William Thompson is a comedian and writer who has become a fixture of the comedy circuit in his native Northern Ireland. Despite nearly a decade of stand-up under his belt, 2023 is his debut year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. His show ‘The Hand Your Dealt’ deals with his difficult childhood growing up disabled on a Northern Irish council estate. We spoke to him about his show, his expectations for his debut year, and the wider Northern Irish scene. 

Can you tell us about ‘The Hand You’re Dealt’?

‘The Hand You’re Dealt’ is an autobiographical show, detailing my upbringing on a council estate in Northern Ireland, which was particularly different due to my cerebral palsy. The show deals with the idea of growing up with a disability in an area where you’re taught not to complain, not to moan and to essentially make the most out of the circumstances you find yourself in. It’s a show full of dark observational humour, with the typical Edinburgh “sad twist” during it. Or maybe there isn’t. Who knows? Come see it and find out.

In the show you talk about a difficult childhood, one that wasn’t far behind you when you started comedy. At what age did you start using humour to deal with adversity, and at what point did you realise you had the potential to make a go of it?

Oh, for as long as I can remember. I’ve never been particularly intelligent, I was always horrendous at sports, the only real skill I found I had was the ability to make a joke about anything. Now, whether or not people laughed at those jokes is up for debate, but I’ve always made jokes about any situation I was in.

Because of that, I think I just naturally gravitated towards comedy, particularly stand up, in my teenage years.  A lot of my friends would have TV shows they regularly watched or football players they worshipped, but in my world comedy was the coolest thing ever. I used to view comedians as absolute rockstars. Now that I do comedy, I realise most comedians are socially awkward introverts rather than rockstars (myself included), but at the time I was obsessed with the notion, and was eager to try it as soon as I could.

You toured Northern Ireland with your last show, ‘Barely Noticeable’, and performed it at Leicester Comedy Festival. It would have been an easy decision to bring it to Edinburgh. What was the reason for bringing a new show to the Fringe instead?

I like doing new shows every year. I’m an incredibly impatient person and often find myself getting very tired, very quickly of my material, so once one tour is finished, that material is scrapped. Also, I believe that as you grow and evolve as a person, so does your material.

It wouldn’t be very reflective of the person and comic I am now, if I were to be performing material that I had written when I was 17. Mainly because it was terrible. There’s a good chance I’m still terrible, but at least I’ll know that I’m terrible with new jokes.

This is your full debut Fringe show. What are your hopes and expectations for August?

My hopes for the Fringe are that I win the Best Newcomer, get discovered by a top agent and become an overnight sensation of a comic, with a national tour and TV bookings off the back of the festival. But obviously that won’t happen.

Really what I would like is to come out of the Fringe with some recognition from other UK comics and perhaps some interest from agencies. I feel like the Northern Irish scene is (in the same vein as the North West and Scottish comedy scenes) largely ignored by the industry. I don’t know why that is- I’m not suggesting classism or elitism (I absolutely am) – but these scenes are filled to the brim with phenomenal comedians who are just not given a fair shake.

Apart from your show, what else are you looking forward to (or even perhaps dreading) about the Fringe?

There are two aspects of the Fringe that are absolutely filling my chubby little body with dread – the amount of moving around, and the possibility my show isn’t funny.

Edinburgh is extremely difficult to walk around in. It’s massive, winding hills bedazzled with cobblestone pavements honestly have me convinced the town was deliberately designed to cause as much injury to disabled people as possible. There’s a strong possibility I will fall asleep during my shows simply because of how tired I am from walking to the venue.

In relation to my material, I am very much aware I am a club comic. My act is that way by intention and design. My influences aren’t niche avant-garde comedians, they’re simply the ones who made me laugh the hardest. Bill Burr, Jim Jeffries, Kevin Bridges, Joan Rivers, comics of that ilk. They were mean, they were not PC, but my god they were (and still are) funny. I do possess a small amount of trepidation towards the Fringe crowds, as I know they tend to enjoy the more thought provoking, artful shows.

Beside ‘The Hand You’re Dealt’, can we expect to see you performing elsewhere during August?

I will also be hosting the ‘Best of Northern Irish‘ at 11.15pm in the Pear Tree, Laughing Horse. It will feature some of the best acts from our circuit – Micky Bartlett, Paddy McDonnell, Ciarán Bartlett, Robbie McShane, just to name a few.

Are there any other acts at the Fringe that you would recommend audiences see?

Oh so many! Tom Stade is hands down the funniest person I have ever met – sheer natural charisma with a carefree attitude, he is a must. Susie McCabe is a fantastic storyteller, I’d recommend her highly. Chris Macarthur-Boyd, Liam Farrelly, Josh Pugh are also acts that just have me in fits of laughter.

And of course, any of the boys from NI: Mickey Bartlett, Ciarán Bartlett, Paddy McDonnell, Robbie McShane. There’s such an abundance of fresh talent and I’m very excited to see them all.

The Hand You’re Dealt‘ runs from Wed 2 to Mon 28 Aug 2023 (except Mon 14) at Pleasance Courtyard – The Cellar at 17:30

‘Best of Northern Irish’ runs from Thu 3 to Sun 27 Aug at Laughing Horse @ The Pear Tree – Main Room at 23:15