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I TALK TO Bethany Black

Before Banana and Doctor Who, Bethany Black had taken two shows up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, one in 2008 and another in 2009. But after a disastrous year she vowed never to return. However, she did return in 2016 and had a much better run and this year she's back with another brand new hour, Unwinnable.


It's been 10 years since your debut and this will be only your fourth show. Was that a conscious decision to not return more frequently?


Oh absolutely. That was very much a conscious decision. I did my first show 10 years ago, my second show nine years ago and went away thinking "I never want to go back to the Edinburgh Fringe again!" My second show was the worst month of my life.


There's nothing quite like realising that your show isn't working on day two and there's nothing you can do really. It was at that point that I realised the show was on at the wrong time for the type of show that it was. There were so many other issues with it that just couldn't get solved.


Also, the first Saturday, which is the busiest night of the whole run, I had most of my press in and also on that night I had about have a dozen who couldn't get into Spank downstairs which is famous for it's nakedness, people getting drunk and getting up on stage come to see me.


One guy had taken acid before he arrived and was completely out of it, so an hour-long confessional show about how I realised that I was a drug addict was probably not the best show for them to be watching in that particular state of mind. They ended up absolutely destroying the show and I spent an hour dealing with it the best that I could.


But of course all the reviews that came out of that were terrible. That just scuppered the entire run because it's the longest month on earth, it's costing you £300 a day to be there, it's raining every single day and you're performing to three people every single night with a show that you hate.


And then I got home and my landlord thought that I'd abandoned my flat and boarded it up so I thought "I'm ever going to do that again!"


Then in 2016 why did you decide to return?


It just felt like it was time to come back. I'd not done the Fringe for such a long time and off the back of doing Doctor Who and Banana, it felt like maybe this time there'll be more of an audience there. Also I was in a much better place.


2016 was absolutely fantastic. I wasn't doing any of the staying up late, I was staying with my pals who had nothing to do with the industry so I wasn't surrounded by comedians the whole time, which can get a little bit too much!


What's this year's show, Unwinnable all about then?


The show is about discovering that I'm on the autism spectrum which is something I only found out last year. I'd always thought that I was a loveable fuck up and it turns out I'm just a terrible burden. So it's about living in that place where you need and crave attention, but often don't know how to go about it. Which is kind of what being a stand-up comic is!


I find it a lot less scary standing on stage talking to people than I would sat in an audience listening to a comedian and that's always been the case. That's something that a lot of people can't understand because the biggest fear most people have above death is public speaking.


My mum is so terrified of public speaking that it was only last year that she was able to see me do stand-up! She wouldn't even let me talk about it around her.


So the show is about the realisation that it doesn't matter what I do, all the versions of me that I have in my head that I tried to put out there in order to get along better in life, it doesn't work. That's the unwinnable side of it. It's really hard to explain it without making it sound like a really miserable show. It isn't! It's really fun and it's really happy. A lot of it is around the fun that I have with these things.


There's also a big section about my relationship with my partner and how my various autism and mental health problems interact with that and how we've found ways around that which aren't all that traditional. For example, we don't share a bedroom which is possible if you don't live in London!


Do you enjoy writing deeply personal shows?


Yeah absolutely. All of my stuff that I ever write is deeply personal, because I have grown up my entire life without seeing anyone like me represented anywhere. So I don't know what's normal. I don't know what things other people have felt or done so as a result of that, I try and share the stuff that I wouldn't normally share in conversation with someone.


I feel like telling a room full of strangers your deepest darkest secrets and the things that you do is where the art lives. I love the technical side of joke writing and I love the technical side of trying to make people laugh and I love going and watching comics who observe things or get frustrated at little things. I love that.


I talk a lot on stage about mental health issues, gender and sexuality, politics... all sorts of stuff. But for me it's always about trying to make a connection with people. That's all I've ever wanted to do and that's the most difficult thing for me because I don't read social cues and don't know when I'm saying the wrong thing.


How have the previews been going?


They've been the usual mixture of previews but so far most of the audiences that have been to see it have really enjoyed it.


Are you looking forward to Edinburgh now?


I am yeah. After my last Edinburgh run, which was so much fun I really am. Also, being an autistic comedian it's the one time of the year that you get to do the same thing at the same time every single day.


I'm delighted with being on early this year as well because it means I can do some out of town gigs and make some money to negate the losses of not working in August.


I first became aware of you by watching Banana. What was the reaction to that show like for you?


Oh it was amazing! It was absolutely life-changing. At the time, it was just after breaking my leg and I wasn't able to walk for about 18 months and lots of other health problems that came along with that. I was actually very nearly bankrupt.


Banana came out of the blue and I took the opportunity and went for the audition. My first ever audition as well. Got the call back and then did the show. It was great fun and the reaction was spectacular from all over the world, people who really identified with the character or were just happy to finally see some level of trans representation on television.


Russell T Davies is also one of the nicest human beings on the planet, bar none. He's absolutely wonderful. I'm still in contact with everyone who worked in that despite the fact that some of them are now massive movie stars.


And then you did Doctor Who...


Doctor Who is my first television memory and I'd been a fan for as long as I can remember so for me that was just wonderful. How it came about, was that on the first day of the read-through for Banana I bumped into Andy Pryor outside and he asked me if I was worried about doing the read-through and I was like "No, it's fine. I've watched enough Doctor Who Confidential to know what a read-through is like" to which he replied "Oh, are you a Doctor Who fan?


I went "Yeah, I am" and he said "I cast that" and at that point even though I knew I had to pretend that I didn't "Oh really?" and he went "Do you want to be in it?" and I went "Yeah!" and that was how it was, he said he'd keep me in mind for when they've got a part that works. That was my first professional day as an actor.


What's next for you then? No Offence?


Yeah, I'm in the new series of No Offence which we finished filming in March and I think that's out later this year. I'm not sure what I'm allowed to say about that. I got to work with Sharon Rooney which was fantastic. She's great! She's so lovely! We got to spend a fun day together in a disused industrial estate in North Manchester, that was a good laugh.


And I'm also in the fourth series of Just A Girl on Radio 4, playing a new character! So it's all go!


Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?


The best show of 2018.


Bethany Black: Unwinnable runs from 2nd - 26th August (not 13th) at 3:50pm at The Stand Comedy Club 2 (Stand 2). Book tickets here.

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