Vladimir MacTavish is a Stand Up Comedian, Character Actor, Writer, Public Speaker, as well as a Star of BAFTA nominated “Live Floor Show”. In 2009 he published the 50 Greatest Scots of all time, ever based on his shows from 2008 and 2009, which featured a foreword by Frankie Boyle.
Why do you go to the fringe and do comedy festival shows?
The most obvious and trite answer is that I live in Edinburgh so it’s easy to get to my gigs. But as someone who lives in the city all year round, it would feel weird not doing a show when the entire comedy industry has relocated to my town. It would be like have a party and spending all night in the bog (something I have in fact done, although not out of choice).
However, on the creative side, I take great satisfaction from doing a new hour each year, and doing the show night after night. Also, my year now tends to revolve around doing a Fringe show, so I focus my writing toward August from the previous winter onwards.
To save me from doing a lot of swearing at google, what is your history of Edinburgh shows?
In reverse chronological order:
2010 Whisky: An Idiot’s Guide
2009 The Top 50 Greatest Scots of All Time Ever Part 2
2008 The Top 50 Greatest Scots of All Time Ever Part 1
2007 A Scottish History of the World
2006 A Brief History of Scotland
2005 Sixty Things Scotland Gave The World
From 1997 to 2003, I did seven consecutive solo shows as Bob Doolally, all on a footballing theme, but whose actual titles I can’t all remember.
In 2004 I did a show which is best forgotten
Do you choose themed shows or just a straight hour of stand up?
As you’ve probably gleaned from the previous answer, I do tend to go for themed shows. There are two reasons for this: Firstly, it helps me to focus on my writing. I have always writing to a brief easier than writing in a vacuum. Secondly, it’s easier to market a show whose theme can easily point to a specific core audience.
How do you choose a theme?
I choose a theme that interests me, and hopefully will interest sufficient other people to make the entire exercise worthwhile. Over the years, I have done a number of Scottish-themed shows. There is a shortage of such shows on the Fringe… I find they appeal to locals and tourists in equal numbers.
How do you assemble a show?
It’s different every year. Sometimes I start with the structure and fit the material in it, The Top 50 Greatest Scots shows being a good example of that approach. I had the format of a countdown from 50 to 1 (as in most talking-heads TV shows) and then fitted the gags around the personalities in that countdown.
Other times, I start with the material and find a structure that suits it best. When I did my show about whisky in 2010, it involved a lot of personal anecdotes, so the show itself was presented in a storytelling style. Also, I had to drink a lot of whisky in order to “assemble” that show.
One year, I had my laptop stolen at the end of July, and it had the script for my show on it. So I basically had to improvise and re-write it from memory. Fortunately, I
remembered all the good ideas and forgot the rubbish ones, and I ended up with a much better show than the one I’d originally written. Also, when my insurance money came, I could afford to get a better laptop than the one I’d lost.
Not an approach I’d recommend, however.
Best piece of advice anyone gave you about the fringe?
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
What do you think the most common mistake acts make at the fringe?
Thinking it’s going to be their big break and lead to overnight fame.
Most effective way of selling a show?
If I knew the answer to this I’d be much richer than I am now. Word of mouth is still the best way of selling a show, plus any press, radio or TV coverage you can get. Any spots you can do on later shows or other people’s gigs, live chat shows etc will get your face out there.
Flyering can be effective, but it’s best if targeted at the demographic you’re trying to reach, for example, exit-flyering an audience to a show you think will also like what you do. Random, scattergun flyering on the Royal Mile usually pisses off more people than it attracts.
What’s your favourite memory of the fringe?
Hopefully my happiest memory will happen at the 2011 Fringe.
Least favourite memory of the fringe?
When I’d just graduated from college, I was in a 4-person sketch show. We were having “creative differences” (myself and my mate hated the other 2 fuckers). We all shared a flat on the High Street right opposite the Fringe office. Every day, from about 9.30 in the morning, a bunch of annoying bastards were publicizing their acapella show, by singing to the ticket crew outside a 30-second ditty which contained all the details of their show. They sang this on continuous loop all day, right underneath my bedroom window. I sincerely hope they are dead now.
You can find out more about Vladimir at his website.