Bonne rentrée !
I thought it only polite to provide an update on the wondrous whirlwind that was my first experience of Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August!
Showing from the 8th – 20th August at 48-Below, the AUNTIE was a boldly dignified success, with filled out rooms, howling audiences and glowing reviews. It was a chance for Edinburgh to receive the word of the Lord, delivered first-hand by the Queen of Queens herself, Auntie, who proudly handed out flyers, singing ‘In the Name of Jesus’ loudly to any passers-by who were perhaps in need of Him.
Two days before my train up to Scotland, I received an email from a certain Clare Brennan on behalf of The Guardian (TOO many squeals and hurried, manic phone calls to tell friends followed) requesting tickets to watch my first ever Edinburgh show, which was on at 8:45pm every night in the basement of The Phoenix pub, relatively far, far away from the main performance hubs. Clare arrived the opening night, and to my delight, I loved how I the show went that evening and incidentally, so did she. Have a peep at her review here.
“His characters are exuberantly idiosyncratic, yet their views on race and sexuality expose contemporary hypocrisies and reveal poignant pain.”
Little did I know, a few nights later, a reviewer from The Scotsman was discretely sat in the audience, his review praising me for AUNTIE‘s “amusing, nuanced and nonjudgmental perspective it offers on lives too often reduced to caricatures or tokenistic gestures, if not ignored altogether”, also commenting on how it brought “a range of types rarely seen on the Fringe”, which a writer and performer can only be pleased to provide!
My final review was to be given by To Do List, and although the success I would love to enjoy feels a little out of reach right now, their declaration that “this young renegade is destined to go far, and we think he could easily become the next Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) or Chewing Gum’s Michaela Coel…“ may be a (very good) sign of things to come for those who wait!
On the penultimate day, whilst swishing about Fringe Central, I got into conversation with a gentleman called Paul Levy who works for Fringe Review about how the Fringe has been, and he asked me about my show. My ‘elevator pitch’ has been practised around 234044 times, so before I know it, the conversation turns into an interview.
Experience wise, I was very lucky to have spent the first half of the Fringe sharing a flat with comedian (and friend) Athena Kugblenu and in the company of two fellow comedians. Our intensely fascinating discussion on critical race theory opened a myriad of intellectual thought, and I told Athena that the more time I spent with her, the more a tight black polo-neck, a matching beret and a clenched fist held in the air seemed like a good look.
As with anything, there is always a dark side to be found, and although in my experience not constant, when the frustrations of being a ‘POC’ (person of colour) hit, they hit hard.
The picture below is of me and a Kenyan woman, who crossed paths with Auntie when she was in full flow, the Kenyan flag on Auntie’s kanga an advertising banner for my own African identity. My limited Swahili allowed me to greet her, ask her how she was and even thank her for asking (!) and I felt so warm and happy just to tell her I’m half Kenyan.
But what happened next angered me for weeks later.
This lady’s partner approached us while we were having a conversation, and started to make those classic clicking noises that a (usually white) person ignorant of African languages (and I’m sure a great deal of other things) makes in order to:
Feel included in the conversationDominate the conversation
- Mock African languages and the people who speak them
- Reinforce the belief that ‘White’ people are a superior race
- All of the above
Angry public outbursts (e.g. refusing to take people’s shit) and a desire to be gracious and forgiving don’t often mix, so I take that well-trodden spiritual high ground of feigning blissful ignorance and start to tell them both about my show (in character).
Because I felt such a connection to this lady, I asked her in-laws to take a photo of her and me. The mother, a type I am very familiar with but choose not to judge, said her daughter is the best photographer in the family, so we pose for a photo. I thank her for taking the photo, but looking at it, the sun was facing us so…
THE PHOTO WAS TOO DARK.
I felt the dark clouds billow over us as I said those words, memories of racist internet memes and of racist people citing them coming from the past to the present. The images of five people (of European parentage) and one person (of African parentage) in a dark room, the punch line that only the latter’s teeth are visible.
Graciousness does not allow me to escape this situation, as the mother has seen those memes, heard those jokes and now points at her daughter-in-law, cackles, and says
“YOU CAN’T SEE HER BECAUSE SHE’S BLACK!”
The thing is with this incident is I could see the whole story arc before it had even happened, but the eternal optimist in me (Lord knows one has no choice!) willed it not to happen.
But it happened.
And my new Kenyan friend looked at her despondently, and said “Yeah, it’s because I’m black.”
I saw this woman, whom I initially chose not to judge, and saw her standing very, very close to a bin. Part of me wanted to let her know that there’s a place for people like her, and it’s in that bin every Tuesday on rubbish collection day.
But I didn’t.
I bid them all farewell, put my smile back on my face, continued to flyer on the streets of Edinburgh and bury the murderous rage that particularly unpleasant experience had provoked.