ED2022 Comedy ED2022 Interviews

Dan Kelly: How I Came Third In The North Korean Marathon

By | Published on Sunday 7 August 2022

One of the most delightful things about the Fringe is the number of people you come across who have a great story to tell – and in this case we’re talking about a true and rather intriguing one. 

It’s a show that rather easily draws the attention with its eye-catching and explanatory title – and I feel sure that Dan Kelly’s ‘How I Came Third In The North Korean Marathon’ is going to be a really interesting and fun experience. 

Who wouldn’t want to investigate this story? I arranged a chat with Dan to find out more. 

CM: I think the title of the show gives it away somewhat, but can you tell us a bit about what to expect from the show in terms of content? 
DK: The show is a true story based on a trip I did in 2018 to run in the International Amateur Marathon they hold every year in North Korea.

Through video, imagery, stand-up and storytelling I basically piece together the tale of how it all happened, from the training we did, to all admin to get there, the journey itself, the border crossing, the sights/sounds, and then the race itself culminating in – spoiler alert?! – how I came third…

CM: What made you decide to go and run this marathon? Why did you want to do this somewhere like North Korea? 
DK: My friends – who all feature in the show – and I had an interest in both travel and running. We’d read about all the organised tours you could do to North Korea and suddenly the marathon popped up on our radar.

It seemed like a bit more of a purposeful reason to visit, as opposed to going there to cart around in a bus gawping at everything, even though there was a fair bit of that as well. It’s also one of the few opportunities to get to run – fairly – freely around Pyongyang, so that appealed too. 

CM: What was North Korea like? If you can even convey that in just a few sentences! 
DK: We got the train into the country and the rural parts looked like they were in a bit of a time warp from the 50s. Pyongyang, the capital, was all weird skyscrapers and grand buildings.

One of the first things you notice is that there are no adverts. Everything is pastel coloured. That doesn’t feel like a great overall description, so to offer something a bit firmer… it’s pretty weird.

CM: To what do you owe your success in that race? 
DK: The North Korean U14 female road running squad, who were racing alongside us for the first 20km of the race and set a searing pace.

They basically decimated the field and left us in the clear to go and grab some podium spots. I’ve got the footage to back this up by the way, and if you want to see it – Just The Tonic every day at 4.10pm etc etc.

That aside, we had done a fair bit of training in the build up to the race, so in answer to your question… the age old combo of effort plus luck.  

CM: Is running marathons something you do a lot? What’s the attraction? 
DK: I’ve done quite a few. Nothing worse than someone preaching about running – he preached, during an interview on his show about running! – but I like the challenge of it, and it’s a nice way to clear your head.

There’s obviously lots of ways of doing this but I guess you find what works and this does it for me. 

CM: What made you decide to create a show about your experience in North Korea? What made you think it would work as a show? 
DK: We actually got given a souvenir video of our trip by the North Korean tour company we went with and it was all grainy 60s style footage with this weird kitsch soundtrack.

It was only when we got back and showed it to people, seeing their reactions made me think that there was potentially a show in it. Then it was a case of trying to fashion it all into a coherent story that would hopefully make people laugh. 

CM: Have you performed at the Fringe before? What experience do you have of it? 
DK: I’ve been coming to the Fringe for almost ten years, but only once as a performer. I went to uni here, and so every summer would work on a coffee van during the Festival. It was pretty magic, just shelling out espressos all day, and then seeing shows all evening.

I’ve performed here once before, in a very low key character show in 2018 called ‘The Madras Years’. That was me trying as best I could to hide in a corner and see what it was like to perform every day. I’d be astonished every time someone would turn up. This year I’m hoping to be slightly less hidden. 

CM: What do you love about the Festival city? Is there anything you don’t like? 
DK: It’s a great city year round. Amazing place to go to uni, and obviously the Festival then brings a new life with it in August. I used to have mates come up in summer and say “I don’t know how you do this all year”. Fear not, it calms down in September. In terms of dislikes, the wind always gets me. Every corner seems to bring another gale force.

CM: What are you looking forward to about being in Edinburgh this year, other than performing? 
DK: Some exploratory running, I think. This year’s itinerary is the Water Of Leith, the Trinity Path down to Crammond, and maybe a pilgrimage to Rosslyn if the legs are up to it.

I’m also a football fan, so Hibs vs Hearts on the first weekend, and then Spartans vs Rangers U21s in the Challenge Cup the following week. Should be a cracker that one. 

CM: What will you do between shows? 
DK: Aside from all the running and football, maybe see a few shows. I’ll make sure I get to a steam room every so often too, just to sit and have a think about it all.  

CM: Performing isn’t your main thing, is it? Can you tell us a bit about your day job and the expertise you’ve accrued in international grocery shopping?
DK: So by day I collect data on the cost of living, which in short means I go to supermarkets all around the world and walk around with a Dictaphone collecting the prices of day to day goods.

Apples in Liberia, eggs in Myanmar, sausages in Iran, you name it. Actually, I’m not sure I found any sausages in Iran. But anyway, that’s the day job. It means an intricate knowledge of foreign supermarkets, which I’d say is a pretty transferable skill. 

CM: Can you see yourself doing more performing in the future?
DK: Absolutely, and the next show is going to be based around my job I think, and what happens when you try to go to every supermarket in the world. I’ve been to 142 countries in total – if you’re counting! – and so there’s gotta be some material in there somewhere.

CM: What’s coming up next for you, after this?
DK: London Marathon start of October, then trips to Morocco and Gabon to see how much eggs cost, and then I’ll cobble together something resembling a new show in time for Christmas.

Dan Kelly performed ‘How I Came Third In The North Korean Marathon’ at Just the Tonic at The Caves at Edinburgh Festival 2022.

LINKS: twitter.com/howicamethird 

Photo: Edward Moore