Welcome to our Fringe Debuts series, where comedians taking their first show to Edinburgh Fringe will give you a little taster of what to expect, an insight into their world, or really super weird musings on something equally bizarre — to be honest, we just let them run with it. If you’re readying yourself for a giant lol injection in August, now’s your chance to find something NEW to add to your list.
Isabelle Farah is performing Irresponsabelle, her show about growing up (or not), terrible decisions and desperately failing to be a responsible adult. Her highly-recommended theatre show Ellipsis last year garnered high praise. She talks here about moving from theatre to stand-up, and sometimes back again.
This is technically my second Fringe, but my first taking an hour of stand up there. It’s July and I’ve got a month. I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling very behind and underprepared! But I always do. But I actually am this time! But I always think that. For the last month, my internal monologue has had to do some heavy lifting in the reassuring department.
I came to stand up from acting. I was a bit bored in a temp job and a big, globally-renowned theatre I really wanted to work at had told me that they went for someone “smaller and younger” for a non-speaking maid role I really wanted so I could get my foot in the door so that they would one day cast me as Cleopatra on a quick break from filming in Hollywood.
Initially, the transition was easy pease: write jokes, go to an open mic, tell jokes, swagger or crawl off stage depending on how it had gone. But as you progress and the stakes get higher and your set gets longer, things change.
My last show in Edinburgh was about comedy but went in the theatre programme. It was scripted form work-in-progress and just needed small tweaks and direction to get it to its finished state. I barely thought about structure, it was written from life so it sort of wrote itself.
This year, an hour of *JOKES* has been a very different beast. I did my first WIP in November. No script, but a concept (now gone) and some audience. It felt painful being up there for so long waiting consistently for punchlines, and I couldn’t work out why.
As an actor I’m really used to having a nearly-polished script to work with and there is no ‘work-in-progress’ in front of an audience. I’m not just learning about what works and what doesn’t but also about my own process, stage presence, my ticks when things aren’t going right.
I feel like I’m still writing my show. It’s there, I have structure and 58 minutes of stage time. But I feel like I’m still needling out the jokes and testing punchlines. As a comedian, this feels terrifying. As an actor, this is normal. A month of rehearsal with a script before opening night.
I’ve listened to a couple of ComComPods (Stuart Goldsmith’s podcast) where they’ve talked about how early they start writing their Fringe shows, there’s a memorable conversation between Stuart and Bridget Christie where she casually drops in that she starts in May and he gasps and says he starts in October, which was a relief.
I find myself going back to working with a script to work on bits. Writing out every word so that I know where and what to cut and change. To the intense irritation of my friends I sometimes drop in a ‘bit’ and see where it lands. (If it elicits anything other than a groan or a shoe being thrown at me, I count it as a win…)
I downplay stand-up all the time: “I’m not brave, I’m a needy extrovert” and “it’s just hard work, it’s really not a big deal” or “oh stop, it’s really not that glamorous, I spend days and days on trains”. But it is amazing, and even though it’s feeling a little bit squeaky-bum-time, I’ve got to the point where I’m enjoying this show. But it has definitely been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it’s not technically started yet!
Isabelle is on Twitter and Instagram at @@irresponsabelle
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