Lorenzo Pacitti

Five questions for Sam Brady

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Uplifting stand-up comedian and failed Buddhist monk Sam Brady returns to the Edinburgh Fringe this August after last year’s hit, Meditation Ruined My Life. Here he enlightens Giggle Beats about what to expect from his new show, Kindness, and his plans for the festival.

Hi Sam. As a returning Fringe performer and a self-described ‘failed Buddhist’, how do you find your Zen throughout the hectic run of shows?

The Fringe can be pretty stressful for performers at times. It seems like every day there is some technical issue or some unforeseen problem. During one show, last year, I was in the middle of telling a very sensitive and moving story when a builder next door started hammering through the wall with a power drill.

In spite of my Buddhist training I still lose my mind and have a tantrum at least once during every Fringe. On these occasions, my wife usually follows me as I stomp off across town and then ushers me into a pub where she talks me down over a healing pint of Deuchars.

One trick I have learned is to wear Kindness merchandise. This is a great way to stay friendly and positive. No matter how rude people are when you’re flyering, it’s very difficult to be grumpy with people when you’re wearing a t-shirt with the word Kindness written all over it.

It’s also hard to ignore beggars in a Kindness t-shirt. During last year’s Fringe I personally financed Edinburgh’s market in heroin and cheap cider.

Your shows have earned a reputation for their ability to move an audience as well as entertain. Is this something you feel is an important part of your comedy?

Definitely. I think Fringe audiences often want more than just jokes. Having an hour gives you just enough time to take them through a full range of emotions, allowing them to not just hear the story but also to experience it.

I love getting big laughs but actually, the aspect of performance I find most addictive are those magic moments when the audience are so completely immersed in the narrative that they fall completely silent.

Also, the deeper the emotional impact, the louder the laughs that follow.

That’s the kind of show I like to see, so it’s the kind of show I try to create for other people.

Have you had any particularly enlightened or inspired audience members in your time?

Fortunately, if they are enlightened, they keep it quiet during the show. I imagine being heckled by a Buddha would be a bit intimidating.

I have met some amazing people at my shows, some of whom have become good friends. None of them are enlightened though. They are all daft, absurd, flawed human beings like the rest of us. And I kind of like that about them.

You also get the odd nutter. Weirdly, I never received hate mail until I started doing a show that celebrated human kindness. But every now and then I get a tweet or an email full of vitriol and bad spelling – for some reason the two seem to go together.

Do you feel sharing your experiences of ‘failed’ Buddhism is somewhat cathartic?

Yes, but I hope it’s a cathartic experience for the audience as well.

There is a joke among comedians that, if you want to win an award, you need to put a sad bit in the show about ten minutes from the end. But really this is missing the point. Sticking in some tale about your cat running under a bus is not going to do the job.

You can’t just tell a sad story. It has to be cathartic – some meaning has to come out of the sadness that helps us make sense of things at a deeper level. It’s not about sad, it’s about using laughter to face up to things that make us unhappy or scared.

Comedy has the power to help us stare into the existential abyss and walk away laughing.

(Sorry, that was all a bit serious wasn’t it? Ask me another.)

Can we expect you to enter a state of nirvana toward the end of the month?

A very earnest Buddhist monk once told me that, as a “clown”, I am destined to be reborn into the Hell of Laughter. I’m guessing he was talking about Jongleurs on a Friday night, but I can’t be sure.

I think I am some way off Nirvana yet. Although, I have heard it said that a spiritual awakening feels very similar to a nervous breakdown, so let’s wait and see.

Sam Brady: Kindness, Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh, 2-23 August, 1.20pm, FREE, edfringe.com