Comedy blog

Richard Gadd on recreating a nervous breakdown on stge

richard gadd soho theatre

Ask any comedian whose show they would recommend at the Edinburgh Fringe this year and chances are they’d have said their own and made you feel guilty for not going to see their show.

The second most popular answer though was probably Richard Gadd, with comics enthusing over his dedication to his onstage persona and his confidence in taking things to the extreme in the dark, stifling attic at The Counting House.

He’s now attempting to recreate that feeling in London during a stint at the Soho Theatre.


Hello Richard. You’re embarking on a run at the Soho Theatre. How are you feeling?

Nervous, excited, worried, a little bit horny, and everything in between. It feels a little bigger this time round for some reason. The last time I was at the Soho Theatre with Cheese & Crack Whores, they put me in a similar time slot at 10pm to experiment with ‘late night dark comedy’ and I think we were all a little surprised with how well it went. There was a lot of talk about how “if we sold at thirty percent” we’d break even and I think what with me being so new and so unheard of, especially down in London – there was a bit of worry that we would even manage to do that. So when I went on to sell-out the space, everyone was pleasantly surprised, and I was rewarded with an extended run.

It was a great feeling, and now I am putting an internal pressure on myself to meet or surpass our last outing. Nothing is greater than the internal pressure I put on myself, that’s for sure! I have been given twelve days solid this time (almost double my run last time) and so it is going to be tough. But I believe we can do it. I believe the show is good enough. It is all about word-of-mouth spreading on social media and giving it your all. It’s an exciting time to be alive, that is for sure!

You received a lot of great word-of-mouth and reviewer acclaim in Edinburgh this year. How was the month for you?

Fuck me. Edinburgh was TOUGH this year. I’m not sure why, but it was the toughest yet. The venue had various noise and logistic problems which meant we need to carry a home-made door to the venue every night to block out sound from other shows. That’s right, a massive chunk of wood from across one side of Edinburgh to the other every night and back again. So I was always knackered and worked-up before I even started the damn show. That and – like all my other shows – it was very physical and so I literally carried various welts and bruises around with me all festival. I am not lying when I say I was in hospital twice this past festival. The first for eating a bar of soap after being encouraged to by a rowdy stag do, and giving myself seventeen ulcers in the mouth – SEVENTEEN! The second because I’d been battered and beaten to such an extent that my jaw locked and a doctor needed to massage it out. I’m literally sitting there while a doctors massages behind my ear thinking, “What the fuck am I doing with my life?! I got an A in Biology, for Christ sake! Now I’m killing myself for £10 a night…?!”

And the drinking, don’t get me starting on the drinking! You drink to quell the adrenaline, you need the adrenaline to quell the hangover, then you find yourself drinking all over again. That’s Edinburgh though. It’s the most intense bubble you’ll ever be in. And that is why it is the best festival you are ever likely to ever be in. The pain – I believe – is the necessary process you need to go through to create a good show. Maybe I’m cynical, but if you’re doing a full-run and you’re not hurting or burned-out in some way at the end then you are doing it wrong. It was incredible either way – it always is. Just tough. I always arrive and go, “you’re not going to defeat me this year Edinburgh, I’m ready for you!” Fast-forward five days and I’m crying and ringing my mother. I am just so pleased it went well.

By all accounts your show this year took comedy to the extreme. Was that the plan all along?

It is never the plan, really. I’m very hyper-conscious of going to the extreme for extreme’s sake. If it doesn’t make sense within the narrative then it should not be there. This show has dark, physical moments – and Cheese & Crack Whores certainly did – but I like to think it makes sense within the narrative and the moral agenda of the piece. We did a preview for example where I stripped completely naked at one point and sang a song from Les Miserables. We realised very quickly it was tacked on at the end for shock value rather than substance and so we were quick to bin it

That is the thing – if you go to the extreme for extreme’s sake people go away and they do not remember the jokes or the concept, they remember the mediocre penis bobbling up and down to a Claude-Michel Schonberg track. The shock should never outweigh the purpose of the piece. I should probably say at this point… if anyone is coming to the Soho, I can assure them that I do no get my cock out in any way, shape, or form.

How do you prepare to have a nervous breakdown on stage?

I don’t really. It’s more of a psychological unravelling and you are either in it or your not. I meditate before I go on. I listen to music. I do various things but no matter what I do, those few minutes before I go on stage, I am a quivering, inarticulate wreck of a human and luckily, LUCKILY, I can channel that into the character or the performance. So the preparation is redundant, really. It happens because I probably am having some sort of breakdown on a transcendental level. Stanislavski would get a boner over it I reckon, and not in a good way. That sounds so pretentious…

Have you always been a fan of comedy that’s a little more on the unhinged side?

I’m not sure. I’m not even sure I am a fan of comedy. Is what I do comedy? I don’t know. I guess it is. One thing I do know is I prefer things that are a little odd and off-the-beaten-track. I always remember seeing Sam Simmons for the first time in my early years and he blew my mind and made me realise that comedy does not need to be set-up and punchline, set-up and punchline and you can do things outside of the box. Same with Tony Law. I think as long as your subverting convention, or morally labouring a point, I think I enjoy it.

I like stuff that feels progressive and new. I loved John Kearns’ show this year and I loved Adrienne Truscott’s last year. And they are absolutely nothing like me. In terms of unhinged acts, I only saw Kim Noble for the first time this year at the festival. He blew my fucking mind. I went twice I loved it so much. But I don’t think I loved it because he was unhinged. I’m not even sure he would enjoy the word ‘unhinged’ – I think in terms of what he is trying to do that is a reductive way of looking at it. I loved it because there was a message and moral point in it. Themes of acceptance; themes of impossible love; the dislocation from life I think we all feel at times. The “unhinged” part was not what impressed me. It was the originality and the commitment and the brutal honesty. So it is not a case of enjoying “unhinged” acts. It’s a case of appreciating good art.

Any exciting comedy plans for 2015?

Aside from my spectacular suicide, I think I will do another show. A third instalment in a similarly troubled, multimedia vein. Then the trilogy will be complete. I have an online series coming out and various other projects that might come to fruition in some respect. If not, it’s just a case of keeping on plugging away and creating. Simple stuff. Sort of…


Categories: Comedy blog, Interviews

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