Jacqueline Novak makes her debut appearance at the Edinburgh Festival this year at the Pleasance Courtyard with her show How Embarrassing For Her.
Jacqueline spoke with The Fountain about the differences between theatre and stand-up as well as her intention for the Fringe.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting?
I’m extremely excited. I’ve wanted to come for years. So much of my artistic career is doing stuff with the hope it leads to other stuff. To me, performing a full show every night for twenty-six nights…that is the dream. Also, I am going to read a bunch of Ian Rankin mysteries in advance to get into the Edinburgh mood.
TF: The show certainly sounds interesting, what is the premise?
Most broadly the theme is embarrassment. I find everything embarrassing in kind of an existential way? Throughout my life. My parents say “‘barrissin” was not my first word but an early favourite. I think my response to finding basic human things embarrassing – the body, sex acts, efforts at dressing, speaking, behaving like a person — is to desperately try to find dignity and meaning through a poetic lens. The show is a tour of my constant attempt to narrate or poeticise my way out of the grotesqueries of the human experience. Could I be any more grandiose? There’s no hiding it
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
I’ve longed to do a proper one-person show for ever. It seems like the perfect sweet spot for me as someone with one foot in traditional stand-up and another in long form writing, and all that. Mike Birbiglia has been a mentor for ever, and his journey has inspired me, in that creating something that is satisfying and theatrical doesn’t have to be a departure from stand-up but an elevated expression of it. The distinction between stand-up and one-person show seems to me to be primarily based on concerns that one group is encroaching on the other’s territory. Some theatre people seem to think that stand-up is crass, thin, builds to nothing, disposable…and shouldn’t “count” as theatre. Some stand-up people think that a long form narrative shows shouldn’t “count” as a comedy special…because “hey! we’re selling laughs here, how dare you touch someone’s heart.” It’s very strange, and not to be an asshole, but seems to betray insecurity on both groups?
I like the simplicity of stand-up, even the tradesman quality of it, the expectation that you better communicate or you’re outta here. The expectation of “make ’em laugh, b**ch” sometimes annoys me, but it forces me not to be not completely lost in abstraction. There have been moments where I’ve been at a comedy club, and so frustrated because a man is staring at me not understanding what I’m saying that it will force me to put something more plainly and then that becomes the new language for the joke. I like that. I lean towards trying to communicate abstract weirdness…so stand-up tethers me in the world of the living. But I love the theatrical expectation of Edinburgh, because it encouraged me to really in preparation conceive of my hour as a show!
TF: Have you been to the Fringe before, is there anything you are keen to see whilst in Edinburgh?
I’ve never been. I have no idea what to expect except I’ve heard it’s not that warm and there is a castle. My American compadres are the only shows I can recommend because I know them personally…Chris Laker’s Chris Laker is Dead and Kate Berlant’s Communikate. Otherwise, I’m so excited to wander and explore. I suspect I’ll get very inspired.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond The Fringe?
I haven’t thought beyond the August. I probably should. Planning ahead is good, but I’m convinced that after twenty-six nights or whatever, I’ll be completely changed and it’s wisest not to plan for who I’ll be when I return.
Jacqueline Novak: How Embarrassing For Her, Pleasance Courtyard – That, 5.45pm, 4th – 26th August