EdFringe Talk: David Ephgrave: Good Grief

“I no longer take such basic things for granted. I just wish the Government didn’t treat the creative arts like the less significant sibling to every other industry.”

WHO: David Ephgrave

WHAT: “David nails losing parents, so you don’t have to (NB you’ll still have to). Since David’s childhood, his dad Barry provided frustration and support in equal parts. Even as his health deteriorated, he still brought comedic relief. But when he died, everything imploded and now it’s time for a cathartic debrief.”

WHERE: Just the Tonic at The Caves – Just Up the Road (Venue 88) 

WHEN: 14:40 (60 min)

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Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

Nein, non, no and other such negative responses: this will be my fourth solo show at Edinburgh and my seventh or eighth once you add in the various things I did as one half of the comic duo Doggett & Ephgrave. The first show we brought up in 2008 was a comedy play I wrote with Glyn called The Balloon Debate, set in the basket of a hot air balloon, 2000 feet about East Anglia. This basket had to be built and dismantled every night in super-quick time as per the fringe tradition and also had to be strong enough to withstand the weight of the chap playing the pilot, who fell out of it towards the end of the show (he did all his own stunts).

We certainly never anticipated the emotional rollercoaster Edinburgh had in store for us that first time or how much money it would cost to do it. And that was fifteen years ago when things were markedly cheaper. I love the Fringe, and there’s no festival like it, but something has to shift before performers can no longer afford to do it. It reached that watershed years ago, to be honest, but it gets more prohibitive with each passing year without throwing in the after-effects of a global pandemic. If I ever meet the guy syphoning off the profits, I’ll shake my fist at them. My money’s on it being Scrooge McDuck though I can’t prove it; those anthropomorphic ducks of Scottish descent are the worst.

What are the big things you’ve learned since 2019 and have you absorbed any of the lessons yet?

Perhaps my most eye-opening realisation was how vulnerable the arts were in the face of something unprecedented like the pandemic. Aspects of my job that I’d never questioned – like whether an audience could legally congregate – were suddenly verboten. And a surprising byproduct of this is my sudden tendency to lapse into German, which I’ve already done twice in this interview; ich weiß nicht.

Before 2019, I spent twelve years running the comedy club Mostly Comedy in my home town of Hitchin that – more by luck than judgment – kept growing in profile and popularity. We recently moved to our biggest venue, which could comfortably seat 300 people, and the rollcall of acts who had played it was just extraordinary. I was even – shock horror – at a point where I could pay myself for what I did without worrying whether the club could afford it. Then Covid hit, and we had to shut our doors for nineteen months and managed two more gigs before closing for good.

None of this was likely before Covid. Now, I no longer take such basic things for granted. I just wish the Government didn’t treat the creative arts like the less significant sibling to every other industry, though with Nadine Dorries as Culture Secretary, this won’t change soon. Her unhinged body language frightens me; she moves like Vincent D’Onofrio’s bug-filled farmer in Men in Black.

Tell us about your show.

My show was written and produced by me and addresses what it was like to lose my dad to cancer in 2019 and then go no contact with my mum to end a cycle of emotional abuse. Both experiences were terrible, though the latter ripped me apart as while with my dad’s illness, there was ostensibly nothing we could do once we’d exhausted his treatment, the circumstances with my mum made me feel equally helpless, despite logic dictating that empathy could fix them. However, this wasn’t the case.

I’m aware that doesn’t sound like the most obvious setup for comedy, but maybe that’s the point. The last show I brought to the Fringe in 2018 was called ‘David Ephgrave: My Part in His Downfall’, which tackled my depression, amongst other things. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to own up to how much my poor mental health had held me back, but the title I’d chosen had painted me into a corner. In the end, I was glad it did, as the laughs came from a far deeper place. That’s also been the case when previewing material from ‘Good Grief’. And both my parents could be funny, though some of those the humour’s pretty dark. But don’t panic as I approach the tough stuff lightly. You don’t need valium to watch me, though if you suddenly Quantum Leap into my body, I’d recommend it.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Every year I recommend Phil Kay as there’s no one like him. He is just the best storyteller and can extract comedy from the most unlikely sources. His sets are a tightrope walk, though when he’s at his best, it’s like you’ve just watched the guy successfully traverse the line between the Twin Towers in ‘Man on Wire’. God, I love him.

Three comics who are also always a treat to watch are Lucy Porter, Anna Morris, and Dan Cook.