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I TALK TO Francis Boulle

"I'm still working a lot on developing my act, so it's not by any means a finished product."

In May 2011, Made in Chelsea burst onto our screens and we were first introduced to the likes of Caggie Dunlop, Ollie Locke, Millie Mackintosh, Spencer Matthews, Hugo Taylor and Francis Boulle who after a fleeting visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018 (with Jamie Laing for Private Parts Podcast Live) is returning to the Fringe with a string of stand-up shows, where he'll be joined by some of his comedy friends and some of the best comedians at the festival.

During our chat, Francis makes it clear that he's taking stand-up very seriously and whilst not quite ready for the full hour this year, he definitely has ambitions to debut his own solo hour in the future. We also spoke about his comedy style and how that's constantly evolving, his thoughts on the after care offered to reality TV show contestants and he reveals to me his initial reservations at saying yes to Made In Chelsea all those years ago.

You went up to the Fringe last year with Jamie Laing for a few days to perform your Private Parts podcast live. What was that experience like?

It was amazing. I studied in Edinburgh so I'd been to the Fringe many many times and always had a dream of one day doing a show. So just a short run in a double-act with Jamie really got my feet wet. It was great fun and made me realise that I really liked being on stage and making people laugh.

When did you decide to perform in Edinburgh this year?

I've always wanted to do stand-up comedy. I've always wanted to try it because I've always been a bit of a stand-up comedy nerd and was particularly a big fan of all the eighties and nineties American comedians growing up.

Being on stage for the Private Parts live show and doing that tour made me feel like if I can do that and keep up that momentum, why not try the Fringe? If there was a ever a better time to try it on my own I think this is it. In fact, on the last day of the tour I booked my first stand-up comedy gig for the following week which meant I had a week to write five minutes of material.

Were you nervous?

It was nerve-wracking but I almost played this psychological trick on myself that it was just an extension of the tour. You worry about what if the jokes don't land, but you soon realise that that's not the end of the world and it's just part of the process.

People not laughing is the feedback you need to not keep trying something that doesn't work. It's that constant feedback loop which you use to refine your material.

I was also conscious that I was coming from a position where I'm already known to a certain extent and people will already have their opinion of me as a person who has appeared on a reality TV show. And they may or may not have an opinion of Made in Chelsea so it's not like you're going into a room that's completely cold to you. Sometimes you go in there in front of people who you have already won over and sometimes you have to work hard to win them over.

I've done about 60 gigs now but I still feel that I'm very green to comedy. I'm still working a lot on developing my act, so it's not by any means a finished product.

And you're taking stand-up seriously aren't you?

Very much so. It's something I've always wanted to do and I guess I wanted to do it properly. I could have organised a tour and sold out but I wouldn't have been getting proper honest feedback for my jokes.

For my first thirty or forty gigs I asked not to be on the bill. So for a lot of my early gigs I wasn't on the bill so it was a bit more of a surprise for those who did know me and for those who didn't know me, they didn't know who I was or that I was coming which meant I was able to get as close to an honest reaction for my jokes as I could coming at comedy from this angle.

I've had to be a bit strategic about it so that I feel like I'm actually improving rather than getting cheap laughs from people who already like me.

How would you describe your style?

Every time I go on stage it changes and I get more of an idea of who I want to be and who I don't want to be.

When I started out I did more one-liners because that's the comedy I've always loved like Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright, Norm Macdonald, a lot of these American one-liner comedians. Norm Macdonald is one of my all-time favourite comedians and I've no doubt that I subconsciously channel him in my act to some extent.

But I do feel like I have something unique to me. It's definitely evolving constantly, I'm getting much more confident every time I go on stage. I like the process of it and the feeling of incremental growth and improvement in the craft.

There's the standard skillset that every comedian used to have which you only really gain from experience and learning from your mistakes. Then there's the other side which is your act, your material and your performance which is ever evolving.

What can people expect from your show?

It's my night so I do my act as well as compering the evening, bringing on some of the best comedians in the UK and internationally. We've got a lot of the guests booked in and a lot will be announced closer to the time. We've got some great acts and many household names so I'm hoping that anyone who comes will not be disappointed.

It's going to be a fantastic evening. For me, it's my first time doing a solo Edinburgh show. I still feel like I am a work-in-progress so it is to some extent a chance for me to get that concentrated stage time and really refine my material in advance of future shows.

The thing I love about comedy is that there are no shortcuts. You just have to do it and fail publicly occasionally.

How do you feel about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

I love it. I think we're so incredibly lucky to have Edinburgh. If you're a comedian you have a month of intense stage time, which is almost like a pressure cooker. You never know what's going to come out of it. And it's great for audiences to go up and watch so much comedy.

It really has perpetuated the industry in the UK and set an example for comedy around the world. All of the American networks now come to Edinburgh to scout for new acts. And all the other festivals from around the world come to check out acts to perform at their festival. SO it's a real melting pot of talent, industry and comedy savvy audiences.

I think Edinburgh is great and there's nowhere better to hone your craft than the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Was it important for your show to be late night?

I think it's a great slot because if people are out at 11pm it means they're not going to work the next morning. They're relaxed, up for it and it should be a lively room. I'm very excited about the experience of playing to that room at that time.

What are you most looking forward to about Edinburgh?

As any comedian will tell you, the stage time that you can afford yourself or you have the opportunity to accumulate in Edinburgh is the best way to improve. So I'm really looking forward to coming out of it feeling like I've grown as a comedian and feeling like I've really got some material that works and that I can continue to build.

Is the plan to debut an hour-long show one year?

Absolutely, but maybe not next year. Next year I might do a 45-minute show. I'm hoping that this year I'll begin to form the foundations for that show and my eventual debut hour. Barring anything that might stop me, I'd love to do my debut hour the following year in 2021.

There's been a lot of discussion recently around the after care that people on reality TV shows receive. What's your view on it all?

By the very nature of reality TV shows, their main priority is to make good television and sometimes that comes at the expense of people's opinion of how they were portrayed or edited and often the short term implications for them as a result. That can create negative emotions.

And there's a duty of care before people take part in these shows that perhaps isn't taken seriously sometimes. I know people who weren't stable enough to do those sort of shows but they somehow slipped through the net.

I can't speak for any of the other shows, but I hope that they are taking it seriously because a lot of these people give up their whole life, job and career to do these shows and all too often once these shows are done with them, they're dropped and move on to the next lot.

People who go on those shows want to believe the best and to a certain extent their heads are in the clouds, they don't have realistic expectations. They expect to be the next big time famous reality star but for the vast majority of these people, success doesn't last. Particularly with shows like Love Island which were almost designed to make the public forget about the last cast.

Did you ever have reservations about joining Made In Chelsea?

I did, because I didn't ever plan on being on a reality TV show. Also, they weren't that much of a thing when Made In Chelsea began. We didn't know what was going to happen with that show. No one could have known how big it was going to get and that it would still be on almost a decade after it started.

I helped develop that show with Monkey Kingdom when they were trying to make the pilot and saw it as a huge opportunity because I thought they'd never make another one so it's not like I'll ever get another chance to make that decision and I'd regret not doing it if it was a success.

It wasn't my chosen career but it has helped me in many ways, obviously and probably it's hindered me in other ways but on the whole it's been great fun and I'm glad I did it. I still go back occasionally now if I feel the urge to.

Outside of the Fringe, your Private Parts podcast is brilliant, are you surprised by its success?

Of course! For the first year-and-a-half it was hard work. It was just before this most recent wave of people listening to podcasts so it was a thankless task to some extent. We were growing very slowly, we were subsidising it so weren't making any money of it.

I actually moved outside of London at the time so paid quite a lot of money to come in to London to record it so it's a huge satisfaction that it's grown so much and I'm so pleased with the reaction from listeners.

Now, I'm happy to say I get approached on the street much more often by people who want to say that they enjoy the podcast rather than love Made In Chelsea. It's really nice to have built something like that that people get a lot of value from.

We regularly get letters from people who say they listened to it whilst giving birth or it's helped them through difficult times when a family member has died, it's quite powerful. Every week we do this podcast and people get used to that routine and it becomes part of their life. They want to listen every week.

Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?

Very funny late night comedy.

Francis Boulle and Friends runs from 9th - 25th August (not 13th) at 11pm at the Pleasance Dome (Ace Dome). Book tickets here.


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