Acclaimed tech comic James Veitch is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe with more geeky comedy about life, love and enabling Bluetooth.
His third show at the Fringe, Game Face, is a brave, misguided embrace of a comic persona that many have described as ‘his own’.
At the end of 2015, James filmed a TED Talk which went on to become the fastest ever to reach over two million views in the history of TED. Currently at 7.5m views and climbing, the talk sees James narrate a hilarious, weeks-long exchange with an email spammer who offered to cut him in on a hot deal.
What came first? The show or the title?
What tends to happen is that comedians do one of two things with titles. They tend to go for something arbitrary… actually that could be a good title. I was going to call it Tentative which I thought was quite clever but then I just thought, no one’s going to get it.
The idea came first. I knew it was going to have something to do with games. I had something in my show last year – actually there was quite a quite a bit about games and I realised how into it I was.
What happened last time, was that my show was called Genius Bar, and there was a genius bar built for the stage, but actually my show wasn’t about a genius bar and I’d look up and there’d be this genius bar in my front room and I’d be like “Oh shit”.
I wanted to keep it open, so I knew it was going to be about me playing around with stuff, but I still wanted to keep it open otherwise I’d panic.
What is the show about?
My sister gave me for my birthday last year, a Game & Watch which is a Nintendo console, it’s really basic. She gave it to me and it was just like the one that I had when I was a child so I was really touched – but it transpired that the reason it looked like the one I had as a child was because it actually was the one I had as a child!
What she’d done is she’d gone into the attic and found it, wrapped it up and given to me – thinking I’d want it.
My initial thought was, “Well that’s not really a proper present” - duplocate presents are bad enough, but I had the actual one that I had as a kid. What a disaster! What if all birthdays were like that? There’d be celebrations with lines of people returning thoughtfully stolen items!
Anyway, I started to play with it and I started to remember how much I missed the old games, how much I learnt when I was younger from them. How allegorical they were and how simple they are, because you look at games these days and they’re all like guns and killing stuff.
In Donkey Kong 2, I was a baby monkey and I had to emancipate my father, also a donkey. In Call Of Duty you’re an elite SWAT team trying to kill people, foreigners mainly. So I feel like there’s a lot of nostalgia about it as well as a simplicity which has now been lost.
How long has the show taken to put together?
It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been collecting bits and bobs for it for some time. Probably since last Edinburgh I’ve been working on it and now I’m just trying to thread it all together.
Only really in the last couple of months has it all come together and now I’ve got a bunch of different stories and I’m deciding whether to mix a few or condense it into one.
How are the previews going?
Really fun. Really fun! There was one point during a preview where basically, there’s a Game & Watch advert that I read out, and I’d got almost all the way through it and I was like “I’m beginning to regret reading all of this out to be honest. Guys, we haven’t had a laugh for a while!”
So it’s just learning about those things that you find funny and wonder why the audience don’t think the same, or even better when something proved to be really funny and you go – what if I took that, elaborated on it a little bit etc.
Also, how much can I remember?! Because what I don’t want to do is to paraphrase my jokes, because then they just become a bit lazy so I really want to write it down, say it, and say the exact thing that I’d written down. You have to do that a bunch of times, otherwise you end up just meandering towards a joke which isn’t as strong.
This is your third year at the Fringe. What keeps you coming back?
I think it’s probably the panic and basically, I really enjoy being in an overly hot claustrophobic room – that’s my dream! And I think that’s what all comedians want.
I tell you what… It’s a great thing to look forward to and think “Next year I’m going to express something” and you collect little things for it and I kind of enjoy all of that.
It’s like when The Beatles went to Hamburg – not that I’m The Beatles – but you do your however many hours just being in front of a crowd. By the end of the Fringe, you are by far a much better comedian no matter what kind of comedian you are.
If you’re performing something for thirty nights and all the things in between, and seeing lots of comedy as well, seeing your peers doing brilliant work, you are inspired and you are challenged to do better.
How important is the Fringe to you?
Well I was doing the open mic circuit for ages before and when I took my first show there, I took it and had no idea what I was doing. I did the publicity for it, I did the website, I did the flyer design, all the marketing and everything I did myself.
I was very lucky to get the little room at the top of the Gilded Balloon and I had no idea what I was doing, I wasn’t represented at all and from that I got a brilliant agent, a manager, a publishing deal, a promoter and it all kind of kicked off and that was a massive deal for me, just feeling like a comedian.
I have to talk about your TED Talk. Did you expect it to take off in the way that it did?
No, I had no idea. I didn’t have anything to compare it to, I was looking at all the other TED Talks and thought mine was doing quite well.
Then one of the engineers or something from TED tweeted the graph showing how it had gone viral and it was all a bit strange. Now people are making t-shirts with quotes from it and people quote it back to me, it’s very odd.
You do a gig and I was cursing myself because I could tell that I was quite nervous doing it. People hopefully wouldn’t notice, but I could tell that I didn’t deliver some bits the way I wanted to – so all I did was criticise myself and then it came out and I was blown away by how much people enjoyed it.
Are you still replying to spam emails?
I do occasionally. But now I’m using the same thing to do different things. I got a text message the other day who thought I was his landlord. He said “Hey Kevin, Dan here, we’re at this address. Just had a question about my shower” and I’m like “Yeah, go ahead!”
He said “Basically, you can’t turn the tower rail in the shower room off so it gets very very hot in there.” So I said “No problem, I’m having my guy come in to remove two windows so that should help with the heat situation.”
To which he replies “Great! Sorry… two windows?” – “Oh, should we make it three?” So I’m just always messing around!
Are you hoping to see much whilst you’re up there?
Yeah, I try and see as much stuff as I can. Mostly I’ll wait until I’ve got my own show underway. I’ll try and work on my show until it’s at a state that I’m really happy with it. So the first couple of days I’m doing tweaks and tweaks, but after that I try and see as much stuff as I can.
I think James Acaster is brilliant, I’m looking forward to seeing him again. I’m looking forward to seeing Sean McLaughlin’s show, he’s brilliant as well. And all the new people who I’ll be jealous of.
And finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?
Powerpoint-fuelled. Geeky. Playful. Ill-fitting. Scamp.