Comedy Culture

Interview | Paul Richards: Serial Showman

By Max Modell

The Tim Minchin of drums? An ugly Hugh Grant type? Or just another lanky, awkward, middle class comedian? Who is Paul Richards?

Drummer, playwright, comedian, novelist, film maker and all-round nice guy, Paul Richards is certainly all of these things. An Edinburgh Fringe fanatic, Paul performed 85 times at last year’s festival. However, this year he is taking on even more, bringing seven shows to the Fringe: five as a performer and two as a writer and producer. So, Paul will be performing five times a day and doing a minimum of 117 performances, excluding guest spots and one-off performances!

“Every year I say let’s do less… A friend came up to me last year and said, ‘Paul, you’re limping’ and it’s like it’s physically hurting. I say that next year I’ll do some really good shows but calm it down a bit. But, I just have more ideas every year and they keep letting me do it!  I actually wanted to do more this year, but they put a cap on what I was doing because five shows a day is quite a lot.”

A unique guy, Paul’s eccentricity is that he is a drumming stand-up comedian. During the Fringe festival it’s not an unusual sight to see Paul running through the streets of Edinburgh with his cajon bumping on his back.

Beyond this, his method of performing has another drawback, constant comparison to Fred Armisen, a fellow drumming comedian. When I asked him about this rivalry Paul said “Someone sent me a link to his Netflix show… We’ve got Netflix in the house, but I haven’t dared watch it just in case he’s really good!”

Paul’s biggest show at the Fringe this year, and his most expensive to date, is the dark comedy Little Sparks, a play about three very bored office fire wardens. Each day the workers yearn for their call to action until one day the fire alarm finally goes off. After the building is evacuated and normality returns the workers are crushed by the revelation that the fire alarm may be the most exciting experience they’ll ever have. Determined to avoid this fate they begin to set their own fires to feel justified in their own existence. Then, as the fires start getting bigger and bigger, things spiral out of control…

As Paul has not been an office worker for quite some time, having quit his job years ago to pursue comedy, his choice to write a ‘mid-life crisis play’ seemed strange choice.  In fact, it’s just about as far removed from his own existence as a touring comedian and musician as possible. Yet, the play draws from Paul’s personal experience:

“Years back, about 10 years ago, I was working in an office and I was assistant to a fire warden. Unfortunately, on a day when I was in alone, the fire alarm went off and I couldn’t open the door.  Luckily there wasn’t a fire, or we all would’ve burnt to death because I couldn’t work out the latch – I really was terrible at the job. The next day I had this lecture from the other workers and realised how much this job meant to them. I just sat watching them and it’s really harsh, but I thought ‘this is all you have, this one thing’. And they were gutted that I was there, and they weren’t.”

Paul is a very chatty, wordy guy and this reflected in his script for Little Sparks. Yet, thanks to the direction of Emily Starr, a visual aspect was brought to the play, elevating it beyond Paul original script and garnering much praise. Never satisfied though, this ‘small’ success is not enough for Paul who now wants to transition away from comedy and towards theatre permanently. His next endeavour is to produce multiple shows across the UK and launch them all at the same time – his slow master plan to conquer the world of theatre! Ultimately though he wants to get a show in the West End: “I think if I can get some big thing going, tour it first of all, make it the best show possible, there is no reason why I can’t do it”.

Paul also recently stumbled upon success in China with his 70s West Coast inspired folk/rock band, Fred’s House. After playing an international festival in Cambridge they were approached and asked if they wanted to tour China. They laughed and thought nothing of it. Yet, the offer didn’t go away and eventually they accepted. After all, what could possibly go wrong? It turns out very little, and they went from playing to 30 people in pubs in Northampton to playing arenas in China. Paul described the experience as “like Beatlemania”.

This success has proved problematic for Paul’s comedy. Paul has always relied on his self-deprecating style and awkward charm, leading to shows about his singleness and the atypical situation he finds himself in. However, after meeting a lovely girl and the success of the China tour Paul wanted to change things up. He wanted to do a show about accidentally finding success and it being okay to be happy. There was only one problem. It was rubbish. Paul trailed the show three times, and no one liked it, so he had to start again from scratch, writing a show about his love for Joe Jackson and returning to his normal self-deprecating style.

Paul Richards is one of the busiest men at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and hardest working people I’ve met. While he has reached his point in his career through perseverance and hard work he couldn’t have done it without a little help. When I asked him how he managed it all his reply was simple, “Red Bull mostly, and a very very tolerant girlfriend”.

For further information about Paul Richards and his touring schedule visit his website at: https://www.thepaulrichards.com/

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