Abi Roberts has a fearless approach to comedy. Her latest show, as you will read below, discusses what it was like to live in the USSR during the 90s. Roberts examines Russia’s deeply entrenched homophobia and censorship laws, whilst also showcasing her musical talents. She is performing at the Underbelly, Cowgate throughout August.
1) What excites you most about the Edinburgh Festival?
The sheer variety of comedy on display, the buzz and the fact I get a chance to play to an audience that I have built up over the last few years with entirely new stuff. I also get to see mates I don’t see much of when you are doing comedy clubs – it tends to be fairly “get in, get the job done, drive home”. I generally arrive in Edinburgh excited to hopefully find somewhere that does decent food. I generally do, but then the Edinburgh Festival lifestyle invariably leads you to the Scottish diet which closely resembles the diet of a comedian on the road… i.e. mostly deep-fried food. I’m also at the Underbelly Cowgate this year so I will be very much loving being at the centre of everything in Edinburgh.
2) What was your first Edinburgh show about?
My first show was cabaret with about ten songs and upteen costume changes in it. My first proper stand up show was in 2015 and it was called DOWNTOWN ABI, about the difference between my background and my personality. ANGLICHANKA (which means “Englishwoman” in Russian) is a new stand-up comedy show about living in the former Soviet Union in the 90s and returning after 18 years as the first UK comic to perform comedy in English and Russian. In this show, I talk about learning to become an opera singer in Moscow in the 90s, about gay rights and censorship in modern Russia under Putin, what the consequences are of drinking hardcore vodka and using outdoor loos in -25 temperatures and how Russia has changed since the fall of the Soviet Union. You will definitely learn more about Putin, the meerkat with nuclear weapons and you’ll get to hear some kick-ass opera and ahem… some Russian hip hop.
3) Does your comedy attract a certain type of audience?
Not really. I get them all in. Everyone from 18 year olds to 65 year olds, from Scots to Russians via Yorkshire. They are generally, though, the sorts of people who like to laugh. My show is very definitely not a TED talk or lecture of any sort. It has proper stories and jokes in it. The pathos is genuine because what happens in the show really happened to me in real life. People come to laugh and if I can teach them something about my experiences of Russia, what we need to know about one of the world’s most diverse and gigantic countries, so much the better. It’s been described by critics as “intelligent, self-effacing and deeply personal comedy, not to be missed” so I guess it attracts audiences who appreciate those qualities in a comedian!
4) What is the worst experience you’ve had with Edinburgh accommodation?
Moving into a flat that not only had black mould on the bedroom walls, it also had a resident rat, ants and a major spider problem. I once had to rescue a mate who found themselves in an Edinburgh flat in a not very salubrious part of town and when we arrived to pick up her stuff the block of flats was being raided by armed police from the drug squad. Nice.
5) What is your most treasured memory of your comedy career so far?
Selling out my show last year and then going on to sell out every date on my 40 odd date tour since then. Also, doing my first acting jobs in comedy films this year – one which was shot in my homeland of Wales and the other in the Peak District. And both have won major awards. They should be out on release later this year/early next.
6) What show will you definitely be seeing at the festival this year?
Jason Manford’s and John Bishop’s shows, as they are in the same venue as my show. I’ll also be seeing Tom Stade’s show and, if he’s doing a show this year, Paul Foot.
7) What do you hope to gain from the Edinburgh Festival this year?
More people to see ANGLICHNAKA because I am really proud of that show and the reception it’s received. That alone will be reward for me. I’m also doing a WIP show, so Edinburgh will provide a good testing ground for a new show I’m working on for next year.
8) What do you imagine your last ever show will be about?
Probably diabetes, as doing Edinburgh every year is surely going to give me some kind of medical condition due to the lack of vegetables, salad and the preponderance of deep fried food… either that or a show about Columbo. I have said before I am going to do a show about my favourite detective but haven’t got round to it yet.