Britain’s Snap Election Caused An Unexpected Problem For The Edinburgh Fringe

“Let’s just say, I didn’t make a bet on the election date, and if I had, I would be massively out of pocket,” says Emma Sidi, who’ll be performing in character as chief Partygate investigator Sue Gray in her new show at this year’s Edinburgh festival fringe. It’s a surreal take on political comedy, with character comedian Sidi reimagining Gray as “a real hun, that kind of girl next door, someone who says it how it is”, but there are also topical jokes, with Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer appearing as key characters.

Sidi, like most of the country, expected the election would be called in autumn, so when the announcement came that it would be done and dusted less than a month before the fringe opens, comedians who dared to tackle politics in this volatile year were suddenly faced with serious rewrites.

Nish Kumar is no stranger to the demands of political comedy and always planned to experiment with the work in progress run of his new show in Edinburgh, before touring this autumn, so was braced for change. But maybe not this soon.

“I was working under the assumption that I would be rewriting for an election that would be called in October,” he says.

“But what we all didn’t take into account is that Rishi Sunak has absolutely no idea how politics works.”

Emma Sidi. Photograph: Matthew Stronge

Podcaster and satirist Matt Forde’s new show anticipates the end of a political era: “But I didn’t realise that era was going to end before the festival starts,” he says. “The challenge is not knowing the result yet. I’m writing about stuff that’s happening in the election but once we’re on the other side, it will feel quite dated. It’s going to give me three weeks to write a show and that’s a big pressure.”

Both Sidi and Kumar feel Liz Truss jokes will be the first to go. “By the time I go on tour, she’ll be two prime ministers ago,” Kumar says.

Truss featured heavily in an earlier version of Sidi’s show, imagined as a crisp-loving former friend of the senior civil servant. Audiences loved it for weeks, “then it just stopped working, we started to forget about her,” Sidi says.

Yet jokes about older events can work. Gray’s own moment in the spotlight was many months ago, but Sidi found intrigue in “this shadowy character who everyone in the UK has heard of but nobody knows anything about”, especially as her path from investigating the Conservative government’s misdeeds to becoming Starmer’s chief of staff could prove to be “a blinder” if her new boss becomes prime minister.

Sidi is interested in “our obsession with charisma, and thinking that it’s relevant to policy”, and is more concerned with “tapping into national feeling more than tapping into the facts of politics”, making much of her material more durable.

While Kumar plans to create new jokes “week on week”, with one section of the show dedicated to topical material, he’s also determined to give the long view on the Conservative government. “I hope we don’t forget that the failure is not confined to the past two years,” he says. “Stuff about Truss might feel like old hat, but I hope I can find a way to talk about this era, 14 years of uninterrupted failure and stagnation.”

For Forde, who’s been taking political comedy to the fringe since 2010, the trick is to dig into the character of politicians.

“A broader piece about a party or individual can last longer,” he says. And with impressions part of his comedy arsenal, mastering impersonations of a politician like Starmer could yield years of material.

There are also ways to reframe topical jokes: “Stuff at the moment about why the Tory campaign isn’t going well, on the other side of the election if the Tories have lost, can be a postmortem.”

Despite the challenges, all three feel the election announcement has added excitement to this year’s fringe. Forde “squealed with delight” when the news broke. “Change is good for creativity, it generates interest and material,” he says. “The enemy of comedy is when things feel mundane.”

A change of government would be a double win for Sidi, the perfect ending to Sue Gray’s journey, and a personal relief. “We need a new government for the sake of my show! And arguably for the sake of the country,” she laughs.

Kumar reflects on the strange position his work places him in – railing against rightwing politicians has brought him professional success (“it bought me a house!”) but he’s ready for change: “If someone gave me a choice of giving up my career or this country being run competently, I’ll do a law conversion.”

Emma Sidi Is Sue Grey

Nish Kumar in Nish, Don’t Kill My Vibe

Matt Forde tour

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