Edinburgh Fringe: Abi Roberts interview

Anglichanka is an exhilarating comedy show about living in the USSR in the 90s and going back as the first UK comic to perform comedy in English and Russian.

In Abi Roberts’ new show, find out about gay rights and censorship in Russia, the consequences of drinking hardcore vodka, studying opera and using outdoor loos in -20 temperatures, and see how Russia has changed since the 90s.

Discover what we need to know about Putin, the meerkat with nuclear weapons.

AAA caught up with Abi earlier this week for chat about her return to the Fringe.

How has your Fringe been so far?

Fantastic to be honest. I’ve had excellent sized houses at the Underbelly for my Russia show, Anglichanka, and the same for my work-in-progress show on the PBH Free Fringe, Fat Girl Dancing. I have managed to avoid German bratwurst pretty much and have only had one so far (that is not a euphemism) and that’s a pretty good bratwurst average for me. I have seen a load of old mates – Dave Johns, Jarred Christmas, Christian Reilly and Tom Stade in the first few days – so again, quite a good average! I have actually eaten some vegetables which is a first for me at this stage of the Festival. On the other hand, the weather has been totally shite as usual. I am staying in the New Town on Rose Street and every day there is an amplified guitarist playing right under my bedroom window from 10am onward. I swear if I hear The Deer Hunter Theme or Stairway To Heaven one more time I am going to become Bluto in Animal House and smash his frigging guitar.

 Tell us a bit about the show you’re in?

Anglichanka is my main show. I brought it to Edinburgh as a WIP last year to the PBH Free Fringe and I’ve brought it back as a finished show to the Underbelly Cowgate. It’s about me living on the Soviet Union in the early 90s, studying opera at the Moscow Conservatoire and going back 20 years later as a first UK stand-up to play Moscow in both English and Russian. I beat Eddie Izzard to it as he was busy running 27 Marathons at the time… this is something I will NEVER be doing by the way.  I’m also working up a show at the Voodoo Rooms called (at the moment anyways) “FAT GIRL DANCING – Work In progress”. It’s about freedom, saying what you really think and an episode in my career where I was fat shamed by a club booker. And garden furniture at motorway service stations.

What’s the audience reaction been so far?

Audiences love Anglichanka. It’s a full-on “show” show…not some wishy-washy whimsy, “this-is-going-to discuss-how bad-I feel-about-myself”/”aren’t things awful” type show. My show is about joy, adopting a family, appreciating what you have and recognising that others, especially in places like Russia, don’t have the same privileges as we do.  Critics seem to love it, too. One writer said that it was “an incredible stand-up show from a one of a kind comedian”. It has universally had 5 star and 4 star reviews all over the UK, not just in Edinburgh, and it really does give people an hour out from their daily woes, which is all I can do is a comedian… there is no higher calling. Plus, there is a suitably over the top ending which, I swear to god, you will never see in any other show and which (and I’m going to blow my own trumpet here) has them rolling in the aisles.

Do you read your reviews? Do negative ones bother you?

I never read them during Edinburgh good or bad. My husband does but I refuse to hear about them until Edinburgh is over.  Even then, I’m not really that bothered and from past experience, if I know about them, it can affect the show… if it’s a good review, then I can get complacent. If it’s a bad one, depressed… so best not to read them in my opinion.  They make fuck all difference to be honest – the public will tell you through ticket sales or through the bucket whether they like something and that’s all that matters to me. Edinburgh reviews these days generally aren’t worth the pixels they are written on, especially as it is apparently very easy to buy a five or four star review from some websites that sound vaguely Fringe-related. When an act can BUY a good review, then you know it’s all over and no review can be really relied upon. The currency is devalued. If I were Edinburgh or comedy publications, I’d be naming and shaming these Paid For reviews and sites and the acts that use them for what they are… rip-offs and cheaters.

 There’s thousands of shows on – why should Fringe-goers fork out to see yours?

I give good show. If you want to laugh at clever, belly-achingly funny jokes from a comedian who has been described as the consummate entertainer who gives their audiences real value for money, then I’m yer gal. If you want navel gazing, in-jokes, whimsy, theatre, or comedy that is akin to performance art, then I’m probably not for you.

Are there any other shows on this year you’d recommend?

Yes, Paul Foot, Tom Stade, Rachel Jackson (Bunny Boiler), Jon Long (a newcomer who is very very ace), Christian Reilly, Dominic Holland’s show (we’re sharing a venue at the Voodoo Rooms) and of course Dave Johns show “I, Filum Star”

What’s on your hit list to see?

See above!

What do you like to do in Edinburgh on your day off?

Sleep, eat crisps and watch Columbo.

Do you agree with those who say the Fringe has become too big?

No, I don’t. When anything becomes too big it tends to fracture off into smaller things which then thrive in their own world or ecosystem, which is usually a good thing. The Fringe may be in danger of eating itself though, which is a different question.  Talent used to be discovered here. It isn’t anymore because talent (certainly in comedy) is groomed, sanitised and homogenised well before Edinburgh for fame and stardom.  The training that used to be done by spending five years on the live comedy circuit has been replaced by five-minute competition winners who are groomed for big things before they have even had a chance to find their voice onstage. Comedy is like the music business now. Looks and marketability trump talent. If you watched Comic Relief last time around, that will give you a clue as to the direction comedy is going.

Can you recommend a bar or restaurant in Edinburgh?

Oh loads.  The Abbatoir Bar is a favourite of mine as it’s very quiet during the day and is civilised at night.  I also quite like the cafe on the corner of the Grassmarket which does an all-day breakfast with lovely haggis for about six quid. Other big faves are MezeMeze in Rose Street, the Harvey Nics restaurant in St Andrew’s Square, which is great and very reasonable, and for takeaways we always go for the Kurdish Kebab House, which is always open and will deliver until the wee small hours.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in Edinburgh this year? 

Some odd Russian military uniforms hanging up randomly in the Abbatoir Bar! One is a Lt Colonel on the Spetznaz and the other is a captain in the KGB… very odd given my show mentions Russia, spies and the KGB!

Sell your show in no more than ten words

Belly laughs, opera, hip hop, Russia, over-the-top finale!

Abi Roberts – Anglichanka, Underbelly, Cowgate (White Belly), August 3 – 27 (not 14), 6.40pm, www.edfringe.com

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