"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.