One of the most exciting American stand-up comedians Ellyn Daniels is making her Edinburgh Fringe debut this year with her show Emotional Terrorism.
She trained as a ballet dancer, became a model, then acted and now Ellyn Daniels is a dedicating her time to stand-up comedy and has chosen 2017 to make her Fringe debut.
I recently caught up with Ellyn to discuss at length about Emotional Terrorism and her fascinating route into comedy.
This your first year at the Fringe, what made you want to come to Edinburgh to perform?
First of all, I’ve heard that it’s a great experience but it’s absolutely crazy with a lot of stuff going on and you’re going to be completely wiped out by the end.
But what made me go was that i started doing stand-up in London in August for the first time. I always wanted to perform in London and I’ve never had the opportunity. Then I started to perform there whenever I could and some people that were coming to my shows asked if I’d ever done the Fringe and suggested that I do it.
Of course I knew about it from the biographies of famous comedians so I knew that it was this mythical thing but I never really considered the possibility of doing it until it was suggested to me.
So then I slowly cobbled together this show.
What’s Emotional Terrorism all about?
It’s about a lot of things. I take some stories from my life and my childhood, my time working as a model, my foray into acting into Hollywood and trying to break into the business there. Combined with these themes of “When do you listen to other people?”, “When do you listen to yourself?”, “When are you in the hands of people who are emotionally abusive?” and how does that affect you as a young person who doesn’t yet know how to use discernment when listening to other voices?
I had an eating disorder for a while so I weave that in as well and I try to see all this stuff through a humorous lens. It’s a dark comedy. It’s not intended to be a dramatic show but there are elements of it that I’ve realised, having performed it at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and in Raleigh in North Carolina, people find it to be more poignant than I originally intended it to be.
How does that reaction make you feel?
I feel really good about it because I feel like when you’re making art or you’re doing a show, the objective of course is that people should feel something. So I’d rather they feel something rather than feel blasé about it.
It seems that they’re feeling this poignancy more so than the flippant comedy that I originally intended and that’s actually brought me to question my own perception of my life. Because in a way, I guess the way that I’d gotten through it is by seeing it humorously.
How have you found revisiting those times in your life?
Difficult. It’s been really difficult at times. There have been times when it’s been really hard for me to rehearse this show for example. I suppose it’s because it’s my own life and when I go back to that moment where I’m making myself throw up, I feel those feelings that I felt.
Also, I simultaneously see it from this birds eye view where I can have some compassion for that person so it’s been difficult but it’s also been very rewarding. Artistically speaking, it feels like the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and also the most rewarding thing so far.
How long have you been working on the show for?
That was a real difficulty. I couldn’t get started.
It was this very strange thing where I wanted to do Edinburgh, I didn’t know if I could do it, I was applying to theatres, I was making up a synopsis for a show sitting on my friends bed in Raleigh, North Carolina and asking “Does this sound good?”.
Then I didn’t find out until February that Just The Tonic had agreed to allow me to do the show. At that point in time I’m in London performing and I decided to come back to the States to write the show and I had two months to really get this done.
Then one month went by and I went “Fuck. I literally have nothing.” It was a lot of worrying about doing it and worrying about what it’s going to be about. Then we went through this process where we ended up recording a lot of stories and I ended up writing the show in May if I’m completely honest.
How do you feel about the show now?
I’m always reticent to say “Yeah dude, I’m totally ready.” because you just never know what’s going to happen. Is my brain just going to fail me and I’ll forget all the dialogue? But I do feel that I’ve got a good handle on it at this point.
You’ve been a model, then an actress and now a comedian. How did you first fall into comedy?
I was in LA, I’d moved there through modelling but many people had suggested to me that I should act and I guess I always had a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I should try this. So when I got to LA I thought as I’m here modelling I’m going to try and pursue this acting thing. I started to go out on auditions, I did a couple of bit parts on television shows but it was very difficult and nothing really seemed to be gelling.
So I was like “How the fuck do I make this work?” and then somebody said to me, “You’re really funny.” and that was a thing that kept happening. I would take these acting classes and be doing a very drastic scene and people would be laughing. And I would be like “What the fuck is going on?” It was quite frustrating. I’m trying to be properly serious here! But what do you do with that information
Finally, a really smart person told me “Why don’t you try doing stand-up?” and that was so bizarre to me because I wasn’t really familiar with stand-up comedy. I’d never been to a comedy club, I didn’t know how one began to do that.
In LA they have classes for everything so I took a stand-up comedy class. We did a showcase at the end and in the audience there was this manager who needed up singing me on as a client and she was managing some pretty big comedians at the time so I was then thrust into showcasing for comedy festivals. I was showcasing for the Montreal comedy festival within three months of beginning to do stand-up.
That experience of being thrust into high-pressure situation after high-pressure situation meant that I sort of broke down after a while. I only had a seven-minute set that was very well scripted. I had no idea what it meant to get on a stage, work with a crowd, be vulnerable... all that stuff.
I’m also in recovery for addiction and stuff so at that time my alcohol and drug abuse started to sky rocket and I got into this downward spiral and I stopped doing stand-up completely for maybe a year. Then I came back to it completely fresh. I started going on stage with no material and improvising. At that time my manger had dropped me, my agent had dropped me so I was free to do whatever I wanted.
That’s when I actually started to develop the comedic voice that I work with now. And that was about two years ago, 2015.
And are you enjoying being a comedian now?
Yeah. Now I really do enjoy it because I try to work with spontaneity and I work a lot differently than I did originally. I really enjoy it. There’s nothing like it actually. There’s nothing like connecting directly with an audience.
What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?
I’m interested to see what it feels like to do a show in this place that you’ve been aspiring to do a show in for a year. But also just watching other shows, meeting other performers and seeing what everyone is up to.
Maria Shehata is putting on a show, also at Just The Tonic and she and I have been circling around each other. I know her, she knows a lot of people I know and she’s been super helpful when I’ve been in London so I’m definitely going to see her.
I’ll see as many shows as I can while I’m there.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
I’ve written a pilot that I really want to shoot, about my experiences living in Barcelona.
I started modelling there about four years ago. I’d never worked in Spain as a model, I’d actually completely stopped modelling and then after a bizarre series of events, which are kinda boring so I won’t tell you about them, I ended up working there and adding a new chapter to my modelling career as an older person which opened my eyes to all the possibilities of life when people tell you that’s never going to happen.
Sometimes the most bizarre things do happen and living there I met just the most wonderful collection of people. It’s a city where people go to reinvent themselves get off the hamster wheel of life. I really want to shoot that pilot so I’m going to try and push that forward.
I’d also like to do a proper stand-up hour, a straight stand-up special kind of thing.
Finally, how would you sum up your show this year in just five words?
Laugh at your worst moments.