Edinburgh Fringe: Abi Roberts interview

Anglichanka (Englishwoman in Russian) is an exhilarating new comedy show about Abi Roberts living in the former Soviet Union in the 90s and her return after 18 years as the first UK comic to perform comedy in English and Russian. Including diary extracts, the consequences of drinking hardcore vodka, studying opera and using outdoor loos in -20 temperatures, we see how Russia has changed and what we need to know about Putin and the country Churchill described as ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. AAA caught up with Abi for a chat.

You’ve been to the Fringe before… tell us about some previous visits?

Last year I did a stand-up hour called Downtown Abi at the Voodoo Rooms. I had no agent, no advertising and three flyerers and we managed to sell that show out (well, it was with PBH Free Fringe, so not “sold” out, but we had queues round the block for every show, even the last one and we had to turn 80 or so away pretty much every day. The venue only holds 115).  I had done a work-in-progress of that show called Twerk In Progress the previous year, same venue, which was also pretty much full – so I guess that it was purely word-of-mouth.

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

It’s a stand-up show called Anglichanka about becoming the first UK comic (and woman) to go to Russia to do stand-up in English and Russian; how I learned Russian; living in the Soviet Union in the 1990s (Moscow to be precise when I studied opera there at the Moscow Conservatoire) and… having to leave Moscow very quickly. There’s jokes, accents, funny stories, impressions, a bit of singing and a bonkers bit at the end.

How much work has gone into getting it ready for Edinburgh?

I’ve always wanted to do a show about my experiences living in the USSR and last Edinburgh Fringe, after one of my shows at the Voodoo Rooms, I was tapped on the shoulder by the owner and promoter of Moscow’s only full-time comedy club to do three nights in Moscow. So, I went over there for a week in February and it was packed every night. I really hadn’t realised that stand-up is so huge over there, so in demand and such a brand new thing that they cannot get enough of it. They love all stand-up but especially they love English stand-up. It’s very new, but unlike here in the UK there are very few women doing stand-up over there. So I was a treble novelty – a UK stand-up and a Russian-speaker and a woman to boot.

Are you nervous ahead of your opening night?

Generally, I only get a bit nervous if I have a few days when I haven’t gigged for a while, starting about five days after my last gig.  Like any stand-up, I’m nervous just before I go on, but mainly it’s the tension of waiting to get on stage, get in the room, get my first big whole-room laugh and then I can pretty much relax. I’m way less nervous on big one-off gigs where I’ve got to be at the top of my game as a stand-up. I can’t wait for Monday, 8 August as I’m doing the Big C Charity Gala (in aid of MacMillan) in the EICC (mahoosive Edinburgh venue), alongside Alan Cumming, Mark Watson, Jason Byrne and compered by the wonderfully and fantastically-talented Ali McGregor.

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

Anglichanka is the only comedy show you’ll see in Edinburgh that’s about living in the Soviet Union in the 1990s whilst studying opera and which features a dog that uses a human loo.  It is also the only one where you’ll hear about the first UK comic going to perform stand-up comedy in English and Russian. And being heckled by the Russian Mafia. I shit thee not.  You’ll also learn some key phrases in Russian. Also, Anglichanka is free. You’re not required to buy a ticket in advance, as we are part of the PBH Free Fringe Festival at the Voodoo Rooms. But you are required to give very generously at the end to “The Bucket” if you have enjoyed the show. Who can say fairer or more democratic than that?

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

Kirsty Newton’s Life Begins At Party. Kirsty and I are also sharing the same venue – she’s on before my show at the Voodoo Rooms at 2:55pm. Come and see both shows and grab some of the superb Voodoo Rooms grub in between! Plus the Voodoo Rooms is air-conditioned, so it will be a relief from those other sweaty Edinburgh venues.

What’s on your hit-list to see?

I will definitely be seeing Phil Nichol’s show, Twenty, at the Assembly as well as Carey Marx’s show Hero Of The People and Carl Donnelly’s show Bad Man Tings.

What are you planning to do on your days off?

Sleep. Eat. Wash. Laundry. Columbo. Avoid reviews… I never read them, not even any good ones. If people like your show they will tell others and others will come to it.

Sell your show in no more than ten words….

Funny. Russia. Borsch. Aeroflot. Putin. Gay Pride. Dog. Tanks. Unmissable.

Abi Roberts: Anglichanka, Voodoo Rooms (venue 68), 4.15pm (one hour), www.edfringe.com

Leave a Comment