After a year away from the Fringe, Paul McCaffrey, star of BBC Three’s Impractical Jokers is returning to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a brand new stand-up show for 2016.
Paul quickly established himself as one of the most exciting acts around when he won the Latitude New Act of the Year and London Paper New Act of the Year awards in 2009.
Since then he has become a much-loved headliner across the UK’s biggest comedy clubs, wowing audiences up and down the country.
He has performed four critically acclaimed Edinburgh shows as well as making appearances at major music festivals in the UK including Reading, Leeds, V Festival, Bestival and Latitude.
What came first? The show or the title?
A little bit of both actually. I always hate coming up with titles, I have to say that’s my least favourite part of the whole process of doing Edinburgh.
I’m really happy with my title this year I have to say. It’s kind of short, I think it sums me up and basically I had read a quote on the internet that said a version of hell is that on your last day on Earth, the person you became meets the person that you could have become.
I kind of thought that I’d like to do something around that... That hasn’t actually happened! (Laughs) But what I like about Fresh Hell is that it’s also fairly broad so I don’t think that really matters too much.
What is the show about?
This is a Noel Gallagher quote about his brother, but I think it describes the show well, and that’s that it’s like a man with a fork in a world full of soup. It’s just a series of minor annoyances and things that seem to happen to me.
Ultimately, it’s an hour of anecdotal stand-up but it’s about somewhat everyday frustrations I suppose.
How have the previews been going?
Previews have been going good actually... touch wood! I’m not in the thick of it preview wise. July is my main preview season but yeah, I’ve done about six or seven now and I’ve got another fifteen or so to go. I’m pleased with how it is at the moment, definitely.
I think it’s good. I think it’s my best show yet. There’s still a little bit of work left to do on the show. I’ve been filming every preview show and watching it back and I feel like I could do it tomorrow. I don’t want to because I want make the changes and I want to make it as good as it can be, but I feel like the fact that it’s free might make it easier for me to fill the room.
You weren’t at Edinburgh last year, so how long has this show taken to put together?
Because I didn’t go last year, in theory about two years. But obviously that’s never quite how things pan out. I would say it’s been a year. I do a lot of new material nights and I reached a point at the first half of the year where I was doing at least one or two nights a week.
So as I was putting it together I’d dump some bits and expand others. There are different phases for me, there’s a bit where I’m doing about ten minutes of new material a night and then you get to the previews.
Actually, I did four nights at the Brighton Fringe in May and that was where I first thought, right, let’s see how much we’ve got. That’s the scary bit where you thing, have I got twenty minutes, or have I got an hour and a half? It actually turned out that I had 50 minutes which was perfect.
So about a year I suppose is the short answer.
How important is the Fringe to you?
I think if you have a good one, there’s nothing that can come close. People do say that the award doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but I still think people can go up to Edinburgh and have a good year and the year that follows that will be significantly better for them. So it is important definitely.
Also, I gig about six or seven nights a week and it’s very very easy to get stuck doing the same sets. From a creative level, it’s good to force yourself to write new stuff. I like to keep changing my set. I think it’s good if overtime you go back to a club you’re doing at least some stuff that people have never seen before.
How does a Fringe audience differ to say a London audience?
Well the obvious thing is that there’s every possibility that by the time they’ve seen your show they’ve already seen a couple of shows that day. So they can be kind of jaded, but I do find that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday might be a little bit tougher.
Saturday nights, historically for me, have always been great at the Fringe. You turn up, everyone’s out for a great night. They’re at a point where on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday it might take them about two minutes to get to.
There’s definitely a randomness about them. The last time I was out there I was out flyering for my show and people will say “We’re going to see something”, then you’d ask them what they’re going to see and they’d look at the ticket and it’d be someone like Frank Skinner or David O’Doherty and they didn’t know!
So it always amazes me how many people didn’t actually know who they were going to see. Even when it was quite big names! (Laughs)
You’re up there for the whole month. Is that nerve-wracking?
When I first went up and I shared an hour with two other new comics and we did two weeks. I then did Big Value which is a package show where they select promising new acts and that was the whole month. Then the following year I did another package show which was called AAA At The Pleasance and again that was a full month, so by the time I did my solo show I’d already had the experience of doing the full month.
I can’t really imagine doing it any other way really. Obviously there are moments where you think “what the hell have I done?!” - that’s normal for anyone in any job or any situation in life.
I feel really to have got The City Cafe this year as my venue. The cafe itself is a cool fifties style diner and then the actual room where the comedy is, is a dirty basement with a low ceiling. It’s the sort of room that if it was in London it would be everyone’s favourite gigs. I feel like it will really suit my style.
I have to talk about Impractical Jokers because I loved that show. How important has that show been for your career?
It’s difficult to say actually. It was so long ago, and people loved it. Whenever people come up to me on the street, or at a gig or even on Twitter they always tell me how it’s a show that they really liked.
It was great and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. It was a great period of my life and I feel that it was a bit of a shame really that it didn’t get continued. I do feel that there were some sort of politics involved and it did feel a bit of a shame when it ended because I did feel that maybe that could have changed things for me, but that’s life!
At the time it certainly enabled me to get some gigs that I may not have got beforehand. But now, I just feel like I’m busy because I’m a decent stand-up really. I don’t feel that Impractical Jokers has any bearing on my live bookings.
I’m very pleased to have done it and whenever I watched it back, which I did, it used to make me laugh. I feel like it could have done a lot better, but there you go!
Do you still keep in touch with Joel, Roisin and Marek?
Roisin is a mate but I don’t see her as often as I’d like to because she’s very busy. I went out with her early this year, she was at my wedding as well.
Marek doesn’t do live so I don’t tend to bump into him so much, I’ve seen him briefly, but he’s put a few videos up online which have been very funny. And I’ve sort of seen Joel around a bit at a few gigs here and there.
Outside of the Fringe, what are you up to? Any more TV?
I’ve done Stand Up Central and obviously what I’m hoping for is more stand-up on TV. At the moment I’ve just been focussing on this.
I was lucky enough to support Sean Lock this year so that’s been really good. He’s one of the very very best and one of my comedy heroes so it was all very surreal to start with. That was the first half of the year and now my focus is on Edinburgh.
And finally, how would you sum up the show in just five words?
The world is against me.