BWW catches up with Roman Fraden to chat about bringing Back In The Closet to the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Tell us a bit about Back In The Closet.
I'd been doing stand-up for a few years here in the US but had always felt somehow limited by the format. Because of my figure skating background, and having worked with music most of my life, I really wanted to find a new way to present my material more theatrically than the traditional 'standing in one spot and speaking into a microphone'. I wanted movement and absurdity, stagecraft and lighting, piano, maybe even back up dancers, whatever it took to paint a visual experience of comedy and to really take the audience on a ride.
I was working out of a theatre here in Los Angeles which is overseen by Phil Burgers (Doctor Brown), and last summer I went to see Laid (Natalie Palamides' show which he directed). It was more conceptual and thrilling than anything I'd seen happening anywhere in comedy, and it basically just kind of cracked that whole world open for me in terms of what was 'allowed' in the experience of live comedy. After seeing her show (well, ok, after procrastinating for a few more months), I boiled down the best 30-40 minutes of the stand-up material that I had been touring the US with and rolled it with those other ingredients into a cosmic burrito called Back In The Closet.
This is your Edinburgh debut- do you think you know what to expect?
Haha no way! I can't even imagine what I'm about to embark upon. And not even culturally or creatively, but even just stamina-wise alone. Doing a show 27 nights in a row is intense for even the most seasoned performer, and so I imagine that even after the first week I'll be reduced to just an abstract shell of vibrating particles. And then rebuilt again, night after night on stage, and repeat and repeat. Sounds about right? You need a lot of pressure to make a diamond, so I know that this process is invaluable. I just can't say that I really know what to expect, especially as it's my first time even just visiting Edinburgh. It's a beautiful and inspiring city which should make the perfect backdrop for this experience. Maybe lots of late nights and very little sleep at times?
What sets your show apart from others at the festival?
I'm confident in the comedic material in the show, so I know my audiences will get to laugh really hard... but as I mentioned, I want more than just that. To bring the vision I had for the show to life and to deliver the comedic material in a more thrilling framework, I wrote two original songs on the piano (don't worry, it's not a musical), it has figure skating, absurd physical comedy, an acid trip to cosmos where the deepest of questions are absurdly answered, and even moments of poignant self-reflection and insight.
Thematically a lot of it has to do with my hedonistic pursuits of (homo)sexuality and how those regularly backfire on me in very comedic ways- almost to the point of driving me 'back in the closet', hence the title. It walks a tightrope between a celebration of that lifestyle, and a deep critique and self-analysis of how absurd it all really is, modern culture in general, which this makes Back In The Closet a thrilling experience for crowds of any orientation.
Who would you recommend comes to see it?
Well, first of - please, any attractive men who are questioning their sexuality should all come see the show. And find me afterwards. I'm your guy. We can hit the meadows, I hear that's the spot. Besides that personal fantasy, anyone of any age and orientation who needs to laugh hard and can handle an uncensored ride through psychosexual and spiritual insanity will totally love the show. It's very raw and real, holds back nothing and reveals everything, perhaps even tossing a bit of wisdom and understanding to take home in a doggie bag. And never in a heavy-handed way. The show is quite outrageous, I'm very proud of how well it came together, and from what I've been told its great fit for Edinburgh audiences.
Are there any shows you're hoping to catch while you're in Edinburgh?
I'm excited to see Natalie Palamides' new show 'Nate', which is so different from last year's 'Laid' but equally as mind-boggling. Also, Nina Conti came by the theatre here in LA with her monkey a few months ago and gave us a taste of what she is bringing to Edinburgh this year... definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of the surreal and hysterical.
Roman Fraden: Back In The Closet is at the Gilded Balloon - Teviot, Balcony Room from August 1st- 27th (not 15th)
Photo credit: Jamie Biver