"Edinburgh has been a dream of mine for ten years."
Making her UK debut at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe is Anna Drezen, US comic and one of the writers on iconic hit US show Saturday Night Live. In her debut hour Okay Get Home Safe! Anna will talk about true crime, the dark side of reality TV and very powerful ghosts.
Ahead of her debut, I caught up with Anna to find our more about what audiences can expect, why she's excited about coming to the UK to perform and she lifts the lid on what it's like to be a writer on one of America's most popular shows.
How did you first get into comedy?
I guess I missed some sort of key developmental phase and the part of my brain that feels OK is very small so it's just swimming hard up river to try and feel OK. So I guess that's why I got into comedy.
As a kid I really liked Whose Line is it Anyway?, the British version. I would tape in on VHS tapes and the very first website I visited when I first got online was a Whose Line is it Anyway? message board, posting comments and theorising about what Clive Anderson is like in real life and if he's nice or not. And I'd talk with other 12-year-olds about whether or not Colin Mochrie is hot.
There was something about that show that was really exciting. I'm a very shy, well-behaved person and it seemed that comedy in the States was a safe place to break some rules and be yourself. You have to be yourself on stage. In real life, you can lie all you want.
When did you first become aware of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
I was in college, I went for theatre so there was a lot of experimental theatre and original plays and solo shows and I was in a programme that was all about devised theatre so there was a lot of original work being made and the Edinburgh Fringe came to my attention then.
Not to be corny, but Edinburgh has been a dream of mine for ten years. In my early twenties I had a solo show and I took this guy out for coffee who does the Fringe a bunch and he was like - "You're going to lose this amount of money. You're going to have to flyer a lot. No one's going to come. It's going to be brutal and you shouldn't do it. But I love it so when you can do it you should do it."
That was the dream put on the shelf for a second which was good because I don't want to go there until I'm ready. The last thing anyone needs is a bunch of 23-year-olds talking about how they're ugly. That's not interesting!
When did you decide that you'd take part this year?
I thought about it last year but it was still my second year at Saturday Night Live and my brain was adjusting to that process but this is now my third year at SNL and my agent Anna Weinstein is a big fan of the Fringe and brought it up in December to see if it was something I wanted to do.
And I was like "Absolutely!", it's so easy to say yes to something that's months and months out but the close it's got, the more existential crisis I have about whether I'm ready, whether I'm interesting and whether I'm good.
There are literally thousands of productions which is intimidating. It's a place where the polite thing to do is be a genius. If you're not a genius it's considered fairly rude and I don't want to be rude. I'm just giving myself heart attacks reading warm Fringe reviews and picturing what they would say about me.
So it's a battle inside my head all the time when in reality everything is completely fine and it's going to be great and I am excited.
What can people expect from your show?
It's pretty much going to be a stand-up based show, because I have a lot of characters and less stand-uppy bits in my regular stand-up but this show is going to be more of an arc about what a dangerous, awful world we live in and how we are also more inclined than ever to focus on exciting, entertaining, purposeless things - the stakes are as high as they've ever been but we're like "Is this Instagram Story? Or post?".
I also think it's boring when people talk about Instagram's affect on culture, so I don't want to be that person. But there are so many conflicting messages, some with very low stakes and some with very high stakes and I think it's funny that we're all supposed to navigate that like it's all normal and fine.
So in short, it's going to be an hour of stand-up with some characters and some salient points... and maybe a little bit of pathos.
Why have you decided to call the show Okay Get Home Safe!?
It's a thing that people will say to each other as a fun light thing when they're done hanging out at night when really what they're saying is "I hope you don't need the jaws of life to rescue you from your car that has flipped over a thousand times and then a madman comes over and starts stabbing you and you burst into flames!"
"Okay get home safe" is such a casual thing to say but you're alluding to some sort of calamity. People are so casual and calm about disaster and I just think that's the funniest thing.
It felt like a distillation of what I find funny and also it seemed catchy.
How long have you been working on the show for?
It's stand-up bits that I've been developing as long as I've been doing stand-up which is about 8 years. So there's stuff in there from 8 years ago, there's stuff from 6 years ago when I did a solo show, there's stuff from last week - it's a combination of all my favourite stuff that I've been doing since I started doing comedy.
Do you enjoy having an hour to fill with material?
Yeah! It's exciting. Fringe audiences are so savvy and it's so cool that they're informed but still willing to be surprised by stuff - it seems like. I've been doing hour-long sets more often this year and it's neat to settle in with an audience and not worry about making laughs happen right away then getting out.
There's room across an hour to try more exciting, interesting things compared to standard set-up, punchline. I'm really honoured to have this longer set at the Fringe where so many amazing people have talked for an hour.
Have you ever performed in the UK before?
I have never performed in the UK! I hope it goes OK. I studied abroad in London at RADA ten years ago - there's a remedial Shakespeare programme for American morons! It was the best time of my entire life, I was so happy. We went to Edinburgh for three days when we were there and I fell in love.
I'm really looking forward to it. Going to Scotland for a month and being able to be as creative as I've ever been. It's exciting.
What are you most looking forward to about Edinburgh?
Just being able to connect with an audience. It's a completely different audience each night. I love working at SNL and it's exciting to get to work with new hosts every week and try out new ideas, so with Edinburgh I'm really looking forward to is the same kind of ability to try different things and experiment. I get to be a performer for a month.
I had a couple of different choices of what to do this summer and I made the decision based on what can't I do during a season of SNL? And during a season I can't go to Scotland for a month and be at the Fringe so that's what I'm doing.
You've mentioned it a few times. How does the writing process work on Saturday Night Live?
There are a lot of writers but the process of actually writing and pitching usually takes place in a smaller room with two or three people and you can really write whatever it is that you want to write. It's best if there's a useful reasoning behind it, like it's good for the host or it's topical but really you can come in and say that we're writing a sketch about hot dogs and you can write it!
Not everything gets read, but most things do so the process of writing on SNL is quite self-directed in a way that not many other shows are. Other shows are more prescriptive.
Once everything that's going to be in the show has been decided, there's a bigger rewrite table where people come together to add jokes or tone things down on some of the sketches. That's where the teamwork really happens.
Are you hoping to see some shows?
Oh my God, yes! I'm very excited to see lots of shows. I'm excited to see Rose Matafeo, because I think she's the coolest. I'm not super well-read on who's performing there apart from my American cohorts. There are lots of us there this year so I'm looking forward to a backlash!
I especially can't wait to see Emmy Blotnick, who's another American, who is amazing and if I could steal anyone's jokes it would be hers. So everyone should go and see her, but after they've seen me.
Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?
Goofy. Jarred. Surprising. Funny. RealityTV.
Anna Drezen: Okay Get Home Safe! runs from 31st July - 25th August (not 14th) at 4.30pm at the Pleasance Courtyard (The Attic). Book tickets here.