Jess chats to Voice Magazine about her Edinburgh Festival 2017 show
Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
Hello, I’m musical comedian, impressionist and idiot, Jess Robinson. I can’t wait to come back to Edinburgh for my fourth festival. I absolutely LOVE it.
How would you describe your show?
It’s feel good, huge fun and sometimes a little bit off the wall. I’m an impressionist so expect familiar celebrity speaking and singing voices as you’ve never heard them before. I’m a bit like a malfunctioning juke-box. My band and I love pairing hit songs with singers who’d never usually cover them. Julie Andrews singing All About That Bass is a classic. We’ve had Edith Piaf covering Bonjovi, Katherine Jenkins singing Queen and Nicki Minaj rapping nursery rhymes.
This new show is my best yet. I’m back with my incredible live band who I adore. They’re my best mates and much more involved in this year’s show. I’m at the primetime of 7pm in the enormous upside-down purple cow. To reflect this, I’ve geared my show towards more of a family audience. It feels like a Saturday night entertainment show on TV, with games, big laughs, brilliant music, plenty of impressions of course, and a good deal of audience involvement. It’s pure escapism. NO POLITICS. Just fun, warmth, laughs and music. It’s a celebratory show and I’m so excited.
Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
The best (and worst) performers descend every year from all corners of the globe to present their weird and wonderful and hilarious and beautiful shows. There’s a real camaraderie between all the acts. Every year feels like a reunion of old friends. Every year I’m up I form a new bond with a fellow comedian or performer. It’s such a huge opportunity to make new friends, new fans, network, get seen by all industry professionals, try out material and hone your skills. You can see things here that you scarcely thought possible. It’s a proper cultural melting pot of comedy and theatre. There’s no other festival bigger or better.
What differentiates it from other festivals?
The sheer scale of Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest difference. The prestige of selling out or having a hit show where there are so many to choose from is invaluable. I’ve never known such warm or loyal audiences who keep coming back again and again and bringing friends and family. The other festivals I’ve played are brilliant too, like Glastonbury and Latitude, but they’re only over a long weekend. In Edinburgh you get to hone your new material night after night for a whole month. Plus not having to camp is always good!
Do you think the Fringe has changed over the years? If so, how? Are these changes positive or negative?
I think the fringe has got bigger over the years. Sometimes it feels really saturated with shows and finding a good one can be a bit hit and miss. But that’s also the fun of it. I’m not entirely sure how it’s changed over the years as the first show I brought up was only 4 years ago in 2014. In my experience, though my personal changes have been VERY positive. I’ve built up an audience, I’ve made friends and my act has flourished into something I couldn’t have imagined four years ago. Edinburgh encourages me to push myself and to try to be more creative, more groundbreaking, more impressive than the year before. I always want my audiences to see me doing something new. There really is no other festival like it.
What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?
I went to a performing arts school where my mum ran the second hand uniform shop and taught piano, so it seemed natural for me to go there too. When I realised I could make the pupils and teachers laugh, mainly by doing impressions of my mum to begin with, (well it’s always hard to navigate having your mum as a teacher at your school, so that was my chosen method), I found the high I got from seeing how entrained and amused they were, was like no other. I should clarify that at the tender age of 9 the only other high I’d tried at this point was Calpol.
I guess my influences and inspirations were / are fellow impressionists; Jon Culshaw, Debra Stephenson, Rory Bremner and Alistair McGowan. They have all been very supportive to me during my career. The latter two particularly so in the last couple of years after we all met in Edinburgh.
Vic and Bob’s madness definitely filtered through since I saw them on Shooting Stars when I was a kid. In terms of my contemporaries, I think Pappy’s Fun Club are so much fun. I LOVE the stand up of Ellie Taylor and the brilliant Robin Morgan. I can’t wait to catch their shows at the Fringe.
If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?
Working with children. Perhaps following in mum’s footsteps and being a music teacher. That… or a spy. Nobody would ever suspect me. I’m too scatty and clumsy. It’d be an excellent ruse.
If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
This… but on a bigger scale. I want to be touring the world with my show. Making people laugh, forget their worries and just escape into a musical world for an hour. The ultimate dream is to have my own TV show one day, where I can do the same thing – maybe with guests and games and sketches, but be beamed into peoples homes.
What is your earliest childhood art memory?
In the living room we had a fireplace with quite a big raised hearth. I decided to make this my stage. I’d have my dressing up box handy, the record player on the other side and spend hours practicing a show, before designing programmes and issuing tickets to the family. Mum and dad would have to sit through this tripe with fixed grins on their faces and obediently clap after every ‘number’. I wasn’t quite so worried about over-running back then; I quickly learnt not to have an interval or my audience wouldn’t come back.
Do you ever feel any pressure to be a social commentator, or constantly update material to respond to events?
I don’t feel any pressure and I’ve never thought of it in those terms. But I am very mindful to include impressions of the more popular celebrities and mash up current tracks as well as giving the audience some ‘classics’ too. It’s important to be current and keep things fresh and new.
Equally, do you think there has been a shift in public sentiment that has affected your work?
I have certainly learnt what sort of thing works for my audience and what doesn’t. I’m not political – or rather, my shows aren’t. I just like to create a bubble of joy where my audience, young or old – whatever their background, can escape for an hour and forget about all of the nasty stuff going on in the world. I think that’s a really important thing to be able to offer.
Describe the last year in 5 words or less?
A funny, crazy, creative rollercoaster.
If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?
YIKES! Good question. This answer will change as soon as I’ve written it. So, today, because i’m in that sort of mood, let’s say Gene Wilder. I would have loved to work with him and watch him work and learn from him. He was a comedy genius.
Why would a performer opt to do either a ticketed event or participate in the free fringe? What are the benefits and limitations of both?
I’m doing a ticketed event because I’ve been offered the prestigious Purple Cow venue, which seats over 400 people. That’s a big opportunity for lots of people to see my show. It’s also horrible if I don’t sell many tickets because I’ll be left owning huge amounts of money.
My bassist and pal Laurence Owen is a musical comedy performer in his own right. He always takes his show to the free fringe because he can actually make money. His shows often sell out. He’s very popular, but then, his venue seats, perhaps, 50. People can pay what they want at the end of the show. So he’ll often come away with a bucket-full of cash because his shows are excellent. However, I wouldn’t be able to do my show in a Free venue as the technical limitations mean I couldn’t have my band there or a decent sound system which is very important for my act. There are pros and cons to both – the obvious being – my purple cow is technically excellent, and perfect for a production of this size. However if it doesn’t sell, I’ll be really, really broke.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?
Talk to a range of people who have already done it and work out what the right venue would be for you. Think about what you’ll be able to do and offer that will set you apart from other shows. Come up with an original way to get noticed and sell your show. Expect to sleep for the whole of September.
When and where can people see your show?
Jess Robinson: Unravelled is on at 7pm from 2nd -27th August. Underbelly, George Square. (PG)
And where can people find, follow and like you online?
- Twitter – @jessierobinson
- Insta – @jessinson
- Facebook – @jessrobinsonofficial