Paul Savage talks about mental health in DOGOODER at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I started when I was working a terrible job making roof suppot struts in a factory) and felt very lost and like I wasn’t going to achieve anything in life. Which is mad, as I was 23. Signed up to do a gig, and then before I got that one, i signed up to do another. The first one was a bit odd. I essentially crashed an acoustic night. Had the second one not been in the diary I doubt I’d have done another, but I managed 2 minutes on a gong show. Third gig was supporting a mate’s band. It was exactly how I’d advise new acts not to do it, but kept learning things, booking in gigs, and gradually getting better. I quit my job after the 4th gig because I couldn’t imagine being a comedian and getting up at 6 to work in a factory. I’d never been paid at this point. Shockingly naive, but I was absolutely sure I had something. That “something” turns out to be a mid level circuit act and fanbase of maybe 15 people. Still, 11 years in and whilst I occasionally pick up bits of freelance, I haven’t needed to go back to work in a factory in Kiddermister, so it’s going OK

Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Last year my girlfriend cheated on me, a friend commited suicide and my friend who I was living with asked me to move out because he was having mental health difficulties. I bought a narrowboat on a whim and then found it much harder to deal with than I expected, and had a proper bout of depression, and I’m trying to get a diagnosis for ADHD. So this coalesced into a show about trying to help, trying to be better, and what we do for each other and to each other. I’m still stirring the ideas together, trying to work out which order they go in.

How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
Honestly, since the morning I found out my girlfriend was cheating on me, which was the last weekend of last year’s festival at about 5am. I was having a big angry walk deciding how i was going to deal with it and her and stomping through the smaller hills below Arthur’s Seat in the milky dawn and as I was chumbling and yelling to myself, I was picking up other people’s litter. Despite the fact I was in a rage I was trying to do good, and I always was, and I didn’t get rewarded for it. And then I realised it was a backbone for an Edinburgh show, and I got furious with myself that the immediate instinct was to turn it into comedy. I truly believe that comedy is a sickness, and so I actively didn’t do any work on it til January, to give me a chance to get over it. I’d done a show (2015’s Tired And Emotional) that was about insomnia but also had jokes about a relationship I wasn’t healed from and it led me to quitting comedy and going travelling for 7 months, because if you’re not over a thing, doing material about it 100 times in a month won’t help you.

I think we’re starting to have conversations about mental health and people doing “good” in performative ways, with it being really easy to ask “but what about x” on twitter rather than doing any good in the world. I’m as guilty of that as anyone.

Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
a) Remember that its entirely voluntary. Just because you said you’d do a show and paid money to do it/ bought a ticket and walked through the door: if you don’t like it, you can walk out. You’ll be letting people down, and costing yourself money and time, but if it’s not good for your brain… leave.
b) Fresh fruit and veg. I got into the habit of slicing up raw veg and eating it with a tub of hummous and that provides most of my Edinburgh sustenance. And the money saved,I can lash away on alcohol.
c) It doesn’t matter in the same way that it used to. I think there was a run in the 90’s where the winner of the Perrier got a TV show or sitcom. It’s not the same any more, and that takes off a lot of pressure. You don’t have to be the “thing”/ see the thing. There’s always more things to see than time, and sometimes spending an hour in a pub with a mate is better than seeing a show. But do come see my show.
d) Get out the bubble every so often. Read reviews if you want, but it makes no difference to 99% of people. I can remember working in a job when Russell Howard was in his first season on Mock the Week and the blokes at work still called him “that young blond one” so it’s not like fame works that quick or is that widespread. I know hundreds of people with 4 and 5 star reviews that are just gigging comedians, and that it doesn’t matter after a while.

What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Most embarrassing was when i was very new to MCing, I got Sajeela Kershi’s name wrong, got the audience to chant her onto stage and the first thing she did was ask why as an Asian woman, I’d brought her on to the tune “Brown Girl in the Ring”. But I tell that as material now, so it no longer fills me with shame. In fact, much of my comedy is doing a terrible thing and then making jokes from it so I don’t end up squirming at 4am from a thing I said 10 years before.

Sometime you just have to lean into the embarrassment. A couple of years ago Alexander Bennett and I wrote a game show called Hell To Play, where he played the devil and made horrible people do party games with the audience. In the second version, one of my characters was the newspaper editor Andy Coulson, who I played as wearing only a pair of pants, on a lead being held by Rebekah Brookes (Andy Barr in drag). We ended cutting most of my lines for time, and so I would spend 10 minutes on stage in a pair of tiny blue briefs with a dragon on them, pretending to be a gimp. Our greatest achievement with that show is that Jim Davidson came to watch, got offended about us doing jokes about the army, and walked out.

Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Guys like Brendon Burns and Stu Goldsmith are both inspirational. They did their time as “head down, work hard” acts on the circuit and then both had career renaissances by cultivating tiny, cultish fanbases into things that allow them more creative freedom whilst still paying the rent. Stu with his Comedian’s Comedian podcast, which has brought him enough attention to tour off the back of it, and Brendon by throwing out doing club gigs and putting on gigs in people’s houses. I ran a show for him in the kitchen of my old house. 30 sweaty people in a little place in suburban Wolverhampton, big slab of cans from the cash and carry. We ended up doing a wrestling show and John Robertson’s the dark room there as well.

And The Hot Water boys in Liverpool are an inspiration for “getting shit done”. Went from running a gig on a Sunday in a night club to running fri sat in a pub, then fri- Sun in a hotel suite, then suddenly they bought their own place, ripped out the decor, rebuilt it as a purpose built 200 seater club. Then they started doing Edinburgh shows before the main gigs, then they’re running late shows. Then they’re selling out every week and buying up a second premises. Now they’re running tours in theatres and Paul Smith is doing an arena date. They pay the best fee in club gigs (per seat in the audience), and they’re great gigs to do. They started putting up bits of Paul doing crowdwork on youtube, went viral several hundred times, and now they’re launching a streaming service next year. And it’s all done by three lads who just really loved comedy.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Put on the pre show playlist (currently procrastinatingby building that. It’s 46 songs long. I’ll eventually get that down to 3 that I play whilst people are getting seated, 1 I play 15 seconds of to announce myself onto stage, and then a song for people to come out to so it feels less awkward. Though last year I had a bit set to music as the finale (the show was called Pauul savage Is Set To self Destuct and I put on a suicide vest made of arty poppers and blew myself up to The Coral’s Goodbye) and it really works as a hard, clinical ending. So I might try and do that again.

And then I do a last sweep of people outside I can blag into my show, get a pint of beer and a pint of ice water (ice water for hydration, beer to make the audience feel I’m one of them. It’s a subtle thing but I found it humanises me. Quite accidental).

Then I change my tshirt. It’s like putting on a uniform. Then do a show.

What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
LOADS. Jordan Brookes, John Luke Roberts, Laura Lexx I’ve had at my club and she’s gonna be great, Harriet Dyer’s doing a one off date of a musical about Sooty and she’s not musically minded so I can’t imagine that not being either brilliant or at the very least, a story. Rob Kemp’s follow up to the Elvis Dead is a show about how he can’t follow up the Elvis Dead, Darren harriott’s gonna be great, he’s got star power.

I also look forward to thinking I will see a play and then not seeing a play. Though I saw an opera in Riga this year and really liked it. Even had thoughts about the staging and the relation to the source material. Imagine if you could be like that all the time. A guy who goes to plays. You can’t, it’s unsustainable. Plus, it helped me get an joke in classic Simpsons.

Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the Fringe?
Because I’m on the free fringe, so take a chance. It’ll cost you nothing (suggested donation £5). Because I’ve grafted at the jokes. Because as someone (who was not complimenting me) said “it’s never short of big ideas, your stuff, is it?”. Because it’s 2018 and it’s about time the straight white middle class male perspective was given at least somewhere. Because I will be deeply appreciative and give spectacular hugs should they be so needed.

But, you should also see other shows. Don’t come to Edinburgh and only see me. That would be weird.


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