2018 marks five shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in five years for comedian Stephen Bailey as he prepares to perform his brand new show Our Kid.
Going in to the Fringe this year, Stephen has already decided that he won't be returning in 2019 for the sake of his mental health and amid a growing realisation that Edinburgh has not had any affect on his career.
As well as speaking about his feelings towards the Fringe, Stephen also opened up to me about the constant frustration he feels when reviewers and TV producers choose to focus on his sexuality rather than his material. Not to mention when he's asked to refrain from "doing the gay thing", which is not only an example of homophobia but an attack on his character.
Stephen is always a pleasure to speak to and of course a great performer, so I'm really grateful and thankful to him for opening up to me during our interview.
Before we talk about this year's show, are you pleased with how last year's show Can't Think Straight went?
Yeah! It went really well last year and I just think it's because it's the free Fringe so people come thinking it's going to be shit so when you have a good show they're like "Oh my God, it's amazing!" and I think it also helps guarantee a fuller room. I also think last year's show was just honest.
So if it ain't broke don't fix it?
Exactly. I'm on at the same time in the same place and what's good is that I can do a great show without having to spunk money at the other places. I think thanks to the likes of Sofie Hagen who has won on there, it's taken away that negative view on it.
And I'm trying to buy a house so I really don't want to spunk four grand on the Pleasance!
This is your fifth show in five years. Do you ever think about taking a break?
Next year I'm going to take a break. I always do it because I have nothing else on but then this year I've been busier than I thought I was going to be when I put the show in... otherwise I wouldn't have bloody done it this year let me tell you! (Laughs)
But next year I definitely won't be back. Next year will be my health year. I'm going to get a house, I'm going to work on my health and I'm going to have a nice summer off.
What's Our Kid about?
It's about being a working class kid, but not in a worthy "pay attention to class" kind of way, it's just saying that I always have to fight with every job I do.
Even doing the Fringe, I always think "Does it look shit that I'm doing the free Fringe?" rather than being like "I've got an amazing show and we're doing it on the free Fringe, I'm trying to buy a house." I don't have a lot of inheritance coming my way.
So it's about all the time you're told to know your place and being gay as well. Even how growing up in school people use the word gay as in shit "That's well shit. That's well gay."
I worked with a therapist a bit earlier this year about not feeling good enough and he said to me that "Even though no one's actually said "You're shit" your whole life, by being poor, by growing up on an estate, by being gay, all of those things you hear settle in you about not being good enough."
So it sounds like a very personal show this year?
Yeah, very personal but I'm trying to keep it away from being worthy. I don't want it to be worthy, I want it to be feel good. I want it to have the same tone as last year which is funny, banter, rude but I also want to discuss not feeling good sometimes and it's because the world tells us "this is who you are".
Gay's not a noun, it's an adjective so yes I'm a gay person and the one thing I always have to fight is anything I talk about, if I talk about relationships, if I talk about my parents, if I talk about whatever, I'm just talking about being gay.
The amount of times I get told "But you're just doing gay material again" I'm like "I'm not! Last year in Can't Think Straight I did a show about LGBT rights because it was 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation, so if you want to call that a gay show, you're very welcome to.
But when I'm talking about breaking up with my boyfriend, that's no different to a straight man slagging off his ex-wife! But I keep getting told that I'm "too gay" or "that's gay material" or "You're just doing the camp thing." - I am camp! I'm not doing it.
I'm shocked actually that in 2018 that's how you're being spoken to.
I often get that. I get it from producers, I get it from reviewers and they're doing it in a way that is blatantly homophobic, but they're sort of being homophobic by saying that anything coming out of my mouth is "doing the gay thing" or "he's doing another gay show" or "we've got a gay box ticked".
For example, gay comedians would never be put on together. Even though we've got completely different experiences. I grew up on a council estate in Manchester. I met a producer at the BBC who's finally a champion of mine. Could I get in at the BBC? Could I buggery!
This producer was like "you're the only up and coming comedian that I've met in the last couple of years that's actually had a real job". I was like "Of course! How else do you fund comedy?" - obviously I'm just a comedian now but I couldn't believe that they'd booked these Cambridge/Oxford graduates who are essentially the same person.
Yet they could book a gay person and me, who's worked for the NHS, who's worked at Sainsbury's. That's where the different experiences come from. Not if they're both gay. Or both black. Or both women. That's not where their experience comes from. They're just adjectives.
That's why I'm trying to tell all the real experiences that I've been having. I just find it offensive for people to keep telling me I'm doing the gay thing. I did a gig and I was the only one who had a good gig and afterwards another comedian was like "It's just because you play on that gay thing innit?" and I was like "I spoke about breaking up with my boyfriend! That's not a gay thing. You could change the man's name to a woman's name or you could give my material to a straight woman and it would still work.
I'm a very proud gay person, don't get me wrong. But when people use it as a negative towards me, or more towards my comedy and go "that show was amazing but he's just doing the gay thing" or he's "flamboyant" or he's "camp" or whatever and I'm like "YES. That's how I am! What's the content like? I am flamboyant. I am camp. But what did you think about that bit where I spoke about going on holiday with my parents? Or the bit where I discussed not having money? What's gay about this?!"
I really want to find a husband now. I'm not even joking. But I'm worried about putting that into the new show in case people will go "It's a gay show!".
So you write your show with the narrow-minded opinions of others in your head?
Yeah! For example there are some dating stories that I really want to put in, and I think I will, but it does play on my mind.
If I was just going on tour and it was my people coming to see me, I wouldn't give a fuck. But when I'm spending five grand or whatever going to the Edinburgh Fringe, I want the bloody good reviews.
But at the same time I think, maybe I'll review your review. About how one note they are. I did put a little bit about that in the show last year and I said if anyone refers to me as "camp" in their review, that is lazy journalism. I read out old reviews and every single one mentioned that I was gay, camp or flamboyant.
And I compared it to a couple for Dane Baptiste and none mentioned that he was black.
So how long have you been working on this year's show for?
I start straight away after Edinburgh, but I don't hammer it straight away. I start with what's funny that's happened to me and I start testing it in different club sets and then in May I start working properly on the structure, what it is and what I'm trying to say.
The way I always do it is that I start with 20 minutes at the top which is just funny and then try and segway into the story.
Do you find it easier or more difficult to come up with a new show each year?
How have the previews been going?
(Laughs) I've done two. Every year when I do the first one I just do material, I don't try and tell a story and it went well... ish. I learnt that I've got 30 minutes of great new material and 30 minutes of not.
This week I've got one every night so I'm hoping that by Friday I'll have the show.
Is it difficult to come up with new material when you're still thinking about and touring the last one?
Yeah it's so hard. And because of that bloody Beast from the East I've got a rescheduled one in Glasgow on Sunday which is going to be so hard because I'm previewing the new one all this week and then having to do the old one on Sunday.
But... I'm good at being busy. I've always been a bit of a grafter. The hardest bit is going "is it new?" Am I saying something different to last year for example? I did a bit about Sainsbury's last year and people really loved it and there are more stories from Sainsbury's but then I'm like, do I really want to put that in or is it a bit too samey?
Does the show evolve at all over the four weeks in Edinburgh?
It's the same show but it definitely becomes tighter. I remember my last preview last year went really well but then it had gone to an hour and twenty minutes because it had done so well so I had to strip bits out.
On the first day it was an hour and five minutes and then by the last day it was fifty minutes and I loved that fifty minutes by the end of it.
I really love the first two days in Edinburgh which are still preview days and I think the most important previews you will do for the Fringe because that is a Fringe audience. That's when you figure out how they're going to react. You've still got the excitement and none of the drama of the industry has started yet.
Do you think you'll miss it next year?
I think I will get FOMO because I know what I'm like, but I also think it's the right thing not to go back for my mental health and my life. Also, I think we all put far too much pressure on Edinburgh and I don't really think it's a big deal. I don't think doing Edinburgh has had any affect on my career.
I think every other part of doing comedy has but I'm not really a Fringe act. People go up there and they're like the gods of the Edinburgh Fringe and then they don't work for the rest of the year. The reasons I go are to produce more material, to say that I'm still around and to have something to take on tour.
But I much prefer a tour to the Fringe. I would happily never do the Fringe ever again. It's just a good way of keeping busy and it really has no affect on me. The Guardian will never come to me. The Independent will never come to me. The Time will never come to me. Edinburgh's not bothered about what I have to offer which is not a bad thing.
There are certain acts who are Fringe acts and get the same buzz every year. They're the same Top 10 to see every year. I've never been the Top 10 for anyone to see but I don't mind.
I feel so out of place in Edinburgh. Edinburgh for me is PE. I am not in the gang. I'm not going to get booked on anything but people who really enjoy me and really like me will have a nice time. Katherine Ryan was never an Edinburgh darling and now look at her! I would rather be Katherine Ryan!
Are you planning to tour Our Kid after Edinburgh?
Yes! I love touring. The only thing I'd change is that I'd have a support act. Last year I was my own support act because I like to know the audience before and actually I'm not that bothered about being on my own that much, but because of the Beast from the East, the amount of times I was stranded I did think it would be nice to have someone here next year.
Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?
Courtney Act! She is great. I'm really bad... I don't go and see a lot of shows when I'm up there. First of all, I think no comedian comes and supports my fucking show... (Laughs) they don't, they don't! I prefer to hang out with my friends really. By the way, they don't come and see my show either.
I'm definitely going to see Courtney Act and she's genuinely the only person that I will pre-book.
I treat it a bit like I've got a 9-5 job in Edinburgh. I don't want to go and sit and see shows all day. I get up, I do my exercise, I'll do any guest spots I have to do, I do my show and then I'll go for a nice dinner thank you very much.
You've done a lot more TV since the last time we spoke, do you enjoy that side of it?
I really really love it. At the minute I'm getting booked on the things that I think I'm good at. I don't think I should be on QI or Have I Got News For You? - I'm really good at knowing what I'm good at.
I see other people who do everything and I'm like "Oh God, you're not good at everything" and I'd rather be good on everything I do. I did Live at the Comedy Store this year which was great. Zoe Ball on Sunday has been so incredible and she's so nice. And that's helped me get other things because people trust you after you've done a good job.
I've got a new show coming out in August that I'm not allowed to tell anyone about and it's killing me. I want to tell everyone because it's going to be so amazing! That actually airs whilst I'm at the Fringe.
I just feel like at the minute I'm getting a few nice things that I want to do and hopefully it continues!
Finally, how would you sum up your show in just five words?
Hilarious. Rude. Heartfelt. Not worthy.