Fringe interview: Paul Foot on the European Fringe Circuit

Paul Foot
Paul Foot
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In a series of interviews to mark World Fringe Day, acts performing at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe share their experiences of other fringes around the world. This week: Paul Foot tells Jay Richardson about playing festivals in Europe

Paul Foot’s stand-up doesn’t have fans but rather a Guild of Connoisseurs. And increasingly, they’re an international cadre. “Yes, there are people all over who come up and say they are Connoisseurs, which is always lovely,” he says. Fulfilling expectations of the dandified, eccentric Englishman, the comic reflects that “I’m seen as rather exotic and quite strange”.

He recalls performing a segment he calls ‘Madness’ in Stockholm, “where I say all these words, phrases that don’t make sense but are inexplicably funny because they’re just on the edge of meaning. And I explained ‘look, this doesn’t make any more sense to people in Britain’ and they laughed. It doesn’t make sense to anyone. It’s peculiar everywhere.”

In Aarhaus in Denmark, “they had a big banner which said ‘Paul Foot – eccentric British comedian’. Except that the Danish for eccentric is ‘excentrisk’. Which I think sums me up rather well – a mixture of eccentric and risk”.

Foot has performed at fringe festivals across Europe, citing Copenhagen, Berlin, Budapest and Gibraltar as favourites. “Oslo is always a nice place to go, even if it’s a battle for survival because it’s so cold” he adds. “It’s very well organised and [the performers] are all looked after very nicely. In Tallinn, we’re taken out for meals and you get everything done for you from the moment you arrive, which is fun.

“Every festival is organised in a different way,” he adds. “It ranges from ones where I’m treated like royalty and accommodated like a spoiled child, given everything I want, to ones that are utterly disorganised. I have to fend for myself, and it’s a complete shambles in a rather hilarious way. That constantly keeps me amused and enjoying myself.”

He doesn’t anticipate the Edinburgh Fringe following some of the smaller festivals’ lead “and meeting us at the airport. I don’t see them rolling out the red carpet anytime soon.”

Whilst suggesting that fringes are a good place to develop shows for Edinburgh, because “they tend to attract a lot of people who are really into their comedy and thus more likely sympathetic to a preview,” Foot feels his shows “evolve” as he travels regardless.

His current show, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Piglet, is his longest ever tour, as he performs in cities he’s never visited before.

“When I opened in Edinburgh last year, I thought it was my most ‘formed’ show ever on the first night,” he says. “But changes happen. And they seem to happen if you go to new places. When I went to Australia, it changed quite a lot, just because of different cultural references and so forth.

“When one comes back, you end up incorporating some of the changes, just because, inevitably, it’s improved. The more places it goes, the more it improves.”

After performing at the Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Canberra fringes, as well as Auckland and Wellington, Foot suggests that Britain probably has a crueller sense of humour than the Antipodes. For example, a routine he has about a guava salesman who shoots himself, “in Britain, people just laugh.

“But in Australia, and America as well, they tend to take things slightly more literally sometimes and be more squeamish. Not about rude things but about people coming to harm. So in Australia, they were much more like, ‘oh, that’s a shame, how sad’ with that bit. Much more sympathetic basically.”

He seldom needs to change too much “because the weirdness and surreality means it’s strange and weird anyway”. But after going through the show “with a fine-toothed comb” he’s still come unstuck with phenomenon like Linda McCartney sausages and Shire horses, which one Australian punter asked him to explain post-gig.

“And he started asking about all sorts of other references. It soon became clear that he hadn’t understood anything in the show at all. He’d laughed all the way through but didn’t have the slightest idea what I was talking about. I tend to get that in Europe a bit as well. There are people who just find what I do funny, laugh away and have no clue what it’s about.”

*Paul Foot: ‘Tis A Pity She’s A Piglet, Underbelly Cowgate, 3-27 August, www.edfringe.com

*The Edinburgh Festival Fringe was the world’s first Fringe back in 1947. Seventy years later, there are now more than 200 Fringes worldwide. World Fringe Day, on 11 July, marks 70 years since the birth of the Fringe concept, www.worldfringeday.com