Scots comedian Richard Gadd has shot to fame with his Netflix show Baby Reindeer. In this archive interview he discusses prawn sandwiches, Christmas tree lights and the free Fringe.

Tell us about your Fringe show

I cannot give too much away without giving away the whole ending, but I will say it is like nothing I have ever done before. It still relies a lot on video/audio elements but unlike my previous show, it is much lighter and happier in tone, with a style and structure you will not have seen before, at least from me.

But to keep you guessing, it in some way involves the following: prawn sandwiches, sign language, Eminem, the Little Mermaid, and a jacket made entirely of Christmas Tree lights. Does that help narrow it down? Probably not...

Best thing about the Fringe?

The best things about the Fringe – and I am going to focus exclusively on comedy here – is the Free Fringe. I am a huge ambassador of the Free Fringe. It is a bunch of comedians/artists getting their hands dirty and doing a show to an audience who they do not charge to watch. There is a purity to that. It does away with the tickets stumps and the ushers and the fancy lighting rigs and just says “here is my art – take it or leave it.”

At the end of the day nobody looses anything. If the audience do not like it, then they loose an hour of their life. No big deal. If the performer has a rough time of it, then at least he has not re-mortgaged his house to pay for a fancy venue. No big deal. It gets rid of that risk element and brings the art back to the artists, which is the most important thing.

If the Big Four (Pleasance, Underbelly, Gilden Balloon, Assembly) still ruled the roost then every comedian would be forking out a fortune just to get a decent venue and monopolise their own visibility. But thanks to John Kearns, Ben Target, Liam Williams, and all the successful shows in the previous years on the Free Fringe, big name performers have started to turn to the Free Fringe to perform: Phil Jupitus, Robin Ince, Simon Munnery, Stewart Lee, Ed Aczel etc. which shows just how much it is taking over.

On top of that everybody is waking up to the fact you CAN do the festival WITHOUT losing any money. It is not all about the money of course, but in the world's biggest arts festival, why should the only people not making any money be the artists? It puts the control back with the performers which is absolutely how it should be.

The Herald: Richard Gadd in Baby ReindeerRichard Gadd in Baby Reindeer (Image: free)

Worst thing about the Fringe?

I would say the narrow-minded competition regarding awards. Again, I am focusing purely on comedy here (let that be a standard for all my answers actually), but the competitive nature has really started to corrupt the Edinburgh comedy scene.

I think awards are useful and important in furthering your career, but the festival in recent years has become ALL about the awards. Comedians focus only on whether there are important people in and how they can tailor their set to those very people, all the while ignoring the audience who have paid to see them. It makes no sense. It neglects why comedians started doing comedy in the first – to make people laugh/make good art.

Comedians postpone and postpone their “début hour show” for years upon years so they have the BEST POSSSIBLE chance to win an award, and then are only hit with misery and disappointment if they fail to. Had they fired straight out of the block and said, “fuck it, I don't care if I am not quite ready, I am going to do an hour long show and give make it as good as I possibly can be” - how much further on are you going to be by learning from the successes and pitfalls of doing a show and taking risks?

The Fringe has become so awash with different awards that I worry – in the eyes of a lot of comedians – that that is all that the Fringe is about. I am not saying awards are not important, after all performers deserve reward for doing what they do, but in tunnel visioning towards “what the panels might want” I do find that comedians overlook what they could achieve as performers.

How many years have you been coming to the Fringe?

This is my seventh year in a row, and my third hour long show. I love the Fringe. It is very much like childbirth though. You go through a whole bunch of pain and personal upheaval performing night after night, that you always finish the month with an attitude of, “I am never doing that again!” But month after month your brain and body make you forget the bad times and only remember the good, and then all of a sudden you are excited for it again and arrive in Edinburgh full of hope. One week later, you are like, “DAMMIT BRAIN YOU TRICKED ME AGAIN!”

Favourite Fringe venue?

I have performed in some really rough and ready venues on the Free Fringe. I have had no doors, issues with sound bleed, competing with bands, violent audience members, no working microphone, honestly the list is endless.

I have built doors to combat the noise and I have bought lights and microphones and all kinds of stuff to get the rooms into a working order and I always managed to and have successful shows there in the end. I became very fond of the trial-by-fire experiences I had there.

So my favourite venue has to be the Southsider just off Nicholson street where I did my first show Cheese & Crack Whores. It is where I had my initial success and it is where I learned the most. It might have been hard competing with an Irish Folk band every Friday and Saturday night but it taught me how to grab and gig and run with it, irrespective of noise and distraction. That is a good skill learn. The staff were lovely too. I still miss you Brenda!

Best Fringe memory?

Cheese & Crack Whores, my début solo show. I wrote my début hour show well ahead of where I was in my career. All my friends told me I was insane in doing it. I felt insane doing it, but I had a wonderful production company behind me (Brown Eyed Boy) and a great director called Gary Reich and we worked it into a really good place. Come Edinburgh we burst out of the blocks and it was a massive hit. I still get shivers thinking about that month of my life. The specific moment was the number of people queuing for my show. It was a fourty-seater and I must have had over two-hundred queueing right around the block. It was insane. I remember walking into the venue and some guy behind me shouting, “Oi mate! Queue like the rest of us!” and I was like, “But this is my show?!” It was a mad-old time.

Best heckle?

I play a prattling psychopath on stage so my heckles are few and far between but I remember during Cheese & Crack Whores this guy being cocky and pulling his umbrella out and messing around with it and taking the audience's attention away from the show. There was a scene in the show where I eat a whole carrot cake (long story) but I choke on it and end up spraying it out of my mouth in waves. I decided I had enough of this guy and so walked over to the guy and sprayed a monumental amount of cake over him – like spray after spray after spray. It went all in his curly hair, in his drink and his bag. I then shouted, “Where's your umbrella now?” and the audience applauded. It was probably one of the few times the heckler has not got the better of me!

Craziest on stage experience?

I did a show during Breaking Gadd and I had a stag-do-esk crowd in and I had a bar of soap as a prop. They were so loud and rambunctious that the show was completely derailed form the off so once I had this soap in my hand they started chanting, “Eat it! Eat it!” and so I did just to appease them (a bad idea in itself). It burned acidic hot the second it went in. I had to stop the show to get a glass of water because my throat felt like it was closing-in and when I spat into a napkin, I saw blood. I went to the hospital the next day and they counted eighteen mouth ulcers. They then gave me this soothing cream which was so painful when I put it on that I swear it was giving me ulcers on top of my ulcers. It was brutal.

What’s on your rider?

Fluffy white towels. Diptyque candles. Pianese flowers. Fiji Water. A masseuse.

How do you wind down after a show?

I don't. I don't wind down in life. I barely sleep and so I usually just ride the wave of adrenaline into the show the next day. I tend to record shows and watch them back right after, obsessing over what I could do differently/better. It never really stops for me. It is all very obsessive and weird and unhealthy. This sounds weird but I am not really sure how to relax. It is not something I am particularly good at. That is probably why Edinburgh feels like a protracted death for me...

What do you love about Scotland?

Everything. The character, the personality, the accent, the history. The fact education and prescriptions are free. The fact it is run by left-leaning politics. Ken Loach. My parents. The Traverse Theatre. The night-life. Everything.

What do you like about Edinburgh?

The eleven months the festival is not on and you see just how beautiful a city it is, with the castles and the old building and Arthur's Seat. There are no garish billboards and advertisements everywhere ruining the eye-line. It is truly one of the UK's most breathtaking cities.

What’s the most Scottish thing you’ve done?

... growing up there?

What kind of jokes do a Scottish crowd seem to respond to?

Other comedian's, usually...

Favourite joke?

I am a not a big joke-fan persay. I am much more of a theatrical comedian than one that tells jokes. I am envious of the people who have the ability to write them, because the skill escapes me. My comedy is more dialogue-based, stylised, and character driven, and so I am going to have to say any joke that comes out of Mark Nelson's mouth.

Richard Gadd will perform at Banshee Labyrinth on August 14-16 and 18-30.