Ralph Brown is a comedian based in Edinburgh. Known for his own brand of storytelling stand-up, Ralph has performed at the Fringe since 2019. During a performance last year he and his audience were held hostage by a man brandishing a gun. This terrifying situation has formed the basis of his debut full-length show, ‘My First Hostage Situation’. We spoke to Ralph about the show while trying to avoid too much juicy detail, pondered why such a gripping story flew under the media’s radar, and talked about Ralph’s lifelong love of the Fringe.

Can you tell us about, ‘My First Hostage Situation’?

It’s a show about a show really. Last year I was doing my Fringe show at the Waverley, and literally the theme of the show was all about how unlucky I am. It was story after story after story convincing the audience of just how unlucky I am. Then midway through the show, a guy just walked in, sat at the back of the room, started heckling, and then pulled out a gun and just took us all hostage.

On the night in question there wasn’t any indication something was up? He just wandered in halfway through?

I mean, I still don’t really know the full details of  why he picked my show. I don’t know any of that. It’s just so frustrating. I think there’s obviously going to be a court case and I may get some details then. But right now I’m just like… I’ve never met the guy. Was it just a guy who had walked in off the street.

How did you actually process being held at gunpoint? Was your first instinct, ‘I’m never going on stage again’? Or was it like, ‘Oh, there’s a there’s a show in this’?

The next day, I was just like in a total trance. I was just like this zombie. I was walking around and I was still trying to process it. And I’d worked so hard on the show. By the Friday night… I’d cancelled the Thursday night. I thought, ‘I’m not doing it tonight. I’ll make a decision on Friday whether I’m gonna go ahead with this’. And then I thought, ‘I’ve worked so hard putting together this Fringe. I’m not about to just give up’. So decided to go back out there and start again, and just force myself back, which wasn’t easy. It definitely was not easy. But at the time I was like, ‘Right, I have to do it’.

It must have been a hard thing to process. What went through your mind when the gun came out and was there any point that you twigged it was a replica?

I don’t think we even found out for definite [that it was a replica]. As soon as the gun came out… He kind of warned me. He kind of threatened me [pauses]. I don’t want to really spoil anything that actually happened. It’s so surreal what he said. Some of it’s so ridiculous. I have to prime the audience: ‘You’re gonna think I’m lying about this, I promise you everything that I’m going to tell you is true.’

And so he pulls a gun out and literally you can hear the panic in my voice, because I’ve got it on audio. You can hear the panic of my voice and I’m just like, ‘What’s going on?!’ All these different emotions are going through my head. I’m trying to stop him, and convince him not to do it. He’s just not listening. And I’m trying to convince the audience because some of them thought it was part of the show. So because it’s the Edinburgh Fringe they are so cynical, and rightfully so. They had probably been burned many times before with some comedians putting a plant in the audience. I was there trying to convince people that this isn’t part of the show. And then he then tried to convince them it was part of the show! So I’m up there and I’m like, ‘I’ve no idea what’s going on right now’.

Leaving the content of the show to one side, for anyone who might be new to you could you describe your approach to comedy in general?

I’m a storyteller comedian. That’s what I’ve done from day one. I’ve literally just gone back through my life, found the mad, unique, unusual things that have happened to me, and tell them on stage. It seems to be the thing that’s worked for me really, really well up until this point. And then this story obviously lands on my lap so I have even more material. But I just try and make sure I’m as funny as possible. This is quite new to me, because I’m obviously having to deal with quite a serious subject. I just try and make fun of myself in these situations; always self deprecating and never trying to take anything too seriously That’s just been my way of life.

You’ve been performing as a stand up since 2016. How do you think you’ve grown and developed as a comedian in that time?

Pre-pandemic, when I’ve listened back to what I was like then, I just sound quite wooden and robotic. I was just saying the words on stage. And then after the Pandemic I was like, ‘I need to change who I am onstage. Just relax more.’ I started hosting shows a lot more after after lock down and that freed me up. You’ve basically got no fear at that point, because you’ve just got to work with no plan. And actually, I genuinely think that is the most exciting part of comedy. You go up there and go, ‘Right, let’s see what happens’.

This is your first full hour. What are your hopes and expectations for August?

I just really want to write a show that’s just going to tell a brilliant story, that’s gonna keep people laughing the whole way through. That’s all my expectations are; to tell the story and write the best possible show. Whatever happens after that is out of my control. I just want to make sure anyone that comes into the show that night gets to hear the wildest story that they’re gonna hear about comedy. And I just want to make sure they leave and go, ‘Wow, that was brilliant!’

Why do you think as a story, it kind of flew under the radar a little bit? It should have been massive news.

I don’t understand it. Because to me, a gun and a hostage situation in the capital city of Scotland during the Fringe feels like it should have been… something. But I don’t know. I think there was maybe an element of people thinking it was a plant. I don’t if you remember, a few days before that that Georgie Grier had had all the stuff about having the one person in the audience. The media kind of pounced on that quite unfairly, and then found out she’d done it the year before. And I think people were just like, ‘Is this guy just doing a PR stunt?’ or something like that. That’s the only reason I can think of, that people just maybe thought that it was probably not real.

I would normally ask if you’ve had any particularly memorable Fringe experience, but I suspect that’s been covered. But have you had any Fringe experiences that have been good weird, as opposed to this story?

I think my first run at the Beehive. It was like 11:30 at night. And it was genuinely one of the most fun shows I’ve ever had. It was just flyering all day to try and get people in, and some of the people that were coming in the whole month were brilliant. It was just a real good mix of people. And it gave me the confidence to just kind of keep going. At the weekends… I’m so bad at doing the doors, everything like that, but you have to do all that. And I oversold the shows. So I had people sitting behind me. I had people sitting on the floors. It was very much a Fringe where I just kind of went, ‘Right, let’s just see how this goes’. That’s probably the one that sticks out the most, other than last year of course.

And what for you are the best and the worst things about the festival, especially as somebody who performs here all year round?

I love it. Even before I was a comedian, I used to go and watch comedy. I used to go and watch like seven, eight shows a day. So if you’re a comedy fan, to have an unlimited supply of comedy on your doorstep is phenomenal. And I don’t understand why people don’t do it more often. I know locals who get to the end of the month, and go, ‘I saw one show’, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’ There’s so much to see, but I think people are just so paralyzed by the selection and the options that they just do nothing.

The worst thing? I don’t know, it’s so hard to say the worst thing. I think because I’ve been a Fringe lover my whole life. It’s hard to pick so bad maybe. I mean maybe it’s just the kind of people who are just in the big drinking areas and are just not gonna see any shows. Get yourself out there, go and see some shows. People just wasting opportunities.

Apart from the show, will you be performing elsewhere during the during the month?

I normally do a show with Vladimir McTavish but I think there’s going to be a clash on his show as well. So I don’t think I’m gonna be doing that. I think it might just be spots here and there. But this is the the one show I’m doing. I think that a lot of people try and spread themselves too thin and overcommit. I just want to focus on this show. Get it right, get it done, and write the best show possible.

Do you think the Scottish hate speech laws that have come in will have any bearing on the festival at all or do you think it’s a storm in a teacup?

I think that’s just people who love to try and create controversy. It’s not going to be a thing, as it’s been in place for a year now or something like that. It’s an absolute non-event, a non-starter. It’s not going to bother anyone.

Are there any other acts at the Fringe that you would recommend that audiences go and see; maybe ones that don’t get as much attention as they should?

A lot of the Scottish acts, I love going to see year after year. Not that these guys don’t get attention because they’re pretty big in themselves, but I’ll always go and see Stuart McPherson, Marjolein Robertson, and Gareth Waugh. I always just try and check out their shows because they’re always bringing something really funny. And Rosco McClelland, he’s another one on the list. I went to see his show last year and honest to God, did not stop laughing from start to finish.

My First Hostage Situation‘ is at The Stand Comedy Club – Stand 4 from Thu 1 Aug to Sun 25 Aug 2024 (except Mon 12 & Mon 19)