Disability

Full transcript: Tell your story at Edinburgh Fringe

This is a full transcript of Tell your story at Edinburgh Fringe as first broadcast on 1 June and presented by Beth Rose with Ed Morrish, Frank Burton and Damon Rose.

BETH - Listen up - BBC Ouch is off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August this year and we want you to come with us. All you've got to do is tell us a story on the theme of Going Out. Interpret it as you will, but it needs to relate to a disability or mental health challenge. Simple? Maybe not. So, we thought we'd give you a helping hand and give you some top tips on writing a story from the inside. That's the judges and a previous performer.

In the studio today is me, Beth Rose. Damon Rose, also from the Ouch team, but I can assure you we are not related.

DAMON- Hello.

BETH - We've also got award-winning producer Ed Morrish.

ED - Hello.

BETH - Who you could get to work with. And we have Frank Burton who was one of the performers last year. Hi Frank.

FRANK - Hello.

BETH - So, we'll start with you Frank. Edinburgh last year, what was it like?

FRANK - It was a great experience from start to finish. It took me completely out of my own comfort zone because it's not something that I'd done before. I'd done live performances before but in very different sort of context. I used to do kind of performance poetry and things like that. And I ended up doing this Storytelling event in front of a TV audience, which was quite nerve wracking but I got through it. The team were all very supportive. It was a great night.

BETH - It's very nice of you to say we're nice and supportive. So, we should say that it was a Storytelling event like you said, and we set you the topic of Awkward Moments. And you had to come up with something, anything related to your disability or mental health challenge. So, what was your story about?

FRANK - I've got epilepsy, or a form of epilepsy should I say, and there are a lot of awkward moments associated with that because you tend to like suddenly have a seizure in the middle of a public place and people don't know how to react properly to it. And in the story that I told last year it related to me, I started to have a seizure and the people around me didn't realise what was going on.

BETH - You stay conscious while you have your seizures, don't you?

FRANK - Yeah, that's right. I kind of go into a bit of a daze, go into a bit of my own little world and have to sit down. But I've figured out ways of counteracting that by doing sort of weird things like patting my head and rubbing my stomach, and recalling facts. So, I ended up in a kind of bizarre conversation about Al Pacino with a couple of guys in a pub, and so ended up sort of spouting out Al Pacino films.

BETH - It was a great story and the audience enjoyed it very much, but why did you decide to write the story? What made you go for it? And had you done something like this before?

FRANK - No. I did stand-up comedy or I tried to do it about six or seven years ago once, and it went very badly and I didn't do it again after that. But I saw that Ouch were looking for people to tell stories about disability and this thing had just happened to me, it was very recent so it was something that was really fresh in my mind and it gave me the opportunity to actually examine it and talk about that sort of crazy time in my life really. I've completely got over it by the way; I've not had any issues with the epilepsy for about two years now. So, it was a good opportunity to tell that story.

BETH - We asked quite a lot of you, if we're honest, so it was the same format as this year: so you had to write us a brief outline of your story and then you basically then created a seven to ten-minute monologue. Was that challenging? What were the hard bits? What were the best bits?

FRANK - The actual writing part of it was quite easy because it just kind of came out really. What I find difficult, which I thought I would find easy for some reason, was memorising a ten-minute story, having it committed to memory. I thought that would be a piece of cake for some reason, but it's really difficult; it took me ages. But we got there in the end. I spent quite a lot of time kind of pacing around my hotel room in Edinburgh just shouting names of Al Pacino films at myself.

BETH - And what about baring your soul? Because you're telling us something that happened to you that probably a lot of people didn't know happened to you. When you perform your own writing it's always a bit nerve wracking.

FRANK - Yeah, it felt good actually baring my soul because I don't usually do that. I'm a fiction writer so I make things up. Writing about myself that's quite a new thing for me as well really, so yeah, it felt quite good to actually do that.

BETH - We didn't leave you entirely on your own though; we weren't quite as cruel. We paired you up with Ed Morrish who is here.

ED - Hello.

BETH - He's our producer, part of the team, worked with all of them. So, what's the secret, Ed?

ED - I actually remember the first time I remember seeing Frank's, I was just sitting in my kitchen reading loads and loads of stories, and that was one that I picked up on my laptop and went and read it to my wife because it had fallen out so beautifully.

The fact that it was a real story and there hadn't been embellishments to make the narrative improve. I don't think Frank had changed anything because it would be funnier. There's no sense of well, it was in this sort of place; it was just what had happened to him.

And it had a brilliant payoff which was the punch line which was - I don't know whether to ruin it or not - but after Frank was with these guys in the pub who didn't know he was using a coping mechanism. And then at the end, so they help him through the seizure, and he says, 'oh thank you very much' and the guy gets up and says, 'right we're going to get another drink, and when we come back: Robert de Niro', which is just to have sat through all that and still not got what was going on was quite funny.

And the structure of Frank's story was, it's something that I realised that I remember I suggested to other writers, I remember Angela Clarke in particular, which is he laid out sort of an ordinary scene: he was in the pub, he was driving south on the motorway, they'd stopped for a break, and that's something that everyone just can mentally get on side. And then he started telling us what was unusual about it, which was his form of epilepsy, in the same way that Angela Clarke's story she was having a massage in a spa - which is not something I've ever done but I can very easily imagine that - and then she started telling us about her Ehlers-Danlos. Was it Ehlers-Danlos?

BETH - Ehlers-Danlos, yes.

ED - I'll call it EDS. It's about letting the audience know what they need to know to get the joke. I've got a six year old and an eight year old and I showed them a joke the other day and my son fell about laughing and I said, 'and do you get it?' and he went, 'no' because there were two things in it he didn't get the reference. He's eight, I've started showing him Monty Python, Pascal, the French philosophers obsessed with sheep. I had to explain what a philosopher was. So, you need enough information to get the joke.

So, starting off with the situation, then sort of stopping for a bit and explaining what the condition is and how you cope with it, allows the audience to believe they already knew all of this when you go back to the situation. So, it's not a surprise to them.

There's a really hard thing in topical comedy which is if people haven't seen the news story you may as well have made it up. So, like if you look at Newsjack on 4 Extra, which I produce the series of, the top stories which will be about Theresa May or Donald Trump, they don't need an introduction because you saw all those stories. So, if you were doing a joke about the day where recording this Roseanne Barr just got fired from ABC, if you're doing a Roseanne joke everyone knew that. When you get to the end of the show, when you're doing the 'and finallys', the host who was Justin Edwards for me and now it's Angela Barnes, will have to tell you more about it, because if you don't trust that it's a news story you won't find it funny because, well you've just made something up.

In fact I remember once the day the new Pope got elected at 20 past seven and we very quickly cobbled together a joke so we could open the show - a topical show going out the next day - with a joke, and no one got it because of course they'd all come into the radio theatre and switched their phones off. So, we were the only people in the building who knew that the new Pope was Argentinian, we were the only people. So, we had to leave it in because you can't ignore that story.

But the point is that people need to have all the information. When you look at Angela's, when you look at Frank's they set out where they were, they took a break to explain what their disability or their mental health challenge was, and then they went back to the story. And all of those pieces now fitted into the audience's head so they were equipped to header towards the punchline with: right this is why it's funny.

So, Angela had not explained what EDS does to her limbs, and then when you go back to the story you remember - I mean, the ideal thing is the explanation should make you slightly forget what the set-up was. So, I was having a massage - not a big deal. I have EDS - okay, that's interesting. And then when you go back to I was having a massage you realise the implications of not telling the person massaging you that you have EDS, which is she pulled her arm out of her shoulder socket; which now you know all those things the audience sort of is slightly ahead of you, get in. And that's where the comedy comes from: the sort of inevitability of it.

So, I think if you're thinking of telling a story you have to sort of set up where you were, then explain what it is that made this not usual. You can google Pixar's rules for storytelling. But the structure goes: once upon a time there was x who was a person, every day they y, which was an event, but one day z. That's how you start your story. So, an everyday thing made harder by a thing that you have to explain, I think is the central structure of these quite short mini stories. Of course you can do different sorts of structures, but by and large that's the one I found recommending to people because putting all the pieces needed into the audience's head is the main thing you need to do for them to find the end funny.

BETH - And our bit is quite tricky because obviously you've got to explain away your mental health challenge or your disability, somehow you've got to get it in there to make it relevant, this is a good way to do it without making it sound like a school lesson.

ED- Yeah, well I think if you look at the first one we did, someone like Ruby McKellar who had dyspraxia, which was about just being refused entry somewhere because they thought she was drunk, and she'd fallen over and cut herself. And explaining how dyspraxia affects her life, what it looks like from the outside and having a sense of humour, yeah I know what it looks like because it's not common enough that everyone would see; if someone was walking to a pub and struggling to stay up it is probably more likely that they're drunk than they have dyspraxia. That's, if you're playing the odds. So, understanding what it looks like from the outside and having a sense of humour about that.

And then her punchline was about how she had this disastrous date and then the guy, she was telling a story about how her dyspraxia ruined the date: I fell over; I spilt things; I wasn't allowed into a bar; I started swearing at the bouncer. And then the guy still wanted a second date. And the punchline was: well I don't want anyone who thinks that was a good date.

BETH - It was very funny!

ED - And so where that punchline comes from is sort of two turns: the date goes disastrously, it turns, he wants another date; it turns again, I'm not interested in anyone with that low self-esteem that they thought that was good. And so, like I say, with Frank's story where the twist was you thought the guy had reached a level of understanding, but in fact he was just after trivia.

And so punchlines, I work with John Finnemore a lot who's just done an interview on a comedy website, and one of the things he said, advice for new scriptwriters is: write punchlines, they're not trad, they're not hack, they're what the audience was. And if you have a resolution that - in Frank's story, did they do Al Pacino [sic]? I don't know. Did he say, 'oh no, I've got to go'? You don't leave that story wanting to know. You just go, oh brilliant, he didn't get it. And there's a sense of closure to it. And that's what a good punchline does: it's the moment where at the end of the story or a routine or a sketch the audience goes, that's finished.

There's a comedy producer called Gareth Edwards who is brilliant. He did Mitchell and Webb on radio and TV and one of the things he used to do was if there were three massive laughs in a sketch he would break it up into three sketches and drop them throughout a show.

BETH - Ah.

ED - Because if it's a massive laugh well you don't really want to carry on. So, when you go back to them it's like an extra added treat. We've done that a couple of times on Souvenir Programme. But you're looking for a story that is finite and closed as far as the audience is concerned.

BETH - We've talked a lot about comedy, haven't we, but actually we're not putting on necessarily a comedy show. Like in our very first Storytelling event which was in London we had John Servante who talked about his depressive episodes and it was a love story. So, he went through a really tough time. He had a friend who he thought was just a friend because why would she want anything more to do with him; it turned out she loved him. And that was not the punchline but the payoff.

So, do things change depending on the genre?

ED - I think there were still funny elements to that story. It was still entertaining. It wasn't gag a minute Michael McIntyre sort of thing. But I think we bill it as an evening of storytelling because we're aware that the skill of writing seven minutes of jokes is very hard. Even now people who have done ten Edinburgh's will do previews because not everything will work. And I think what we were looking for was entertaining stories where the humour is a relative concept.

But actually the thing about comedy is that there's a certain amount to which it's parasitic on other art forms. So, the rule of three, which you may have heard in comedy, a thing, a thing and then the third funny thing, that's actually a rhetorical rule that we've nicked and subverted. Comedy uses all the rules for storytelling: you have to know where you are and you have to know what's going on or you won't pay attention for long. And that's true of dramatic stories, it's true of comedic stories.

It's why Airplane!, amazing film, that is just a disaster movie script that they bought and undercut at every possible moment. But the story, the actual storytelling was, was it Zero Hour, it's genuinely a disaster movie that got made and Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker bought the script and just added jokes everywhere. But that's why that plot works: there is genuine tension, there is genuine drama, but there's also 'my name's not Shirley'.

So, I think if you can tell a good story it's just a question of how many jokes you feel comfortable adding.

When I'm script editing one of my goals is not to add as many jokes as John Finnemore would add or as Paul [Senhart 14:15?] would add. My goal is to help them tell the story in the best way they can. And if that means oh, this would make it funnier I'll suggest that. But if making it funnier would make the story less good then you sort of leave that alone.

And I think across the evening you have sort of a mix. So, someone like Moira Campbell didn't have one story; she had a few different events where her autism made things difficult, like 'what happened to your brilliant hair?' 'Oh, it didn't grow back after… this is how it grew back after the chemo'. And then there were a couple of things, I think meeting Iain Duncan-Smith was one of hers, 'well I've never heard of you'. And the material I had to work with there was no point pretending that this was one big narrative; it's just these are some situations and a summation from her. So, that's what we helped bring out in her.

BETH - And Damon, you were obviously there behind the scenes in the green room with everyone. What was it like from your perspective?

DAMON- Well, it was great. Everyone was being very supportive of each other. We were a little bit away from the stage area in a prefab where everyone was sitting around watching the television, what was going on live in the blue tent, the BBC blue tent.

BETH - BBC main stage I like to say.

DAMON- Main stage. And when people fluffed their lines or whatever there was a great degree of support and people sort of sitting forward and watching and fingers crossed. Everyone was really behind each other. It was a really nice atmosphere.

BETH - Yeah, as you said, a few people tripped over their words and whatever, and it made absolutely no difference.

DAMON- No.

ED - If you listened to the podcast or saw the version on iPlayer or BBC news channel they won't know that anyone tripped over their lines because we edited that out obviously. So, it's an awkward moment in front of a few people in Edinburgh, but it doesn't go any further.

I'm just worried about people thinking oh, well I couldn't get on that stage. You can, it's fine. The thing about Edinburgh audiences there are so many people in Edinburgh looking for so many different types of shows, they know what they've come to see. We bill this as it's an evening of comedy and storytelling, new people telling their stories, and people come along in a really sort of supportive mode.

DAMON- And one of the great things about getting disabled people to do storytelling is - and this is really proper basic storytelling: one person on a stage talking to an audience with very little in the way of input I suppose from producers, it is basically their story - and the great thing that I think we're doing is bringing out some stories that other people perhaps don't know about or don't think to put into scripts in other TV or radio shows.

It was Awkward Moments was the subject of the last storytelling event, and we have an awful lot of awkward moments I think, us disabled people. We meet a lot of people. I was talking to someone the other day, we have a lot of transient relationships as disabled people. On my way into work this morning I probably spoke with about six or seven people because they stopped me, asked if I was all right, perhaps said something a bit odd, that kind of thing. It just happens all the time.

And I'm just really pleased we're doing this and this is a great spotlight for some of those experiences that disabled people have that don't get out there.

BETH - Frank, what have you been up to since? Did we inspire you into doing some new stuff?

FRANK - Yeah. I'm doing a podcast now. This is what I do nowadays: I do a podcast called Ragbag. And I play music and I play a character who happens to be called Frank Burton, but it's not me, it's a character, and I tell stories on there as well. Check it out everyone.

BETH - Yeah. We've had some really good alumni. If you're a fan of Britain's Got Talent, then Lee Ridley, who did Edinburgh with us last year, he is into the grand final - the bookies' favourite at the moment. And then lots of other people have gone on to do more stand-up. I think Ruby McKellar's done some comedy; other people have written plays. By all means you do not need to suddenly launch yourself into a brand new theatre career, but if you do fancy it then here is the crucial information for you:

You need to tell us your story. The theme is Going Out; that can be whatever you think it means to you. It must somehow relate to your disability or mental health challenge, and be true in some format.

You can send it to us via email, it's ouch@bbc.co.uk or you can direct message us on Facebook, we are simply BBC Ouch on there. The crucial bit: deadline is 18th June at 9am, so that's a Monday morning. 18th June, just make sure you don't miss out.

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