So no matter who you are and no matter how great you are, you still have to carry your cases - it's like a metaphor for life - everyone still has to carry their cases up three flights of stairs in Edinburgh but I think it gets slightly more plush as it go along.


Robert Nisbet:

Helen, UK: I see from your photo you are challenged in the hair region. How do you feel about appearing at the fringe without one?


Dara O'Brien:

There's no answer I can give - she's already given out the feed line and the punch line on that one.


Robert Nisbet:

Slightly more serious, Dom Cassidy, Rwanda: I live and work in Rwanda. On the face of it, there's very little to chortle about over here. Is it cricket to find humour in such terrible situations? Or are some areas beyond "comic relief"?


Dara O'Brien:

No, I wouldn't say that anything is particularly beyond making jokes about depending on how you do it. Certainly when it comes to a situation, whether it's Rwanda or indeed Northern Ireland, it is not both possible to make comedy about it, it is necessary to do so. I'll admit it's probably whenever Rwanda gets kicking off from comedy clubs they are going to be very dark and very black as the comedy that came of Northern Ireland for 30 years was unbelievably black.

Tonight, I have the night off and I'm going over to Belfast and there's nothing they like more than jokes about the troubles - it's a complete safety valve and a huge release for them. So you have to do it. It's like if you hang around with doctors or firemen or anyone who works in grim situations a lot, their sense of humour is vital to them just to keep sane. So on a national level that's going to happen in Rwanda same as it happened in Northern Ireland.


Robert Nisbet:

We've just had an e-mail in from Neil Monk in England who asks: Dara, being a comedian do you find it hard getting people to take you seriously in real life situations?


Dara O'Brien:

To a certain extent yes - they presume it's a gag all the time. But then again I don't walk around with a big red nose, when I'm complaining in restaurants, for example, I don't have big floppy feet. And also I'm not that well known - I'm not sufficiently famous that that's become a huge problem.


Robert Nisbet:

Finally, an e-mail from Eric in England who asks: Toast or jam?


Dara O'Brien:

Given the choice, bare, unadorned, no frills - just a man with a microphone - toast. Jam is for people who need props to survive.


Robert Nisbet:

Dara, thank you very much for joining us. That's all we have time for in this interactive forum. My thanks to Dara O'Brien in Edinburgh and of course to all of you who sent in questions. But for now from me, goodbye.




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