Meet my Mentor

They say you should never meet your heroes. Well, we think they're wrong. Fest paired up three Fringe newcomers with the comics who've inspired them

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Rachel Jackson
Published 08 Aug 2017

Rachel Jackson meets Tiff Stevenson

Rachel on Tiff

First impressions?

I've thought Tiff was cool since I went to see her show Seven at last year's Edinburgh Fringe. She is very smart and quick witted and also kind. There was never an awkward silence!

What did you talk about?

All things comedy really! Tiff is onto her 8th hour now, whereas I am still on my first so it was amazing to talk to someone I respect and admire further along than me!

Why did you pick Tiff?

I think us being actresses as well as comedians means I am on a very similar path to her. I definitely see her as an inspiration. It was amazing to pick her brains about being a successful comedian. She is also on panel shows and as an actress on things like [BBC3 sitcom] People Just Do Nothing. To me she has a really varied and fulfilling career. I have my fingers in a few pies too and think it's the most fulfilling and exciting way to live so I think she was a great choice!

Most fun moment?

Letting Tiff try my Porn Star Martini. Everyone has to try them!

Any missteps?

I had to run for my train and so Tiff insisted on paying for our cocktails. I felt pretty bad, I'm such a paranoid person anyway, thinking, 'oh no she'll think I set that up on purpose to get free drinks', when really Tiff is cool and probably never gave it a second thought. I promised I'd definitely get her one back up in Edinburgh though.

What did you learn from Tiff?

Not to read any reviews during the actual run of the show. Its good to not let anything, good or bad, affect your show every night and I wouldn't want to become too aware of what reviewers were thinking about me during the run. To me, all that matters is making sure the audience are enjoying it each night. And that I am. What's the point in doing something this intense and not enjoying it?

What are you most excited about in advance of your debut Fringe?

Just getting to do what I love every night for a month. And to be debuting what's been a work in progress for a few years. Getting to do it all in my hometown is the cherry on what's already a very exciting cake. 

And most scared about?

Obviously I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid about bad or nasty reviews. You are putting your soul on trial every time you step out on stage and it's even more intense because you've written it and everything. If people don't like it, it feels personal. But at the same time, you have to take some comfort from knowing how brave you are, too. Not everyone has the guts to do this kind of thing. To yourself. Every night. Even talking about it now I'm getting butterflies!

Tiff on Rachel 

First impressions?

We actually met last year! Rachel was in the audience at a recording of Breaking the News which I was on. She sent me a lovely tweet after saying she thought I was very funny. I replied and invited her to come along and see me at the Fringe. We chatted a bit after about how boyfriends get bored of gigs very quickly and how great blonde hair and leopard print is.

What did you talk about?

This time round a bit more about agency and owning your material, never apologising for it. There is a bit of a habit in reviewing of telling female comics what they can talk about. This is in the live arena and on TV. Policing us or reducing our material to 'boyfriend stuff', 'single stuff', 'vaginas/periods', 'feminism', 'having kids/not having kids', 'body issues', etc. as if men ever get told what topics they can talk about. I said, 'talk about whatever you want, in a way that's totally you, and don't apologise for it'.

Any preconceptions?

That she was blonde, Scottish, quite funky, and had clearly watched Fatal Attraction. Also that she was a nice friendly person who wasn't afraid to give a compliment. Some comics think giving a compliment somehow reduces them. I don't like those comics.

Most fun moment?

Mainly us drinking Margaritas. We discussed material, composition, previews and managing expectations. My new three step rule is: 1. Positive thinking. 2. Preparation. 3. Surrender or let go of consequence. Which I guess is just another way of saying do the the best you can then try not to think about how it's received. It's what I try to do with all of my work. With varying degrees of success.

Any missteps?

Nope! Apart from Rachel nearly missing her last train. We weren't learning to tango! I gave her advice and she was pretty receptive to it. People aren't always...

What excites you about someone like Rachel doing their first Fringe?

It's heartening to see women getting signed, getting opportunities to fly or fail like the men. I mentored Funny Women last year and all of the women on it were signed (some before) with agents. They are getting bookings at clubs who realise that women want to see themselves represented on stage. It was so much harder when people like myself, Roisin Conaty, Sara Pascoe, Katherine Ryan, Andi Osho, etc. started. We had to fight for every inch and could never learn on the job like the boys could. Most of the female comics you see on TV now are there because they are as good as if not better than the men and had to prove it many times over. Because every job felt like a test – a measure of worth for ALL women. I can't imagine how much worse it was for Jo Brand, Jo Caulfield, Lucy Porter, Zoe Lyons etc.. Each generation chips away a bit for the one after.

And what scares you?

Your first Edinburgh is such a baptism of fire. You realise how Marmite you are and take it very personally. [I've advised Rachel to read nothing til after the Fringe is done. Also] forget about awards and remember this month is about making you better as a comic. I hope that she gets reviewed fairly, not in a sexist way – a bit of that still exists on the Fringe. Last year I got lectured on what feminism was by a middle class man in his fifties. It goes to show there are still pockets of misogyny.

What did you learn from Rachel?

That the Fringe still matters, which is great seeing as I will be there! I learnt that now women see comedy as a viable career that will actually make them money – ergo worth pursuing. That it's beautiful to see someone's eagerness and enthusiasm for doing their first show. No cynicism. I'd like to hang on to a bit of that for myself.

Ken Cheng meets Joseph Morpurgo

Ken on Joseph

First impressions?

Very friendly and forthcoming. He was taking time away from preparing for a preview which was very nice of him, unlike me who was pausing a session of Lego Star Wars. 

What did you talk about?

I mainly asked him about his first show and what that was like. It was a strictly Fringe-based chat, if anything too much. If I got to do it again I would ask him about other things like his childhood.

Why did you pick Joseph?

I admired his last show, Soothing Sounds for Baby, just for how much work seemed to go into it. I wanted to pick his brains about his process, or just maybe absorb some of that diligence through our phone conversation. 

Most fun moment?

Him describing the weirdest shows he’s discovered at the Fringe. There was some great imagery about a woman breastfeeding some beef.

Any missteps?

There was a bit where I almost choked on some water but I don’t think he noticed. And another period where the signal kept cutting out and I had to move downstairs, but again, I think I got away with it.

What did you learn from Joseph?

Mostly to prepare yourself for getting through the month. He talked about going into a hermit-like “survival mode” which I may adopt if I can’t handle it. He also described his process of coming up with his shows, but most of what I learned there is too late to adopt this close to the Fringe. 2018 show it is.

What are you most excited about in advance of your debut Fringe?

Just the challenge of it and having something to work for, but I’m mostly excited about the many venue passes I get this year. The amount I’ll save on shows will very slightly offset the cost of doing a show and that to me is very important right now.

And most scared about?

The psychological upswings and downswings, the physical exertion, not having time to enjoy myself, the prospect of not actually being good enough. All the usual things. 

Joseph on Ken

First impressions?

Smart, good egg, impeccable phone manner. If I had a daughter, I would happily let Ken escort her to prom.

What did you talk about?

Edinburgh (cf: all conversations between all comics)

Did you know about Ken beforehand? Any preconceptions?

We’ve met in passing a few times before, so I already knew he was smart and a good egg. (The impeccable phone manner was an ancillary bonus). I’d also seen his 'two birds' routine online, which is really excellent.

Most fun moment?

The whole conversation was a cascade of adrenaline.

Any missteps?

Patchy phone reception. Ken had to stand outside for most of the conversation and we had to compete with a low throb of bus atmos.

What excites you about someone like Ken doing their first Fringe?

He’s got the enviable trinity of being very talented, having worked hard, and knowing the Edinburgh ropes a bit already – so I’ve no doubt he’ll have a lovely month.

And what scares you?

That Ken’s phone interviews will continued to be scarred by dodgy reception.

What did you learn from Ken?

Truths too cryptic and numinous to be expressed in the base coin of language.

Athena Kugblenu meets Bec Hill

Athena on Bec

First impressions?

So experienced, open, happy to talk, down to earth.

What did you talk about?

Loads! Whether the Fringe is actually enjoyable (we decided it is and it isn’t), good Japanese restaurants, the importance of flyering for your own show, three-star reviews, what you learn after your first hour, other comedy festivals that are fun, performing previews to four people, good photography, using AV in a show, press...

Why did you pick Bec?

She’s done several hours and has created an audience for herself. I admire that. Also, we’ve met before and she said she liked my comedy. I thought it would be best to talk to someone who doesn’t potentially think I’m rubbish.

Most fun moment?

Wanting to end the call so as not to intrude on her day further, but Bec kept coming up with more advice!

Any missteps?

Don’t think so…

What did you learn from Bec?

That Edinburgh is an emotional rollercoaster, no matter who you are. Try to arrange something to look forward to do on most days, even if it's just eating at a place you like. And flyer people in queues because it’s easier to start a conversation! 

What are you most excited about in advance of your debut Fringe?

Finding that Japanese restaurant Bec recommended. And finally getting to perform my show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

And most scared about?

Running out of shea butter and that no one will come. Though I think audiences will be easier to find than shea butter in Edinburgh.

Bec on Athena

First impressions?

Athena seems a lot more prepared for Edinburgh than most debut acts I've spoken to over the years. I think this is because she has visited the Fringe in the past and therefore has a better idea of what to expect.

What did you talk about?

Rather than the show itself, we focused on the importance of routine and having a support network throughout the month. Edinburgh is such an emotional rollercoaster, it's integral to give yourself something to look forward to every day that isn't just your show and to surround yourself with people you can speak to honestly.

Did you know about Athena beforehand? Any preconceptions?

I had seen Athena at a new material night recently and was blown away that we hadn't crossed paths before. I was actually suprised to find this will be her first hour, as she comes across as a seasoned pro.

Most fun moment?

The whole phonecall was pretty fun. Athena is also a very good listener, which is always rare to find in a comedian of any level! I look forward to hanging out without having to chat business!

What excites you about someone like Athena doing their first Fringe?

Athena is tackling the Fringe in a way that I sort of wish I had. In Australia, we tend to get our first hour out of the way as soon as possible, because festivals are the easiest way to get stage-time. But over here, there are so many places you can perform, people tend to hone their craft and fine-tune their act until their first hour is this beautiful shining gem of a show. I can't wait to see how this patience pays off for Athena. If her hour is anything as strong as the new set I saw her trying recently, then I have a feeling we'll be seeing A LOT more of her!

And what scares you?

Not much. After speaking with Athena, I think she is ready for the beast that is Edinburgh Fringe. That said, I do worry about other new acts. I think it's very easy to expect either too much from Edinburgh, or to burn yourself out, or to compare yourself to others too much, or to get too bogged down in critique, etc. That's why my first advice is always regarding looking after your mental and physical health during the month. My other advice after that is: be realistic about how many flyers you'll need (the guilt when you recycle all the leftovers at the end is horrible) and make sure you get a professional photographer and designer to do your publicity shots and posters. A good image can be all the difference between a medicore run and a sold-out run with industry in.

What did you learn from Athena?

Not to judge new acts. Many of them are smarter than me and are not making the mistakes I made when I first started.