What a unique end-of-July this is. The Edinburgh Fringe is nearly upon us but given that many fans - and performers - will prefer to stay local this year, lots of interesting gigs are cropping up elsewhere too. Which is good news for Luke Rollason, the rollickingly leftfield comic, who's doing a bit of both.
First up, for London-based Luke newcomers - Lukomers? - he'll be cranking out gold at the Big Wowie! bash at Grow in Hackney, also starring Kane & Abel, Julia Masli, Lorna Shaw, Nathan Lang, house band The Flop and host Abigail Collins. Seasoned Luke watchers are also welcome, of course.
"In celebration of Big Wowie! returning to a live audience, I'm going to be bringing the stone-cold classic bits that have made me internationally famous," he says. "The sieves love affair, the conga line of ghosts and the bit where I ask the audience 'Why Is That So Funny?' again and again until they fall about with tears of laughter streaming down their face."
Classic Rollason. Then from mid-August he'll be at the Fringe, with new things.
"I'm going to be heading to Edinburgh for a week at the Monkey Barrel - an incredible and supportive comedy venue - with a work-in-progress of my new solo show Bowerbird. That way, they can see how bad it is a year in advance and prepare accordingly.
"Bowerbird is all the stupid ideas I had whilst my life fell apart and I refused to leave my house. It's about hoarding, nesting and the love-life of your cutlery drawer. I want it to feel like having a panic attack in an IKEA - but funny!"
Daims everywhere. And how does he reckon this intriguing Fringe will pan out?
"I can't imagine a single reason why this Edinburgh won't be the same as every other that has taken place for generations and generations, and everyone who claims otherwise is letting the side down."
This whole year is a work in progress, really. Now let's look back at some finished articles.
My first gig was RH and Friends at The Miller in London Bridge - a gig where popular YouTube sketch act The RH Experience would perform improv to a packed audience of their fans. That was the second half. In order to access this, audiences would have to endure a first half of something totally unrelated.
This night, it was a group of idiots who were doing their first ever gigs after a week-long clowning residency in a Welsh forest. It was weird! It was really weird! Rob Duncan and Julia Masli (from Legs) were there, I think, and Nathan Lang. And people I have never seen perform ever again.
My original idea was totally unfeasible, so I put an anglepoise lamp on my head and pretended to be an angler fish by switching it on and off in the darkness whilst making "nang nang nang nang" noises. This was pretty much a solid gold hit, and for a long time this was the only thing I would do at gigs.
This became a problem at the many comedy venues where a blackout was nigh-on impossible, and I thought I would have to become a nocturnal comedian. Then I started doing other stuff.
Favourite show, ever?
What I love about this question is that it feels genuinely impossible to choose. I love gigs where it feels the momentum of the night has overtaken the expectations and intentions of the people present - and I feel so lucky to have been there for so many gigs that have managed to reach this magic where the performers feel totally free to make anything happen.
Choosing will always feel super arbitrary because the whole point for me is that these aren't one-off experiences. But here are a couple:
Throwing out my material and playing charades with a stag-do for ten minutes.
Watching an audience go mad watching a sellotaped sign fall down again and again at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Performing on a canal boat and nothing being more entertaining than the cat that would sporadically enter and leave the gig.
Doing an hour-long show as Stepdads, severely under-running, and then improvising for another thirty minutes as the audience refused to leave because they were convinced us begging them to go was part of the show.
Making up a four-hour long marathon show in a yurt in Kelburn in order to convince a single audience member that they were special.
Performing naked for the first time ever, to an audience full of naked people.
Roller-skating across a stage that the previous act had covered in cooking oil...
Oof. Depressingly, some of the worst things I have done onstage were me performing whole shows. Which is an hour of bad, rather than just five or ten minutes.
I travelled to Edinburgh for my first corporate gig, and did my one-man nature documentary Planet Earth III for a conference of investment researchers doing a day about exploring play. They hated it. I'm talking an hour of arm-crossed silence. And these people were expected to watch my show and then go and play with Lego and eat cupcakes. The only laugh, and I mean the ONLY laugh, was when I found the man who had booked me and threatened to kill him.
I have literally not performed that show since.
I'm a 'visual' comedian, so I do a lot of work with props and tech and stuff. So most of my heart-crunchingly bad nights have involved stuff breaking, etc. I refuse to give up on objects, though, or to work with more durable materials.
John-Luke Roberts once gave me very good advice, which was that if something is going to break, it needs to break in the same way every time. I have so far ignored this very good advice. I need that unpredictable element.
Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?
This is weird to say, but it is unfortunately and undeniably my best friend Christian Brighty. He introduced me to Bob Slayer, who is pretty much the reason why I've been able to make a living from performing at the Fringe, etc.
But I think Christian also steered me to situate my work in a comedy context, which I think has given me so much more freedom and access to opportunities as someone making stuff. Plus loads of other things.
The list is pretty endless - helping me sell out shows at Soho and Edinburgh, voicing David Attenborough in my first solo show - and probably most importantly, stopping me from taking my debut show to a pub basement in Edinburgh on a whim.
I try and be as open and helpful with advice now, to anyone who asks for it, as he was to me then.
And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?
Christian Brighty. He's a total piece of shit!
Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?
I'm never surprised when audiences hate what I do, because all my material sucks. I have to rely on being a very charming and nice boy.
My second solo show was meant to begin with me crawling out of a cardboard box wearing a VR headset, wandering through the audience, touching everyone and saying "wow! So real!" That sucked, and I'm not surprised. Early previews of that show were so bad I lost friends.
There's a bit that I have done with Tom Penn where we pretend to be folk singers, and sing Are You Going to Scarborough Fair at an audience member until they give us a response. And then we keep going, asking them about why they are going to the fair, what they expect to see there.
Eventually we end up dressed as Scarborough Bears, eating Scarborough Pears, and I still think it's one of the best ideas I've ever had. I keep talking about Scarborough Bears in interviews in the hope it will create a demand for its return.
How were your lockdowns, generally and creatively?
Just aces! I loved it! Sign me up for the next one, please!
Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?
In 2020, I performed for elderly people living in care homes in a tour organised by Pope Lonergan for Leicester Comedy Festival. Some of our audiences had dementia, and some were just very old. It was simultaneously a super-humbling and human experience, and totally stupid.
I did a (terrible) impression of Crocodile Dundee whilst trying to waltz to Waltzing Matilda. Before we left, we had an hour chatting to the residents, none of whom were convinced I was Australian. There was one man who had been utterly non-responsive for the entire show. I went to thank him before we left, and he looked up with a huge grin on his face and shouted "What a load of crap!"
That felt good.
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
Jesus Christ! Who comes up with these questions? What the hell are you doing to me? How do other people answer this? This is literally the question that I think is at the heart of the unhappiness of comedians everywhere. Stop asking it. I am asking myself it, all the time.
Here's what I will say. The more I do this, the more it feels I am looking at myself and my 'career' from further and further away, and the smaller I see myself. There's something comforting in that. I just have to keep that tiny, insignificant dot in sight without looking too hard.