After Edinburgh last year, Fringe favourite Chris Turner moved to America but he's still spending the month of August in the UK with his new hour, What a Time to Be Alive.
2017 marks Chris' eleventh year at the Fringe and I recently caught up with him to talk about what he's got in store for audiences this year, what keeps him returning to the Fringe and what his hopes for the future are now that he's moved stateside.
You’re back at the Fringe again this year, what keeps you coming back?
What’s the funny answer? Contractual obligations.
No, I love it. It’s my eleventh year there and it drives you to keep creating a new show which is really great. You then have that hour of material that you can use over the next year in clubs, and have those fresh routines that you should have I guess.
It’s tremendously fun outside of the performing aspect and also because I’ve got an improv show as well with my best friend, we’re always coming up together and I think if one of us said, “Oh we’re not going to do it this year” the other would say “Don’t be a loser. Just do it.”
It’s just a month of getting better as a comedian as well because the more shows you do, the better you get obviously. Especially the shows where you’re spending an hour on stage and the audience are there just for you.
That’s really unique to the Fringe isn’t it? A full hour to yourself and your own audience.
That’s one of the reasons why I’ve put my show on at 9:45pm. It’s the third year in a row that I’ve had it at that time and I think then you’re much more likely to get people who are going for you or at least coming for the flyer they’ve just been given that looks good.
As opposed to a slightly earlier show, maybe 8pm/8:30pm where you’ve got people who are coming out just looking for a show and they go to the Box Office and they say “What’s on now?” and then they go and see it. They might enjoy it, but they also might not enjoy it. That then is less fun for the people that are there for that comedian.
Having that later aspect means you get the audience you want. I don’t think I ever had a gig last year where there were hecklers.
Why have you called this year’s show What a Time to Be Alive?
I explain this right at the start of the show. I toured the concept of this show which is a show about moving to America before Trump gets in and after Brexit and having that perspective on everything. It used to be called in Australia, The Crushing Proximity of Giants which I’d then explain why it’s called that. Basically when everything is so big and massive we feel inferior, useless and like we can’t do anything.
In Australia the tickets were printed and the title didn’t fit on so the title just read Chris Turner: The Crushing, which I thought made me sound like a really arrogant dickhead comedian. So I occasionally imagine in the show, what it would be like if I was doing a show called Chris Turner: The Crushing.
But then, What a Time to Be Alive was the new title. It combines two of my interests. Comedy, being originally from The Simpsons, and it’s also the title of an album that Drake did with Future that wasn’t a great album but as a Hip Hop aficionado and performer it seemed to fit pretty nicely with how everything is going down nowadays.
In many aspects, this is a wonderful time to be alive and in many other aspects this is an incredibly terrifying time to be alive.
What can people expect when they come and see the show?
It’s all based around a big story about how a suitcase full of Yorkshire Tea got me into trouble with US customs when I went over there. It’s a true story. I did an advert for Yorkshire Tea and they gave me a dozen boxes of tea to take with me. And if you try to take a dozen boxes of tea into America, they will question why you have so much tea.
There are stories about why I almost led the campaign for Donald Trump, a little bit of Brexit material but much more personal stuff in that my family voted leave and I voted remain and the tension that came with that, especially when I was leaving the country.
A lot of it is based around being a very British man in a very American place and how I’m treated because of that and how I see everything over there through my British eyes. I then also turn the lens back on myself to see how they see me and point out all the ridiculous things that i do or behave like because i’m from here.
It’s a really zeitgeisty show which is really nice and completely accidental. I’ve been planning this move for the last three years.
And how long have you been working on this show for?
This show, since last Edinburgh because I moved to America the month after Edinburgh and immediately started writing the show because of everything that happened when I moved there.
Then Trump got in and I ended up writing more and more stuff and I’ve been back in the UK quite a lot since then so it’s nice to be able to test material in the UK because obviously it’s for a UK audience so this material is all geared towards them and wouldn’t necessarily work in the USA.
Who are you hoping will come and watch the show?
I’d love anyone who has seen me before to come back and I think every year you do build that because you can see when your tickets are selling that it’s more than last year and that’s hopefully because everyone who enjoyed it last year comes and brings a friend.
Also anyone who wants a safe pair of hands, but an exciting pair of hands all the same. I’ve been doing Edinburgh shows for long enough to know what I’m doing but also this is the first Edinburgh show where I’m finding my voice as a comic.
It usually takes eight or nine years before you really know who you are on stage and what you’re doing. Last night I was doing a preview and someone who had seen all of my shows said “I’ve never seen you that playful on stage” and that was really nice because that it more who I am off stage. A little bit cheeky, a little bit dorky but also self-deprecating. So there’s more of that in the show and every now and again I crack a little naughty joke because it entertains me and previous shows have had less of that.
Also I do a lot of freestyle rapping and anyone who enjoys that should come and see me because I’m very good at it and they should come with some cool suggestions lined up to try and trip me up with. Also any Americans who want to know what I think of their country. People who like comedy as well. That’s the main umbrella.
How have the previews been going?
They’ve been really fun. I did a lot of work on this show in February in Australia because I was there doing the show and had two weeks there where it was being worked on every night. Trying new routines. Then since then I’ve been doing gigs in clubs so I try 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there to make sure the jokes work.
I try not to do that many previews because I do so many in February and then I work on the show so you want to keep it fresh, you don’t want to run it into the ground before Edinburgh. Some people find it easier to do their previews in June and July, but for me that’s too close to the Fringe.
Do you have anyone helping you with your show this year?
I'm working with Steve Hall who is a very very funny gentleman, a stand-up comedian in his own right and he was a member of We Are Klang and directed a couple of wonderful shows over the last two years.
I usually work with Dan Atkinson who again is very brilliant but this year, because of the General Election, he didn't have enough time because he works on Matt Forde's TV show, Unspun and they'd commissioned an extra series and extra shows.
So he put me in touch with Steve and he's someone that I've admired since I started. We used to gig together really early on and he used to advise me then. And we met up for the first time in about five years and he was just like "Yes, let's do this."
He's probably a big influence on the playfulness and the silliness because although his stand-up is a little nit deadpan, his work with Klang was very fun and he'd encourage me to say something that I'd then think was a bit naughty but he'd go "Yes, but you're a cheeky little boy. You'll get away with it." So I quite like that.
He thinks it's coming along well, which I think is good director speak.
You're doing AAA Batteries (Not Included) again this year...
Yes, that's the eighth or ninth year of that and I love doing that. Every year it's just nice to get acts on that I know are brilliant and are going to go down really well with that audience.
It's a family friendly show so that adult/kid audience is really hard to book for. Last year we had Tom Walker who is an amazing clown, this year we've Elly Squire who's like an old-school vaudevillian. She's not doing her own show this year but she'll be doing an hour next year so it's nice to have her here doing 20 minutes.
And you've also got a sketch show, Cat FM...
Yes, it's a sketch show with my girlfriend Alice which we did a preview of last night and that was really fun.
It's a really silly show and one we worked on in Australia and with his sketch background Steve is also helping us on this show.
What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?
With the stand-up show, I'm looking forward to playing the Pleasance Upstairs in the courtyard. It's an amazing venue which I played in three years ago with my improv group and it's just so lovely. I'm really looking forward to being in that space.
I really love getting back to Edinburgh, I like that I know it, I like that I know the city, I like that I know where I like eating and go back to my favourite places that I only go to once a year. I get to have all my friends from my old improv group, because they still go up there, all around me.
I genuinely love that it's the only time you're getting that audience that are coming for you. That's so ego-boosting because you go "I guess these are the people who watch me online and comment on my Facebook page" and that feels really really lovely.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
The focus from September is just to gig really hard in America and try to work up a profile over there so take the States I guess.
It's that very LA thing of writing scripts and writing pilots and hoping that someone says "I think you're funny. Do you have a script?" and you go "It's right here!"
I'm doing a lot of improv over there, putting together some improv groups because improv in America is amazing but also very different to the UK. So being able to bring my ten years of UK improv experience means that you stand out immediately because you're doing it very differently to how they do it.
There's not much short form over there and the short form that I have seen hasn't been as exciting as short form I see over here. So that's something I want to do over there.
The big aim is to set up a Hip Hop night in one of the clubs and start bringing back freestyling to improv because there's not enough people doing it.
Finally, how would you sum up this year’s show in just five words?
Jaw-dropping freestyles and silly jokes.