"I absolutely hated the Britain's Got Talent live shows because I ended up not being able to do anything that I wanted to."
In 2017, after three years of performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Jess Robinson gave in to numerous calls from Britain's Got Talent producers to participate in the show. An experience which she describes to me as traumatic whilst recognising that it did give her career a boost.
A career which has included back-to-back solo hours at the Fringe and this year is no different as she returns with her fifth, The Jess Robinson Experience. Following a critically acclaimed nationwide tour I caught up with Jess to discuss why this year she's doing things a little differently.
You've performed at the Fringe every year since 2014, can you ever see yourself taking a year off?
(Laughs) My friend was telling the other day I was a glutton for punishment for going back again but I think it's a little bit like a drug. I'm a little bit addicted to it.
It's such a brilliant motivator to write a new show, to get the band back together every year and to have something to tour with. And just to hang out with friends.
I measure my years by Edinburghs now instead of Christmases, it's very weird. Maybe next year I'll take a year off but then I'll get an idea of a show and I'll want to it again. It's so much fun! It kills me, but it's great.
Do you still enjoy it all these years on?
Absolutely! If it was making me miserable I would get out. Unfortunately I love it and my cousins live in Edinburgh so I get to see them every year. So that's brought us closer together which is great.
I just love seeing all my mates up there. It's crazy, that it take everyone to go to Edinburgh to see each other when we probably live a mile away from each other in London. It's bonkers!
You've recently finished your No Filter tour, how did it go?
It was so much fun. It was one of my favourite shows that we'd ever done and I've got the same team back together again, my band - Jessington World of Adventures. We're really excited about this new show.
How long have you been working on the show for?
It was a bit of a head fuck actually because we were on tour with No Filter and at the same time trying to write the new show which was bonkers really. It's very difficult to divide your brain power and your creativity between both shows.
I was very very aware that I didn't want to repeat anything that I'd done last year. I really wanted to bring something new and fresh and original.
It's difficult because every year I feel like I need to reinvent myself or reinvent what I do just so that it's not everybody coming to see the same thing over and over again. I always want to bring something new, fresh and exciting.
What can people expect from The Jess Robinson Experience?
Well at the moment - and this show is always changing - but I haven't got one of those big I Am What I Am medleys where I'm being lots of different people singing their songs. There's not really one of those megamix's in the show. It's all original stuff. I'm wondering how that's going to go down and I hope they're not disappointed.
There are lots of original songs, a lot more songs in my voice, more stand-up and just loads of silliness! It's another feel-good, exuberant fun and uplifting show which is really what I like to bring.
I delve a lot more into my own childhood in this show and talk about my family and talk about what makes me me and what makes me tick. I'm also exploring "What is a Jess Robinson?" what are all the components that make up a Jess Robinson?
I'm also going to touch on my grandma because family and friends are very important to me and I found my grandma very inspiring. She died this time last year but she was 103 years old and a holocaust survivor.
She was a bit like a German Jewish Maria von Trapp because she was looking after a bunch of orphans who she brought over on the last Kindertransport. My show's really funny and fun and uplifting but she has such an amazing story and there are so many parallels with what's happening now in the UK with refugees for example. I wanted to just bring something a bit deeper to my show as opposed to just froth.
The other thing that I've done - and I'm not sure how much I should give away - but I've found some other Jess Robinsons in the world and I've started a Jess Robinson group and want to know if we have anything else in common other than our name.
But there are still impressions right?
Oh absolutely! People are still going to see Lulu, Shirley Bassey or Lily Allen for example. And there is a song I wrote called Voices in my Head which is about how these women get me through the day. So for example Lulu would be my alarm clock, Shakira would be my personal trainer - people that give me motivation to go to the gym.
But I am a bit nervous about this show actually because I'm not following the formula. I'm breaking it out and it could go either way I suppose.
How much did appearing on Britain's Got Talent change things for you?
Career wise I think it was a positive thing in that it gave me enough of a boost to be able to take my show on tour and open me up to a wider audience. But it also made me have to work harder in the comedy industry to get taken seriously. Because when you do one of those talent shows, some people think it's a bit naff. So it was a double-edged sword.
How did you find the process of being on that show?
I absolutely hated the Britain's Got Talent live shows because I ended up not being able to do anything that I wanted to. It was all very very prescriptive. When we finally got an act together that I was half happy with, they literally changed it the night before I was supposed to go on. That was pretty traumatic.
But that's a regular occurrence on that show. I was a weeny bit naive to forget that they were making an entertainment show, a TV show. They've got their narrative and that's why it works so well and is so popular - because it is so entertaining and the underdog wins.
Were you approached to take part?
Yes. They asked me to do it for six or seven years running and I always said "No thank you" and then I finally thought I'd give it a go.
They promised that they'd be really collaborative and wouldn't make me do anything I didn't want to do and be really supportive. But oh well never mind, it's a brilliant show. I definitely don't regret it - but I have some great stories!
Outside of the Fringe what are you working on?
I've just recorded an episode of Pointless which was amazing! I was paired with Mark Benton but I met Michael Sheen on a team with Steve Pemberton and they were so so lovely. I didn't know who the footballers were! We've got a big show coming up on the Southbank in Winter and lots of bits and bobs in the pipeline.
I'm getting married in October which is exciting. That's my biggest production this year. I've just moved to Brighton as well which is very different to living in London. I already feel sunnier and it's better for my mental health I think.
I'm also going to start raising awareness a bit more about Huntington's Disease which is what my sister is very much suffering with at the moment. It's a bit like Parkinson's. I'm in the very early stages of putting together a fundraiser to raise some money so that they can research the illness a bit more because there's so little about it and there's no cure.
Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?
Extravaganza. Vocal fireworks. Funny. Warm.
Jess Robinson: The Jess Robinson Experience runs from 1st - 24th August (not 12th) at 7pm at the Assembly Rooms (Bijou). Book tickets here.