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I TALK TO Tessa Coates

Best-known as one third of sketch group Massive Dad, Tessa Coates headed to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year with her first solo show and now she's back with her second show Witch Hunt.

Last year was your first solo show in Edinburgh, and it seemed to go really well didn't it?

Well I had the time of my life. I had such a lovely lovely time last year and I went into it with no expectations. I just really wanted to make a show and wanted to do it for its own sake so for people to like it was so lovely.

I felt a bit like the Queen. I'd done the Fringe enough times as part of Massive Dad to know that you can't cut corners and there's no point in trying to save money. You're here now, you just have to go all in and have someone else look after your ticket requests and someone else to do your flyering. Don't try and do it all yourself otherwise you just crumble so I was a real madam just doing my yoga, going swimming and then just swanning to the venue.

Was it quite an easy decision then to come back this year?

Yes. I think it had always been on the cards, just because there were loads of things that didn't make it into the show and Berk's Nest who I work with, kept saying "For next year. For next year's show!" So the wheels had already started turning a little bit.

I was already excited about the things I wanted to talk about. It was an easy decision definitely.

Has it been easier or harder to write this year's show?

Well they talk about the difficult second album syndrome and it's definitely harder the second year. I wrote last year's show in a very short space of time but it was all inside me for ages.

So when you go again, you go "I told you all the stuff. I told you everything about me! Now what do you want?"

I started writing at the start of the year but as it stands I'm definitely behind schedule. All the ideas had been on the buffet table for a while and I've been sort of ignoring them but now I just have to pick up the pieces and shape them into a show.

Is the title Witch Hunt still true to the show?

Well that's the thing, people have to pick back in January and then when you get to August you're like "It shouldn't be called this! That's absurd!"

But I do think the show is still true to the title. I've certainly not got a better title.

What is the show about?

It's about men and women and how we communicate with each other. Or how we communicate with anybody really. It's about the breakdown of understanding and empathy and fear and evolution and how all those things play into so much of what's happening at the moment. We're so divided and segregated in all ways across gender and age and religion and race.

The show is in no way about Brexit, but you only have to look at that to see that the country is split down the middle and they had to choose what camp they were in. Even though I imagine most people would like some bits of a leave campaign and some bit of a remain campaign. No one wants to have to choose between one or the other.

Actually people are much more complex than that and now they've created this unbelievably ugly situation where you're asked what camp you're in and we don't know anymore!

Also, it's about how we're obsessed with labels as human beings, to our detriment because we are so much more than that.

One thing I loved about Primates was that it seemed like a conversation with you. Have you carried that style through to this year's show?

It's very similar. It's just a conversation. Quite often people would nod and say "Yes" and I'd go "What's that?" and they're like "I'm just saying yes" so I'm like "Great, thank you." and afterwards they always apologise for talking but I'm like "Don't worry, it happens all the time."

So the bar has been set to be really conversational and chatty which I love doing. I think I'm much better at calling it stand-up although I still don't really believe it is. Proper stand-up is a proper craft and I sort of don't want to come in and just give it a go.

Proper stand-ups are amazing and I wouldn't be able to do what they do... but I am definitely stood up!

Do you feel more pressure this year because last year's show went so well?

I definitely had a wobble in February where I had this dream, not an actual dream, just a constant vision of people leaving the show and I'd overhear them saying "Meh. It wasn't as good as last year's show." or "I didn't like it." I mean I totally made it up but I was really upset by that.

I had to get over that wobble. The show is whatever it is. I'm doing my best and I just have to aim to make something as good as I possibly can.

Last year I had absolutely no pressure whatsoever, I was just off for a merry old jaunt and there was nothing to compare it to. So you just have to get yourself back to that place and just let last year's show go and pretend that this is the first time again.

Are you happy to be in the same room again? Or would you like to have gone to a bigger room?

Well... there used to be a 75-seater venue in The Pleasance, but now you have to go from the 50s where I am, up to 100 and that felt like quite a big jump and I didn't quite feel ready to be a 100-seater girl.

I definitely wouldn't have minded a bit of a jump and to have gone to a different place but given the option I'm quite content being in the same room. I really loved being in that room last year and wouldn't mind being there again.

There's something quite nice about that post-lunch slot because everyone's quite calm, they've all had a potato, maybe they've had a bit of a drink and I'm the first show of the day. It's not 8 o'clock at night in that really competitive slot where people have seen a number of shows already and have lost it a bit.

How have the previews been going?

A real pleasure. People are so warm and so nice. I'm doing a lot of them with Jessie Cave whose show is going to be amazing. We are talking about very different things but we certainly appeal to a very similar crowd. So they can enjoy both of us.

It still doesn't feel like a show yet to me, it's just me going "OK guys, here's this bit and here's another bit. The ending will be this...." But it'll be get there and it's been so nice to have people come along and sit through work-in-progresses.

There's something really nice about seeing people work through things and it feel like a workshop with the whole room. And then you can see it later and go "Ah yes! That did become something. Well done." or "You were right to lose that bit."

Fellow Massive Dad member Stevie Martin is heading up there this year on her own for the first time. Have you given her any advice at all?

I text her the other day to say it's now July and it's time to start throwing money at the situation. I told her that she's probably got scurvy already and she was like "Yes I do. I've eaten so many potato waffles."

I told her "You've just got to behave" and she replied that she's basically living like Nicole Kidman now. You have to be incredibly healthy, eat all the vegetables, get the Uber instead of the three night buses and become someone who looks after themselves and not a scrimping saving student anymore.

You have to try and put yourself first for the month and get yourself through it in the most healthy way possible.

Who are you looking forward to seeing this year?

Well Max & Ivan are doing some sort of amazing immersive prom which I'm very excited about seeing. Stevie's show obviously. All of Adam Riches' shows. He's doing a number of plays this year and they'll all be completely wonderful.

Amusical is amazing. It's just excellent and that's something that taps into the magic of live comedy that everyone wants to be in the room for it. It's really magical.

Outside of the Fringe, you're back doing the podcast with Stevie, Nobody Panic...

Yes! That's been a real joy for us. When The Debrief went under, we had so many messages from people asking about the podcast so we were like "OK, OK, we'll do it guys" which is so nice. If no one had said anything we'd have been like "OK then, we'll go... Well that was the end of that."

We really love making it and you learn something everything and it's just a real pleasure to do and it's so nice that it has been well received. It feels like the sort of podcast I wish I had, or actually I would listen now.

A couple of years ago, someone saying "Don't worry. Nobody knows what they're doing." would have made me feel like "Oh thanks God!"

What else are you working on?

I'm writing stuff for TV, based on last year's live show I'm doing something for radio. Lots of things pottering along in quiet development... having a great time!

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

Do please come it's fun.

Tessa Coates: Witch Hunt runs from 1st - 26th August at 3:30pm at the Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance This). Book tickets here.


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