Guest Blog: Garrett Millerick on SUNFLOWER at Soho Theatre
There is much debate about what a classic ‘Edinburgh Show’ is. Does it have to have a theme, does it have to be gag-heavy, is a narrative essential?
I have spent much of the last year fielding questions on this very subject because of the huge disparity between what I had promised to deliver with my last show Sunflower and what fate ordained that I would deliver.
Prior to staging comedy shows at the Edinburgh Festival, I was engaged in the staging of theatre shows there. I’ve also done a sketch show and a character comedy hour. I’ve produced, directed, written, stared in, moved set, flyered, driven vans – just about any job connected with the staging of shows at the Edinburgh festival. This leads people to believe I have some sort of great insight about what constitutes a good Edinburgh Show. I’m not sure I do though.
The trouble really started at the beginning of last year when I decided that I wanted to challenge myself to write an hour of straight stand-up. No theme, no narrative, just stand-up. I don’t think this is a better type of show than any other, it’s just I’d done two narrative-driven shows and fancied a change.
The people charged with selling the show pointed out that as well as being an artistic challenge for me it presented a challenge for them too; in a crowded marketplace, it’s quite difficult to market something that’s about ‘nothing’. I took their point and said “I know what we can do guys! We could make a virtue out of it being a pure stand-up show by saying so on the poster!”.
The show was called Sunflower, a title that I’d picked just because it was the title of my favourite Beach Boys album. The rough idea I had for the poster was for it to look like organic food packaging; I’d been in a Sainsbury’s and seen the packaging for some organic sausages. The packaging proudly proclaimed ‘100% Pure Meat, No additives’.
I decided that would be a funny thing to base my poster on, so I put a couple of stickers on the posters and flyers saying ‘100% pure comedy’, ‘No sad stories’, ‘Free from additives’ and that kind of thing. Make it look fun, and try to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace. Then I set about writing the show…
First off, I love a narrative. And I love a theme. As I say, I’d done a few theme shows. But last year I just fancied doing an hour of jokes. I read a review of my show stating that “nobody has been more vocal that Garrett Millerick about shows not needing a theme”. Well, if by vocal you mean putting a joke on your poster then yes maybe, but even then you’d have to ignore that I’ve done a fair few of those types of shows.
But, I had set out to do something specific, and then fate changed what I was writing. I think sometimes, before that happened, people wonder if I had been attempting to do an hour of jokes as a protest against classic ‘sad-comedy Edinburgh Shows’. But I really hadn’t been – the original plan was just born of my love of jokes and wanting to do something I hadn’t done before.
I now had a show that had become what some people class as a classic Edinburgh Show, but this had happened in spite of itself; namely, my show now had a sad bit about two-thirds in. As a result of this, and the juxtaposition of what it said on my posters, I got asked, and continue to be asked, to comment on the phenomenon of what an Edinburgh Show should be.
I also get asked about The Beach Boys quite a lot too, but not as much. Which is a shame, as I have far more to say about The Beach Boys than I do about Edinburgh shows. If anyone wanted to ask me to write an article about The Beach Boys, that’d be great.
Sunflower ended up following a three-act structure simply because of the phases of writing the show. I had completed roughly 20 minutes of material by April of last year, on course for what was originally intended for the show.
Then, in April, my wife and I discovered that we were expecting our first child. This changed my world view significantly, and as a result it changed the tone and timbre of what I was writing.
Then I’d written about another 20 minutes of material when everything changed again and we were no longer expecting a baby. Then I put the show down and didn’t think about it for a bit. By the time I came to try to work out how to finish it, things had got more complicated and life had got a little darker.
As is relatively well documented by now, there were a few changes between signing off on that poster and the show hitting the festival. My family suffered a tragedy a few weeks before the festival that prevented me from finishing the original show, so the final third of the piece was radically different to what it might have been.
I’m not going to go into the details of what happened here; it’s covered in the show -why not come and see it? It’s on at the Soho Theatre all this week. Suffice to say, any chance of finishing it in the way I’d intended had just evaporated. So I had two finished thirds of two different shows and no ending. I had to try and work out what I could do with that.
With the final third of the show, my wife and I decided that it would be a good thing to go and tell the story of why I couldn’t finish writing the show I’d intended to, because one of the things that got us through the tragedy was laughter and jokes. It was the only thing we had at certain moments.
So if you’d planned to head up to the world’s largest comedy festival with a show that was 100% pure comedy, but you couldn’t because life got in the way, it seemed reasonable to go to try and communicate that the only thing that helped you deal with life getting in the way… was comedy. It was a plan of sorts, and with a few weeks to go it was the only option we had. And it seems to have resonated with people, and it’s been cathartic to perform.
So my show ended up having a sad bit about two-thirds in, at the end of the second act. I didn’t plan it like that and it wasn’t anyone’s intention – it just ended up following a three-act structure. That’s not unique to Edinburgh Shows; most things follow a three acts structure, it’s just one of the laws of the universe. Life tends to follow a three-act structure and as the fella said… life is what happens when you’re making other plans.