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I TALK TO Joe Sutherland

He was part of the Pleasance Comedy Reserve in 2015 and last year Joe Sutherland performed his debut hour at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and he's wasting no time in bringing audiences his second hour, Toxic.

So last year was your debut Edinburgh hour. How did you find it?

It was fun! I enjoyed doing an hour-long show on my own more than I thought I would. I thought it would be really lonely and scary but no, I just love attention. So the more of it I could get was ideal!

People are really taking a punt if they've never seen you before, so as long as you make sure they're relaxed from the beginning, then you're just going to have a nice time throughout. For that first opening 5/10 minutes, people just want you to really say "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing".

And then you buy so much trust through that so it's really nice that people are prepared to give over their time in that way which is really unique to the Edinburgh Fringe.

What did you find most challenging about last year?

Just getting people in. I was quite late, I was on at 10:45pm at the Courtyard so there was no rhyme or reason to it. On what's commonly thought of as Black Wednesday, the day when nobody sells any tickets, I sold out. I had a full packed room.

I had a few more here and there that were sold out but I also had some Friday and Saturday nights where there were four people. There was no logic to it!

How do find playing to such small numbers?

People would clock it as disingenuous if you pretended it was full but similarly I think they appreciate if you get on with it and are unfazed.

The worst thing anyone can do is to be annoyed or angry at the fact that there aren't more people in the audience because those who are there are going to be thinking "Well I paid. I did my bit".

Basically Edinburgh is too long and there are too many tickets to sell for everyone!

When did you decide to return this year?

I think I always knew that I'd be back. I wanted to push myself to keep the writing up and see if I can churn out something new.

How have you found putting this year's together?

On the one hand you learn new ways of writing from having to have a clean slate but on the other hand you can't just fill a patchy ten minutes with a pre-prepared bit that I've used elsewhere.

I like to see my show as a collage. Bits and pieces that tell a larger story but it's not an A to B story.

You've called this year's show Toxic, why that title and what's it about?

It's named after the Britney song and the show is about masculinity, gender, veganism and any other 2018 key words I could think of really! Just throw it all in for some live clickbait. The show plods around the area of being a boy and some of the contemporary gender debates to see if there's any comedy in there. Which obviously there is. Loads!A full hours worth.

It's maybe an odd time to attempt it but I know a few people have and I think that's refreshing. Otherwise you look anywhere else, especially in the mainstream media at the moment, and it's just demonic the hate that's being spilled towards anyone who's gender non-conforming. It's just getting such a rough time.

And similarly, the title of feminism is being used as some sort of anti-trans flag and that's wholly unfair to the 99% of people who identify as feminists who are not anti-trans. It's really gross out there so hopefully there'll be a few shows this year at the Fringe that pick that apart and take the piss!

I didn't want to write an essay. I more just wanted to let people know my feelings but in a way that wouldn't be exclusive. I want my grandma to be able to watch it and understand it.

Who have you found your audience to be?

It's quite a mixed bag. I did some tour support for some people off of RuPaul's Drag Race and the audiences who go to those are so young and cool and hyper queer and contemporary. If anything that intimidates me because I'm twelve years older than they are and I might be incredibly inappropriate by their hyper woke standards which is a refreshing feeling.

So some of those kids who are amazing come along but also someone came up to me recently and were like "My mum says that you're her new favourite comedian and she just wants to come to the show all the time" - How has she heard of me? - "I don't even know, but her and her friends at the WI..." (laughs) so it's a real mixed bag.

Really young kids and grandparents.

What was it like to do tour support for some of the RuPaul's Drag Race contestants?

Just mad! They're really great receptive crowds and the first time I did it I expected it to just be really pissed up gay men in their thirties but I was surprised and delighted that it wasn't that.

It was really mixed across the gender spectrum and it was tipping towards the younger end of things. The first one I did was a 14+ show so there were kids going along with their parents. That's just delightful!

What's so nice in that context is to maybe be someone's first experience of stand-up. They've gone there because they love the show and they know they're going to get some sort of variety but to be their first, in air quotes "straight stand-up" is quite touching. With great power comes great responsibility! (Laughs)

Do you wish Drag Race was around when you were younger?

Maybe. I feel like when I was younger, in the nineties, we did have a mainstreaming of queer culture in a much more embedded way and maybe I miss that more.

Something like Drag Race is obviously great to create a space of its own but where's Lily Savage on The Big Breakfast? It seemed to be a lot more embedded and interwoven because I guess TV was more dangerous and people were taking risks in the nineties.

You would find people like Julian Clary and go "How risky! Let's put him on daytime TV". So maybe i miss that but also we have so many channels of output now that hopefully everyone gets to feel a bit better represented.

How have the previews been going?

Up and down, but I've been really lucky. I've had some really nice ones and some real surprise bookings that I didn't expect, like doing a 300-seater in Solihull with Helen Lederer who was in Absolutely Fabulous and we'd sold about 200 tickets for a preview! Everyone was just so nice.

The whole point of previewing is to really challenge yourself to try new and raw things in front of sometimes rooms of three or four people. That's when it can get really uncomfortable in your stomach but you do just have to push through.

Then what you do is take some of that new stuff to those bigger rooms and you cruise on through and it's so reassuring. It's a real bumpy ride!

Are you pleased to be at the Underbelly this year?

Yeah, I'm excited because it's a room that's been out of action for a few years so I think with the update it might be, touch wood, air-conditioned and soundproof. Both real commodities in Edinburgh.

And then I'm on earlier this year, so 8:10pm which is going to be great. I can't wait to have dinner at a reasonable time and go to bed before midnight!

Who are you looking forward to seeing perform this year?

There was an actor in Buffy called Tom Lenk who in recent years has become an Instagram star by doing these celebrity fashion parodies called 'Lenk Lewks' and he's in a play this year at the Fringe called Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist. He plays Tilda Swinton as a roommate from hell in a flat share!

That's the kind of thing I think you want at the Fringe. It's so niche yet so tailored to exactly my tastes and that of many of my friends! So I'm very excited for that and trying to corner him in a bar and make friends.

Aside from him I'm really excited to see my friend Sindhu Vee's first full show. I think it's going to be phenomenal.

Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?

I'm trying to start a business in brunch time comedy. Basically doing a normal comedy night but in the middle of the day on the weekends. It'll be monthly to begin with and you can come along and get lunch, get Bloody Marys and you don't have to give up your whole evening.

We're not going to be catering to stag and hen dos, so if you're maybe someone who doesn't drink and therefore doesn't like going out at night, you're catered to as well. We'll start in London to pilot it and hopefully try and take it to other major cities up and down the country.

Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?

Being a boy is silly.

Joe Sutherland: Toxic runs from 1st - 27th August (not 14th) at 8:10pm at Underbelly, Bristo Square (Dexter). Book tickets here.

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