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I TALK TO Bilal Zafar

I first spoke to comedian Bilal Zafar back in 2016 ahead of his debut Edinburgh Festival Fringe show having recently won the New Act of the Year award. Now in 2018 Bilal is getting ready for his third show in as many years, Lovebots.

© Matt Crockett

Last time we spoke you were about to perform your debut Edinburgh Fringe show and now you're about to perform your third...


I know! It's weird because this is my third show in a row so it feels like I've only just done my first one.


Can you see a year now where you don't perform?


Yes. I'll probably have a break after this show because it's tough coming up with something new to talk about for an hour. The way I do my shows is that it's never just jokes that I've thought of. It's one big story. So I'm not sure I'll have another one in me.


Are you finding the whole Edinburgh process more difficult as the years go on?


I think I'm finding the process easier, I know what I'm doing a lot more and I'm not feeling as much pressure.


I wasn't under any pressure for my first show because I honestly didn't know anything about the awards really. I'd heard about it, but I didn't think much of it where as other comics are obsessed by it. So being nominated was weird, everyone suddenly telling you you're great.


The whole awards ceremony was really bizarre for me so with the second show I felt massive pressure to make it as good which I found really difficult. I struggled with the structure quite a bit and that show sorted itself out about halfway through the Fringe.


So when I toured it, it was good and I got to record it for Radio 4 which was great, I was really lucky!


This year's show is called Lovebots, another one word title, why did you for that?


It's just what the show is about really. I could have gone with another food based title like the last two but I'd have to force it in because there's nothing to do with food in the show.


So what is Lovebots about?


This show is basically about Cambridge Analytica and I'm kind of obsessed with how they influenced elections recently. They made loads of fake Twitter accounts which were fake right-wing people saying horrible things all the time and making things trend, and it's not even real which is just really weird.


So my show is about creating my own bots which will only talk about love and compassion to try and reverse everything the bad.


My plan in my head is to do this show and it will round off a nice trilogy of shows about social media. And then maybe I'll move onto something else because I wouldn't want to do the same thing all the time.


How long have you been working on this year's show for? Since the Cambridge Analytica story broke?


No, I was really lucky actually because I had the idea a while ago, because I found the whole thing fascinating. It was whilst I was at the last Fringe actually and I've just been lucky that it became a bigger story because at the time it was quite minor so it could have just gone away.


The thing is, it's still developing but my stuff's not satirical so it doesn't have to reflect the news that day. It can be a bit broader which is nice. I try and make it relate to people's lives because I want my show to be for everyone. I don't want it to be just for people that use Twitter or whatever.


Who have you found your audience to be?


It's a really nice mix of people actually which is my favourite thing about doing solo shows because when you're doing a gig, people haven't come to see you. But because I tour and I get to do Soho Theatre as well, I get a really nice mix of colours and ages.


When I did my Radio 4 record, I was told that it was a younger audience than they're used to, which is nice. I'm never trying to write comedy for one type of person. I want it to be for everyone.


Do you find an Edinburgh audience differs from an audience elsewhere in the country?


Yeah, there's a massive difference. There's the matter of ticket sales where it just depends on where you're going so sometimes it can be quite tough. The first tour show I did was in Swindon and it was the flattest show I've ever done. It was just really quiet. I think it's because it was £15 a ticket and also I do it a bit differently so I have an interval and I make it longer which allows me to be more free with the material.


Edinburgh audiences are easier than most audiences because they're comedy fans and they probably go every year because it's quite expensive to go. At a tour show, the expectations might be different.


Even Soho Theatre which you'd think is generally an easier place to perform, I had a couple of shows there this year which were tricky. I was on quite late this year so I had some very drunk people in, talking through it and on their phones and I really didn't expect that.


That's one of my favourite things about comedy, you never know what you're going to get!


How have the previews been going?


Good. I don't know what it is this year, perhaps it's the weather or the World Cup, but it's been a bit tricky so I've not had packed ones yet but it's been good and I think the show is better now than it was at this stage last year.


Josie Long is directing your show this year, how did that come about?


Yes, I've got a director for the first time, Josie Long. We're kind of friends and wanted to do acting classes together so we chatted on Twitter and met up but it never happened because she's just had a baby so she couldn't commit to it but we got on really well and became friends.


I then asked her if she could recommend a director to me and she said she was happy to do it! So I just go to her house, perform the show for her and Johnny, her boyfriend, and they just give me some notes. And that is better than some previews to be honest.


What are your feelings towards Edinburgh?


I've been a bit down about it lately because it's quite expensive and in terms of my career I would like to have done a bit more TV and stuff. It's really nice that I got to do Radio 4 but I felt like I was spending all this money and not really getting much back yet.


I know that's maybe a but arrogant but that's how I was feeling. The only stuff I get offered is the Asian Network comedy night and that's sort of the only work I'm offered so I've been a bit frustrated.


What Edinburgh is really good for, is making you write. You don't have time to feel sorry for yourself or worry about stuff you just have to get the show as good as it can and people are going to turn up. It forces to do a show so if I didn't have the Edinburgh Fringe, I don't think I would have improved much as a comic.


What work would you like to get after Edinburgh?


I get to do the odd panel show audition which I don't enjoy. They're not fun to do. I guess the key is to grow your audience and I'd love any opportunity to do that.


I got close to a couple of things which haven't happened. But I have been very lucky with Radio 4 and that could end up leading to a series or something which would be great.


To be honest, I just want to feel optimistic about stuff. It's nice to feel like something's going to happen. After the nomination for my first show, all these producers wanted to meet with me and it was great because TV was something I wanted to do before I was doing stand-up. I studied scriptwriting at Uni.


Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?


I'm going to see my friend Trevor Lock and he does a show which is basically the same every year but it's heavily improvised according to the audience. It's a really nice show. I usually go to that on my day off because we clash.


Alfie Brown as well. He's one of my best friends. I met him because we got to do this comedy festival in Amsterdam together where we did 45 minutes each for four days and he can really divide an audience and it's really fun to see.


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


Very funny and maybe important.


Bilal Zafar: Lovebots runs from 1st - 26th August at 3:45pm at Just The Tonic at The Mash House (Just the Cask Room). Book tickets here.

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