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Doug Segal: Back reading minds and influencing people

By | Published on Sunday 9 August 2015

Doug Segal

ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award winner Doug Segal – the comedian who reads your mind – wasn’t at the Fringe last year. Well, not with his own show. He did end up flying in for eight days to do a guest spot at pretty much every guest-spot-show available.
But this year’s he’s back proper, with a fetching new beard, more mind-bending tricks and the show he performed the year we gave him that award. We sat down with Doug to get updated.

CC: So you’re back at the Fringe full on proper! How did you enjoy your sort of year off last year?
DS: I missed the Festival every single moment I wasn’t there. The Fringe is such a fickle mistress: she punishes you when you are with her and then makes you realise how much you want her when you’re not. I’ve just realised! The Fringe is Tammy 2 from ‘Parks & Recreations’! The eight days I came up to “visit” last year were a blast though, and I ended up doing twenty five guest spots in eight days. Sublime.

There’s something about this festival that just makes it totally magical and as a performer it’s amazing, everyone is operating on exactly the same level. Beggars can be more successful than kings. I’ve got lots of friends who I’ve watched flourish over the course of a Festival run. The opportunity to do so many performances in such a short space of time is like the best training course in the world.

CC: What have you been doing since you last did a full Fringe run?
DS: Mostly growing a beard you could use to smuggle livestock. Seriously, I’ve had such a major image change it looks like I’ve done a Doctor Who and replaced the actor playing me. Oh… and I also did a full national tour of the UK and, bizarrely, Switzerland, culminating in a West End run. My mum is so proud.

And I’ve started headlining a lot of the big comedy clubs, done the Glasgow International Comedy Festival twice, and I made my Latitude debut this year, which went quite well – BBC Suffolk named me and Ruby Wax their ‘Picks Of The Festival’. I never imagined my name would be used in the same sentence as Ruby Wax. At least not outside of a courtroom.

CC: But it seems you couldn’t resist the temptation to come back for a full Edinburgh run this year?
DS: Well… actually… I wasn’t going to come back until 2016. I’m working on two really strong concepts for new shows, but that’s really slowed me down, as I’ve found myself writing both at once. But then The Voodoo Rooms/Scottish Comedy Agency/Blonde Ambition rang with an offer I literally couldn’t refuse to bring back the show you lovely people gave me a ThreeWeeks Editors’ Award for, and which I won Best Cabaret Show at the Brighton Fringe with, back in 2012. So yeah, I was asked to come!

CC: We should back up for a moment, for the nine people at the Fringe who have not come across you before, talk us through the basics of your act.
DS: I’m a mind reading comedian. My unique schtick is that I teach the audience how to do it. One review described me as a “cross between Derren Brown and a stand up comedian who teaches you how to do the Jedi mind tricks he’s doing”. But there again, another described me as “looking like a Goth rockstar who’s growing older gracefully”, so take your pick.

CC: And for those who missed this show in that award winning year, what does it involve?
DS: In ‘How To Read Minds & Influence People’ I teach the audience how to detect lies and implant subliminal suggestions. Everyone goes home with a printed mind trick they can do with their friends and the show closes with a random audience member on stage reading the minds of the rest of the audience. And there’s jokes. Lotsa jokes. And some of them not puerile!

CC: When doing a full hour show, how do you decide which tricks to include and in what order. Are you aiming for a narrative? Do you need to keep the best for last?
DS: It’s actually a really convoluted process. First I’ll start with the concept, then I’ll devise the mind reading effects I need to tell the story. After that I look to effectively overlay a comedy show on top, which inevitably means I need to go back a step or two and rewrite the effects because I’ve thought of a funnier way of doing it. The last show also included comedy sketches on video, but for 2016 and 2017 I’m trying to write shows that don’t require a screen.

I always want there to be a narrative – in my 2013 show ‘I Can Make You A Mentalist’ there was a literal story, as during the show I and the audience were stalked by my “arch nemesis” Guri Yeller who appeared near the end to try to sabotage the proceedings – but I want it to build too. In my head there is a graph line where, in terms of the effects, I want to start the show at about eight, take it down to around four and then gradually ramp it up to nine, then ten. Then eleven.

CC: That great Evening Standard quote “imagine if Derren Brown was funny” is pretty prominent on your publicity. Do you feel the pressure to be even funnier this year?
DS: Very much so. I keep pushing myself comedically and I’m really grateful that I’m broadly accepted as standing with one and a half feet in comedy and half a foot in cabaret. Though that does make not falling over tricky. Ideally I always want both, but if you give me a straight choice between wow’s and laughs, I’ll take laughs every time. I did a twenty five minute set at Hardeep Singh Kohli’s VDeep restaurant last night and around fifteen minutes of that was just stand up. The other ten where bloody impressive though.

CC: While comedy still dominates here, both the magic and wider cabaret scene seem to have really grown in recent years within the Edinburgh Fringe too. Is that true elsewhere too?
DS: Yeah I think so. John Bishop is hosting a primetime TV variety show. I think variety generally is in ascension at the moment.

CC: Any magic or cabaret top tips for Festival 2015?
DS: Piff is always fabulous value. ‘Anna Lou’s Contes D’Amour’ will be a fabulous French-favoured smut fest. I love EastEnd Cabaret. ‘Mr B’s Guide To Modern Life’ is hilarious, with a real party vibe, and I’m desperate to see the seven foot sad clown with the golden voice that is Puddles Pity Party.

CC: You’re always prolific when at the Fringe in terms of popping up at other shows. Where else are we likely to see you this year?
DS: Hahaha! No change there. Currently I’m booked in to do thirty nine spots and that number goes up by a couple every day – I’m just a boy who can’t say no. If you want to know what that looks like as a list, well: Cerys Nelmes Presents Pick And Mix, Cabaret At Le Monde, Chortle Fast Fringe, Spank!, The Hungover Show, The Lock-in Cabaret, The Comedy Mash, Hilarity Bites Showcase, Taste Of The Fringe Showcase, Another Fucking Variety Show, Hardeep And Friends At V Deep, Get Your Own Back Live, Ettieboo’s Cabaret Boonanza, Yet Another Comedy Podcast, Comedians Against Humanity, Laughter With Njambi McGrath And Guests, Comedy Death, Late Night Variety with The Martini Encounter, Cabaret Nova, The 5:30 Cabaret At The Famous Spiegeltent, The Underbelly Radio Show, Juliette Burton’s Happy Hour and Laugh Train Home.

CC: Now, three years ago you made me say a whole list of things on stage that you’d already got written down on various sheets of paper. I’m not sure I’ve forgiven you for proving just how impressionable my mind is. Though it all started with a drawing. How did you know I’d drawn a house?
DS: Oh Chris, Chris, Chris. You’re making the assumption that you drew a house of your own free will…

CC: And finally, you’re a mind reader, answer the question I’m currently thinking of.
DS: The answers is: No. No one can tell just from your walk but I’d avoid communal showers until the swelling has subsided.

‘How To Read Minds And Influence People’ was performed at Voodoo Rooms at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: dougsegal.co.uk

Photo by Kat Gollock