Edinburgh Fringe 2019: Lunatic fringe should be treasured

Paul Vickers aka Twonkey. Picture: Steve UllathornePaul Vickers aka Twonkey. Picture: Steve Ullathorne
Paul Vickers aka Twonkey. Picture: Steve Ullathorne
Comedy needs eccentrics and unpredictability, as well as ‘names’ and no surprises, writes Kate Copstick

A conversation with Paul Vickers is a glorious thing, garlanded with metaphor and rich with words like ramshackle and smithereens, as one might expect from a man from the arcane depths of whose brain has come ten years of flying tailors, talking bread and psychic knickers.

His family tree would not be out of place in one of his own shows. His great grandfather was a tugboat captain and his father’s side of the family, sailors “bowlegged and pipe smoking”. His biggest influence was his grandma, who, he murmurs, “had a similar face”. She got little Paul to create tiny playlets, featuring models of the Royal Family made out of pegs. “Prince Edward was particularly good”, he remembers. Of course he was.

Hide Ad
Read More
6 Fringe First winners from week one
Michael Brunstrm. Picture: ContributedMichael Brunstrm. Picture: Contributed
Michael Brunstrm. Picture: Contributed

“If people don’t go with me, with my show, if they are not prepared to take the journey and follow the ideas … in terms of imagining what I am trying to explain… you’re just in a room with a man behaving strangely,” he says.

What Twonkey calls “the lunatic edge to the thing” has got deeper and wider and even more fascinating since Twonkey’s Cottage first perched on it in 2010. “But you don’t want people to get complacent and think ‘oh yeah, these guys will always be there, they’re mental’,” says Twonkey. “I know people think ‘why do they do it? They have no hope of any kind of a career or of being successful in any way whatsoever’.”

It is a valid question. “I want people to experience something that is real, to burst their comfort bubble, force them to feel, think and question,” says Mark Dean Quinn, a man whose shows are, to the average ‘something mildly interesting happened to me in 2014’-based Fringe comedy hour, what sulphuric acid is to ‘tangy’. “Pushing yourself into a position of extreme discomfort often forces the audience to engage in a way they didn’t expect. Sometimes I wonder what’s in it for me and the only thing that keeps me going is I think the audience seem to take a lot away from my shows. I was approached after one of my shows by someone wanting to thank me because their husband hadn’t laughed for a long time because of post traumatic stress but he had laughed till he was in tears in my show. Moments like that matter.”

“Three things underpin what I do.” he says. “Firstly, I find life to be baffling, terrifying and occasionally hysterical, and at the best of times I have a minimal grip on what I’m supposed to be doing. I want to convey this range of experiences as vividly as possible. Secondly, I want to preserve and capitalise on the ‘liveness’ of live performance, which is often lost these days as formats for comedy are treated increasingly as interchangeable. So I generally use imagery, actions and tone rather than narratives, ideas and facts. Thirdly, I want to stimulate the audience’s curiosity and give them the opportunity to enjoy being astonished.” Brunström’s shows carry my personal guarantee of astonishment.

Ten years of extraordinary unpredictability is a lot to ask of any comedy performer but Twonkey seems to be managing it. It probably helps that his creative gurus are David Lynch and Robert Wyatt.

“On the whole Twonkey is understood better now,” says Vickers. “In the second year there was a bit of a buzz about the show. At that point I was fresh and new and the buzz was ‘you’ve got to go and see what that guy’s up to… he’s mental’.” Now, he reckons, the shows are much improved, he has a structure, occasionally even a narrative thread, which he has on stage coiled up and at the ready. “I try to cut out the bits that people don’t like,” he says.

Hide Ad

This year he is going satirical, tackling climate change, and taking audience input to a new level. “Claire Smith (much respected Scotsman journalist and longstanding Twonkeyphile) said to me last year: “I really enjoyed the bit in your show ‘the supernatural highway’ and I said, ‘there isn’t a bit in the show like that,” and she said: ‘well that was my favourite bit’, and I said ‘well it didn’t happen’. He beams happily. “So I decided maybe it should happen… so this year I’ve put in the Supernatural Highway so there is a bit like that.” He pauses to muse. “Good way of building a show. Incorporating the things that people have hallucinated that haven’t actually happened in your show.”

Fringe comedy needs creatives like Twonkey. It should treasure them. But it doesn’t.

Hide Ad

“The thing about the Fringe is that there is a way to play the game and sometimes if you are not playing the game the way its supposed to be played you can feel like you’re falling off the dartboard a little bit into an empty void,” he says in those distinctive tones that come straight in from the North East and down his nose.

“There are only certain modes of thought and I think it is important for all of them to be explored in anything that is meant to be a celebration of humanity and creativity.” Listen to Twonkey.

Michael Brunström: World of Sports. Heroes @ Dragonfly until 25 August

Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch, Just the Tonic at the Caves until 25 August

Mark Dean Quinn Knits: A Comedy Show. Heroes @ The Hive until 25 August