ED2022 Comedy ED2022 Interviews

David Ephgrave: Good Grief

By | Published on Wednesday 10 August 2022

We love all all types of comedy here at ThreeWeeks, but one type that we have a real fondness for is a stand-up show with a big story.

There’s loads of that at the Fringe, of course, but one that stood out to me when perusing this year’s possibilities was David Ephgrave, whose 2022 offering ‘Good Grief’ explores the events of a difficult childhood, but mainly the life – and death – of his father. 

David is a Fringe veteran, and a talented performer, so I feel sure these topics will, in his hands, form the basis of an excellent show. I spoke to him to find out more about what to expect from it, but also to talk about his past career and what keeps him coming back to Edinburgh and the Festival. 

CM: Can you start by telling us about ‘Good Grief’: what can we expect from the show in terms of its content?
DE: You can expect comedy about dead dads, manipulative mums and a lot less alliteration than this sentence.

I lost my dad to cancer in May 2019, a few months before I was due to return to the Fringe with a new show, and his death would have been enough to process without throwing in the fallout of a toxic relationship with my mum too. Throughout my childhood, she expected me to lie to my dad about her affairs – most of which happened before I was twelve.

Then, when my parents split up, the person she was secretly seeing moved in and I was trapped amid a toxic atmosphere of high drama and constant arguments, with neither adult acting like there was a child present who might be affected by their behaviour – spoiler: I was. 

From then on, I became my mother’s confidante, who counselled her through her relationship despite being a child, and wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about my toxic home life. This sowed the seed for the shit that followed, including a secret marriage she also expected me to keep from my dad, which comes up in the show.

But despite the melodrama, ‘Good Grief’ is primarily about my dad: a quiet yet sweary man who supported me unflinchingly and allowed me to follow my dreams – which include performing in an Edinburgh dungeon throughout August.

CM: What made you decide to create a show about this topic?
DE: Deep-seated idiocy. In truth, I like to take the road-less-travelled with comedy, and I learnt from my last show – ‘David Ephgrave: My Part In His Downfall’ – that honesty helps you connect with your audience in a much more satisfying way.

In that show, I opened up about my depression, and the fact I mentioned my then-frequent visits to the Stevenage Mental Health Unit – the world’s bleakest address – forced the audience to listen, and the show worked better for it.

And while it would probably be easier to fall back on more obvious laughs, I’d prefer to lean in on telling a story. The comedy may be subtler, but it’s all true, and we hopefully come out the other side feeling like we’ve connected. And then I’ll try to kiss you and screw it all up.

CM: How easy (or hard) is it to make comedy out of grief and sadness? Why did you think you could make this work?
DE: Misplaced arrogance, probably. The harder parts are more to do with its effect on me. For example, I did a lot of rehearsing in my living room, which is where my dad spent the last month of his life.

At first, it felt like sacrilege to be talking about how frustrating he could be while in that space. But then, I remembered how often I’d see him in stitches at the back of the room when I did material about him at my comedy club, and it reminded me it was okay. 

Then there’s the whole issue of talking about my mum. Up until now, I’d only really discussed her in therapy, and even that felt like it required special dispensation. But as wanky as it sounds, this is my story.

And I’ve spent years with her watching every move like the Eye Of Sauron, so I might as well just get on with it.

CM: Would you say it’s been cathartic to create and perform this show? 
DE: Absolutely. It’s like group therapy, except I have the floor for sixty minutes. I also use a microphone, which is not the done thing in mental health appointments.

CM: You’ve been to the Fringe before, of course. What is it about the Festival that makes you want to come back? 
DE: Utter sadism. Firstly, the city alone is a good reason to come back.

I first visited Edinburgh in 2002 as lead guitarist in the Bill Kenwright show ‘Rock & Roll Heaven’ and just the view of the castle from Princes Street as I walked out of the station knocked me out. You have to bear in mind I grew up in Stevenage, where the closest thing we have to a tourist attraction is a massive Asda.

I also love having the opportunity to hone a show across a month in a way you seldom get the chance to outside of the Fringe. I also like breathing in spores, which makes performing at The Caves a dream come true. I’ve been known to lick the walls from time to time when no one’s looking, but I’m not proud of it.

CM: What would you say are the best things about being involved in edfringe – and what are the worst? 
DE: In some ways, the best and the worst part are the same, and that’s that you get the chance to put reality on hold for a month. I was here during the London riots of 2011 – remember that? – and aside from being worried they’d hit Edinburgh too, it felt like they were happening on a different planet.

You get caught in a wanky arts-based purgatory of star ratings and award nominations far removed from real life. And when there’s war in Ukraine and a real risk that the budget Theresa-May-animatronic Liz Truss will be our next Prime Minister, there’s a lot to hide away from.

Another thing I hate is flyering; if I never hand a picture of my face to a disinterested tourist again that would be progress. 

CM: What will you be doing this August in Edinburgh when you are not performing?
DE: Hanging in my nest of tentacles, like Vecna in ‘Stranger Things’. Niche 2022 reference!

CM: Do you have any long-haul endurance tips for Fringe newcomers?
DE: My main advice would be to look after yourself and try not to overdo it.

Your first time on the Fringe is a culture shock – no pun intended – and it’s very tempting to burn the candle at both ends, which is appalling candle technique. Unless you have a specially designed holder, and even then, it’s a definite fire risk. 

There’s a lot to be said for pacing yourself and remembering that you’re here to perform to the best of your abilities, and the more rested you are, the more likely you’ll do that.

CM: Can you tell us about yourself now, and about your career? How did you get into comedy and was it always what you wanted to do?
DE: I fell into stand-up accidentally, although comedy was always a big part of my life. I’m also an actor and musician who has – believe it or not – been performing professionally for twenty years – though some of the people I’ve worked with beg to differ!

Before drama school, I fronted a three-piece band – think The Jam crossed with Supergrass – and music was my main focus. While we didn’t write comedy songs, our live act was funny, and whenever I did a solo acoustic gig, I’d banter a lot, so I guess it’s not surprising I would eventually put down the guitar and try gigging without it.

Just as things started happening for the band, I graduated from drama school and was lucky enough to get that Bill Kenwright job I mentioned within a fortnight. One tour led to another, and I was eventually away so often that the band broke up.

Then in 2005, I joined the writers’ group The Comedy Project, which did an annual season at The Soho Theatre, with my good friend Glyn Doggett joining soon afterwards. We started writing together the following year, and the double act Doggett & Ephgrave was born.

We brought our first show to Edinburgh in 2008 and set up our comedy club Mostly Comedy in Hitchin in Hertfordshire that year, which grew like rhubarb, with everyone from Harry Hill to Phill Jupitus eventually playing it. 

Spin ahead to 2022, and I’ve written five solo stand-up shows, co-hosted two podcast series – More Than Mostly Comedy and The McCartney McAlphabet – and even did a brief stint in the West End musical ‘Dreamboats And Petticoats’. And still, no one’s heard of me.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far? 
DE: Playing Paul McCartney at the Liverpool Empire and Buddy Holly at a handful of venues he gigged at himself when he toured the UK in 1958.

Other favourite moments include interviewing Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee for More Than Mostly Comedy, and acting alongside Michael Barrymore and Norman Lovett in a rehearsed reading of a Doggett & Ephgrave sitcom pilot. I’m definitely a child of the Eighties.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
DE: To keep breathing. Let’s hope I manage it.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
DE: My immediate post-Fringe plans are sleep and poverty.

David Ephrave performed ‘Good Grief’ at Just The Tonic At The Caves at Edinburgh Festival 2022.

LINKS: twitter.com/David_Ephgrave | linktr.ee/davidephgrave