The Fringe might seem like a matter of life and death at times, especially when you’ve risked thousands of pounds to be there and you’re only performing to one woman and her dog, but it helps if you have some perspective. Performer David Ramsay certainly has that. He knows all about actual matters of life and death, having spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan as a broadcast engineer. As he prepares his debut Fringe show, Extreme Broadcasting, he took time out to speak to The Wee Review…
How does a broadcast engineer end up performing at the Fringe?
Several years ago I was asked to present a talk to the Radio Academy, about how BFBS [British Forces Broadcasting Services] provides broadcast services abroad. At the time I didn’t really enjoy public speaking, and had never seen myself as a “performer”, but I put a lot of effort into the presentation and it was really well received. So much so that I was then asked to do further talks for various other professional bodies and broadcasters. As I got bored with doing the same talk over again, I would put in stories and anecdotes, really for my own amusement, and rather than being told to grow up and stop being silly, people seemed to really enjoy the stories. So last October, I thought that if I didn’t do it this year, I’d never do it, so I decided to tell this story at the Fringe. I’m not sure I knew what I was letting myself in for, and my free time over the last nine months or so has been almost exclusively devoted to developing, re-writing, marketing, and performing the show, and I am now really looking forward to it.
What was it about your experiences that made you think, “this would make a good show”?
I think the everyday experience of watching TV and listening to radio is something that everyone can relate to. Now, imagine that everyday experience transferred to a conflict zone, and the question that most people ask is ‘how is that even possible?’ I can answer that question in an interesting and very funny way, and I doubt that there will be anything similar at the Fringe this year, so this is great comedy storytelling on a very unusual theme.
How hard is it to find the funny in such difficult circumstances?
It’s easy, the funny finds you. The environment and situations you find yourself in are so alien and so unusual that humour is the defence mechanism that gets you through the tough times. And of course it is always easier looking back at these experiences. You remember the great camaraderie and friendships that existed, and tend to forget the niggles and discomfort. And of course the British Military have a great sense of humour, which helps enormously.
No, I am afraid not. If you have visions of Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vietnam, then I am afraid I am going to have to disappoint you, if for no other reason than the military vehicles are not fitted with FM Radios. When the guys are on patrol they require 100% concentration at all times and they are far too professional to be distracted by listening to the radio. The BFBS radio and TV is there to keep up morale while they are on base, either working or in their down-time.
Have you swapped engineering life for a performing life for good?
That would be great, but unlikely. Unfortunately, I have a responsibility to pay my mortgage. If I could find some way to combine both that would be ideal. I am usually quite happy to perform to any audience that will have me.
Warzones and the Fringe bring very different pressures, even if sometimes people act like the Fringe is the be-all and end-all. How are you feeling about August?
I am really excited. I have had a lot of help getting the show to where it is now. Comedy writers have helped me edit it from a funny presentation to a comedy show, and stand-up training and open mic gigs have helped tighten my performance and delivery. I can’t wait to put it all together in front of a Fringe audience!