Like hundreds of comedians in hundreds of cities, Anne Edmonds honed her craft over hundreds of nights on small comedy stages. Making her way into the Australian Raw Comedy finals four years ago, Edmonds produced a memorable series of shorts for ABC Darwin before working her way into a spot at Edinburgh Festival (the world’s biggest comedy festival) in 2012. After appearances in New York last year, Edmonds is performing at the Sydney International Comedy Festival this week.
“I haven’t learnt anything in the last 12 months, or the last 35 years, and neither will the audience,” Edmonds says breezily, when asked to describe her new show, It’s Eddo!
“Last year I did a full character show, but the whole time I was working on it I was still performing on the standup circuit. This one has come out of all that material. It’s a lot of silly stuff in a row, and just the best fun I’ve ever had doing a show.”
Speaking to a comedian in the first week of the Comedy Festival is a different proposition to speaking to them in the months leading up to it, when they’re still writing, and re-writing. So when does the planning process begin? “In December the panic starts, and you might write a list of the material you’ve got, but for me it’s January,” Edmonds answers. “When everyone else is having a bit of a holiday, that’s when I start to get anxious, and angry,” she laughs.
“I went off to the Perth Fringe in January, and if you can get to another festival that’s ideal, because you can have a bit of a go and run in your new stuff,” she says. “Fringe Festivals are just the best. They’re the most lovely environments to be in, and that’s ideally what you’re trying to do – perform in that sort of environment.”
As well as learning what works in different cities, fringe festivals provide a context in which comedians can experiment.
“At fringe festivals I feel the audiences are younger. They’ll give you more room for experimentation, whereas at comedy festivals they sit there with crossed arms and it’s like, ‘Well, you said you were funny … ’” Edmonds laughs. “At a comedy festival that’s the number one thing they’re judging... you’re being judged against some stiff competition.”
It’s not just competition from other comedians. Australian audiences are well known for being tougher than most.
“I’ve definitely felt that going overseas,” Edmonds agrees. “I was terrified getting on stage in Edinburgh, but there they were, rolling around on the floor laughing. Americans, the second you walk out, they’re going ‘Whooooooo!’ whereas in Australia, you walk out and after 20 minutes they might uncross one arm,” she laughs. “It makes us pretty competitive. When you go overseas and watch Australian colleagues you do think, ‘actually, we are pretty good.’ We’ve been through the wringer.”
For Edmonds, it’s not the thought of tough crowds or stage fright that keeps her up at night. The hardest thing about comedy is the work that happens off stage.
“Anything to do with pitching ideas or having to write emails to people overseas to say I’m great and they should book me – I’m a mess,” she says. “I’m happy to go on stage in my bathers, but writing to people and saying I’m awesome is something I find really hard.”
But then there are those horror-story nights, the ones that make a spot of self-promotion seem like a cakewalk. “I’ve had nights where I’ve done that awful thing where you stop and say ‘This is the worst, I’m really sorry’,” Edmonds says. “People love the honesty of comedy up to a certain point, and that point is where you become a bit needy. Right then, all of a sudden you realise people might want honesty, but not that much. It’s another thing I’ve had to work on, just putting on a professional smile and storming ahead in those circumstances.”
And, as Edmonds says, the best way to work through those experiences is to keep having them.
“Often you’ll know in the first 30 seconds what sort of audience you’ve got on your hands. You’ll say the first joke and from the reaction you just think, ‘Oh hello, everybody here hates me and it’s going to remain a mystery why’,” she laughs. “But with experience you can win an audience over, and those are amazing shows. I’ve had people sitting in the front row looking so angry, then afterwards they’re waiting for you because they just want to say they thought it was the best show they’ve ever seen. The first time you’ve got someone in the front row with an angry face, you panic. The twentieth time, you go, ‘Oh there’s old angry mate’,” she laughs. “It’s all learning.”
It’s Eddo! will show on Wednesday April 30, Friday May 2 and Sunday May 4 at Matchbox, Factory Theatre. For timings and bookings see sydneycomedyfest.com.au