The Tab talks to ex-footlight
Cantab Milo Edwards tells all about his career as a professional stand-up comedian…
I had the absolute honour of speaking to an ex-footlight who is now a professional comedian just returned from five years of doing comedy in Russia!
Milo Edwards, a very sanguine and exceptionally eloquent stand-up comedian told me all about the differences between comedy here and in Russia, a bit about the psychology and theory of comedy, and a little insight into what it’s like to be ‘a starving artist’…
The Tab: Can you tell me a bit about your experiences in comedy?
Milo Edwards: I started doing comedy in my first year at Cambridge, I suppose I started doing it seriously in my second year. By the time I graduated, I'd done a lot of footlights stuff, I'd done Edinburgh and did a solo hour at the ADC. I think that was actually the last time I did anything at the ADC so it'll be a kind of weird, circular return!
And then almost immediately after that, I moved to Russia because I wanted to take a kind of gap year before starting comedy seriously. But then I realised that comedy is basically a momentum game- once you start doing it you can’t really take time off! If you want to go abroad or anything like that, you should do that before you start a career as a comedian, which will do nothing but impoverish you [laughs] and take away your free time!
The Tab: Cheerful!
Milo Edwards: Yeah, I’m really selling it, arent’ I…
The Tab: Do you think there’s a danger in doing comedy professionally?
Milo Edwards: I still think that definitely overall it’s a huge privilege doing something that you actually want to do. But on the other hand, it does mean that you don’t get such a simple enjoyment out of it as you once did. It becomes very transactional. To some extent you lose that connection with the fun of it. But sometimes you do great shows and you get that again, but it’s chasing highs I guess.
The Tab: Why did you come back from Russia?
Milo Edwards: I don’t know, it’s just a very unpleasant system out there in a lot of ways. But obviously, it meant turning down a lot of money and a lot of… easiness. Russia’s a cheap place to live, and being a TV comedian out there you can make good money, there’s a whole structure in place looking after you as a comedian. When I was out there I didn’t have to deal with a lot of the shit I have to deal with here on a daily basis. Like in Russia, I’d never been flyering my own show! Doesn’t mean I’m above that, but there are certain decisions you have to make. I took a gamble on coming back to the UK and kind of starting again.
The Tab: You say it was like starting again. How different did you find comedy in Russia, and how much of a change was it coming back?
Milo Edwards: In the comedy sense, it was not hugely different. I think that, fundamentally, if you’re developing in the way that you should be, you can do that anywhere. But obviously, there are slight differences between Russia and the UK particularly in the sense that in Russia, comedy as a genre is way less developed in my opinion. It means you can’t do things that are as interesting as the things you can do in the UK. Equally, there are variances within that-there are a lot of rooms in Russia that are more comedy savvy than some in the UK!
The Tab: Do you speak Russian then?
Milo Edwards: Yeah, fluently. All my TV stuff out there was in Russian. I started off performing in English, and some TV producers came to a show I was doing and they were like, ‘Oh do you want to be on TV?” and then later down the line I discovered that these people didn’t speak English at all! So they’d just come, decided they liked the sound of what I was doing even though they didn’t understand it, and plugged me into this TV show, which is pretty weird, but there you go!
The Tab: Do you think there was a cultural exoticism about being English?
Milo Edwards: There definitely is. That's for damn sure. Because Russians in general, even outside of comedy, are fascinated by foreigners who can speak Russian. Because there are only like four foreigners who can actually speak Russian properly. There are a lot around who say they can speak Russian, but they can’t really, I mean they can order a fucking coffee. So if you’re a foreigner who can hold a proper conversation in Russian, people really lose their minds.
The Tab: What do you think is the worst mistake you can make in comedy?
Milo Edwards: That’s a difficult question to answer. I think I’ve probably made quite a lot of them! The thing I hate the most- and this doesn’t mean audiences hate it- so you’ll see a lot of inexperienced comedians do this, and some what I would call club comedians, is they’ll write a joke like a story. And they’re telling it straight-facedly like, ‘this is a story, this is what happened to me’, and then it’ll get to a punchline, where to me it’s very obvious that the entire story was just made up to get to that punchline. Like they reverse-engineer a story just to get to that punchline. To me, that’s just so cheap, like why would you bother doing that?! It incenses me when people do that, but sometimes it gets a laugh.
The Tab: I'm guessing being a performer is quite a vulnerable state to be in… Do you think it’s changed you at all? Or is it liberating?
Milo Edwards: This interview’s almost like therapy… which is great because I can’t afford therapy… Erm… yeah. What would I say to that? I think that it certainly is very psychologically demanding as a career if you’re doing it well.
There’s a certain kind of comedian, who in my mind is not very good at what they do, and very uninteresting, who have that eternal sunshine of the spotless mind thing. Where they’re bad but they don’t know they’re bad so it never bothers them. Those people depress me, because you look at someone like that, and you think, well if they’re that deluded, the very function of them being that deluded is that they don’t know that they’re deluded. So I could be that deluded and I wouldn’t know.
Whereas for me, if we work to the- possibly spurious- assumption that I’m not like that, I sort of feel like I am simultaneously incredibly insecure and incredibly arrogant at the same time, which is a weird psychological headspace to be in!
The Tab: Is there quite a lot of element of chance in comedy? Because you talk about there being a room that’s sort of, just not destined for you.
Milo Edwards: There’s certainly an element of chance. It’s not random. In any room, there can be a huge number of different things going on, which include but are not limited to, literally the topography of the room itself! How people are sat, if it’s brightly lit or dimly lit, the people in the room, and the state they’re in. Like are they drunk, have they just watched a stripper- which once happened to me, by the way.
The Tab: Do you have any advice for budding comedians or people who haven’t tried comedy before?
Milo Edwards: If you’re interested in comedy, you should absolutely try doing it. Because I was really interested in comedy when I started at Cambridge, and I was interested in doing sketches, but I ended up doing standup because I didn’t really have friends who wanted to do sketches.
So I had to do something more self-reliant. And I think before I first tried auditioning for standup, I was really terrified. And I was really bad! Like I had managed to write a terribly un-funny three minutes of material, but the learning curve is quite steep and if you’re focused on it and you try and learn from your mistakes, you can get good at it quite quickly.
It’s always funny to me when people say, I could never do that. Because it’s not really that hard- you just have to get over the fear that paralyses most people. So if it’s something you’re interested in, it’s something you should do!
The Tab: What is the most rewarding part of doing comedy?
Milo Edwards: Well, other than the fact that all of my much wealthier friends enjoy the street cred of having a starving artist to buy dinner for or let sleep on their sofa?
I guess, I mean, this is going to sound very banal and sickly, but just having produced something that you’ve created. Like occasionally I’ll do a gig, and I’ll be like, yeah. That was great. Especially if your peers, other comedians come up to you at the end, moments like that make a big difference in what can be quite a depressing profession sometimes.