ED2011 INTERVIEW: What’s great about the Fringe is when people use it to try their hands at something new.
Stand-up Charlie Baker is no stranger to acting, but this is the first time he’s dabbled with writing a play, taking his short career in a wedding band as inspiration. We caught up with Charlie to discuss the show, what its like to be a playwright, and how his comedy career has helped his theatrical projects.
TW: Tell us more about ‘Wedding Band’, we believe it’s based on your own experiences?
CB: Yes, it’s a play based on my five years as a jazz singer in a wedding band, and nearly everything that happens in it did happen at some point during one of my many wedding gigs. It’s set at the reception venue in the hour before the wedding party arrives, and is as much about wedding days in general as it is what it’s like to perform at these things. When you are in a wedding band you go to an awful lot of weddings, obviously, and you start to recognise certain universal truths. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the £100,000 wedding (and I did play one of those, it was awful, no one knew anyone else, and I forgot my smart shoes and had to put gaffer tape on my Converse!) or a ‘do’ in a village hall, certain truths still stand. All those things are covered in the play. Which also doubles up as a guide to ‘what not to do at a wedding’ I suppose.
TW: Who is in it?
CB: I’m in it as Jimmy Blake, the singer who’s ambitious, but whose ambition is perhaps misplaced. He’s also a bit of a panicker, which isn’t good when you’re resting on unreliable musicians. Spencer Jones (CBBC’s ‘Big Babies’, ‘Broken Biscuits’) is the piano player, Craig Taylor – a very experienced muso who has been there and seen it all before – plays a character who has an eye for the ladies, loves eating and just wants to get the gig over with. Sam Battersea (‘Live! Girls!’, ‘Dawn French’s Christmas Cracker’) plays Sue Todd, the wedding planner who’s strict and organised, the professional who holds the purse strings and just wants everything to run smoothly. And Lee Fenwick (known for his character Mick Sergeant) plays Krazy Ken, the wedding DJ who is possibly the world’s dullest man. I am very lucky to have such brilliantly funny performers inhabiting these roles. It’s my dream cast.
TW: Did you write it specifically to bring to the Edinburgh Festival? Do you see the play having a life after Edinburgh?
CB: Not specifically for Edinburgh, no, but once I had decided to finish it, and do an edit and a reading, Edinburgh felt the natural place to take it. I’m not sure about afterwards yet, because I’m so focused on getting the show to the Fringe in a good state, that everything from September onwards hasn’t really crossed my mind yet.
TW: How did it writing a play compare to writing stand up?
CB: It’s a very different skill, but I enjoyed writing it very much. Originally it had nine characters in it, but it became clear to me that that was never going to be possible, so I edited it down to four and it became much funnier, richer and focused. Funny bits that I would normally use as stand up material have found there way into the mouths of the characters, and I like that. In a way that’s what I am trying to achieve with this, to bring the immediacy and relevance of stand up to theatre. I do believe that theatre can learn a lot from stand-up, on a number of levels, and especially at the Edinburgh Fringe when it comes to things like marketing, accessibility and fluidity.
TW: Have you directed the show?
CB: No way! I’m acting, writing and producing, so to direct as well would make me a total megalomaniac! Also I’ve never directed anything before, so wouldn’t know where to start. We have a brilliant director in Paul Clayton (‘Peep Show’). He has one of the best comic minds of anyone I’ve ever met and he is a brilliant actors’ director, pointing people in the right direction rather than driving them there.
TW: Presumably it contains some music…?
CB: Of course – it would be silly not to. I sing in the show too, but not something you would expect.
TW: You’ve now got quite a bit of acting on your CV, as well as the comedy. Which do you prefer?
CB: Stand up, stand up, stand up. It’s the greatest art form, for audience and performer alike, and nothing beats it. Acting’s great and I have been lucky enough to work with some brilliant writers – not least Graham Linehan, Steven Moffat, Sharon Horgan and Miranda Hart – but nothing beats writing a joke and telling it to 300 people. I’m hoping I’ll get a similar buzz with the play.
TW: Do you enjoy performing as part of group, or do you prefer taking to the stage on your own?
CB: One of the reasons I got into stand up was because I like being at the front with the light on me, which is in turn thrilling and terrifying. But being in a cast can have its upsides too, it softens the blow if it ever goes badly, and gives you someone to have a pint with when it goes well.
TW: Do you see yourself coming back to the Edinburgh Festival every year, or do you see yourself moving up and on?
CB: I took last year off to see if I missed it, and I really did, so I have planned what I want to do here for the next five years. It’s such a brilliant place to be as a creative person, and is a really good anchor for what you do for the rest of the year. I won’t be coming back with a stand up show every year because I want to mix it up a bit with other projects like ‘Wedding Band’, though do plan to bring a stand up show here again next year.
TW: Which do you like best, TV or live performance?
CB: I had one of the best weeks of my professional life when I mixed the two on ‘The IT Crowd’. That is TV first and foremost of course, but it’s filmed in front of a studio audience. It was brilliant and an absolute joy.
TW: Other than performing, what else are you looking forward to at Edinburgh this year?
CB: There are many brilliant people, as ever, including Lee Fenwick, who’s in the play and who is doing Mick Sergeant at The Stand, which will be great. James Acaster is incredible, Sara Pascoe is very funny, Josh Widdicombe is one of my favourites, Tom Allen is always great fun, Chris Martin’s really good and then there’s the guaranteed genius of Carl Donnolly and Josie Long. Remember, see the big names but take a punt too.
Charlie Baker’s show ‘Wedding Band’ was performed at Gilded Balloon Teviot during Fringe 2011.