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I TALK TO Nina Conti

She first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2002, debuted her first hour in 2007 and now Nina Conti is returning with her ninth solo show, Nina Conti is Monkey.

And this year she's doing things a little differently and it's all thanks to being cut out of Star Wars... sort of.

Your debut hour in Edinburgh was in 2007 and you'd been going up a number of years beforehand. What keeps you coming back to the Fringe?

Comedians speak about the treadmill of Edinburgh. Getting off it or being on it and there's something about its place in the calendar that drives you to renew your material and develop.

I always feel it's not just a case of coming back with new material, but you've got to do something that you haven't done before. I guess mine is not entirely to do with jokes but I always feel like I have to get out of my comfort zone.

I just about find it and then I have to push myself out of it again.

And this year's show sounds like you're doing exactly that. How did you come to the decision to become Monkey this year?

Well it sort of happened as a result of having a small part in Star Wars which I was cut from! (Laughs) But it's fine... the great thing about it was that I met all the special effects people. I was sitting amongst all these fantastic heads of creatures and I started thinking about Monkey as one of these heads and then I thought "Oh my God, I could just go on as Monkey!"

If I had a good puppet that I'm living inside. I don't think that's ever been done. I don't think people have done stand-up as something like that before.

People have done characters but you haven't had a living animal talking at you... I mean, I don't really see him as a puppet, but nor do I see him as Chewbacca. I see him somewhere in between. An autonomous puppet suddenly seems like an exciting thing to be.

Everything I do is to try and achieve some new level of liberation. Ventriloquism did it for the longest time and improvisation did it and then putting masks on audiences and following wherever that went without a plan. Liberating other audience members by making them become someone else.

And this is for me, a liberation from myself - not having to be there and keep it steady and guide it the whole time.

And ventriloquism itself came as quite a surprise to you didn't it?

Yes it did. It feels weird talking about it as a surprise 15 years later but I did think it would last for a summer. I thought I'd spend a couple of months doing ventriloquism and then all these years later I'm like "Shit, I don't think I've even got to the edges of this thing yet." It develops.

I use the term ventriloquism very broadly though. I wouldn't see it as not moving your mouth. I would see it as misdirection.

How does the structure of the show work then? Are you Monkey all the way through?

Not the whole show, but a good portion of it. It's bloody hot in there you know, I nearly die every time I do it!

I did some previews fully Monkey just to get to know it and I absolutely loved it but it didn't seem sustainable because of the oxygen problem! (Laughs)

In a way, what I'm doing in the show is bringing everyone to the point where I decide to become Monkey. The first half of the show is full of the kind of thing I've done before, you'll see little Monkey, there'll be the masks and all the improv before the final evolution of what I've been doing which is becoming Monkey.

Have you enjoyed putting this show together?

Absolutely! This is the most fun show I've ever done. But that's how you have to feel with Edinburgh otherwise you shouldn't go I think.

I'm not bragging like it's the best thing I've ever done, I'm bragging that I've found something i;m interested to be doing. It's interesting for me.

How have the previews been going?

Previews go from really well to abysmal. That's what the process is. The last one I did was abysmal but the one before that was amazing! (Laughs)

It's a bit like landing a plane... but that's only when I'm really ambitious and try to do the full hour.

People who sit in the front row of your shows know that they're going to be involved. Is there still a lot of audience interaction in this year's show?

There's a lot. Monkey seems to like making friends. And now that Monkey's not on my hand, he crowd surfs and he's in there, so you're not safe at the back either!

What's your favourite thing about Edinburgh?

I really like meeting other comics after their shows and going for a drink. I think it's the camaraderie I like the best. I like everyone being in one place.

I love not being able to walk a few yards without meeting someone that you know.

Which shows are you looking forward to seeing this year?

I haven't had a chance to look through the brochure yet. Last year, every single night I was at a little venue watching Rotating Roster of Erudite Amusements and Motley Delights, and they host a late-night cabaret and it felt like the secret everyone was looking for.

You could just see all of the weirdest acts and it was so different every night. It felt off-piste. I went every night I could. It was my favourite night!

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

A monkey off the leash.

Nina Conti is Monkey runs from 1st - 27th August at 7pm at Underbelly, Bristo Square (McEwan Hall). Book tickets here.


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