Glaswegian cussing, crowd work extraordinaire MARTHA MCBRIER is the Queen of the Free Fringe. Her show at this year’s festival launches a campaign against the perennial HAPPINESS BULLY in her hard-hitting and hilarious show about suicide, country music and not smiling just because the office idiot told you to cheer up. Ahead of the show’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival run, she talks to West End Wilma.
Name of Edinburgh show – Martha McBrier: Happiness Bully
Venue – Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, The Loft
Performance time – 7:15pm
Show length – 1hr
Ticket price – free fringe Tickets – https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/martha-mcbrier-happiness-bully
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
My performing background is a bit unusual, in that I have dipped in and out of comedy for many years. I won the first ever ‘So you think You’re Funny’. I was the first person doing a Free show to get a five star review. I am the only deaf female comic. I had success in 2006 with a show called Sex kitten/Corpse which was completely improvised and unscripted. I enjoyed bantering and riffing off audiences. When things were going well, I discovered I had a brain tumour and began to lose my hearing. I couldn’t then banter, as I couldn’t hear anybody, so I lost my confidence. Then my partner, Matt Price, introduced me to true story telling. I realised I could be funny that way. I did a show called Pigeon Puncher in 2015’ and was given five stars again. So that’s what I do now. I tell true stories.
Tell me about your new show, what it is all about?
I first became aware of the term ‘Happiness Bully’ (that’s the title of the show) whilst watching Nashville, a fabulous drama about country music stars. One of the characters, a depressive drunk, accused his niece of happiness bullying when she was skipping around him telling him to cheer up. He had just lost everything, so her timing was a bit off to say the least. Then I realised it was an actual thing. Happiness bullying is the act of pressuring someone to feel better when they have every right to be feeling bad. It’s positive thinking advice taken to an inhumane level. I can’t abide it. Another way of describing it is ‘bright siding’; when you insist on getting someone to look on the bright side when they are in the depths of despair. I have no time for the pathologically positive. Don’t be told how you should feel. When we are free to feel our feelings, we can feel better. Do you feel me? Also the show is directed by my hugely talented nephew Matt McBrier, and that has been wonderful. He is really clever and theatre-y.
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2019?
I have wanted to do a show about suicide for a long time, having worked in suicide prevention for many years. It’s the last taboo. Any life lost to suicide is a tragedy, and many people have been tormented by social media and happiness bullies which led them to take their own lives. We have to be kinder and ease off on people. That said, some of the most hilariously slapstick moments of my life have been during suicide prevention incidents. If that hasn’t got ‘funny’ written all over it, I don’t know what has. Half of my takings are going to be donated to my beloved Samaritans. So, I hope people give generously, for both our sakes.
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
These tips cover everybody on the planet and are useful for months other than August. Look after your mental health. Take vitamins. Eat avocados, as they are nutritionally sound. Avoid overbearing, over-confident types and happiness bullies. Choose kindness even when people have been horrible to you. Do things that feed your soul. Listen to music. Watch The Elephant Man. Have a cry. Remember that no one will get out of your way. You have to negotiate your way through the crowds. That’s a metaphor for life, that. I am very deep today.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
In 2007, I was doing a piece in my show about the human brain (as you do). I had got a jelly mould and prepared it so that I could get people to eat the jelly brain (as you do). However, I had underestimated the industrial strength jelly that would be required, and just as I was presenting it, I realised it had melted. I dropped it from the show. I couldn’t actually afford the amount of jelly required to stay firm, nor sustain the logistics of transporting the jelly brain every day to the venue.
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
One of my biggest inspirations is Daniel Kitson, as he is above the industry. I want to do what he does and write for theatre. My all-time, biggest influence has to be Billy Connolly. In 1974, me and four of my siblings were in Tom Dunnachie Children’s Home in Coatbridge. It was every bit as grim as you’d expect (well, it was the seventies). One of the care staff kindly, if slightly inappropriately, played us a Billy Connolly LP. We listened to ‘The Crucifixion’ routine, and the carer explained “Some people think it’s against God, but they are Catholics”. This demonstrated where Coatbridge stood in the then quite rampant religious divide in the West of Scotland.
It was wonderful to hear stories about people I could recognise in my neighbourhood with phrases I understood and in a broad Glaswegian accent. It was joyous. I was mesmerised. I was imprinted there and then. He is the ultimate storyteller.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Before going on stage, I stand on my tip toes with my arms stretched upwards. I hold this pose until I feel a surge of adrenaline. I repeat this exercise three times. If someone walks in on me whilst this ritual is in progress, I claim it is for osteopathic purposes. Sometimes I have done the exercise in the toilets and subsequently urinated. This has been quite the time saver, killing as it does, two birds with one stone.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Tragically, I can’t get to see my partner Matt Price, as our shows are on at the same time. I want to see Laura Lexx, Lucy Porter and Sarah Kendall and one of my all-time favourites, Basil Brush. I hear he’s a dream to work with. If I could meet him, I would go to my grave fulfilled.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
I think if you have taken the trouble to come to the biggest arts Festival in the world, it would be strange if you only went to one show. If you like country music, hate being told how to feel, and have ever been affected by suicide, then there is something for you in this show. I would love to see you there.
Thanks for having Tea With Wilma
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