Stuart Goldsmith: 'Everyone was getting into character while I taught myself to unicycle'
- Jay Richardson
- 5 August 2021
In town for a short Fringe run, the man who delves deep into the comedy psyche on his podcast wonders if he might have found his own sense of peace
Give or take a global health catastrophe, nothing has prevented Stuart Goldsmith attending every Edinburgh Fringe for the last 27 years. He's been a street performer, part of double act Kiosk Of Champions and a rigorously self-analytical stand-up who is reasonably chilled about this year's tentative return.
'Whatever the festival is at the time is what the festival is,' he ventures. 'If that's a bunch of huge venues, massive profile acts selling high-price tickets to loads of people, from them down to the fucking Silent Disco walkabout guy, that's what the festival is. But if it's pretty relaxed and sporadic, a cowboy ghost town permeated by little snatches of laughter on the wind, well, that's a nice change isn't it? You'll have to really seek out the good shows, because it was becoming increasingly lurid and bloated over the last couple of years.'
Goldsmith is performing six afternoons of Cut & Shut, an amalgamation of the best bits from his 2018 show End Of and the following year's work-in-progress, Primer, ahead of recording it as a stand-up special. Much of it will focus on ambition and traversing the big moments in life, learning from others, 'like Shackleton in the Antarctic, grabbing onto the line and howling advice to each other across the frozen tundra'.
Sanguine about being unable to truly capitalise on his appearance on Conan O'Brien's show in the US, broadcast just as word of Covid started to trickle out of China, Goldsmith is a compelling psychological study, an advocate of therapy who himself acts as a shrink to a degree on his famed The Comedian's Comedian Podcast. He maintains that he harbours no regrets about devoting almost a decade to probing other acts about their anxieties at the potential expense of more fully exploring his own insecurities for greater acclaim and financial reward.
'I'm quite untethered as a person,' he admits, momentarily sustaining the Antarctic metaphor, before adding, 'I'm like a fucking swarm of bees. I'm just constantly moving. That sounds too angry: a flock of something. It's like smoke with me. I've had such a fantastic career doing the most extraordinary, different, weird, unusual things; I couldn't just have focused on stand-up because I'm me. If I look back on my almost 17 years in comedy, the decisions I've made were probably right at the time. Like when I was an actor, everyone would be in the dressing room getting into character and I taught myself to unicycle. I was bored. I'm a fidget. I've just got to be busy.'
Thankfully, he's worked through the anxiousness he was originally channelling in End Of, and he takes issue with Will Ferrell's assertion that stand-up is, 'hard and lonely and vicious'. Or at least, that it's only that. 'You can feel terrible for many different reasons, when all you're really trying to do is make people and yourself happy,' he reflects. 'I've drunk so deeply from the well of comedy that for years I've been saying, "oh, there's no such thing as reviews, no such thing as the industry". Because the indefinable essence of it, the Phil Kay-ness of comedy, underneath, is just there and available to everybody. Stand-up is inherently noble, inherently benevolent. I've become almost hermit-like in my thinking, like an ascetic or monk. I don't see momentum anymore or career or breakthrough. I just see the stuff, the people, and there's you. That feels kind of hippyish but it also feels pretty healthy.'
Stuart Goldsmith: Cut & Shut, Monkey Barrel, Tuesday 10–Sunday 15 August, 3.15pm, £7.