“As a comedian, it’s easy to forget to keep the home fires burning” – an interview with Ashley Frieze.
Ashley Frieze has been a comedian for nine years but 2011 has been busier than ever. He’s taken show The Seven Deadly Sings to the Edinburgh Fringe, completed his 1000th stand-up performance, helped plan his wedding and ran a national, female stand-up competition. Andrew Dipper caught up with Frieze to find out more about his hectic lifestyle, and, with his wedding on the horizon, where his priorities lie.
AD: You’ve obviously had a busy year – what’s been your highlight and what’s been your priority?
AF: There have been two big highlights for the year. My 9th visit to the Edinburgh Festival as a performer was really, really enjoyable. I think I even managed to avoid the major lows that can come when you run out of energy halfway through. In equal place, though, was Funny’s Funny, the comedy organisation I set up with a group of other comedy people in order to run a comedy competition for women. In the end, I gave more of my time to Funny’s Funny rather than my Edinburgh show, as there were more people involved and I didn’t want to let anyone down.
AD: How did you end up involved with Funny’s Funny then?
AF: It was something that kind of happened. When Funny Women announced that their competition was pay to play, there was a huge backlash. A lot of people were going on the internet and agreeing that it was a bad thing, and I ended up in an online chat with a couple of comedian friends on Facebook. It wasn’t a difficult idea to come up with – if we don’t like their policy, we should do something better instead. So we committed to doing it and told everyone. Once you’ve done that, you need to deliver it or you’ve let everyone down.
The Funny’s Funny competition took pretty much all my spare time for 12 weeks. We grew so large and had so many details to get right. The team all worked really hard, and we tried to cater for everyone who got in touch with us to be involved. Things like rehearsals and rewrites for the comedy material took a huge backseat.
Since the competition, we’ve run a few additional events, including booking some shows at the Edinburgh Fringe for Funny’s Funny performers and running some comedy workshops in London to boost the confidence and skills of our participants. These haven’t really been time consuming, and have been extremely enjoyable to be involved with.
Of course, we’re also bringing the Funny’s Funny Highlights of 2011 show to the Manchester Comedy Festival, which is an excellent way to see just some of the wealth of talent we worked with this year.
AD: Will there be any changes to the format of Funny’s Funny in its second year?
AF: We’re still talking about what to do for next year. Assuming we run another comedy competition, the ethos will be pretty much the same. Competition gigs can be very high pressure and this can make performers feel like they have to be someone else for the judges. We wanted to create a supportive atmosphere where everyone felt like they could enjoy the show and do their own thing, regardless of judging. I wouldn’t change that about Funny’s Funny.
AD: How was your Edinburgh show, and did it match your expectations?
AF: I really enjoyed it, and the audience feedback was brilliant. It was the second year of the show. I rewrote some bits and kept all my favourite parts from last year. As a result, it felt fresh, but I had the confidence of knowing my way around the material from the previous year’s version. As a format, it gave me a chance to improvise but also share loads of set pieces with the audience. This means that I can play with audiences who are up for messing about, and give a solid no-nonsense version of the show to audiences who want to sit back and see what I’ve brought along.
I didn’t expect it to go as well as it did. I made money, I had people saying hi in the street and coming along to see the show for repeat performances. It was a joy to go up there every day and do it.
AD: Most of your appearances have been as part of the free festival – do you think free shows are good for the Fringe?
AF: Free shows are good for the Fringe in that they allow the performer to operate away from commercial pressures. For newer acts, who don’t have an audience prepared to experiment with them in a fee-paying environment, the Free Fringe/Free Festival offers a model for performing where you can do what you want and find the right audience for you, rather than have to invest financially in your show and then end up worrying more about production costs than about getting the show right.
That said, the audience at a free show don’t always know what to expect. There’s no clear difference in billing between someone who is new and having a go, and someone who you would normally pay good money to see. This means you have to show the audience that they’re in safe hands from the off or they’ll feel like “free” means “worthless”.
AD: Why are you doing your show at the Manchester Comedy Festival then? You did it last year, too, didn’t you?
AF: I’ve been performing in Manchester since I started as a stand-up. It’s always a good atmosphere. The Manchester audience are very comedy literate and exacting, and as a performer it’s satisfying to play to different types of crowd. Last year’s Manchester outing for the show was a nice revisit of the material, and I’ve been looking forward to bringing it back out of mothballs for this year’s festival. When you have something which you can’t do in a regular stand-up club, it’s great to share it with the audiences you get at well-run comedy festivals like Manchester’s.
AD: Finally, how is the wedding progressing? I suppose stand-up has taken a bit of a back seat…
AF: I’m a terrible fiancé. I’m involved in the wedding plans, but my wife-to-be is doing a load of the work. My role, I think, is to provide moral support and to try not to double book the wedding day with a gig! I’m obviously looking forward to the big day and will be putting stand-up on hold for a few weeks while we enjoy being newly weds. Expectations are running high for my speech, and I’m planning to surprise them all by being honest and sincere, rather than funny…
I’m very lucky to have had a supportive partner. She didn’t seem to mind me working with every female comedian I could find while organising Funny’s Funny, and she was even looking forward to the Fringe. As a comedian, it’s easy to forget to keep the home fires burning, so I’ll be re-prioritising in a few weeks as the wedding comes nearer.
Just a few more shows to organise first, though.
More information on Ashley Frieze can be found on his website: www.ashleyfrieze.co.uk. His show, The Seven Deadly Sings, is on at Apotheca on Tuesday 25th October as part of the Manchester Comedy Festival. Ashley’s album is available on iTunes and Amazon.co.uk, though it’s way cheaper on www.cdbaby.com.