Behind the scenes at the Edinburgh Fringe with the Sheffield Revue, our SU’s very own stand-up comedy society.
What was it like to be back at the Fringe after four years?
Given that the Revue’s last excursion to the Fringe was so long ago, only a handful of members recall the show we took up there, and fewer still were actually able to see it first-hand.
“We were baring our creative souls”
So, this year when we went up to Edinburgh, it was very much with the impression that we were forging a new Revue-Fringe relationship. Most of the cast were discovering the Fringe for the first time, and in a sense the Fringe was (re)discovering the Revue. Going up there with a cast full of such fresh (yet relatively inexperienced) talent was a risk, but an undeniably exciting one. The entire group was ever-so-slightly on edge. Of course, the worst case scenario was no one turning up to the show, or having the cast booed off the stage (unwelcome outcomes, certainly, but hardly world-ending). However, it definitely felt like more was at stake: we were baring our creative souls during our brief hour of stardom every evening. We’d brought our best material, our funniest sketches, and we were putting on a showcase for anyone and everyone to judge for themselves how good we were. We loved the rush, yet feared the worst.
But it was worth it. The Revue now is very different from the Revue that existed four years ago. By taking a show up to the Fringe, the new Revue earned its stripes, solidifying its status as one of Sheffield’s premier comedy societies (a fact we kept shouting at the folks on the Royal Mile). Each night proved more successful than the last and I’m happy to report that every single member performed even better than they ever had before, receiving deserved recognition for doing so. The Fringe was something of a coming-of-age ritual, setting the pace for the following generations of the society.
It was the end of a very successful year for the Revue – an apt way of celebrating both what had been and what is yet to come.
Matthew Prestage – Stand-up and Writing team
What did you get up to in your free time?
Short answer: seeing all the shows we could! Often at the expense of basic human necessities such as eating, sleeping, and relieving oneself (although doing any one of these mid-show can give a struggling act something to talk about).
The sheer volume and variety of performances during the Fringe means you need not worry about how to fill a spare hour during the day. Simply walk a few metres anywhere in the city centre and allow a promoter to drag you in to see their show starting in five minutes! Aside from a few unmissable bigger names, it’s really all about the free shows! Other than consuming enough comedy for a lifetime (or at least a couple of weeks) all Fringe performers recognise the importance of flyering and publicising their show, so as a society we made sure to put in many an hour of that over the week.
“Regaling each other with tales of the day over a pint”
Finally, we simply spent time hanging out together, be it through regaling each other with tales of the day over a pint, catching up on Game of Thrones or whatever other kinds of student revelry we indulged in. A good group dynamic translates into good comedy!
Benny Dornyei – Stand-up and Writing Team
Did you have any unusual experiences?
There have been a few interesting moments during our time at the fringe, from seeing a watermelon crushed on stage and having chunks flying into the audience, to watching a full-on murder mystery featuring at least a dozen characters acted out by a cast of two and an unexpected number of dance routines.
But I’d say the most unusual experience was watching ‘hyprov’ (hypnotism + improv). The whole show was a smorgasbord of unusual moments, but my personal highlight was during an improv game between Mike Mcshane and one of the volunteers, in which they performed a scene inspired by the old West.
The scene involved the volunteer’s horse (a plastic chair) getting shot. Mike told the volunteer that she had to stop and put down the horse for good, at which point she clung onto the chair and began to sob, exclaiming that she would not kill her horse (whom she had named, but I can’t recall what it was called). It was so sad that even I was about to cry. That was the point where I realised that the Fringe is really weird and it’s probably the most unusual things I’ve seen in my entire life.
Saquib Idrees – Performing Cast
Have the events of the last 18 months inspired much of your content?
No, not really to be honest. In terms of stand up, I genuinely don’t think anyone even so much as mentioned Trump or Brexit, and I think only one offhand, throwaway joke about Brexit was made.
I think we were quite aware that, with satire being as prevalent as it is in the world of comedy, that if we did make cheap jokes about trump, or referendums, or Corbyn or Theresa May running through a field of wheat, that we’d struggle to come up with actually original material. We saw a lot of acts that had made jokes about that sort of stuff and they all followed a similar line, so our decisions to focus on more original material paid off, as it helped mark us out.
Marcus Newman – Stand-up and Director
When did you start preparations for the festival?
This may sound a little cliché, but I suppose my preparations for the Fringe started when I went to my first Revue workshop back in September. I feel like I’ve been constantly learning to be a better writer and performer since that day. To be honest I went to that workshop to fill a free evening in my first week of uni, but the enthusiasm of the current Revue members proved infectious and I quickly caught the comedy bug!
My stand-up set for Edinburgh started as something that I wrote for my second ever Revue show back in February, although it went through quite a lot of refinement since that first very nervous performance. That’s one of the things I love about the Revue; people are really open, helping each other grow as comedians. You’ll always get really useful feedback after a show, both on what worked and constructive comments for improvement. I had some real basics to work on, like learning to look at the audience, but between that first test run and performing at Edinburgh, various Revue shows gave me opportunities to become more confident onstage.
Workshops, performances and feedback improved my writing too, taking me from something that was initially a series of rambling anecdotes, and making it tighter with more punchlines. Going to see shows with other Revue members provided me with a whole lot of inspiration too; and I now have a whole bunch of young, female comedy role models to look up to – most of whom I discovered through the Revue. I’ve still got a huge amount more to learn, but as I move away from Sheffield to start a new job, and explore the world beyond the Revue, I don’t think I could have asked for a better first year in comedy. Performing at the Fringe was the icing on the cake.
Sarah Harrison – Stand-up and Writing Team
Did you bump into any inspirational or famous people?
I spotted a few famous faces up in Edinburgh, like James Acaster and Jerry Sadowitz, but not many. Whereas inspirational people? Everybody I met was inspirational! Everyone I bump into truly inspires me to accelerate global warming and help end the planet.
In all seriousness, I was inspired by the artists I saw perform, and the not-so-random people I bumped into. Artists such as Sheffield Revue alumni Sam and Tom (and their Boondoggle counterparts Siân and Zoë) showed me how bizarre and absurd comedy can be whilst still making everyone laugh. Siân and Zoë certainly inspired me to think about mixing horror into comedy a lot more. Lovehard inspired me to take more leaps in the technical side of performing. Josie Long inspired me to take risks and mess with the audience a lot more, playing practical jokes as much as performing verbal ones. Gein’s Family Giftshop inspired me to think differently about the structure and form of a show.
The most inspiring people I met were definitely the audiences I performed to who made me question my self-worth, material and fashion sense. A truly inspiring festival.
Ethan Davies – Stand-up and Writing Team
How can students who are interested in getting involved in the Sheffield Revue get in touch with you?
My answer is as follows: “Don’t talk to me.”
(Though, if you do want to, visit sheffieldrevue.com)
Damian Bemben – Stand-up