Live comedy is returning to the UK, with the first drive-in gigs taking place in huge outdoor spaces. Yet the honour of performing the first intimate solo show after lockdown belongs to Nathan Cassidy.
Like virtually every other summer festival, the Buxton Fringe in Derbyshire has gone virtual this year. However Cassidy's show, Roses From Joe, is taking place conventionally on Sunday 12th July, with the audience sharing the same location as the performer. How? Well, in compliance with current restrictions in England, there will only be five people watching. And the show is taking place outdoors.
Of course, a week is a long time in lockdown. And guidelines for public gatherings are subject to change. Nevertheless, Cassidy reckons his adaptable, contingent offering "justifies the optimism of putting on a fringe".
A site-specific, promenade performance, Roses From Joe "is not just a gimmick" he adds. The show picks up on events and the mood of optimism that immediately followed Observational, his best show-nominated performance at the 2019 festival, with the comic literally guiding his select crowd through his fateful movements post-gig. "Or, if it's terrible weather, all six of us will gather under the bandstand" he concedes.
Regardless, the limitations "play in my favour, it can be a nice, intimate thing". And happily, "it sold out instantly. Because the alternative would be too depressing".
Roses From Joe derives its title from the on-off-on love affair of Marilyn Monroe and baseball great Joe DiMaggio. After the Hollywood idol died, DiMaggio arranged for six roses to be laid at her grave three times a week for the next 20 years.
"That made him happy, even though there was no chance of his love being reciprocated" Cassidy reflects. "And that idea of just putting love out into the world, not to anyone in particular, just seeing what it does, also fits in with what we've been experiencing with coronavirus. Applauding the NHS for example.
"This thing that happened to me in Buxton last year, which was uplifting and magical, gave me the kernel of an idea for doing a sequel to Observational. I'd put love out there, it was reciprocated and it was reciprocated fairly quickly.
"Corona has stilted my optimism to an extent. But there have been good things to come out of it as well as bad. And I figure what people want more than anything after this pandemic is something positive, not just to feel great for an hour but hopefully for a long time afterwards as well."
Retracing his immediate footsteps after his 2019 show, this Buxton follow-up will necessarily be a one-off. But the main body of the narrative will continue to evolve more generally with our uncertain future, with no end date in sight for the return of regular comedy gigs and the news cycle churning so rapidly.
"A lot of this material I'll never be able to use again" Cassidy explains. "The world is moving so quickly. Hashtags trend, comedians talk about something and it seems relevant. Yet practically the next day it's not. I mean, how quickly did we forget about Dominic Cummings? That was just over a month ago. But already a comic doing material on it would seem dated.
"By next year's Edinburgh Fringe, who's going to want to hear about that? Still, the general feelings of this time will persist. All of that feeling lonely. Without love. Feeling helpless without work.
"So this is a story coloured by coronavirus. I couldn't get back on a stage now - or even a patch of grass - and it not be. But it isn't the totality. There are other things on people's minds."
Retaining his stoic positivity about the only live date in his diary, Cassidy points out that he's played to smaller audiences at the brutally competitive Edinburgh Fringe, recalling a night at the 2012 festival when his crowd consisted of "two women and Roy Chubby Brown's agent".
Rather than howling into the abyss more-or-less, he was sending positivity out into the universe there too though, as "those two women subsequently became fans, helping out with subsequent shows and flyering". Chubby Brown is yet to book him for a support slot. But these are unpredictable times, so who knows?
Cassidy admits he was blindsided by the impact of the pandemic on his livelihood. When all gigs were canceled, "I was very low" he admits. "It was disbelief, a lot of comedians shared this. The cards toppled so quickly. Because 100% of my work was in stand-up, writing for stand-ups, directing stand-ups, I was like: 'oh my God, this is everything gone!'"
Fortunately, the psychology graduate was able to manage his anxieties, and those of fellow comics, by interviewing them for "Daily Dose" episodes of his Psycomedy podcast. "Yeah, I'm really proud of that" he says. "It's a nice little snapshot of what the whole comedy industry was feeling. And I got to speak to some comics I would never have spoken to otherwise.
"We were all looking forward to this period, when we assumed things would start to be getting back to normal again. But for the last month, I've been looking towards the end of the year and if [the UK live scene] beats that, I'll be happy. Socially distant gigs are starting up in the US now, in France. It's going to be at least the turn of the year before audiences come back here in numbers.
"Sadly, it's going to be ever more difficult for me and all comedians to do the job we love. How many clubs are going to be left? Right now though, this is the right time for this show, a year after something magical happened to me in Buxton. I've a burning desire to do it."