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I TALK TO Darren Harriott

For someone who had never performed in Edinburgh before, it's safe to say that comedian Darren Harriott's debut went really well at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, with his show being nominated for Best Newcomer. This year, Darren is back with a brand new hour, Visceral.


Last year was your debut year and you were nominated for Best Newcomer! Congratulations. What was last Edinburgh like for you?


It was great! It definitely wasn't what I was expecting. I went up there with no expectations and just thought I'd have fun. That was the main thing I wanted to do, have fun.


I remember back in February (2017) I was thinking about not doing the Fringe and pulling out because I just wasn't too sure about it. I had meetings with my agent and we spoke about it and by April I still wasn't 100% sure if I wanted to do it. I wanted to make a good first impression up there. You only get one chance.


I had never even done a 30-minute room or a 45-minute room and I was going in to a pay room and doing a full hour so it just felt like a lot of pressure. But then I worked on the show and built confidence in the show halfway in to the Fringe because I kept adding new bits.


Every day I would put in one new joke, that was the plan. When I started the show, I think I was on about 50 minutes and then by the time I finished, I ended up having to cut it down because it was getting to over an hour.


If I wasn't still working on the show at the Fringe, I probably wouldn't have got nominated.


Looking back now, are you pleased you did it?


Yeah. On reflection, it worked out pretty well. I just remember how I felt going in, how I felt halfway in and then how I felt getting nominated. It was amazing. I don't think I'll ever have a better Fringe experience than that first one.


Were you always going to come back this year?


I knew I was going to have to come back this year so I always had that in the back of my head. But it's weird. It's that second show thing. The first show is all your club material. It's the stuff that got you noticed, got you an agent, paid gigs and all that.


I'm just going to go into it this year with the same attitude that I went into last year's show with and I'm going to keep working on it because I feel like you should be better by the time you leave the Fringe. I think you're supposed to leave with more material.


Someone told me that Edinburgh is just a showcase really. You're showcasing what you can do and when they said that I understood. If I can improve, I will. Whereas a lot of acts have their hour and then stop working on it. They'll do their show, they'll do whatever they do and then that's it.


You've called this year's show Visceral, why have you gone for that title? And what's the show about?


I just liked the word. I also didn't realise that a lot of people couldn't pronounce it, especially my friends! It's basically just a show that talks a little bit more about my upbringing, class and school.


It's definitely a love letter to the year 2001 until about 2005, my school years. Getting into a gang and all that nonsense. Trying to deal with being a pubescent kid. There's stuff about masculinity as well.


And then there's whatever weird racial things have happened over the last year. There's definitely less politics this time around. I'm just kind of sick of it to be honest. Even the other weekend when we had the big Trump protest, I just couldn't be arsed to bring up this guy in my show. I have no references at all to any of it. I feel like I'm burned out.


The problem I had as well last year was that I did so much topical stuff about Trump that when I came to do it in January at the Soho Theatre, it was like "Oh yeah, I can't do that anymore".


When did you start working on the show?


The idea came to me in January of what I wanted to talk about and then it's been a slow process from then. In previews I've got over an hour of material but ideally I want the show to run at 50 minutes. I want it to run at 50 so that when I go up there I can add on anything that comes to me.


A lot of it to be fair at the moment is just me waffling rather than the actual joke. I know it's because I'm still finding my feet and being quite worthy with stuff. I've got quite a lot of previews left, almost one every day!


What was the biggest thing you learnt last year?


I remember when I left Edinburgh and started doing the clubs again, it was like "Woah!" because the laughter is club laughter. In Edinburgh you don't really get that atmosphere.


Yeah there are audiences but there also TV producers or other comics or whatever so I learnt how to play a room and not judge a good or bad gig on the levels of raucous laughter. On a Monday at 9:30pm, I'm probably not going to get the kind of laughter that I might be looking for.


A lot of the time I thought I was just having really rough gigs and then I'd see other people's shows and they're like "That's just Edinburgh" so I got very used to playing it.


What are you most looking forward to about Edinburgh this year?


I'm interested to see how the show is going to be received because everything is bigger for me this year, in the stuff that I'm talking about, it's also a bigger room, there's more press, more PR so I'm interested to see how that all culminates together. And also how I'm able to deal with it.


Last year, I was unknown, I got nominated and did some TV bits off the back of it. I'm about to do the kind of Edinburgh I would watch someone else have and wish that was me. So it's going to be interesting to come back to Edinburgh with that behind me and playing a room that I've dreamed of and I've even got a big gigantic poster of me on the side!


What was it like performing on Live at the Apollo last year?


It was a dream! I used to work there so when I turned up in the car everyone was like "Darren!" all the staff. I understand why so many acts film their specials there because it just a perfect room.


The last time I was there I was watching Dave Chapelle and the next thing I know I'm on that stage! It was amazing. I'd love to come back and host it. That's the next step!


Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?


I want to try and see Frankie Boyle this year. For me he's the best comedian working in terms of what he's saying. What I like about him is that he's almost this super uber liberal but he hasn't got that liberal anguish. If you listen to the stuff that he says, it's so good.


I'm looking forward to seeing what Americans are up and I'd really like to see Andrew Maxwell as well. He's another guy I love.


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


Honest. Masculine. Insecure. Black. Gangster.


Darren Harriott: Visceral runs from 1st - 26th August (not 15th) at 9:30pm at The Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath). Book tickets here.

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