For many people, July is a time spent either in wasp-filled beer gardens or having drizzly picnics. In the comedy world it’s Edinburgh show preview time. Vikki Stone and Markus Birdman are both performing their new shows in advance of the event, proving how diverse the Fringe can be. Both are seasoned comedians but where Stone’s show brims with musical silliness, Birdman’s thrives on the bleak wit of a relationship break-up.
Stone started out as an actor but with a talent for ivory tinkling. Bored of waiting for someone else to give her a big break, she boldly began to turn up at open mic nights with a repertoire of humorous songs. “I thought I’m not just going to sit back and wait. I want to be creative and I want to work so I made it happen for myself,” she insists.
Over the past few years Stone has built a strong following and has gained mainstream exposure, partly thanks to her amorous ode to the silver fox of daytime telly – Phillip Schofield. She even got the chance to serenade him live on This Morning after its producers spotted the song on YouTube. So was there any chance of bundling him into a cupboard for a snog? “No, it was all very business-like. It was get to the studio, do the thing, then go,” she relays with a slight hint of disappointment.
This will be her third Edinburgh show and sadly there’s no room for the Schofield song but there will be some dancing from her dog Bert. Probably. “We put it in the brochure back in February that there’s dog dancing in it and my agent keeps asking how’s it going? The dog is undergoing a training regime but he’s not the cleverest of animals.”
Meanwhile it’s the ninth Edinburgh for former performance poet Birdman and writing a show is proving cathartic for the second year running. He’s had a difficult few years. First off, he had a stroke caused, as it turned out, by a hole in his heart. He’s fine now and last year got a whole show out of it. “People said: ‘How can you make jokes out of that?’ How can I not?
“How can I be in and out of hospital for six months and make jokes about, say, tables? It would be completely ridiculous to write about anything else.”
This year he and his partner of 14 years have split. “It’s an open letter to her really – what I was feeling about the whole thing. It’s a process we’ve all been through. The problem for me has been not making it cliché – the difference between men and women.”
Both acts have a sensible view on the forthcoming festival. Some head to Edinburgh imagining awards and five star plaudits but such high expectations can leave a comedian quivering under a duvet for much of September. Stone and Birdman know exactly what they want from the Fringe and it doesn’t involve the approval of critics or judges.
“I think there’s a lot of status games,” notes Stone. “It’s basically nonsense. Make a good show, make a good poster, spend a bit of money on adverts, then get on with it.”
Birdman adds: “You have your show, your little baby over the year, you pick it up and fling it at Edinburgh and see what happens. It goes the way the gods wish it to go. It’s very random. Audiences will respond to your show most of the time but it’s the system that’s the problem – shows get PR-ed and pimped, sold and pushed.”
As good or bad as an Edinburgh experience is, it’s always good to have plans beyond it in order to stay grounded.
Stone is about to embark on her début tour, whereas Birdman has his eye on a more joy-filled year to fuel next year’s Edinburgh show. “I kinda feel I’m due a pass – I’ve had an interesting couple of years but hopefully I will be able to put it to bed,” he says with a knowing smile.
Markus Birdman & Vikki Stone, 23 July, Unity Theatre, Liverpool
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