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“Frankly, anything being played badly is always funny.” | Ed MacArthur on being musically mistakable at Vault Festival

Tell us about the show you’re bringing to the Vault Festival.

I’m bringing a work in progress show for a one-off musical comedy performance of new material. It’s a multi-instrumental, madcap hour of songs and stand up. It’ll be a good chance to see if my new ideas are worthy of expansion, or whether I should rip it up and start again…

How did you get into musical comedy?

I used to do lots of musical comedy plays with DugOut Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe every year until, like Robbie with Take That, I split from the band and went solo. The main difference being that I’ve yet to receive the same level of critical or commercial acclaim, and I’m not as good to watch live.

What’s your trick to making a song funny?

I’m not remotely sure, but I’ve got a couple of friends who, if I play them something and they think it’s funny, then I know it’s right for the show. If it’s clear what the joke is, that helps. I’ve got about 20 songs that I think are hilarious, but when I play them to people they haven’t got a clue what I’m on about or who/what I’m mocking, so there’s probably something in that.

What do you think is the funniest instrument?

This is a constantly changing field, because funny instruments become the victims of their own success and as a result are no longer funny, for example the Jazz Flute post-Anchorman. But at various stages over the last 100 years you could have made a tremendous case for the ukulele or the kazoo. But now the Ukulele is a bit overdone. 

Though frankly, anything being played badly is always funny. I do think the double bass is pretty amusing. Even in non-comedy performances, if I see a double bass onstage I chuckle at the sheer logistical feat of the musician having to lug it from gig to gig.

This is a work-in-progress show. How much do you expect it to change between the Vault Festival performance and the finished product?

I wish the new show could arrive perfectly formed at the Vaults, but you can’t cheat the process. The end product is sometimes completely unrecognisable from the original work in progress. I once previewed a devised play that was intended to be a re-telling of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, but 3 months later it ended up being a four person musical comedy about an apocalypse set on a pedalo. So I expect the end result to be entirely removed from the Vaults show – perhaps an interpretative dance piece set on scaffolding. 

What is your plan for the show after Vault Festival?

My plan is to preview it in London and then tour it to Leeds, Doncaster, Newbury and more before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe 2020. But I’m open to ALL OFFERS. Regional venues, West End Runs, birthday parties for the children of Central Asian Dictators, etc.

What do you hope people take away from your show?

People have hard and busy lives and deserve a bit of light entertainment, and not the sort where the performer lectures you about the importance of voting for Plaid Cymru or wants sympathy for their struggles with psoriasis. I hope the audience have fun, are highly entertained and leave feeling good about themselves.

Sometimes, after enduring a boring 3 hour play, I wish the director could be dragged onstage at the bow and everyone in the audience who has been up since 6am or earlier that day should put up their hands, just so the director can appreciate the extent of the suffering that they’ve just inflicted. 

Life is short. Have a laugh and forget the world for 59 minutes, I bloody dare you.

Are there any other shows you’re looking forward to at the Vault Festival?

Shameless plug, but the Vaults Sketch-Off should be hilarious. There will be a heinous number of comedians being paired in different sketch groups for the first time and being pitted against one another. It can be quite solitary doing solo comedy, so I’m looking forward to working with a group of comedians and performing in it, but also seeing what all the other groups come up with. And whilst I hope they do themselves and their families proud, I also want to win. Comedy is a competitive sport.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to break into comedy?

I’m yet to break into comedy, so I’d do the opposite of what I’ve done so far. By which I mean book as many gigs as possible, have a clear plan, commit to a clear onstage identity that isn’t just an amalgamation of Bo Burnham and Tim Minchin, and probably get a comedy agent. 

I refuse to take my own advice on this, but you’re welcome to it.


Ed is performing The Mistakable Sound of Ed MacArthur on 20th March.

Book your ticket here.

Find out more about Vault Festival here.

You can keep up with more of Ed’s work by checking out his website or following him on Twitter or Instagram.

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