Combining juggling with comedy, Marcus Monroe is making his solo Edinburgh Fringe debut this year with his first solo hour, The Rise and Fall of Marcus Monroe.
Described as "Hilarious and magnificent" by Derren Brown and "one of his favourite acts in the world", Marcus couldn't really have hoped for better praise ahead of his first solo Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
I recently caught up with Marcus to discuss The Rise and Fall of Marcus Monroe, a show he has been working on for many years.
This is your debut Fringe as a solo artist is that right?
Yes, technically it’s my second Fringe but my first on my own. I was there in 2003 with my High School - you know how they bring over those kids from America - I was one of those kids. I did some busing and did fairly well when I was there but I don’t busk anymore and now I have my own show.
What’s brought you back to the Edinburgh Fringe?
I think it’s just a great place to see if you’ve got a good show. This is a show that we’ve been workshopping for almost two year and when you take a piece of art to the Fringe and it works, then it’ll probably work anywhere. If it doesn’t work at the Fringe, you don’t have a home for it because I think Fringe audiences are very open to different types of performances so if something doesn’t work, chances are it’s not going to have a successful commercial run in New York or London.
So we’re taking it to the Fringe because we think it’s ready and take in the whole experience.
How would you describe The Rise and Fall of Marcus Monroe? Because it’s a mix of comedy and juggling, is that right?
In a way it’s a comedy juggling show. I happen to juggle and I am a comedian. However the show itself is really more of my pursuit to feel valued in the world. There’s a much deeper meaning that we’re trying to get at.
We’re masking it by calling it a comedy juggling show but in reality, it’s a really well thought out show that has actually inspired some people. One guy came to see the show and quit his day job because he was so inspired by my message in the show. There are a lot of themes in the show but the main one is “Do what you want to do. Have fun. And if you can make money from that, that’s great."
With the show being called The Rise and Fall of Marcus Monroe, how much of it is true to you?
A lot of it stems from truth, I tell a lot of real stories in my show and I’ve done a few storytelling shows before where I sugar coat things a little bit but I don’t do that at all in this show. It’s very raw. The show is still very funny, super weird and beyond silly at some points, but that’s who I am. I feel like I’m a little out of the box so the show should be as well.
How are you hoping audiences will respond to you in the UK?
I think they’ll like it. I think they’ll know that I’m not trying to bullshit them and understand my struggles. I also think that juggling and circus acts in general are much more respectable overseas than they are in the States. It’s a much more appreciated art form anywhere other than the States and I don’t know why that is.
How did you first get into juggling and when did the comedy start to come in?
I got into juggling when I was nine. I saw a girl in my grade school juggle and I though “Oh my gosh. Kids can do that?! I had no idea kids could juggle. I thought it was only weird adults and your uncle.”
So then I decided that it was something I wanted to do and I was never a great juggler. So I used to put in a lot of comedy to try and make people laugh and keep them entertained so that if I couldn’t juggle well, I could at least do comedy well.
And then I got good at both which was really nice.
You’re working with Josh Koenigsberg who’s written for Orange Is The New Black. How did that all come about?
It’s so funny how this happened because I went in for a meeting with Josh about a year-and-a-half ago about this show and at that time he was not a writer on Orange Is The New Black.
So it was amazing when he got offered the gig and asked me “Is it cool if I do this?” and I was like “Absolutely! Because now I can say that a writer on Orange Is The New Black is writing with me on my show.”
How long have you been working on the show for?
It started out as an idea I had for a show back in 2010. I was frustrated with how my career was going, I was performing on a lot of cruise ships, making a lot of money, but I thought "What else can I do?" As a comedy juggler in the States, what's next for me?
I looked at people older than me who had been in the business longer than I have and they were doing almost the same thing I'm doing. But I thought, there's got to be more to this.
So I decided to take a page from Mike Birbiglia's book, who is an American storyteller and comedian and tells a lot of personal stories and adds in some comedy. So that's when I thought that I could write a show about my life. I did that, performed it in New York a few years ago and I had invited my now producer to come to the show and she said "You have some really good ideas, I'd like to work with you and produce a sow loosely based on this idea."
That was back in May 2015 so from then on we've been working together and put it up three different times and each time it's changed so so much.
Have you had to change the show for Edinburgh?
I think it's really important whenever you go anywhere to adapt to your surroundings. The world is changing evert day, especially in America.
So we need to be aware of the world and our surroundings and especially taking a show written in New York, by an America, to Scotland, I don't think necessarily that you can take the same exact show and think you'll get the same reaction.
We've been working on it for two years whilst Obama was still in office! So we were a lot happier then. I'm not saying the show has to be political. I'm just saying you have to be aware of the world and if you're a good artist you're able to adapt or at least be self-aware of your surroundings and the world you're living in.
Even though it is a stupid, silly, juggling comedy show - to me it's still a piece of theatre and art and for me good art will always say something about the current time and state of the world.
What are you most looking forward to about the Fringe this year?
I just want to survive. I've never brought my own show over there and it was tough when I came over with my High School and we had three shows there. That was stressful. With all the shows and other spots put together I'm probably doing about 40 shows.
I'm looking forward to seeing how this show goes and to see if it works. My main focus is my show but I'm really excited to see other people. I have a few friends going.
I'm also looking forward to seeing how the show changes. I'm going to record the first and the last show and I think it'll be fun to see the differences. No two shows I do are ever the same because I've written a show with a lot of improv in it, we talk to the audience a lot so a lot of it depends on how the audience are feeling.
Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?
The best show at 3.