There’s always a lot of literary activity happening in Edinburgh – just look at UNESCO’s What’s On page if you don’t believe me – but there’s nothing quite like Electric Tales, returning to The Stand once again tomorrow night. I spoke to comedian, writer and ET founder Sian Bevan to find out more.
Can you describe Electric Tales for people who haven’t heard of it?
It’s a night of comedy storytelling, originally set up with The Stand and The Scottish Storytelling Centre, to bring the two sets of performers and audience members together. There are lots of references to robots, games, prizes and filth.
How and when did it get started?
We did our first Electric Tales in September 2009, after I approached comedian Susan Morrison saying ‘I’ve got this idea…’ We then went to The Stand and The SSC, everyone seemed excited about it and it went from there
How do people get involved? Do you find them or do they come to you?
Both. I usually find people, as I sometimes have a feel for who would do well and get the most from the night. But, we’ve had people volunteering themselves and, as long as they’ve had experience in their field, I’m always open to new performers and ideas.
What is the best thing that has ever happened at Electric Tales?
Argh, hard question! I think it’s close call between the first time we performed in the beautiful theatre at the SSC and realised storytelling audiences like comedy (and vice versa) and when a very nice lady won a robot magnet and grabbed my arm afterwards, promising to love him forever. I think she really meant it, which is the kind of manic, slightly lonely, affection we appreciate at Electric Tales…
You have a no reading policy on the grounds this is a night of performance and comedy – what do you see as the differences between writers and storytellers/comedians?
We really wanted Electric Tales to be different from the very fine literary nights in Scotland. With storytellers and comedians, the fourth wall is down – it’s a live, fluid experience – and stuff can change, you can be sidetracked, or change your story to fit the mood, or add a gag based on what’s happened in the night… we don’t want people to be constrained by the words on the page, because they’re not the most important thing. People can read books if they want neat, articulated sentences. They come to see a show like ours because it can be a bit raw around the edges, and things can go wrong. That’s exciting. We sometimes allow one performer a night to read, especially if they’re a literary/poetical type, but only if they Promise with a capital P to include some banter. Otherwise, where’s the potential for humiliation, eh?
Do storytellers get heckled in the same way as comics? Why/not?
No, they don’t (generally), and I think it’s all a matter of perception. Comedians are seen as doing quite an arrogant thing: they reckon they’re funny enough to be worth listening to and so, by default, some audience members are ready to challenge that. Storytellers, on the other hand, are perceived as doing something quite kind and worthy: they’re offering to entertain and amuse, but with a modest nod to the vast heritage of their art form. I think as it’s seen as a lot less bullish, audience members are far more relaxed and just open to having a nice time. Some comedy nights can just be buzzing with tension as soon as you walk in the room; audiences genuinely get nervous at comedy nights, as there’s nothing more uncomfortable than watching someone die a stage death – the tension sometimes turns angry. At Electric Tales, we wanted to set aside a lot of that pressure cooker atmosphere and let audiences just relax and enjoy the swearing.
Are there any stories that shouldn’t be told?
Absolutely not. I can’t think of any subject which should be off-limits – as soon as you introduce censorship, you give that subject a power it shouldn’t have. Although my Mum would probably argue that I shouldn’t tell the story of my first sexual experience in front of her. Apparently that’s just a bit weird.
What would be your ideal line-up of performers, if you could have anyone at all?
Ooh! Well, Stephen Fry (of course). Then… Billy Connolly (master of the Shaggy Dog Story), Maria Bamford (queen of character-led wee comedy tales, and probably my favourite living comedian), Alan Moore (he’s Alan Moore), Will Self (to counter-balance my over-excitement with knitted prizes) and Caitlin Moran (for some real-world anecdotal filth). They’re all alive! THIS COULD HAPPEN! (Also Queen Victoria, cos I reckon she’d rock at the swearing).
When is the next one?
24th April at The Stand Comedy Club. Doors at 7.30pm, show at 8.30pm; tickets £5 (£4). Please do come, it’s always lovely.