Richard Cobb is a London-based comedian and author from the Scottish Borders. He brought his first show ‘Couple’s Massage’ to the Fringe last year and returns with ‘Running Joke’, which delves into the last 18 months of his life, including his on-the-spot decision to sign up for the Edinburgh marathon. We spoke to Richard about the show, promoting yourself when you don’t want to bother anyone, and the dreaded Fringe Flu.

Can you tell us about ‘Running Joke’?

This is my second hour. I debuted at the Fringe last year with a show called ‘Couple’s Massage’. And that was basically all about my honeymoon. And ‘Running Joke’ follows on. It takes place almost immediately on the plane back from the honeymoon essentially. I thought I need to sort of keep kind of planning things, just thinking, ‘Right, what’s next?’ because the wedding planning had taken the best part of four years. Then I started started thinking of daft challenges, because I think I’m not very good at sitting about doing nothing. And I guess maybe, subconsciously, it was things that I could either write about or maybe do comedy about.

The idea was, I was in my car outside a coffee shop in Berwick-upon-Tweed in, I guess December 2022. And I was feeling pretty rough from all the Tennants and the bad food. have been in so I did the usual sort of thing thinking, ‘Maybe I should do the marathon, and I’ll get fit in January.’ So I signed up for it there and then. I guess from that, really the show was birthed. Not for the 2023 one. I hadn’t really considered doing a show about it last year, because I’d already had the idea for last year’s one, but I just thought it’s a good concept. I think from the idea that it sort of outlines our challenges and maybe investigates more of the meaning behind why I do that and why we force ourselves to do stuff that’s physically painful. Exploration of the show, I guess.

For anybody who’s maybe coming to you for the first time, could you describe your approach to comedy and performance?

I had one reviewer in last year and I think they said it was too safe; ‘They’re really friendly, but they’re very safe.’ So that does kind of sum it up, I guess! I do fairly inoffensive, long form storytelling, which you could never get from the fact my first answer was quite long! I guess, looking for ties with the audience and just sort of anything that’s relatable really. It’s quite situational based, and I think a lot of people say that the best bit about my comedy is when I look like I’m having a meltdown on stage, and a lot of that is written down. I don’t know, maybe it’s the stuff I don’t write; maybe that’s the best bit.

What are your hopes and expectations for August coming into your second show?

It was quite hard because the first year was effectively everything I’ve ever written. With the second show, your kind of learning from the year before, but also just making sure that you’re building on it as well. So it’s maybe that difficult second show. And to me the difficulty is the timeframe because I think the show at Glasgow Comedy Festival in March was the last time I did that show. So effectively, in April I’d written it and then previewed it in Brighton in May. So that kind of was sort of turnaround was a challenge, which I thrive off, but is quite stressful when you sort of have a timer, I guess.

But I think I’ve noticed last year, a lot of the mistakes I’ve made was either a lack of confidence in myself before I went to the Fringe, or I’ve just not been very good at promoting myself. So I made a bit of a conscious effort to get the press pack together earlier this year. I just tried to actually sell the show! Even when I was flyering last year I found that mortifying. I went to the Royal Mile, and I just didn’t know what to do! I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to bother anyone that’s having a nice day!’ So I ended up sort of going for a coffee in Starbucks. I don’t even like Starbucks. I just had to escape and it was first coffee shop at all.

This year I’m on Lothian Road. Last year I was on Blair Street. So it was kind of easier to get people, so now I’ve got to actually actively get people in. And so I think consciously I want people to come along and for it to be a show that they’re wanting to tell people about as well.

That was gonna be my next question, are you familiar with the Raging Bull as a as a venue? It is a bit out of where the central hubbub tends to be.

I was more looking at times and stuff. Last year was in the City Cafe, right next to Monkey Barrel and basically, every show they had had sold out. I thought that’s perfect, come into my show if you want. Whereas this year I’m away from it, but I thought because it’s at half six then it may be the first show of an evening that some people go to. And also for flying purposes, there’s only a couple venues  on Lothian Road, but Edinburgh is going to be busy regardless. I think it’s gonna be hard but at the same time I think I’ve got a bit more of a targeted audience this time, I have the running theme, so I’m doing a lot of stuff flying around the Meadows and things like that, basically running routes. Just to try and get the crowds in.

After a full year run, what for you were the best and the worst things about your experience last year?

The best thing were people coming that I wasn’t related to; friends or family! I like people coming along that just took a punt and you could see on their faces them really enjoying it. Then they started to come up and speak to me afterwards. I’ve done a few festival shows before, but the fact that there’s that much on and they come in for an hour; that was a real buzz. I was selling books after the show last year as well. When people were coming and buying some of my books then that was like, ‘Well, they must have enjoyed it.’

But also, I think even family and friends. afterwards were saying like, ‘I actually really enjoyed that and it was a surprise!’ When it’s actually face to face, you’re like, ‘Well, I can see that they’ve either enjoyed it or they’ve been indifferent.’ So I guess it’s that kind of real time feedback.

I guess what I didn’t like; the hard part was when the room was really full. It was quite a small room so it got so hot, and then the aircon was broken for the whole run as well. It was almost like the fuller the show, the harder the show. It just gets really hard to keep people engaged if they are boiling in the place! So I had to keep opening the door and stuff like that. This year I’ve got a bigger room and I’ve not checked the aircon situation, but hopefully…

Have you had any particular Fringe experiences that were really memorable, for good, bad or or mad reasons?

Last year, I think it was probably the day before the Fringe started, I bumped into Neil McCann, who was a Hearts player that I was a massive fan of when I was like 10. And he was like basically the first person I handed a flyer to, in a bar off Princes Street and he’s like, ‘Oh, I’ll come to the show on this day,’ and I was buzzing until the day of the show and he didn’t come! The whole thing was building up to this Sunday or something when he was gonna come along, and I thought, ‘This is gonna be incredible!’ But then…

I guess the awkwardness is sort of the Free Festival shows as well. I’ve seen a few that are quite difficult to get away from if you’re not enjoying it. I saw a one-man Edgar Allan Poe play. It was when Espionage was still around on Victoria Street, like 10 years ago or something. It was right down on the bottom level and there were three people and it was so difficult to stay in that. I felt really bad for the guy because I think he’d come over from Boston or something. I think that’s the thing with the free shows as well. A lot of people get up and leave but I just feel so bad. So I stay, and sometimes it’s to my own detriment.

Apart from ‘Running Joke’, will you be performing elsewhere during August?

I’l try not to, although I mean, it’s not good for promotion. Last year I did ‘The Importance of Being… Earnest‘ at the Pleasance, where it’s the improv thing in front of four or 500 people and I only did that because it was in the same room that like I’ve seen Russell Kane win the Comedy Award in in 2010. So I wanted to tick that room off the off the bucket list, but I had to basically be the main character in ‘The Importance of Being… Earnest’,  and winging  it, which I wasn’t comfortable about, but I got to flyer loads of people. But this year. I’m not putting myself in a situation as to availability during the day. I don’t know if I need to work it in with other things. I think I’ve got a couple of things, but I’m mainly focussing on the show. I really admire anyone that can do like 70-80 shows, but for me, so much of the focus is on that one hour, and I kind of struggled enough with my voice last year as well that I think, unless it’s maybe a few spots later on, I’m just going to focus on the show.

You don’t want to risk the ‘Fringe Flu’!

No, I know and even last year, I was so careful and I still got it and I was like, If I’d known that, I’d have battered it every night. Yeah, I guess it catches up with everybody!

And are there other any other acts that you think should get more attention than they do that you would recommend?

There’s a couple of like my friend Rich Spalding is on at the Pleasance. It’s his debut hour and he’s great. He’s London-based as well. I think he did a shorter run last year. The show’s ‘Gather Your Skeletons’. I saw you you interviewed Rosco McClelland as well. I saw him twice last year at the [Monkey Barrel] Hive and I think he had this… I think he even said it, like a punk rock energy and it’s just so admirable from it. I think because I don’t differ a lot [on stage] from how I come across in conversation. So seeing somebody giving it the full 100 for 45-50 minutes was great. So I think his show will be great. And Kathleen Hughes has got her debut with ‘Cryptid!’ at the Gilded Balloon and I think their show will be great as well.

Running Joke‘ is at Laughing Horse @The Raging Bull – Cellar from Thu 1 Aug to Sun 25 Aug 2024 (Except Mon 12)