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I TALK TO Pete Firman

After ten consecutive years performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, magician/comedian Pete Firman took a year off from the Fringe in 2017 but now he's back with a brand new show Marvels.

© Karla Gowlett

After my many years attending the festival, and always watching him perform, Pete's absence last year was definitely felt and I'm delighted that he's back with a brand new show which he'll be touring from September.

First of all, welcome back to Edinburgh! It was weird you not being there last year...

It was weird for me actually, having done it for so many years on the trot it was unusual to be sitting in my garden during the summer and actually enjoying a summertime.

It was nice to have a break from it. I feel like I've recharged my batteries.

Are you looking forward to coming back to Edinburgh? Last time we spoke you mentioned that you might take a couple of years off and then return. But you've only taken a year...

I'm really looking forward to going back and I think when we last spoke I genuinely thought that I might take a couple of years off.

In honesty I did miss last year. I really did! All my pals on Twitter and all the rest of it were saying what a great time they were having, makes you pine for it a little bit.

So in that year off, because I knew I'd be coming back at some point, I'd been keeping notes and writing down ideas for stuff and I looked over all the notes at the tail end of last year and I thought, "You know what? I think I've got a show here." so I booked it in!

What can I tell ya? I'm addicted! (Laughs)

In 2016, TriX was a sort of Best Of show. Did you enjoy revisiting previous routines?

I did because I would say that 50% of that show I hadn't done for quite a while so revisiting it and relearning it to a certain extent was great.

I'm a big videoer. I've got about five external hard drives that are pretty much full of video because I video all the previews, and then I review them as it makes it easier for an act like me to critique myself. I really need to see what it's looking like.

So going back and watching myself from five, six, seven years ago and reminding myself of that material and then reworking it was really fun to do.

You've called your show Marvels this year. Why that title?

Well, there's never really any significance with my show titles in terms of what the content is. I just like a one-word title and I try and find a word that sounds a bit cool and interesting and Marvels was it. Marvellous things. Amazing things. I thought it summed it up really.

The title I think hints at magic but it's fairly non-specific, but when you are submitting your show and signing up to do the Fringe, at that point you may not know what they show is in its entirety so it's good to keep it very broad!

I must admit, when I saw that title I was surprised you hadn't used it before.

Yeah, don't worry. I've got a long list of words in a similar vein that I can draw on! (Laughs) I just hit the thesaurus button and pick a title!

I know it's always tricky when describing a magic show because we wouldn't want to give anything anyway, but what can audiences expect from your show this year?

It is difficult, because it's like spoiling all the little surprises. It's me doing what I do really. Obviously the material is different, but I've not reinvented the wheel or anything this year., because it works and people keep coming back and they seem to like it. And I like doing these kind of shows so it suits us both nicely.

Does it become harder each year to come up with a new show?

I think so. It is tough having done ten years worth of material because it's hard to think of uncharted territory. It's hard to think of a really cool thing to do that doesn't feel like something I might have done before.

That's quite difficult. It gets harder every year in that respect and there are a finite number of things you can do as a magician. Obviously you can do anything but in terms of the broad things that you are doing, you're talking about something appearing, disappearing. You're asking someone to think of something I couldn't possibly know and I'm going to tell them. These are the broader themes that you're working with.

So I know have to think of ways to do that that's interesting and in a way I've not done before. That's the challenge, but having said that with a year off I do feel like I've recharged my batteries and I've hit the ground running.

Although I'm previewing it still, it's kind of all there. I'm just polishing it up at the moment.

It's interesting you say that because last time we spoke, you mentioned how you prefer to preview a pretty much finished version of the show. Is that still the case this year then?

Yeah, because the luxury of not doing Edinburgh last year, I've been dropping the odd new routine into my usual working repertoire. I do a lot of private and corporate gigs, mixed-bill shows with other comedians so I was just dropping stuff in.

And when I put all those separate routines as a lump, to a certain extent that was the show. Now it's all about how does one link to the next and how does it feel because you don't just want "Here's that trick. OK, now onto the next..." - you want it to feel as though there's some smooth transition between it all. So for me, that's what the previews are for.

Do you still enjoy having that hour to fill?

I love it actually. I was talking to a comic about this the other day and I much prefer a full hour. On the road when I do the tour, I'll be doing an hour-and-a-half or an hour and 45 minutes or something because I'll do both halves. So it'll be even longer!

And I really like that. I like spending an evening with an audience. The short 20-minute spots or whatever are fun, but you've got to get in, bish bash bosh, do your stuff and you get off.

And with those sort of gigs sometimes the audience aren't necessarily there to see you so at least with Edinburgh you know that that audience have chosen specifically to see you.

Exactly! And I think that affords you a little bit of luxury in that I can take my foot off the gas a little bit. If I'm doing a comedy club gig and either side of me on the bill are two comedians, I feel like I've got to be gag gag gag with the pace.

Whereas in my solo show, I can take my foot of the gas a little bit and just do a trick that I really like. I can do just a really good magic trick. I don't have to be bound by the comedy club expectations.

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

Obviously doing the show is the main thing. I'm lucky that I've built an audience up there and it's nice to speak to people after the show that have maybe seen several shows over the years. That's nice to hear.

There's nothing like doing a show for 26 consecutive nights. That is a brilliant way to learn a lot. Not that the show isn't going to be ready when I arrive, but it's only natural that over the course of the month it's going to evolve. Little bits will be added and parts will be fine tuned. So that's brilliant.

Spending time with mates! As I'm sure you can appreciate, it's quite a solitary living. Very often you're on your own travelling, you do the show, you might be performing in front of 500 people but you come off stage and you drive home on your own. So to be able to hang out with friends that I perhaps have only seen a couple of times this year because of schedules, at least in Edinburgh after the show, everyone's in the same place.

Also of course, seeing other shows! It's the biggest arts festival in the world.

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

I did a preview the other night with Seann Walsh and I watched it and it was already great so I'm just looking forward to seeing the proper finished version.

We're in the same room actually. He's on straight after me. I think he's only doing the last two weeks though.

Do you know what? I haven't really digested the programme properly. So I'll need to scour that! And you know what it's like. Once you get there you get talking to people and they say "Oh you've got to see so and so" and it'll be someone that you've never heard of and then you go and discover a new performer that you love and you might follow for the rest of your life.

Absolutely, that's what I love about Edinburgh. Never quite knowing who you're going to see and who you'll fall in love with.

That's it. It's having that open mind and not just going to see the safe bets or the big names. It's about keeping your ear to the ground and listening to what people are talking about and seeing most shows.

What would you say is the biggest thing you've learnt from ten years at the Fringe?

I suppose, in terms of creating a show and putting it together, it's to listen to the audience.

Over the years I have stuck with tricks that I was really fond of and really I should have let them go in the preview stage. If it's not registering with a crowd, if it's not funny enough and they're not going with it as an idea then ditch it and move on to the next.

I always talk about the material earning its place. You've only got 55-60 minutes in Edinburgh so the length of my routines, that's about seven or eight tricks if you like. So you really want to make those seven or eight tricks count. You want them all to be zingers really and memorable.

What I've learnt is not to get too emotionally attached to a trick. If you like it, and if it works, great. Then it's staying. But if you like it, and it's not going down as well as you'd hoped with an audience, just get rid of it and move on!

You're touring after Edinburgh. Are you looking forward to getting back out on the road?

Yeah! The last time I toured was after TriX in 2016 so it'll be by the time I get out on the road in the autumn, two years since I last did it.

We're doing about 30 shows, lots of old favourites, going to a few places for the very first time. That's always exciting.

That's the difference with Edinburgh and being on the road. Because in Edinburgh you load in and you do your technical rehearsal right at the start of the month, then you're up an running. Apart from setting up between shows you're in the same place and the conditions never change.

Whereas being on the road, it's a different venue every night and sometimes the show has to be tweaked because of that. That actually keeps it pretty exciting!

What's next for you after Edinburgh and after the tour?

I did a pantomime for the first time last year which was great actually! It was really good because it was something a bit different. I'm so used to working on my own that it was nice to be in a company, in a gang and doing it every day, twice a day, for the whole of December.

Nothing's locked down yet, but I may be doing another one of those after the tour which would take me into January and then I definitely want to have a holiday! It's going to be pretty heavy duty the second half of this year I think.

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

Sleight of hand... and mouth.

Pete Firman: Marvels runs from 1st - 26th August at 8pm at the Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Beyond). Book tickets here.


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