Mark Thomas (Jane Hobson)
Interview Words : Graeme Green | 31 July

Ultimate Guide to the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2017, with Mark Thomas, Jo Caulfield, Shazia Mirza…

As the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe turn 70, comedians, including Brendon Burns, Njambi McGrath and Dan Antopolski, give their tips on making the best out of the fests, including top venues, bars and who to see


Brendon Burns

Brendon Burns (Jody Kingzett)

What’s the best way to make the most of the Edinburgh festivals?

Meander, take a flyer or two, look around a venue and pick a poster you like the sound of. They say you haven't really experienced the Edinburgh festival until you've watched a show with an audience of three or less.

  

Favourite venue?  

Gilded Balloon is obviously the hipper, more grungy venue. Colt Cabana and I are at Monkey Barrel this year, where I hear great things. But, without an agenda, I really want to plug the Liquid Rooms, as they're the new kid on the block. I can’t praise those guys enough. We actually couldn't play there this year but the staff, who all volunteer, bend over backwards, their seating rules, and they have tech and lighting gear that puts some paid venues to shame.

  

Best place to hang out at night during the festival?

I like Bar Napoli because you can sit, eat, chat and avoid younger acts telling you how much they "smashed it". (Word to the wise, you want to get to the point where smashing it isn't remarkable or noteworthy. We're only interested if you ate shit.)

 

Beyond comedy and theatre, what else should people see or do?

Arthur's Seat is one of the best views of any city in the world, plus you can probably catch Craig Campbell running up and down it each day with rocks on his back or whatever he chooses to torture himself with this year. 

  

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

James Adomian (Lacking In Character, Gilded Balloon) from the States. He guested on Colt Cabana and my late night wrestling clip show a few years back as Jesse Ventura and stayed in character the entire time. I've never played such a straight man in my life. It was the hardest I've laughed on stage in a long time. Also go and see John Robertson (Dominant, The Stand) and John Hastings (Audacity, Pleasance Courtyard) who are always great.

  

Favourite festival memory?

My friend Tat and I were wandering home at 6am, the sun was coming up and a 50-something bloke ran by in those material jester curled shoes, black leggings and a neon green frilly top. He was in a full-blown panicked hurry, treading gingerly because of his cloth shoes, but running on the spot waiting for traffic to clear as if somebody's life depended on him being on time. As if somebody had rung 999 and gone, "Quick, we need a fairytale re-enacted, stat." Tat and I fell about in the street and just made incredulous ‘what?’ noises.  Where else but Edinburgh does a fully grown man dressed like that need to be anywhere with impetus at 6am in the morning? 

Brendon Burns and Craig Quartermaine: Race Off (Gilded Balloon Teviot, August 2-28, 6.45pm.

www.thebrendonburnsshow.com

    

Njambi McGrath

Njambi McGrath (Dave McGrath)

Best way to make the most of the festivals?

Before you get there, sit down with a nice cup of tea and a copy of the Fringe directory and go through all the shows, picking out the ones you like the sound of. Next, have a spreadsheet and fill out the shows and times of the shows you want to see. That way, you get to prioritise.

It’s also great fun to just walk into a show. You might be surprised by a nice little gem.

  

Favourite venue?

The Pleasance is a great hangout place with a huge selection of shows and you might spot some celebrities too whilst you’re there. The courtyard has a great vibe with food and drinks available.

  

Best place to hang out at night?

I love chilling out at the bars in Assembly Gardens, George Square on warm summer days drinking Prosecco. There’s music and the ambience is so great, whilst also escaping the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile.

  

What else should people see or do?

This ancient city is wildly romantic and captivating. See it. You can feel the history of the place. The best time is to walk around in the late evening when all the buildings have been lit, giving it a magical feel. You can just imagine Prince Charming trotting down the cobbled streets seeking true love.

  

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

I listened to Sue Perkins on Desert Island Discs speak of her personal struggles and I’m hoping to be able to see her show.

  

Favourite festival memory?

The one I’ll never forget was when a few friends came up to Edinburgh and wanted to taste whisky. There is no better place to go than The Whisky Rooms. Little did we know how quickly one drinks leads to another and another…

Njambi McGrath: Breaking Black (Counting House, August 3-27, 12:05pm.)

www.njambimcgrathcomedy.co.uk

  

Jo Caulfield


Jo Caulfield (Richard Holloway)

Best way to make the most of the Edinburgh festivals?

Pick an area and stay with it for the whole day. If you’re going to see me at The Stand (and why wouldn’t you?), stick around and see some other shows in the same venue. Try the bars and restaurants round the corner on Broughton Street. Next day, move on to another venue in another area. You’ll save a small fortune in taxis.

Pack the correct clothes for Edinburgh in August: suntan lotion, flip-flops, an umbrella and an anorak.

Eavesdrop on other people’s conversations in queues and in bars. It’s the best way to hear which shows are getting good audience reviews, and you might hear some good gossip as a bonus. Let’s be honest: good slanderous gossip about someone you’ve never met is much more entertaining than watching another white, male, middle class comedian trotting out another bunch of lame observations.

 

Favourite venue?

The Voodoo Rooms on West Register Street is glamorous, decadent and spacious. It’s like hanging out inside Liza Minnelli’s vagina. It has great cocktails and great music. They do a lot of cabaret and burlesque shows. It has perfect sight lines and comfortable seats, unlike most other venues in Edinburgh. It’s definitely worth a visit. Mention my name and you’ll receive no discount.

 

Best place to hang out at night?

The Empress of Broughton on Broughton Street. It’s the bar where all the big name celebrities drink. At least, I drink there. (What do you mean I’m not a big name celebrity? I’ve been on Radio 4 and met the bloke who used to play the sergeant in The Bill twice.)

 

What else should people see or do?

Visit Leith, or, as the locals call it, The Independent Republic of Leith. Start at the top of Leith Walk and carry on down. You’ll hit all the best dive bars (Jeremiha’s Taproom, The Joker & The Thief, Windsor Buffet, Woodland Creatures, Victorias, Bar Brig, The Central) and cool restaurants (Bodega, Vittoria, The Walnut, La Favorita, Serrano & Manchego). You’ll also see the wonderful mixture of Leith Hipsters and Trainspotting casualties. It’s a bit like a live version of Crimewatch UK.

 

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

Eleanor Tiernan at the Banshee Labyrinth. Eleanor is one of my favourite comedians. She always makes me laugh, which is why I also hate her.

 

Favourite festival memory?

2001. My first Festival. I got up early in the morning and went out. I was excited to see all my posters displayed around town. I wasn’t so excited later in the evening when I saw a drunk man, outside the Gilded Balloon, urinating on my face.

Jo Caulfield: Older. Wiser. Smarter. Meaner. (The Stand Comedy Club, August 4-27, 7.50pm)

www.jocaulfield.com

  

Dan Antopolski

Dan Antopolski (Edward Moore)

Best way to make the most of the Edinburgh festivals?

Moderate your expectations. There can be a feeling of pressure to see everything or everything worthwhile anyway, and not to miss out. It’s best approached in a spirit of embrace of the great and the awful. There is such brilliant stuff, some of the best live performances in the world, on the one hand, and on the other, stuff so poorly conceived and incompetently executed that it beggars belief that an infrastructure exists to programme it into a schedule to take up your time.

The Free Fringe is honest about the gamble involved in the purchase of a ticket but a paid show is no guarantee of an hour well spent, so relax. If the show is drab, you can still describe its awfulness colourfully to your friends. Our culture is over-stimulating and it’s actually good for you to be bored.

   

Favourite venue? 

Summerhall has some fantastic theatre and its atmosphere is unique I think.

  

Best place to hang out at night during the festival?

Pamela’s is usually where I wind up at the end of a night. There’s nothing special about it, it’s just where I go. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. You want to go where people know that people are all the same. You want to be where everybody knows your name.

 

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

A double act: Glenn Wool and Glenn Moore in From Glenn to Glenn where they throw a ball back and forth and talk about mechanical engineering.

  

What else should people see or do?

I always recommend The Botanic Gardens. They rival any I’ve seen and you can walk there, just through the New Town, to see weird otherworldly trees and freakishly huge hedges. The effect of nature on the anxious mind is always salutary. It is eternal and it is always weirder than thou.

  

Favourite festival memory?

I used to exult in dying on my hole at Late’n’Live, baiting the audience to boo me off and refusing to leave. It’s an experience everyone needs and it has happened to better men than me, so ultimately there is no shame.

Dan Antopolski: The Return of Dan Antopolski (Assembly George Square, Studio 5, 9:15pm). 

danantopolski.com

   

Shazia Mirza


Shazia Mirza (Linda Nylind)

Best way to make the most of the Edinburgh festivals?

Take some chances. Go and see things where you don't know what or who you're going to see. Edinburgh has so many weird and wonderful things, and that's what makes it so great. There are things you will see in Edinburgh that you won't see anywhere else. Don't just watch comedy, although that seems to dominate in Edinburgh. There are so many other great things to see: music, children's performances, circus, street performers and art.

  

Favourite venue?
I once performed in a shed in the Pleasance Courtyard. I used to have people walking in all the way through my performance as they thought it was a toilet. It rained all the time and the rain came in through the roof. I was always wet throughout my performance, but it was an experience.

  

Best place to hang out at night during the festival?

The street. On the street is where everything is happening. You see people wearing the weirdest and most wonderful things, you hear the most riveting conversations and you watch people performing even when they are not meant to be performing. There is a lot to see and take in, and it's the most visual exciting place to be, way better than being in a pub with drunk people.

  

What else should people see or do?

You should definitely go walking up towards Arthur's Seat. Edinburgh is beautiful, just go walking in the middle of nowhere. There are the Meadows, and anywhere where there is green and hills. The scenery is beautiful.

 

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

Someone I have never seen. I love the unknown in Edinburgh.

  

Favourite festival memory?

A group of 10 people who came to see me because they thought I was Omid Dajilli and they didn't realise I wasn't him until 40 minutes into the show. I just hope there wasn't a group of 10 people that went to see him, thinking he was me.

Shazia Mirza: With Love From St Tropez (Gilded Balloon, Billiard Room, August 2-28, 7:30pm). 

www.shazia-mirza.com

   

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas (Jane Hobson)

Best way to make the most of the Edinburgh festivals?

Talk to people about what they have seen and liked, and take a chance. Go to see loads of shows and performers. It is the biggest arts festival in the world. I always try and see a minimum of 40 shows every fringe. I know others see more and other see many less, but with a target of 40 it means you get and out and don't waste time.

  

Favourite venue?

Summerhall. It is an alternative festival all in one place. I’m extremely happy to be returning there this year.


Best place to hang out at night?

The tea room at the National Portrait Gallery. You can relax with the perfect cuppa and just escape it all for a bit.

  

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

Richard Gadd. I loved his last show. He’ll be popular this year as he won that award last year, so I’d suggest that people book early.

  

What else should people see or do?

Go to North Berwick when the sun is out. It is a beautiful seaside town in East Lothian.

  

Favourite festival memory?

Watching the worst show I have ever seen with the late Malcolm Hardy. It was a medical student revue. It was priceless.

Mark Thomas: A Show That Gambles On The Future (Summerhall, August 2-27, 6pm). 

www.markthomasinfo.co.uk

  

For more on the Edinburgh International Festival, see www.eif.co.uk, and for more on the Edinburgh Fringe, visit www.edfringe.com. For info on all Edinburgh festivals, see www.edinburghfestivalcity.com.

 

Main image: Mark Thomas (Jane Hobson)