Roman Fraden talks about going BACK IN THE CLOSET at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Name: Roman Fraden
Name of Edinburgh show: Back In The Closet
Venue: Gilded Balloon Teviot, Balcony
Performance time: 11:30pm
Show length: 55 mins
Ticket price: general £10 (and additional 2-for1 offer dates, and £6 preview tickets on Aug 1-3 available)
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
Sure, I’d love to. Performing for me started when I was very young as a champion figure skater. By the time I was 16, I was travelling the US to various championship events (with my mother), skipping school and going out to skate in front of thousands of people. After retiring from figure skating at 21 and moving through various other fascinating chapters of my life (electronic music production, entertainment advertising, a degree in psychology at Berkeley), I found myself at the apex of a spiritual mountain top, balancing delicately on my pointed toe, and knowing deep down that it wasn’t the skating or the music or the good advice that I was being remembered for across all those various chapters of my life… It was my ability to pull abstract humour and perspective out of everyday moments and making people cry laughing. I always knew, from the beginning, that I was destined to make people laugh, and suddenly my mission moving forward in life became clear to me in that moment, on the mountain top, balancing (yes, still) on my pointed toe. I would immediately figure out a way to make people laugh as my primary focus in life. I knew exactly what I had to do.
Then another 10 years went by.
Finally, one day I walked through the wall of fire, faced my fears, and stepped out onto an open mic stage at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. And that was finally the beginning of it all.
Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
The show is about 50% traditional stand-up (the culmination of material that I had developed during those few of first years had naturally risen to the top as a frothy creamy layer and became the 30-minute set which I toured the US with last Fall of 2017). This stand-up material then became encased theatrically into a 55minute show, rounded out with piano, absurd physicality comedy, elaborate stagecraft and satire.
The show has somewhat of a linear arch to it, and travels through various environments as the story unfolds (childhood, figure skating, piano, sex, drugs and rock and roll) and climaxes with a finale where all my deepest questions are finally answered.
The title ‘Back in the Closet’ naturally arose from my constant chasing (in my mind) of hot heterosexual men and the chance of a steamy encounter with them, and thus never really fitting into conventional gay culture or environments. The self-examination and shameless analysis of this never-ending quest, and the hilarious ways in which it backfires on me, became the source of much of the comedy in this new show.
On stage, I like to place myself (and my actions) at the centre of this grand cosmic magnifying lens – making people laugh with me as I examine and laugh at myself and my own actions. Hopefully then in turn, they will be able to laugh at themselves and their own versions of this paradoxical and illogical human behavior. Like me in my show, some aspects of humanity and society would really benefit from a deep look into the mirror, followed by a good laugh.
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
I started collecting ideas for the show after my US stand up tour last Fall. During the holidays and throughout this recent winter and spring, I started developing it at the Lyric Hyperion Theater in Los Angeles. This theater is the home of Phil Burgess (Doctor Brown) and Natalie Palamides, both of whom have tremendously influenced and inspired me to take my stand-up material and present it in a thrilling, theatrical, clown-like, and newly exciting way. I wasn’t sure how it would all work, but after the first run it became clear that we were onto something great.
In the recent wake of geo-political cultural shifts, changing social norms surrounding sexuality and gender, the #MeToo movement, figure skating and coaching scandals, I, Tonya and a general overall global need to laugh and release, Back In The Closet tackles all of these issues with a light touch and handles them gracefully and effectively. The show delivers a sharp takedown of modern life and (my own) sexuality, yet at the same time, is a celebration of that very thing – ‘free will’, personal choice, hedonism and ultimate acceptance and understanding. This makes it a thrilling ride for audiences of all persuasions and flavours.
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
YES, so I heard there are steroids that some performers insert up their bums to help overcome losing their voice or getting sick during their show run. Visitors to the event may want to try this too? Just a thought.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
My Russian Jewish immigrant (and conservative) parents recently attended one of my shows here in Los Angeles for the first time and were exposed to everything I reveal in this show. EVERYTHING. Need I say more?
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
Phil Burgess (Doctor Brown) and Natalie Palamides (and specifically her last year’s ‘Best Newcomer’ winner show LAID) have really been instrumental this year in helping me pull myself out of traditional ‘microphone in hand’ stand-up and realize the vast possibilities of how to deliver laughter to an audience. Watching her develop her new show NATE this year, side by side in the same theatre alongside mine, has been a huge inspiration. They are both mentors to me and are masters at their game.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Hmm, not specifically. Well, okay, I smoke weed and walk in circles with my hands on my hips…. up until the very last second before I go on stage.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Nina Conti came through our theatre here in LA about a month ago (she is a friend of Doctor Brown’s) to test her new monkey show. It was mind-blowing, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it; it was very, very cutting edge. I am definitely going to seek that out as she is taking this show at Edinburgh Fringe this year and I would love to see it again and what it has evolved into.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the fringe?
One thing I can say about this show right at the top is that the stand-up is very solid. I believe that UK/European crowds (as generally being more free about sexuality etc.) will enjoy it even more so. And while it does touch upon gay themes, it’s at the same time a shameless piss-take of the absurdity which surrounds that way of life. From riffs on contemporary culture, the challenges of anonymous sexual escapades, and piercing analysis of the most common and universal topics, Back In The Closet treads the fine line between celebrating this hedonistic lifestyle while dissecting its very essence with razor-sharp wit, often within the same breath.
This has made Back in the Closet a favourite among LGBT crowds, but surprisingly even more popular among heterosexual audiences as well. As frosting on the cake, the interweaving of original music, absurd physical comedy and elaborate stagecraft present this comedic material on a very delicious foundation and serves the material up on a very ‘edge-of-your-seat’ way that is certain to leave you wanting more.