Bits & pieces
This article is from 2007.
An award-winning show with nudity, lesbianism and racial politics sounds like pretty standard Fringe fare these days. But Brian Donaldson reckons Rebecca Drysdale has quite a few cheeky tricks up her sleeve
In November last year, Michael Richards, the washed-up comic formerly known as Seinfeld’s pushy neighbour Cosmo Kramer, got into a proper stew for verbally abusing black members of his audience. The ‘N’ word flowed freely and, with each racial insult, Richards’ struggling comedy career was being drained of life. In August, Edinburgh audiences will be treated to a comic hip hop routine from American writer and comedy performer Rebecca Drysdale which will be liberal in its use of that same contentious word. But will she be forced to go onto a primetime chat show and reel off a heartfelt apology? Of course not. Is she doing anything especially different from Michael Richards? Of course she is.
‘For the first 20 seconds, people are like, “what the hell are we supposed to think about this?”’ notes Drysdale of the audiences across the States who have been privvy to the routine we will soon be witnessing. ‘But then the joke explains itself as it goes, and you can get behind it and sing along and jam out or you can sit there and have your own feelings about it.’ Considering that Drysdale has been performing the sketch for a number of years now and when you think about how sensitive contemporary comedy crowds can get, it may be surprising to learn that she’s had only one negative comment made directly to her. ‘The routine is not a racist outburst like Michael Richards’, it’s more of a big hug,’ she insists. ‘But part of me is wondering just how far I can push things and still keep the audience on my side. But I’ve also got time travelling and robots in there.’
Travelling back in time to 2005 and the Ohio-born Drysdale was just another comic (she’s uncomfortable with the description of ‘stand-up’) trying to get noticed at the esteemed Aspen Comedy Festival. But boy, did she get noticed, scooping the Break Out Award and grabbing attention for her Dr Seuss parody about how all lesbians should just get along, a mock-folk song about Hurricane Katrina and a skit in which she acts out her pre-show shower ritual. You won’t be reciting many of her punchlines to your pals the next day, but her act is perfectly in tune with the more cerebral, theatrical, storytelling comedy which the likes of Demetri Martin, Maria Bamford and Wendy Spero have brought to the Fringe from across the Atlantic in recent times.
‘I’m not Lenny Bruce or Sarah Silverman,’ she notes. ‘I’m not doing crazy irreverent stuff that no one’s ever heard of nor pushing buttons that no one’s ever pushed before. I think I’m just doing comedy in a more presentational way, but I’ll say what I want and people will get on board or not.’ It wasn’t too much of a trial to get her parents on board with her choice of career, what with her brother Eric already a successful comedy writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. ‘He had already gone that way so they were probably worn down by that. But I guess any parent is going to be worried when their kid informs them that they’re running away with the circus.’
Drysdale might not have been preparing herself for an Edinburgh run were it not for the apprenticeship which many comics seek in Chicago, where her parents had parked the family after stints in France and Canada. ‘When I decided that I wanted to do comedy, you don’t study it for more than five minutes without knowing about Second City.’ That venue was opened in 1959 and has served as a breeding ground for comics learning their craft and specialising in improvisation. Among the alumni are Joan Rivers, Bill Murray and Mike Myers.
Drysdale was so determined to make it that she sold T-shirts and washed dishes there before nabbing her chance to go on stage. ‘It all happened so gradually, and then one day you turn around and think, “wow, this is my job; I did it.” It’s like getting fat and not realising it’s happening then one day you’re not able to fit into your clothes. Which also happened in Chicago.’ Come September, Edinburgh may know Rebecca Drysdale as a genuine comedy heavyweight.
Rebecca Drysdale: One Woman in Several Pieces, Baby Belly, Niddry Street South, 0870 745 3083, 4–26 Aug (not 13), 7.35pm, £9.50–£10.50 (£8.50–£9.50). Previews 2 & 3 Aug, £5.