When I interviewed Luke Kempner last year, his star was on the rise and it’s only continued to rise with continued spots on Big Brother’s Bit On The Side, Murder In Successville as well as various roles in series two of Tracey Ullman’s Show.
His Edinburgh Fringe show last year, Judi Dench Broke My Heart was a sell-out and he’s following that this year with a new Edinburgh hour, Take A Long Hard Luke At Yourself, which promises even more impressions, even more stand up and a whole lot more honesty.
This might only be his third ever Fringe show but Luke has firmly positioned himself as a festival favourite and it was a pleasure to catch up with him to find out why he’s returning to the Fringe and what he hopes to achieve this year.
You’re back at the Fringe for another year. What keeps you coming back?
That’s a really good question. People go for lots of different reasons, but for me it’s just about developing myself as a comedian. When I first went to Edinburgh, I went with The Only Way Is Downton and I wasn’t in it as myself. I was playing lots of different characters.
Then with the Judi Dench show, I tried to transition away from just doing a show that had the Downton characters in and I did a bit more myself, I did a bit of stand up. Whereas this show, there’s a lot more stand-up in it and I feel like I’ve transitioned another step forward.
There are loads more impressions actually than the last show.
What is this year’s show all about? What characters can we expect to see?
The narrative of the show is about people struggling to be themselves and how we’re all different versions of ourselves. That’s what I spend my life doing. Being lots of different versions of myself. Sometimes they’re celebrities, sometimes they’re me when I’m meeting my musical theatre friends, sometimes they’re me with my football friends.
And then there are people, like Donald Trump, who should try and not be themselves quite so much. There’s a whole section where I take the audience to Trump School and I teach someone how to be Donald Trump because he can’t be in two places at once and he’s worried that he might get assassinated so has to train someone in the audience to go and be him.
I take people on Bear Grylls’ big bear hunt. It’s sort of bedtime stories with Bear Grylls but it ends up being a Survivor special with David Attenborough, Sandi Toksvig and Andy Murray. I do a Broadchurch section, Colman and Tennant are there. There are probably between thirty and forty impressions in the show.
Is that where the title, Take A Long Hard Luke At Yourself comes from?
Absolutely. Someone came up to me after a gig and went “Do you struggle to be yourself? Is that why you became an impressionist?” and I went “No. Not at all!”.
But I do think I use voices to help me out in situations more than what other people would. When I’m talking to my wife and we’re having a disagreement I might imitate her voice. Or if I’m in a taxi I might suddenly start (adopts cockney accent) “Talking like that”.
It’s a bit like why Batman became Batman, except that Batman fought injustice in the city of Gotham and I do silly voices for a living!
You mentioned earlier that there’s a lot more stand up this year. Are you trying to move away from impressions?
No. I mean, I don’t know what the future holds with all that but I’ve never wanted to be just an impressionist. I’ve always been an impressionist and a comedian. I’ve always felt that what i’ve done with impressions has been different to what other impressionists have done before.
Not that what they did was bad, but I wanted to try and make something a little different. There’s more stand up this year but it’s all based around voices and lots of celebrity impressions. I love doing impressions but I have really worked on my stand up.
I just wanted to talk about something that I care about, which I’m doing in this show. As much as I did care about marrying Judi Dench, it obviously wasn’t a real story as much as many people thought it was!
So this year it’s nice to be making a bit of a point and I’m being a lot more honest than I’ve ever been before. It’s certainly my most honest show ever.
What point are you making with this show?
I’m just trying to say that we live in a world now where you’re judged all the time on social media. Everything you say on Facebook. When you see someone has typed on Facebook “Feeling sad today.” and then you write “Hope you’re OK.” - that’s you doing an impression of someone who cares.
I don’t want to say the word millennial, but it is looking at that time we’re in and if you look at my poster it is just loads of masks and we’re all behind our own little mask. It’s not like “Oh dear”, it’s actually brilliant to be lots of different versions of ourselves.
We’re all malleable, we’re different when with our loved ones than we are with people we’ve just met. We’re different to someone we meet in a restaurant than when we do an interview. It’s exploring that, as well as commenting on popular shows and popular figures like Trump and Corbyn.
You’ve got another great poster this year. How much say do you have?
I try to have a lot of say. It’s quite important to me the poster. I decide very early on what my show is going to be about so I really want the poster to represent that. I always do lots of different characters in my show so I want the poster to represent that.
I’ll probably run out of ideas soon, but I’m so happy with this poster. I’m absolutely buzzing.
How long have you been working on this show for?
I started trying out different bits at the end of last year, but mainly January. I got married straight after Edinburgh last year so it went wedding, honeymoon... life. But January is where I got stuck in.
Do you have anyone helping you with the show this year?
I’m working with Ben Clark again this year as a director. He’s amazing. I really like collaborating so I really enjoy writing a load of stuff, going over to Ben and asking “What do you think of this?” He’ll then give me his thought, I’ll move stuff around and then try it again.
That makes it really fun for me. Because sitting on my at my desk with a computer isn’t always the most fun. Sometimes you think something’s funny and it’s not. Or sometimes you get bored of a joke that you need to keep.
How have the previews been going?
Really good. Before they started I was worried that I might have to quite comedy, but once I started the previews I’ve been really excited and over the moon. I’m proud to tell people to come and see it. I think every comic, as much as you always think it’s just you, goes through the “Oh no. I shouldn’t be going to Edinburgh. I shouldn’t be a comedian.” The biggest of comedians say the same things.
So I’ve had those same ups and downs but actually the previews have been going really well and I genuinely can’t wait to get there now.
You’ve got a great venue this year too. Are you happy with Beside at the Pleasance?
Really happy! Last year I was in the 10 Dome which was great. I love being part of the Pleasance and my shows have always been with the Pleasance but to be back in the courtyard feels great. And that time, 4.45pm I feel is the right time for my tone of humour.
I’m a friendly guy, or as Tom Davis calls me, ‘Teatime Kempner’. I’m really happy with being at teatime and I just can’t wait. It’s going to be great!
What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?
I say this every year, but I’m really going to try and see a lot of shows. Especially in the first week.
I’m buying to see my sister’s show, Sooz Kempner, Sooz On Film. I’m buzzing to see Ellie Taylor’s show. I’m buzzing to see Colin Hoult’s show on my day off. Steen Raskopoulos, I’m really excited to see his show. Pippa Evans, I can’t wait to see her show as well. Lots of stuff to see!
We’re doing The Now Show from Edinburgh so I’m excited to do that. It’s been a huge part of my career over the past year so it’s going to be nice to do it in Edinburgh as well.
What’s been the biggest thing you’ve learnt throughout the years at the Fringe?
To be patient. I did musical theatre for four-and-a-half years, I was in Les Mis, Avenue Q, South Pacific and you turn up, the show is written and it’s brilliant. Then you’re given the script, you rehearse it for 6 weeks. You preview for a week, maybe two. And then you do it.
Basically, nothing can go wrong really. So when I started in comedy and started doing shows, I wanted to be the best I could ever be with my first ever performance. I’ve learnt that that just isn’t the case.
I couldn’t have written this show three years ago and in the years it can only develop.
You’ve put Dawn French’s tweet on your poster. You’ve amassed quite the celeb acclaim on Twitter haven’t you? How does that make you feel?
It’s bizarre really. It’s definitely a confidence boost. I was telling someone the other day that I would love to have a party with my Twitter friends. Gary Linekar follows me, Dawn French, Derren Brown... I don’t know these people, but it’s amazing and me and Dawn French have direct messaged and she’s given me lots of lovely support.
I’d love to properly sit down with her and chat about comedy. It’d be amazing. It’s a bizarre world we live in where Gary Linekar can tweet me and say “That was funny”. It’s just mental but I love it.
I think that’s why Twitter is amazing. You can connect to he people that you support and you love. I can message Arsenal footballers and say “Well played today” or I can tweet Katherine Ryan, who I don’t know, and say that I loved her Netflix special and she can say thanks.
You just couldn’t do that before Twitter. I mean, you could send a letter and hope that you get a reply, but I think that’s a wonderful thing.
It comes with it’s bad points. I’m on a very public show on Big Brother and that comes with its trolls. As much as you might get loads of lovely compliments, you’ll get one person going “Is it just me, or is Luke Kempner shit?” - and it doesn’t stop you from going “My feelings are hurt.”
Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?
I’m doing a pilot for a new ITV show called The Imitation Game, hosted by Alexander Armstrong and that’s got Rory Bremner, Debra Stephenson, Jess Robinson and me. I’ve been writing a sitcom with Aiden Spackman so we’re still developing that. Then The Now Show, Big Brother and Celebrity Big Brother starts pretty soon.
Then there’ll hopefully be a life for this show after Edinburgh. I got offered a tour last year with the Judi Dench show but I just didn’t feel like I was ready to do that. Where with this show, with all being well in Edinburgh, I’d really love to tour this. Maybe in January.
Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?
Characters. Impressions. Behind the mask.