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I TALK TO Nick Helm

"I'm looking forward to getting back into gigging every day."

Last time we spoke, Nick Helm was about to celebrate 20 years at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a work-in-progress show and after a noticeable absence from the festival in 2018, he's back with his first proper Edinburgh hour in six years, Phoenix from the Flames.

As well as that, he'll be bringing back Nick Helm's I Think You Stink!, his Halloween B movie, drive-in horror anthology tribute, for the first time to the Fringe since 2008.

As we catch up, Nick talks to me about why he's returning to the festival, how Uncle is still finding new audiences today and sings Romesh Ranganathan's praises.

You didn't perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, did it feel strange not to be there?

No. It was lovely not being there last year actually. I thought I would really miss it, but I went on holiday instead and it was lovely. I didn't miss it at all. I still don't know who won the awards so I didn't go and I didn't pay any attention to it, and I was absolutely fine.

Why have you decided to return this year?

I hadn't done stand-up for a while and I felt like getting back to it. I love Edinburgh, I've always done it and also I really enjoyed my tour so I felt like now was the best time to get back to doing the Fringe.

Do you approach Edinburgh any differently now?

My Edinburgh shows have always come together differently to how I've noticed other people's Edinburgh shows come together. I would do a mixture of songs and poems and stand-up which is often very difficult to preview.

In my previews I tend to do an hour of stand-up and work out which bits will make the show, then I fit the songs in around it and to be honest it all comes together in the first couple of days that I'm up in Edinburgh as I piece it together in the venue.

This year I've got a lot of stand-up so for every song I put in, that's five minutes of stand-up I have to take out so there may only be one or two songs this time, but I'm enjoying the process.

So I don't think things have changed but it's been six years since I last put a show like this together. Last time I went up I did a work-in-progress show which was mostly straight stand-up and quite stripped back, but this time we're in the same venue for the whole month so I can be slightly more ambitious.

How long have you been working on this show for?

I had initial ideas for this show about a year-and-a-half ago. I jotted down ideas here and there but the main bulk of it was written once we'd finished filming The Reluctant Landlord, so a few months ago now.

Why have you called the show Phoenix from the Flames?

Because I'm coming back to Edinburgh and doing stand-up again and my last show was all about a massive emotional breakdown I had, so this is the next chapter after that. But it's fairly tongue and cheek.

As well as that show, you're also bringing back I Think, You Stink!, why?

I did a tenth anniversary of my musical Halloween horror show last Halloween and spent quite a bit of money putting it together and I really enjoyed doing it. It was fun and audiences really liked it so I thought this would be perfect to take to Edinburgh for the first time since 2008 when I made £50. It was one of my favourite things that I did, but no one saw it.

For anyone who hasn't seen it. How would you best describe it?

It's a musical horror B movie tribute. It's weird. It makes sense when you watch it but it's just a really difficult thing to describe. It's all about my love of old horror films all set to music.

I mean I'm not doing a good job of selling it, but I love performing it and it has to be seen to be understood.

Who are you hoping will come and watch your shows?

It's weird. We finished filming Uncle about three years ago but since then it's been on Netflix and it's had this big resurgence where people can find it a lot easier on there than they could on iPlayer.

As I've been previewing the audience have been a mix of older fans, and newer fans who know me from Uncle which is weird because what I do as a stand-up is very different to Uncle so a lot of easing people in at the start at the moment.

I'm just looking forward to finding out who's going to turn up and how best to play it.

What are you most looking forward to about being back in Edinburgh?

The hills. The cobbled streets. The walking 16 kilometres a day without realising it. I don't think I'll be going out as much because I want to concentrate on my shows and make them as good as they can be.

So I'm looking forward to getting back into gigging every day and I'm looking forward to seeing my friends and seeing their shows in between my shows.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing perform?

I know that my friend Paul F Taylor is doing a show and that's going to be good. I've watched his show in previews and it's going to be brilliant. So I can't wait to see that properly.

I'm also looking forward to seeing Rhys James and Annie McGrath who's doing a solo show this year and I think she's incredible.

Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?

Well The Reluctant Landlord with Romesh Ranganathan and Sian Gibson is coming back to Sky One for a second series and I think it's an improvement on the first. We all really loved making the first series so it was really exciting to come back and do it again.

Because I got cast really late in the day for the first series, this is the first series that Romesh has been able to write where he's known what all the elements are before he started writing. Each of us all have an episode this series that's centred around us.

There's a lot more interaction between all the characters and I just think it's a lot funnier. I haven't seen it yet but I just know that we've had really great feedback already from Sky and the edit room.

I love Rom, I've always loved him. We've known each other for about 12 years now and I've always wanted to work with him so it's brilliant that I get to work with one of my best friends every day. He's come along so much as a writer and an actor and I haven't got enough nice things to say about him.

He's one of the hardest working people I've ever met and he deserves everything he gets, in a good way.

And I've got about six projects in development, so that's another reason to to Edinburgh really. You spend all this time in offices waiting to get stuff made that you start wondering what it's actually like to step on stage and say stuff. I love TV, it's brilliant and I feel very lucky to be able to visit all these production companies but it's a very slow process.

Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?

The best show you'll see.

Nick Helm: Phoenix from the Flames runs from 31st July - 24th August (not 12th) at 5.45pm at the Pleasance Dome (Queen Dome). Book tickets here.

Nick Helm's I Think, You Stink! runs from 31st July - 24th August (not 12th) at 5.45pm at the Assembly Roxy (Upstairs). Book tickets here.


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