Interview: Phil Ellis, James Meehan and Will Duggan – 'If they hate it, I'll whack the dog suit on at the end'
Over the past few years Phil, James and Will have been a big hit with kids as well as their sniggering guardians. With all three going solo this Fringe, we wonder if it will all end in tears
For the last three years, Phil Ellis, James Meehan and Will Duggan have been sharing the same hot, sweaty dressing room. They first teamed up in Ellis' 2013 debut 'solo' show Unplanned Orphan, then for the following two years in the award-winning kids' show Funz and Gamez. This year they're all going their separate ways. But don't worry Funz fans, there's no truth in the rumour that both Duggan and Meehan are sleeping with Ellis' ex, Leanne. They're all still the best of pals.
Not that Phil's gone entirely solo as this year he has Mat Ewins and Fin Taylor on board. 'This is what I do for "solo",' he laughs. 'I always work with my friends. I can never do an hour purely of stand-up. An hour of my stand-up is just too grim … '
However for the other two, it will be purely solitary, as Meehan (who was also in Gein's Family Giftshop) notes: 'The thing about group shows is if one of the gigs isn't going as well as others, you can share that sense of defeat. With this, it'll be me on my own crying into my pint.'
As they're both performing at the same time, Meehan and Duggan will probably team up afterwards. 'This is the first time it's just my name on a poster and I'm not dressed as a Dalmatian,' states Duggan. 'But when the first one goes wrong this year, I'll miss going for a pint with the others. I'll have to sit in the dressing room on my own.'
Taking about moving on and crying into pints, Ellis' whole show this year is devoted to banging on about Leanne again. But he is trying to change … 'I realised that my stand-up and all of my Edinburgh shows always seem to be affected by my divorce with Leanne so I need to deal with it. This one is all about the technique I use in order to forget her, get used to my own company and to get ready to find love again. And all of the wacky adventures I had along the way.'
As ever with Ellis, he will fly by the seat of his pants and plenty will probably go wrong in the process. One guarantee is that it will be gloriously funny (somehow it always is). Another is that the 1970s jacket will appear, an emblem of Ellis' problem with holding on to the past, standing in for the hair that escaped him. 'I always wanted to hold onto my Oasis haircut but, as it turned out, I got a receding hairline and it ran away from me.'
Meanwhile, Duggan's show was still forming when we spoke, literally, as he was taking a break from tapping away on his laptop. 'It's called A Man Gathering Fish, which is a clever title that makes me seem intelligent but when I came up with it I had no real theme,' he confesses. 'It's a sort-of love letter to comedy, it's the first and really only thing in my life that I've put everything into. I really wanted to be a comedian and the show is basically me going "am I?" Which is dangerous because a reviewer could just say "no",' he laughs.
As a seasoned Fringe performer, Duggan's hopes for his solo year are modest and level-headed. 'If I could make one respectable, distinguished gentleman nod and go 'very good', I'll feel like I've achieved something. And if they hate it, I'll whack the dog suit on at the end.'
Meehan has a similar outlook: 'I'm hoping I can make people think "oh that was good, I never thought of it that way", which is all I really want out of the show.' His Class Act is both an examination of social status, especially in an industry dominated by people with middle-class backgrounds, and a homage to his working-class background.
'The show isn't about me having a chip on my shoulder,' Meehan is keen to stress. 'But most working-class people think it's not really a legitimate career. Being a comedian or an actor: that's not "legitimate" even at an amateur level.' But Meehan's own family were incredibly supportive: 'a lot of the show is celebrating the working class, celebrating my childhood, my life growing up. There were difficult parts, but the only reason I'm doing comedy is because I've got two great parents who are very supportive.'
It's a good job that Will Duggan and James Meehan are taking a measured approach as they'll probably have to bail Phil Ellis and his jacket out of some cell / ditch / illegal drinking den at some point during the festival.
Some Friendly Advice
Phil's advice to Will and James: 'Don't get above your station, you'll come crawling back soon enough.'
James' advice to Phil: 'Although we aren't in the same show for the first time in four years, don't forget that I'm there for you. Not emotionally or physically but because you still owe me £8.'
James' advice to Will: 'Remember that in the grand scheme of things none of this matters. So don't be angry when I try and poach your audience members.'
Will's advice to James: 'You're gonna be great but if you take any audience members away from my show I will break your legs.'
Will's advice to Phil: 'Please just write a joke Phil. Just one joke.'
James Meehan: Class Act, Just the Tonic at the Tron, 4–28 Aug (not 15), 6.20pm, £5.
Phil Ellis is Alone Together (But Mostly Alone), Underbelly, 6–28 Aug (not 15), 5.40pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10). Previews 4 & 5 Aug, £6.
Will Duggan: A Man Gathering Fish, Pleasance Courtyard, 6–28 Aug (not 15), 6.45pm, £8–£9.50 (£7 £8.50). Previews 3–5 Aug, £6.