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I TALK TO Ola

Ola's first and last time performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was in 2014, but he didn't want to return until it was worth it and after a successful run in London he's decided to bring Sunday Service with Ola up to Edinburgh.


You recently tweeted about cancelling all your club spots before Edinburgh. Is everything alright?


I've just been run down and ill a lot recently and in my mind as well.


I find a lot of purpose in doing Sunday Service, but to do the clubs as well, mentally you get very close to having this contempt for your audience and it's not nice. If you're in that space you just need that time away to refocus.


Normally people would just keep going but then it's a sad story afterwards and I don't want to be that.


You debuted in Edinburgh back in 2014 and you're only just returning four years later. Why have you left it so long?


I just didn't want to go back and do the same thing. I looked at the whole situation and I just thought to myself, something's just not adding up here. It's either I've got something wrong or the industry's got something wrong or Edinburgh's got something. Somewhere, something's wrong.


I essentially didn't want to follow the same pattern and keep knocking my head against a brick wall. So I always said I wouldn't go back unless I thought it was really worth it. And this is the first time I've come up with something that I really think is worth it.


I started writing a show before and in the middle of writing that I had the idea for Sunday Service and I just completely scrapped that show there and then. It was clearly forced where as this came together beautifully.


Explain the concept of Sunday Service...


Sunday Service is not a real church service. It's themed like a church service but it's actually a comedy show.


We use the format of a church service to bring together stand-up comedy, music, group discussion and debate. We've tried to layer it as a multi-faceted experience. We've got free pizza and Ribena at the door so it's like fake communion when you come in.


The pamphlets that we give you, the hymn books, have the lyrics for the closing hymn that we all sing together at the end and the order of service so you can see how the show's going to go.


I think of it more as an experience than a show and it's something that I'm very proud about and as a concept I just feel like it can go so far. There are so many huge aspirations that I have for it. I really feel like it can have impact as a creative project.


It sounds like a no brainer of an idea. I'm surprised it hasn't been done before.


Thank you man, it definitely feels like "Hang on a minute, have I stumbled across something that someone else must have done?" I'd heard of things that were maybe similar or came close to it but it's not this.


Anyone who's come so far says "Oh my goodness, why has this not been done before? This is amazing, it's so unique..." so that's why I'm so excited by it. I finally have a goal here to make this happen.


What's the response been like so far? Are audiences happy to be involved?


Yeah! We've had many different audiences. We've had audiences full of people who have been recommended, so they come with a great expectation and then they leave like "OK, yeah my friend was right. That was really good."


And then we get some people who come in just for a show at Top Secret Comedy Club and at first they're a bit like "What is this?" but because of the way the show is designed, we get people involved from the moment they walk in. So bit by bit they have to loosen up and realise that this is something they have to get involved in and then they really start to enjoy it.


I've seen people walk in with the highest level of scepticism, you're telling them what it is outside the door and they're like "Really? I'm not sure. I don't really like talking or getting involved." and by the end of it they're the most vocal in the debate section. They're the ones who are singing the loudest in the closing hymn.


How do you think an Edinburgh audience is going to react?


To be honest, I try to treat every audience as human beings and I believe that if you've got something that is so visceral in its ability to evoke emotion, joy, laughter and so on, it will connect eventually.


There's a lot of hip hop, there's a lot of what goes on in my head so even though it's a very open open to interpretation concept, I know that the way in which I execute it is very much based on me being a young black guy from London. But I do feel like that connects with people because the show is that good. I genuinely believe that.


So even though it's an Edinburgh audience, some people may be looking for an hour show with a narrative, or they might be looking for something more left field, I do believe that this could be such a unique experience for people that they'll go "You know what, I never thought I'd come to Edinburgh for this hip hop, church comedy service, but I actually had a great time."


You're very aptly performing Sunday Service every Sunday instead of every day for four weeks. Was that always going to be the case?


Pretty much in that I said I wasn't going back until it made sense. That was one of the things that really made sense to me. First of all, it's called Sunday Service and I only ever do it on Sundays anyway, so that already makes the decision making very easy for me.


But second of all, I know the way the finances of Edinburgh work and I know that sometimes it's better to spread your costs over a period of time but I thought I could do something a little different here. Instead of trying to capture everybody every day, capture everybody for one day a week and you can become a staple. Sundays can belong to Sunday Service.


Is the show highly topical then? Will you be getting a different show if you went two weeks in a row?


Oh yes yes. Every show is different. The opening prayers are all topical. The announcements are always different. The guest comedians are always different. The debate section is always a different topic every week and that's usually based on something that's quite topical. And then the closing hymn is different.


For me, that's what lets me know that this could work well as a weekly residency or a TV show, because it has the dependability of knowing what it is and that you can trust it. But at the same time there's so much room to make it fresh each time.


When we get people who come back a few weeks in a row, they still get a chance to enjoy the show and can recommend it to somebody knowing what to expect, but knowing that that person's not going to hear the exact same things they've heard before.


Do you know which guest comedians you'll have in Edinburgh?


I have a shortlist... let's just say that.


You recently supported Daliso Chaponda on tour. What was that like?


It was a great experience man. I always take these opportunities to soak up a bunch of knowledge and learn from guys who are operating at a level I aspire to.


I'm so grateful to Daliso for letting me do it and just for being a genuinely nice guy as well. He's always been really nice, kind and supportive.


Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on?


I've got a couple of projects with the BBC, but the main one that just got commissioned is a TV show for the World Service. We're making a TV show for Nigeria with one of the other "pastors" from Sunday Service, so I'm very excited about that.


I've always wanted to connect with the country of my heritage and so I think this is one of the ways in which I can do that. Very soon we'll get to do Sunday Service in Lagos which will be awesome for me and I'm really looking forward to that opportunity.


And if I ever come back to the circuit, I want to come back with a new feel and a new fire and a new energy for it. So I'm going to be working on that in the background.


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


Unique. Fun. Innovative. Immersive. Promising.


Sunday Service with Ola runs 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th August at 5.15pm at Gilded Balloon (Wine Bar). Book tickets here.

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