Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Interview: Pete Firman

"Glamourous assistants, lions and tigers...I don't think you can do that these days. I think people appreciate the skill behind the magic now"

2013 is set to be Pete Firman's year. After starring on BBC1's The Magicians, Pete has started a brand new tour and is back at the Gatehouse in April after his sell out performance in the MET last year. Hailed as "the new poster boy for British comedy magic" (The Telgraph), Pete's skill for fusing magic and comedy has made him one of the most in demand magicians working on British television. We caught up with Pete to discuss magic, Mastermind and glamorous assistants.

Hi Pete, how’s the tour going so far?

"It's going really well, we're about a dozen shows in so getting into the swing of it. I love being out on the road, it's the best part of the job really".

Can you tell us why the tour is named Hoodwinker? How is this going to differ to last year’s Jiggery Pokery tour?

"There's no massively meaningful reason for the title other than I thought it sounded quite good! I quite like ambiguous show titles and I like interesting words; jiggery pokery just flowed off the tongue nicely and sounds quite curious. I had a show called Flim Flam and another called Hokum so I have a thing for unusal words and picking them for show titles.

It's all new material this year, it's 2012's Edinburgh show, so when I finished the last tour I started working on Hoodwinker. I'm reluctant to say what tricks are in it, I want to keep the surprise! In broad terms there's mind reading, sleight of hand magic, audience participation...lots of new and exciting things and lots of surprises!"

Last year you performed in our MET Studio to 110 people, in April, you will be in the main theatre performing to nearly 600 people. Do you have to tailor your shows depending on the size of the venue?

"Obviously I was mindful of the size of the rooms I'd be playing when putting the show together, but its not a massive consideration actually. For example comedians can play tiny comedy cubs or huge arenas. You just have to make sure that everything you do is going to be really visible"

Why do you think magic and comedy work so well together?

"Traditionally there's a great long line of performers who have combined comedy and magic, from music hall and variety shows and performers like Tommy Cooper, Paul Daniels and Penn and Teller, so the two do go really, really well together. I'm a magician first and foremost, but becasue I started playing comedy clubs I developed this style of working on the jokes as much as the tricks. When you're in venues like that, people haven't come out to see a magic show so you have to match the comedians for laughs. So I got a foot in both worlds and ended up with this hybrid style."

You’ve described performing magic at children’s parties when you were a teenager as “horrible”. What did you hate about it?

"The children! No, I was 15, doing it for pocket money, and my little show would be an opportunity for the mums and dads to go off to the kitchen and drink wine and leave me in a room with kids hyped up on sweets and fizzy pop while I tried to subdue them with balloon animals! Not good times!

I suppose all that stuff in some way shaped me as a performer though. You've got to do a bit of everything to tell the truth." 

Have you ever used your magic abilities to your advantage, say to play pranks on friends and family? I wouldn't be able to resist!

"When I was younger and I suppose more precocious I would subject them to loads of magic performances, but as it's become my job I don't really do it in my spare time. At Christmas my Dad will try to encourage me to show my Aunties and Uncles and Grandma some tricks even if I really don't want to!"

Magic has definitely become cool again in the last few years, why do you think this is?

"I think interesting performers have come along, a new generation. It's like that in any profession. Magic is getting a good profile on television again, for a few years it was only late night Channel 4 showing people like David Blaine. I was lucky enough to do The Magicians last year which was a BBC 1, Saturday night prime time platform for magic, so it was about time really."

The tricks seem to have become edgier too?

"I think that's also more to do with the people doing it. Obviously you want the tricks to be unique and fresh, but it's about the performer as much as it's about the trick"

You performed a brilliantly funny tribute to the Las Vegas style magic performances on BBC’s The Magicians, do you think there is still room for this type of magic or has it become too dated?

On The Magicians
"We did it with a nod and a wink, but also for me personally a little bit of homage. You can't do that sort of stuff seriously! There's a wealth of really great tricks I wanted to get into that little segment and we managed quite a few. To do a pastiche was the only way to get away with it!

I think now it looks really odd to be sticking swords into scantily clad ladies, I don't think you can get away with it in 2013.

Glamourous assistants, lions and tigers...I don't think you can do that these days. I think people appreciate the skill behind magic too now and don't need all the bells and whistles with a performance."

Are there any magicians out there who have baffled you with a trick that you just can’t figure out?

"When I first got started that feeling is what got me into it really. The longer you're in magic the more you know. For me now it's not about being baffled or fooled, it s about seeing someone doing something interesting in a new way. That's what I get a kick out of"

You studied theatre at university, did you ever plan on a different career within the industry, and did the course help you develop as a performer?

"I wanted to be an actor, so performance training has been useful in the job I ended up doing. The skills are transferrable. In fact I'd like to go back to acting at some point but at the moment I'm a bit busy with the magic! Oscars next year!

Congratulations on winning Celebrity Mastermind! Your specialist subject was Tommy Cooper, would you say he’s had a major influence on your work?

With his Mastermind trophy

    "Oh thank you! I wouldn't say he was a major influence, but I consider him a hero and I remember  watching his shows on TV as a kid with my family and really enjoying them.

    I felt to do that on Mastermind tied in nicely with what I do and he's so loved in the public consciousness. Although the study was a little like revising for A Levels again! Dates and names and places in my head!.."
Is there anyone else in the industry who inspires you?
    "I really like Penn and Teller. They made me look at magic in a different way, I remember watching them when I was younger and thinking they were doing something that was really fresh and different. They're probably over and above anyone else"

Did you have fun on the Come Dine With Me Mash Up on Channel 4? I loved your Tutankhamun costume!
Pete with Angelos Epithemiou, Oliva Lee and Stan Boardman

"That wasn't bad was it! I thought that programme was all about the cooking,beacuse my cooking, I thought, was superior! I think some strategic marking went on, I was stitched up! It was loads of fun to do, obviously I'd seen the show before so to do it with some mates and have a laugh seemed a good idea." 

Now, you must get lots of offers for glamorous assistants and I would like to make an offer of my own….

"Oh right?"

...My Granddad used to be a magician AND he knows loads of jokes…any chance of taking him on your tour?

"Haha! What's his name?"


"How old is he?"


"And most importantly how does he look in a leotard?"


"Sold! Get him down to the Gatehouse!"

Pete Firman will be at The Gatehouse Theatre on April 5th at 8pm.
Interview with Emma Hogan

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Rosie Wilby on How (not) To Make It In Britpop

"It's much less about Britpop than the title suggests, it's very much about chasing a dream, the challenges and fun of being in a band and being in a band with the person you're in love with and in a relationship with and the challenges of that!"

Rosie Wilby is a woman of many talents; comedian, musician, writer and radio presenter to name a few.

We had a chat with her to find out more about her show How (Not) To Make It In Britpop and her attempt to make it big in the music industry.

"Hi Rosie! Stafford is one of the final performances of your tour, so what can you tell us about How (Not) To Make It In Britpop?"

"It's been touring the last couple of years and had a different name originally, Rosie's Pop Diary, which was a magazine column I used to write in the 1990s about trying to make it with my band when I first arrived in London from college. The first version of the show went to Edinburgh and got some lovely reviews. It's a mix of nostalgia, lovely acoustic songs I wrote at the time that people say still stand out and charming, funny anecdotes about what it's like to be in a band and chasing a dream. Also I suppose it's a bit of a tale about growing up and laughing at my former self, my very pretentious lyrics, my comical diary entries and some of the strange fan letters I got as well!

You're very brave to bare your soul like that, I think most of us like to laugh at our younger selves but it takes guts to put it on stage! Your career started in music and you've said that you first tried stand up following the audience reaction to your stories and banter at your gigs. Was it a nerve wracking transition despite being used to performing on stage?

"There are a lot of common skills in terms of performing, but obvioiusly there's a different pressure. If you're doing a music gig, chatting to the audience and happen to really make them laugh that's a bonus, where as of course if you're doing a comedy gig the expectation is you are going to make them laugh, so if that's not working you can't just then fall back on a song!

Are you enjoying being able to perform comedy and play music in one show and not have to pick one over the other?

"This is a nice thing to do, it's been a lovely a trip down memory lane and it is really nice to play the old songs again. What's really nice, I suppose in some ways, is the show is a bit of a tale of music getting you through difficult times, as there were actually some quite challenging things that happened during that period in my life. What's really nice is some of the old band members have got back in touch and we've played a couple of reunion gigs in London all together again, so it's a tale about friendship too"

So do you think in the future you might go back to music as a full time career?

"Not in a very serious way, I think it's very, very competitive and difficult in music now, it is getting that way in comedy as well, there's a lot of people out there performing. I think music has really changed and the way we value music sadly, is changing so much, with a lot of us downloading music for free and there's not the same value attached to an album and a collection of songs that we used to have. Things are changing, which doesn't mean music will die out in any way, we still need it; it's wonderful to have a soundtrack to your life and we all will carry on attaching memories to music as it's a such a powerful, evocative thing. I just think that making music and trying to make money out of music is more challenging than it was when I was trying to do it about fifteen years ago"

You have a degree in Electric Engineering, which couldn't be further away from music and comedy! Did you ever wish to pursue a career in this field?

"I'm afraid not! It really, really was not me that degree! But, it is good to be able to rise to the challenge of getting your degree and passing your exams in something that during my first year at university I'd realised was probably not the right fit. I was actually chatting to fellow comedian Zoe Lyons at the weekend about how very few of us actually use our degrees in our normal life. It's often quite removed from what you end up doing, as when you're only 18 or 19 you really don't know what you want to do."

Obviously the show will bring back a lot of nostalgia, but will those who have bypassed the Britpop era still relate to the show?

"I changed the title of the show to How (Not) To Make It In Britpop to give a little more of a clue to the era the show is set in rather than the original title of the show Rosie's Pop Diary, which unless you were one of the few people who used to read my column you wouldn't know what it was about. I think the joke is that I wasn't really a Britpop artist, I was probably in the wrong time. My songs tended to be more gentle acoustic ballads, I poke fun at myself for having slightly downbeat lyrics which weren't really in keeping with the huge optimism of the time! It's much less about Britpop than the title suggests, it's very much about chasing a dream, the challenges and fun of being in a band and being in a band with the person you're in love with and in a relationship with and the challenges of that!"

You're going to be MC for What The Frock in March, a show case in London especially for female comedians. It's always been notoriosuly hard for female comedians to gain the same public exposure as male comedians, do you think this is still the case today?

"It is tougher, but there are now so many people doing it, with lots of young women taking up comedy as well as young males which is really great. I think we are seeing it start to balance out a bit. The worry is there are a lot of women who are really, really brilliant and do a few gigs and give up, thinking maybe it's not for them. It does require a heck of a lot of persistence and you have to have really thick skin. If you have a bad gig you just have carry on, do the next gig and learn from it. Things are changing, there are people like Sarah Millican who is hugely successful, but we need more than just her. We have had hugely successful women before, like French and Saunders and Victoria Wood, so we just need to see a few more breaking through. There are women like Zoe Lyons who is a brilliant comedian, one of the best at her craft of comedy that I know and she does pop up on things like Mock The Week from time to time, but in my opinion not nearly as much as she should do. It is interesting and I'm not quite sure what is standing in the way, a lot of male promoters will often only book one woman on the bill of a show, perhaps there's still an idea of it being a bit of a risk if you book more than one woman, although I don't know what they think will happen if they have two or more women in a show!"

There is a bit of a perception that any comedian can just make it over night too...

"Oh no not at all! I was just chatting to somebody about Michael McIntyre and how a lot of people thought he was a sudden success, but he had been touring Edinburgh and driving around the country gigging for years and years"

So what advice would you give to women wanting to carve a career in stand up?

"Keep writing and keep having a go. Ask other acts for advice on what gigs are nice to do. When I started in comedy I didn't really know who ran the gigs, so find out who to ask for a slot, because there are a lot of gigs in London but some of them have very tiny audiences and might not be the best to try out new stuff, whilst others are well established and although they might be harder to get on the bill, there's a really good audience to test stuff out. It definitely takes persistence and its not going to happen over night. But do try to meet other comedians and find out how they're going about it. Women can be over competitive and guarded with sharing contacts and resources, so I think we need to network and support each other more"

Can you tell us what projects you have planned for when you finish your tour?

"I'm thinking up ideas for a brand new stand up show for Edinburgh this year and I'm also developing a show combining video clips and stand up. It's looking back at the 90's, but also looking back at my relationship with feminism, activism and politics, as it was quite an interesting and certainly very formative decade for me so that is being devised for a festival in Birmingham called Shout Festival in March. I've got a radio show I present in London on a station called Resonance and I do quite a bit of writing for various magazines and newspapers. I've also got a book I've been developing that goes with the How (Not) To Make It In Britpop show as there is a lot of autobiographical stuff that didn't make it into the show that I have documented, so I think it will be a little novella or memoir that I will publish next year. Another fun thing on the side! "

And finally, what is your answer to the eternal Britpop debate: Blur or Oasis?

"Oh Blur definitely! At the time Oasis obviously went on to huge success with Wonderwall, but in the end the band petered out creatively whilst Blur continued to develop and do a lot more interesting stuff after the Britpop years, so I think Blur won out in the end"

Rosie, it's been an absolute pleasure, best of luck with the rest of your tour and we're looking forward to seeing you in Stafford!

Rosie's spoof of the iconic Vanity Fair cover of Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit


Rosie Wilby's How (Not) To Make It In Britpop will be at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre's MET Studio on Saturday 16th March 2013. Book Tickets