"Unless you've got any sort of heat behind you, you tend to get ignored by the industry in a free venue."
Rich Wilson went from pulling pints at a comedy club to performing stand-up himself and now 15 years later he's an established face on the comedy circuit and this year will be bringing his fourth hour, Death Becomes Him, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, his first in a paid venue.
He'll also be bringing his popular podcast Insane In The Men Brain to the festival on the 12th and 19th August, where he'll sit down with funny and interesting people to talk about men's mental health.
I sat down with Rich to discuss how he got into comedy, why he's chosen to perform in a paid venue this year and what's it been like to write a show about himself, in which he's dead.
How did you first get into comedy?
I always loved comedy but it didn't occur to me to be a comic. That's what other people did. I was working a Funeral Directors and thought I have to get out of here, saw an advert in the paper for a bar job at Up The Creek in Greenwich and thought, well I can pull a pint and I like comedy so I turned up on the Friday night, one of the owners took me in and he went "This is the bar, this is where we do the comedy. Can you pull a pint?" I went "Yeah" he went "See you tomorrow. And you can watch the comedy now if you want?"
So I stayed and Daniel Kitson was mc'ing and it just blew my mind. Then as I got friendly with some of the comics, Rob Rouse said to me "I think you could do it. I think you've got it and you can make a couple of quid." I then spoke to another friend of mine, Silky, who ran gigs, to tell him what Rob had said and he said "Right. Your first gig is on this date in two months time and you can't back out." and that was it.
I'm quite shy really, I mean I'm more confident now but I'm 15 years in, so I was petrified. I still remember now having a couple of Vodka Red Bulls and pacing up and down The Bullingdon in Oxford, which is now The Glee, I did two-and-a-half minutes of the five I was supposed to do, forgot what else I was going to say and got off.
Silky said "Right. You're going to go back on next month and you're going to be the resident open spot." and that was it.
How important is it for you to gig?
I'm an absolute nightmare if I haven't got a gig. Especially at weekends. I nearly had a Saturday off the other week and then Jen Brister said her friend needed someone for a gig so I agreed but then her friend got in touch, Ingrid Dahle, and she went "Thanks, it's my friends 50th birthday barbecue!" - but I did it anyway and it was brilliant.
If it was up to me, I would gig every single night. When you're on stage, you haven't got to worry about bills or other stuff, you're worrying about what you're doing, which sound really selfish - but you're in this bubble away from reality and I absolutely love it.
This is your fourth Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The first year I went up I didn't even check where my venue was, I just liked the name of it - The Cellar Monkey and it was on the other side of the meadows. I got off the train and I walked up to where the venue was and it was miles away. It was so far! I remember my heart just sank because I was walking out of the festival.
I remember putting posters up and Daniel Kitson walked past and he went "What are you doing?" - I said "I'm putting posters up." - he went "Is this your venue? No one's here! This is where we live." But saying that, that was the same year that Liam Williams was there and they were queuing round the block to see him. They were coming into shows before Liam's to get seats... but mine was after so it was no good to me!
I've made every mistake in the book. I didn't even have the dates and times on my flyers! I had to sit and write it out. It was heartbreaking, back home was in a bad way, Robin Williams just died and I remember sitting on a bench in the meadows and I started to sob.
This year is your first year in a paid venue. What made you do the switch?
I love the Free Fringe and what it represents. I love the fact that everyone's in it together, you're looking out for each other but unless you've got any sort of heat behind you, you tend to get ignored by the industry in a free venue.
I'm in a position now where I feel like I've earned my place and I feel like I'm really good at what I do and I want people to see it. So I just went for it this year. Already more people are getting in touch, you feel like you're in it.
I had the same thing in Melbourne, when you do Melbourne, unless you're in the town hall with Mary Tobin, you're just on the outskirts. You have a good time and you do gigs and it's brilliant, but you're not in the festival.
And that's what I feel this year with the Gilded Balloon. I'm in the same building as Eddie Izzard which is phenomenal! I already feel like I've stepped up a notch and that's no disrespect to the Free Fringe at all, I absolutely love it.
As a gigging comedian, how do you find the Edinburgh hour?
When I first started doing it I thought I was really good at ad-libbing and thought I could just go up and wing it. And it's amazing how hard that is. You've got your 20 minutes and then you've got nothing.
The year before last I was in Melbourne and New Zealand so I did the show about 25/30 times before I got to Edinburgh so I was ready to go.
This year, I've actually sat and written my show out in long form just to have it so that I know exactly where it all goes. I was not academic at school, this is new to me - Stuart Goldsmith said a brilliant thing the other day, he said "Being a comedian is like having homework forever" and that is such a good line!
What can people expect from your show this year?
Laughs. There are laughs, which I know is unusual now for an Edinburgh show, none of us are laughing, we're learning. I really enjoy making people laugh and that's what it is.
The things I talk about people already know about. People already know the stuff that's getting shoved down their throats really, they don't me coming up and telling them. They've come here for a laugh.
Last year in my show, which was on at 6:30pm, people would come in and I'd ask them how many shows they've been to, how many mentioned Brexit and you'd see people's faces drop so I'd go - "Right. There's no rhyme or reason for this, I'm going to make you laugh for nearly an hour." - and you see their shoulders go down and they go "Finally!".
No disrespect to Hannah Gadsby and all these other show, they're brilliant at what they do but that's not who I am. I want to make you laugh and if you get something out of what I'm saying, then fair enough.
How long have you been working on the show for?
I got the idea in Edinburgh last year because there are a lot of shows where someone has had a relative pass away and I haven't had anyone pass away. I've got a mate of mine that I mention, but no family members or anything like that so I thought - wouldn't it be funny if I was dead?
So I thought - I'll do that! That's a funny idea for 30 seconds. Now I have to build an hour around it so I'm having to do everything in the past tense which has actually made it quite easy. I've enjoyed writing this one because you're talking about yourself in the past. It's funny! It's almost like you're talking about someone else.
How did you come up with the title, Death Becomes Him?
It just popped into my head. And then you've got the film Death Becomes Her and funnily enough, I was googling it the other day and there's an episode of Frasier called Death Becomes Him which is in series one.
I've seen Frasier now and again, I haven't watched every season so I was really surprised to find that out and it's him talking about getting his affairs in order and I was like - holy shit. This is excellent. So that really helped.
But the title just popped into my head and I didn't realise that Frasier had already done it.
How have the previews been going?
I've had some really good ones but the last five I've had to pull. Three were pulled before the day and the last two literally no one came. It was at 2Northdown and they're brilliant people but literally nobody came. No tickets were sold, nothing. But it was 9:30pm on a Monday so people aren't really up for that.
The other one was in The Escape Bar in Stratford. Again, brilliant venue, it's a gaming pub so you've got TV screens all around the walls and you've got board games and it's in the middle of Stratford! It's amazing.
But it was Pride so of course Pride is more important than listening to me talk about my penis! I did have two people come, Chris and Joanna, bless them. They came and they sat and I just couldn't justify standing there and doing the show to them so I sat and had a couple of pints with them and we chatted.
He's a Quantum Physicist and we had a brilliant chat. He's got this amazing haircut, he's quite alternative, piercings, tattoos but then he's talking about quantum mechanics. That's what I love about this industry, I get to meet people like him.
What are you most looking forward to about Edinburgh?
I'm just really pleased with the show so I can't wait for people to see it. I'm really excited. And because it's my first paid I'm looking forward to being a part of it. It's almost like a new chapter.
Who are you looking forward to seeing perform?
Last year and the year before I was in my show and I was in Jayde Adams' show in the evenings playing Pudding, but there's no pudding this year so I'm going to make sure that I go off and see as much as I can.
I want to see Jordan Brookes because I think he's phenomenal, Eddie Izzard, Jayde Adams... I just want to see as many as I can because normally I'm too busy.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I take myself off for about 10 minutes, and Jayde taught me this because before a gig I'd be talking to everybody and talking myself out so I was low energy. Now I go off, get myself together, put my hands together, reach for the sky, talk to the back of the room, project - I do all that and it does make a difference.
Outside of the Fringe, you've launched your own podcast, Insane in the Men Brain, how did that come about and are you enjoying it?
I love it. I did a podcast called Hardcore Listings with Chris and Stu who are part of Scroobius Pips' Distraction Pieces Network and it made me want to do one and one of my mates said to me that I should and they reckoned I'd be alright.
At Christmas Jayde bought me all the equipment and she said "Now you've got all the gear you have to go out and do it. Who do you want to speak to?" - and I was like "This person, that person" and she was like "No, think big. If you could talk to anyone who would you talk to?"
So I gave her this big list of names like James Acaster and Idris Elba and half an hour later Jayde came back and went, I've emailed everybody as you - and then they all started pinging back saying yes and that they'd love to.
Because Jayde does voiceover stuff for MTV and Comedy Central, she knows Paul Daniels - not that one - and said to me that producer Paul was really interested in my podcast and that I should do it with him.
I didn't really know what I wanted the podcast to be about but when I'd be sat in green rooms with comedians and they'd ask me how I was doing I'd tell them that I've just had counselling to sort my head out and suddenly comedians were opening up to me and telling me all sorts of stuff.
Then I realised, we all need to talk to someone and it snowballed from there really.
And what about the name? Because it's genius.
Oh thank you. Well I was sat at the end of my bed one day thinking about what I was going to call it and Cypress Hill popped into my head and went "Yep. That's it!" - I couldn't believe that it popped out of my head. I'm so chuffed.
Finally, how would you sum up this year's show in just five words?
Really really fucking good stand-up.
Rich Wilson: Death Becomes Him runs from 31st July - 25th August at 4.30pm at the Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wee Room). Book tickets here.
Insane In The Men Brain takes place on Monday 12th August at 2.30pm at the Gilded Balloon Teviot (Billiard Room) and Monday 19th August at 8pm at the Gilded Balloon Teviot (Sportsmans). Book tickets here.