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I TALK TO Carl Donnelly

Carl Donnelly returns to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with his eighth consecutive hour, Bad Man Tings.

Finding peace in a functioning relationship, career and plant-based diet, Carl is living up to 34 being statistically the happiest year of your life. But is being happy funny?

Transitioning away from material on masculinity and depression which comprised his critically acclaimed show Jive Ass Honky last year, Carl will explore what it is to be a white liberal in 2016, looking at societal components including Generation Z, health fads, Netflix documentaries and Kanye West.

What came first? The show or the title?

This year was more so the title before the show. I’m not doing a themed show this year as such.

The last couple of years I’ve had stuff to talk about that’s been quite pressing in my life. I went through a divorce and I was going through a lot of therapy, I’ve always been a bit prone to depression so I thought I’d share a bit of that on stage.

This year I wanted to talk about a bunch of different stuff so I’ve gone for an absolutely vague title, a title that basically makes me laugh. So I picked a phrase that me and my friends used to say when we were in our teens, and weirdly as I started writing the show, it sort of ties in.

There’s a bit in the show about how I’m so different now to what I used to be. I grew up in a council estate, me and my mates were little hoodlums. I had mates who were muggers and stuff like that. I’m the weird one who grew up to do something in the creative industries! (Laughs)

I just thought it would be quite funny to call an Edinburgh Fringe show Bad Man Tings.

It’s a great title, and an amazing poster! Talk to me about that…

Again, because there’s no theme to the show as such, it’s just about observations. So rather than go for a poster that represented the show, I decided to go for a poster which I thought would get a laugh in itself – it’ll almost be a standalone joke.

The guy who designed the poster is a mate of mine and he’s done loads of my posters so we sat down and he asked me what my idea was for the poster. I said to him, “Why don’t we take last year’s poster, redo my photoshoot, and shrink my head down to about 60%?” and he just laughed.

The moment he laughed, I knew that if the idea could get a laugh from him it would end up looking really silly. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to genuinely being insane.

The conversations we had about trying to get the right head size. We went back and forth on email about 100 times, where I’d get him to take 2% off the head or go up 3%, because we wanted it to be subtle, but also noticeable.

How long has this show taken to put together?

It’s sort of a rolling project really. In the past I’ve always been stressed by this point because if the show is about something, it needs a definite ending.

This year, because I’m basically doing an hour of stand-up it’s easier in the sense that I’m not stressing about having to include anything.

I’ve probably had the first version that I was happy with, about two months ago. Every gig that I did, I took stuff out so only what was funny enough would stay in the show.

How have the previews been going?

Really good. I’ve done three this week, I’m doing my fourth tonight – that’s where you really learn what’s working and what isn’t.

There are a couple of bits in it that I think are the funniest things I’ve ever said on stage. They’re do disgusting! (Laughs)

In every preview, you’ll do one bit that is an absolute dunce. You can’t even believe that you thought it would be funny. Some people get really scared by that, but I love it.

You’re quite personal in your shows. Do you find it easy to open up in front of an audience?

Last year’s show was so personal. There were revelations last year about me being very depressed and I shared a lot about my self-esteem issues.

They’re all things that are so personal, and having got that out of my system, revelations now include trying to hide a fart from a girlfriend. Basically I had to create tactics so that I could get away with it.

You debuted at the Fringe in 2009. What keeps you coming back?

I just love it. Some people see it as a chore with the stress of having to have a show finished by Edinburgh. It’s almost like an end-of-year exam.

I was really bad at school in terms of never putting the work in but for some reason I was always good at exams so I enjoyed the pressure of the exam.

I treat Edinburgh like that really. I really enjoy the pressure of having to have a show ready. I think if I didn’t do Edinburgh, I’d be worried about how productive I’d be.

How important is the Fringe to you?

I think it’s important to be there if you want to take your shows elsewhere. I did the Melbourne Comedy Festival this year in Australia and that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t do Edinburgh last year.

It’s not like the old days, where a successful Edinburgh show would be the talk of the town and Channel 4 would go “Oh here’s £50,000 to make a pilot” – that’s just not what it is anymore.

Edinburgh isn’t your way to stardom, it’s a way to get to push yourself and do your comedy in lots of different place. I got to do festivals off the back of Edinburgh that I would not have got to do if I’d just stayed in London and twiddled my thumbs in August.

Are you hoping to see much whilst you’re up there?

Oh yeah, loads. I always try and see lots of different stuff. I tend to see more non-comedy stuff than stand-up. When I’m up there because I’m doing my show every day and I’m doing a lot other late shows and mixed bill shows, I see so many stand-ups that when I go to watch a show, I tend to see a lot of theatre, or sketch and character shows.

I mean I’ll go and see mates shows, and people that I never get to see who have just come over for the Fringe. On the whole I try to see lots, but stuff that’s as different to me as possible.

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

Quite rude. Very silly. Dumb.

Carl Donnelly: Bad Man Tings will be on at the Pleasance Courtyard from Wednesday 3rd August – Sunday 28th August at 8:30pm (Excluding Wednesday 17th August).


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