First Gig Worst Gig

Markus Birdman

Markus Birdman

Sometimes it's hard to find something new to write a show about, after years in the business. This is not an issue for Markus Birdman though, whose new Edinburgh Fringe one starts at the Banshee Labyrinth on Saturday. He's had an eventful couple of years, to put it mildly.

"Well, lockdown was difficult and very unproductive," Birdman explains. "I drank too much. Everyday, 5:30 I'd need a drink, but better wait till six o'clock. 5:45, I'm opening the drink. 5:50, I'm pouring the drink. 5:55 I'm sniffing the drink. Six o'clock, boom, first drink, 6:30 another, 7:00 my third. Then I'd get up. And make my daughter some breakfast.

"Then, June 2021, I had a stroke and lost half my eyesight. I mean that wasn't ideal, but suddenly I was furiously writing. Some ridiculous and extraordinary things happened that struck me as funny. So I just kept scribbling. It's a tragic admission, but anything terrible that a comic experiences, it's about half a second before we think, 'this'll make a good routine'.

"I also fell in love. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but she is ace. And really has been my rock. She's African-American. That means she's both African AND American. Have you any idea how loud that is? She's also hilarious."

Now there's an intro with a happy ending. But let's head back to the beginning.

First gig?

My first comedy gig was a heat for The Daily Telegraph New Act. It was at a London strip club and I remember a Geordie comic who was so sexist and racist, the organisers had to physically drag him off.

Favourite show, ever?

Supporting Jason Manford for two nights at The Palladium. It was the focus of my stroke recovery, knowing I had that coming up.

Worst gig?

A gig for the troops in Cyprus. They had just come back from Afghanistan. I had to be escorted off the camp by armed guards. They were British troops, I hasten to add. But I'd have probably done no worse if they were the Taliban.

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Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

Hmm, there's been a lot of people who've helped me. But I might single out Pete Harris (Eddie Izzard's ex-manager) who took a punt on a very new and inexperienced me, by taking me to my first Edinburgh.

Paul Sinha opened, I was in the middle, Micky Flanagan closing, with Alun Cochrane MCing. How incredible is that!? And the show after us was Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Robin Ince and Jimmy Carr. I realised this is what I wanted to do with my life.

And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

I'm really tempted to tell you but I won't. She is very vindictive. Has anyone ever answered this?

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

Well, there's a routine I used to do where I'd goose-step and beatbox across the stage whilst pretending to be at a Nazi reggae party. It used to be my most popular bit, but it no longer works. I think people are far keener to stick up for those Nazi reggae artists than they used to be.

Markus Birdman

Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?

I once got a review "Markus Birdman, Markus Turdman." That still makes me laugh. There are no good heckles. I do wish people would stop asking comics that question, like there ever was.

I got a review at the New Zealand Comedy Festival that was so spot on what I was trying to achieve, it made me cry. Mostly I don't read reviews. I don't feel they are helpful to anyone. I'm answerable only to God.

Is it tricky nailing the tone of this type of show?

Yes, incredibly so. I had a real problem getting people to believe I had a stroke. They just think everything a comic says they are making up for a laugh. Like I'm trying to cash in on that 'stroke' trend that's taking comedy by storm!

If they want to watch a perfectly able-bodied man mock those less fortunate than themselves, they should watch Prime Minister's Question Time. Everything I say is true.

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

Ha, I've never thought of myself as having a 'career". I just enjoy writing about my life and performing that and getting paid for that so I don't have to do anything else. So far, that's gone ok.

Markus Birdman - The Bearable Heaviness of Nearly Not Being is at The Banshee Labyrinth at 5:10pm, 6-8, 10-15, 17-22 & 24-28 Aug.

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