Rites of offspring: Annie McGrath, Ed Night and Elliot Steel
Ben Williams meets three young comics hoping to follow in their famous fathers' footsteps
Annie McGrath, Ed Night and Elliot Steel have two things in common: they’re each making their Fringe solo debuts this year and they all have established comedian fathers. McGrath is the daughter of writer-presenter Rory, Steel is the son of political maestro Mark, and Ed Night’s dad is stand-up and Match of the Day 2 regular Kevin Day (don’t panic, the reason behind Ed moving from Day into Night is coming soon … ).
Not that these three offspring are all worried about expectations and legacies. Their attitudes towards this year’s Fringe range from the ‘anxious’ McGrath through ‘all right, actually’ Night, to Steel, who admits he’s ‘confident’ and says so, well, confidently. I sat down with the trio to talk family values and following in the footsteps of funny fathers.
What made you want to be comedians?
Annie: Comedy was never part of the plan. I auditioned for a sketch group at Leeds University and got in. When I left uni I thought, ‘I'd rather do this than work in an office’.
Ed: I never really wanted to do stand-up. I've been hanging around with comics for years: they're all pricks! But I did a gig because I’d been writing stuff down, and I really enjoyed it.
Elliot: I was kicked out of college. For the sake of the interview, say that I burnt the place down. But it was really because I didn’t keep up with coursework. I’ve always loved comedy and thought, ‘I'll give it a go’. It got very serious very quickly … I don’t even know if it’s what I want to do!
Do your comedy roots add any extra pressure?
Annie: Yes. I remember when I was 12 a girl at school saying to me, ‘you know your dad’s a comedian? You’re not very funny, are you?’ It’s obviously stuck with me.
Elliot: I’m young so I’m arrogant. I started when I was 16 and I’m 19 now. I’d be terrified if I was 30 doing this for the first time with everyone thinking, ‘that’s Mark’s lad’. But he’d probably have been dead for years by then. Actually, that could have helped the Edinburgh show.
How much have your dads influenced you, comedically?
Elliot: The circuit’s changed since our parents started. In the 80s and 90s left-wing ideas weren’t the norm. So to do now what our parents did would actually be hack.
You’re calling them ‘hack’?
Elliot: They weren’t back in the day!
Ed: But they are now! I took a bit from my dad when I started: I stood still behind the mic stand like him so I didn’t shake as much and show the nerves.
You used to tech your dad’s Fringe shows, right?
Ed: Yeah, since I was 13. Being able to watch his show every day and see it change has been an incredibly valuable experience.
Elliot: I haven’t seen my dad’s show once in Edinburgh. I’ve been at the biggest arts festival in the world and was like, ‘nah, I’m just gonna stay in and watch TV’.
Are your fathers supportive of you performing?
Annie: Yes, but he has the anxieties of the things he’s been through from performing, too. He’s more nervous watching me than anyone else.
Ed: My dad has never seen me gig. I won’t let him. To start with he thought I was Charlie Big Bollocks, but now he’s very happy about it.
Elliot: I dunno. I’ve never spoken to him about it … this has made me realise that I actually have quite a bad relationship with my dad!
Do you mind if reviews mention your fathers?
Elliot: I have no problem with it; it’s valid enough and people are curious. But if they come to see me expecting my dad, they’ll be disappointed.
Annie: For me, it’s less of a comparison because he’s a man. Plus I’m not going to go on stage and do Three Men in a Boat. It’s not what I want to use to sell my show, but I’m not going to pretend that he’s not my dad.
Ed: The first line of my first review read, ‘Ed Day, son of Kevin Day’. I wouldn’t have minded it, but I hadn’t talked about it on stage. But since I’ve changed my name it’s not a comparison that invites itself as easily.
Did you change it to deliberately distance yourself from your dad?
Ed: No, it was a Spotlight issue! There was already an Edward Day. I chose Ed Night because I’m petty. And that’s what my show is about: changing my name and south London.
Annie and Elliot, what are your shows about?
Annie: Mine is seven characters that aren’t really characters, they’re exactly the same. So if people don’t get on board with the first one it’s going to be a really long hour!
Elliot: Mine’s called Netflix ‘n’ Steel. Which doesn’t even work as a pun!
Why choose that title then?
Elliot: Because with a south London accent it does work! I got a review calling me ‘the voice of my generation’, so the show’s about how I don’t want to be the voice of my generation. But with jokes, I hope. It’s not just me reiterating points for an hour.
Annie: Or just reading out really good reviews?
Is there anything you particularly want to achieve at this year’s Fringe?
Annie: To quit comedy for good! No, for me, it’s about getting better and more confident as a stand-up.
Ed: I just want to get used to doing a show every day.
Elliot: I want my old teachers to come and see me in a sell-out room. If they came to see me I’d probably just call them ‘fucktards’ for an hour.
Annie: Can The List publish ‘fucktards’?
Elliot: Oh, sorry. ‘Nitwits’ then.
Ed: ‘Fucktards and Nitwits’.
Elliot: That’s what I should’ve called the show!
Annie McGrath: The Seven Ages of An, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 3–28 Aug (not 17), 4.45pm, £7–£9 (£6.50–£8.50). Previews 3 5 Aug, £6; Ed Night: I’m Amazed it Has a Title, Gilded Balloon at the Counting House, West Nicolson Street, 3–28 Aug (not 15), 5.30pm, £5; Elliot Steel: Netflix ‘n’ Steel, Gilded Balloon at the Counting House, West Nicolson Street, 3–28 Aug, 6.15pm, £6; Mark Steel’s in Toon, Assembly Hall, The Mound, 6–28 Aug (not 15), 9.30pm, £13 £14. Previews 4 & 5 Aug, £10.