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I TALK TO Rory Bremner

Rory Bremner first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 37 years ago in 1981 and after a year off, he's back this year for one week only alongside fellow impressionist, Jan Ravens.


As Jan and Rory come together on one bill with 30 characters for the price of two (three at weekends), this pairing of two of Britain's finest impressionists is sure to be a must-see at this year's Fringe.


What are your earliest memories of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?


My earliest Fringe memory, was at the run of the decade, beginning of the eighties, I saw Rowan Atkinson doing his show with Richard Curtis. It was a one man show... with Richard Curtis. Work that one out!


In the early eighties I remember watching the HeeBeeGeeBees, that was Angus Deayton, Phillip Pope and Michael Fenton Stevens. I also remember watching the Cambridge Footlights, which was Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Tony Flattery, Hugh Laurie and Paul Shearer. It was just amazing!


They were an early inspiration and I did my first show in 1981 with London University, a show called The Importance of Being Varnished... which was almost the only joke in the show I think!


And then I went back and did a revue show in 1983 and my first stand-up in 1984 and that was three stand-ups, me, Jenny Eclair and Mark Steel and it was called Dubious Entertainment.


Have you seen a change in the Fringe since you first started going up there?


Yes of course. The Fringe has become more professional and it's become bigger. There are Fringes within Fringes. They've got their own programmes. Assembly goes off and does its own thing. Underbelly does its own thing. Pleasance does its own thing.


There was something amateur and spontaneous about the Fringe, but there are new ways of spontaneity, for example the free Fringe where people can just give what they want to performers. There are open mic spots, late night line-ups, a lot of impro so comedians and performers are finding extra ways to perform.


You usually have to go late into the night to discover those things. There's always be something new and exciting to discover.


Do you still enjoy performing at the Fringe all these years later?


Yes, although there did come a time where I bowed out because I felt the Fringe should be about new performers and not stablished comedians. Then I realised, actually that distinction had gone and established comedians are going back all the time.


So I missed out a lot of years in Edinburgh thinking that I didn't want to queer the pitch as it were for up and coming performers.


Then when I came back of course it was like "Well who are you?!" They'd almost forgotten who I was. I love love love Edinburgh. Out of festival time as well. It's my home town. My home city. There's nothing like festival time and every time I go there and I'm not doing a show, I kick myself for not doing one.


This year you're sharing the stage with Jan Ravens...


Yes, and it's really important to stress that Jan did a version of this show last year and I've been performing this show and updating it over the last couple of years so it's not a brand new show as such.


How did you come to the decision to team up?


Well I've known Jan for years and years and we were doing a political interview show together and I thought her Theresa May, her Diane Abbott and her Hilary Clinton were just so brilliant that I wanted to work alongside somebody who would compliment what I was doing.


Her impressions are superb and inspiring, but also politically and satirically she's a very bright and intelligent performer and we obviously both share that love for impressions and using impressions to try and make sense of what's going on if you like.


I think we'll do one or two pieces together but the backbone of the show will be that I'll be doing my stand-up and she'll be doing her piece. It's two of us on one bill and I think we're going to find places where we can do stuff together.


What impressions can people come to expect?


There's Trump, Boris and Jacob Rees-Mogg. They're the main voices. I think if you're a fan of Dead Ringers, or a fan of our show, there's going to be plenty there for you to get your teeth into.


Who's your favourite person to do an impression of?


(Dips into Donald Trump) I would say that it has to be Donald Trump at the moment because he just gives you so much material. There's always something new.


Some of the things he does you think "You couldn't make this up" but he does! I think we've gone from a period of WTO to operating out of WTF at the moment. It's trying to keep up with what's going on as much as anything else.


Part of my job is to make politics ridiculous, but then you have no idea of how hard that is right now because they seem to be doing a very good job of that themselves. So I'll be digging a little bit deeper and finding the meaning behind it. I think that's important.


How topical are you going to be?


Well that's the fun of it. Obviously things will happen between now and then. There are lots of meetings and of course Trump's visit is happening. I think it will reflect that.


Would you agree that because of the way politics is at the moment, that satire is more important than it's ever been?


Well it is, but there's a danger that politics is so farcical that it seems that the material is already there. But you have to find a way underneath it, behind it, in order to make sense of it. It all seems like nonsense at the moment!


We're living in a world now were the most sensible comment on Brexit recently came from Danny Dyer. Brexit is this mad riddle and we can work on summarising it for six months and still not come up with as succinct a summary as that. So you think "Oh my God, Danny Dyer's got there first!"


Is there anyone you've tried to do a impression of but have struggled with?


Oh there are a few! If you think about it, it's a fairly anonymous cabinet at the moment. People like Jeremy Hunt and Chris Grayling and Philip Hammond, there's not the most promising characters because they're pretty bland. You're always praying for a William Hague or an Iain Duncan Smith or a Jacob Rees-Mogg who in his own way is rather distinctive.


What's your favourite thing about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?


Oh it's the buzz. It's seeing so many other shows, it's being part of an astonishing variety and festival. There's a chance to see all your favourite comedians in one place but also there's the serendipity of discovering something new or chancing across something brilliant.


It's such an exciting city for those three/four weeks!


Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?


I always enjoy seeing Andrew Maxwell. I think Nina Conti is brilliant. Fred MacAulay is great and a good friend so I'd like to see him. So it'd be great to see friends but also something new as well.


Outside of the Fringe, what are you working on? Any news on The Imitation Game for ITV?


Yes! We recorded The Imitation Game in March and it goes out in September. Prime time on Sunday nights.


That's really exciting for us because it's a panel show for impressionists. Debra Stephenson and I are the team captains and it also features Jess Robinson, Jon Culshaw, Alistair McGowan, Lewis MacLeod who's absolutely brilliant, I love his stuff, and Jan (Ravens) of course! She comes on one week.


It's one of those ideas that's so obvious it feels like it should have been done before. It brings the best impressionists together in a celebration of the art of impressions. It's got a topical twist... although it was recorded six months ago.


For me, what was lovely is that there was no competitiveness or trying to outdo each other or put each other down. There was just a real sense of enjoying each other's work. I know that I'll never do a Frank Skinner or Gary Linekar as good as Alistair McGowan or I'll never do a Tom Baker as good as Jon Culshaw.


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


Trump, May, Boris, Merkel, together.


Rory Bremner and Jan Ravens runs from 13th - 19th August at 3:30pm at Underbelly, George Square. Book tickets here.

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