“I fuckin’ love performing in Edinburgh,” reminisces Demi Lardner, two whiskies deep on what is for her—in the southern hemisphere—a July Friday night. “It’s my favourite thing. People have horror stories about losing money and stuff—not that I didn’t do that—but it was also just a dreamhole. I ate shadows and fuckin’ leapt into the sun – it was the best.”
The 23-year-old Australian returns to the Fringe having missed 2016, and she arrives on a gilt wave of awards from her home country. 2013 may have seen her win Gilded Balloon’s So You Think You’re Funny award in Edinburgh, but it was the last 18 months that saw her scooping gongs at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Sydney Comedy Festival and the Adelaide Fringe.
Such awards haven’t gone to her head, though. “It makes me feel like a fraud. I’m like: it’s not a tale to be told, I just won awards. I like being told I’m alright at stuff, but I mean... I need another bloody mantelpiece!
“That’s so lame, I’m sorry I said that. Also, awards don’t mean anything, everything is fake, time doesn’t exist – it really doesn’t matter.”
Despite her Australian accolades, it’s at Edinburgh she feels most at home. “All the other festivals are maybe toddlers, and Edinburgh is this angsty teenager that just wants to get in your pants and do awful things. Like wedgie you and throw coffee into your lap in the mornings. I really like it though, ‘cause I don’t like being given time to breathe, and Edinburgh definitely doesn’t do that for you.”
She began performing comedy in her teens (“I kinda thought I was too old to be getting into comedy at 15”), favouring a self-aware offbeat style that still bore the beats of conventional standup. It wasn’t until befriending Melbourne sketch troupe Aunty Donna (and taking the opportunity to have the troupe’s Mark Bonanno direct her new show) that Lardner found the confidence to break out of the typical standup format.
“It made me be like, ‘Ah yeah, I’m just gonna do the thing I’ve wanted to do for like five years’, and it came out as... a stepdad. I just became a middle-aged man. It was great.”
A stepdad? What, exactly, is this new show about? “In a nutshell: I’m Gavin; I’m 46-years-old; I’m trapped in my basement; I’m on the phone to a life insurance agent. But technically the show is—and this is the real thing—it’s based on every stepdad I’ve ever had. Which is a whole bunch of guys... like, a tonne of ‘em. And it’s maybe my favourite thing I’ve ever done. It’s really stupid. And super fun.
“I wanted to do this for ages, and it was hard to transition because I was fuckin’ 15 when I started. So I was like, [in a robot voice] ‘THIS IS THE WAY YOU DO THINGS. THERE ARE RULES, THERE ARE GHOSTS FOLLOWING ME TELLING ME THE RULES.’”
The end result is the clear product of a liberated outlook; Look at What You Made Me Do is a surreal trip through loose, associative improv and an absurd narrative, held together by an increasingly bizarre customer support phonecall. And though the show was inspired by a merged pastiche of past stepfathers, she’s deliberately stayed away from making it serious.
“I’m not going to say anything with the show, but it all comes from a pretty real place. It’s fuckin’ silly, and I just want people to have a good time. There are moments in it that are quite close to my heart, but I think it’d be hard for anyone except for me to tell.”
It’s a borderline hallucinogenic trip through Lardner’s mind, made all the more present by the elfin, playful spontaneity bridging the sketches. “There are beats to the show but a lot of it is pretty loose and, dare I say, very yelly.”
The easy fun that Lardner seems to have on stage—and crawling over the crowd—is clear to see. “It’s the only place where I’ve never felt anxious,” she explains. “Which is weird, ‘cause when I started, I used to not be able to do a gig without puking. Now I’m like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be’. Not talking about my feelings or anything, but just screaming and throwing milk crates around and talking about Wife Swap.”
Growing up in the late nineties/early noughties, Lardner found idols in the fertile Australian comedy scene, and cites bumbling duo Lano and Woodley as a major influence. Comedians like them—and popular American observationalists like Paul F. Tompkins and Maria Bamford—seemed like impossible puzzles to the quick-witted young Aussie.
“This is super lame, but sometimes it’s like: I can pick apart how my brain works and it’s not magical or anything, but those guys seem like they’re aliens. I just want to suckle at the teat and be like, ‘Make me talented!’ You know? They’re magical unicorns to me. Like a Pez: I just want to flip the neck back and eat the brick of knowledge that comes out.”
So what does she want to do next? “Dead! I wanna be dead!” she yells down the WhatsApp call. “No, sorry, I mean... I think... I just wanna get weirder? It’s been eight years since I started comedy and I’ve just figured out what I wanna be doing. I wanna do the stupid character stuff, I wanna keep doing a million podcasts... I had an idea to do a YouTube series where I read out my legal will and leave all my shit to people.
“I think I just wanna do everything. I think the next thing for me is to do literally everything I possibly can.”