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Isma Almas: About A Buoy – Adventures In Adoption

By | Published on Thursday 15 August 2019

Ever since I saw the press release telling me all about Isma Almas and her show this year, I’ve been hoping to see it, because it sounds like just my sort of comedy: the kind that has a bit of a narrative, covers pertinent and topical themes, and – as well as being funny – has a lot of heart.

In ‘About A Buoy: Adventures In Adoption’, Isma uses a personal story as a jumping off point for a set dealing with lots of issues related to adoption and parenting. To find out more about the show, and Isma herself, I arranged a quick chat.

CM: Let’s start by talking about your show this year: what is ‘About A Buoy – Adventures In Adoption’ all about?
IA: The show is about me and my partner adopting our son. It’s about the adoption process, being matched with our son and life afterwards. I also talk about gender, sexuality, racism, discrimination and inequality. There’s a lot in there. I like to think of it as ‘something for everyone’.

CM: A lot of that sounds rather personal – what is it like talking to rooms of people about it? 
IA: Some shows are more emotional than others; not just for me, but also the audience. I think most comedy shows at the Fringe are personal. We are all sharing details of our lives, our opinions and how we feel with audiences, whether that’s about mental health, divorce or a death. For me, talking on stage about the issues that I do discuss, feels quite liberating. It’s taken a long time for me to get there.

CM: What made you decide to create a show focused on this subject?
IA: I realised after we’d adopted that I felt strongly about some aspects of adoption and I wanted to talk about it. And the best way to do that seemed to be by writing a show. And then I found myself writing about other wider issues like sexuality, racism, gender and inequality. All of which impact and inform our parenting. I guess some people talk to friends and family about things that raise strong emotions in them. And others just write an Edinburgh show instead. 

CM: How did you go about putting the show together? Was it a question of sitting down and writing a whole new set?
IA: The bulk of the show is new material. Initially, this involved quite a lot of sitting at my desk and staring out of the window. I started off by thinking about topics I wanted to talk about, and then breaking those topics down further, and then writing about specific areas in relation to each topic.

Then it was a case of trying to make what I’d written funny, and weave jokes in and around the topics. I worked with a great director – David Jordan – and it helped being able to explore what I wanted to talk about with him. I also got feedback from other people whose opinions I trusted. And as well as previews, I also did a couple of ‘work in progress’ shows, where I was able to get feedback from the audience afterwards, which really helped shape the show. I audio recorded each preview and listened to each one afterwards to help edit the show.

It became quite a methodical and technical process in the end. I tried to keep ‘vague’ working hours to write, regardless of whether I was in a creative mood or not. It was hard work and a slog at times.

CM: What happens to a show like this as you perform it? Do you make changes as you go along, or do you stick to your script? Will the show be the same at the end of this run, or will it have developed?
IA: I’ve already made some minor changes to the show. The show is fundamentally the same show I came to Edinburgh with, but with just a few ‘minor updates’. Sometimes, you respond to something that happens in the room on a particular day and it works really well, so you decide to keep it in. I don’t think the show will change much between now and the end of the run. But you never know…

CM: We’re at about the half way point – how is the show going so far?
IA: It’s going really well. I’ve had a couple of sold out shows which has been lovely. I’m really proud of the show and really pleased that people are enjoying it. And it surprises me every day when I walk out on stage and there’s an audience ready to listen to what I have to say. It feels quite a privilege that people are willing to part with their time and money to hear what’s in my head.

CM: Can we talk a bit about the past now…? How did you get into stand up comedy, and what made you want to pursue it? 
IA: I went to a comedy show many years ago and had a light-bulb moment as I watched the comedians. I just wanted to get up there and have a go. So, the next day, I phoned the venue, tracked down the promoter and explained I’d like to have a try. He was lovely and suggested I go the following month and do a five minute open spot. So, I did just that. I wrote five minutes, turned up the following month, went on stage, people laughed, I loved it, and I went from there. 

CM: I think you grew up in northern England in the latter half of the 20th Century (like me!). In what way does your background inform your comedy?
IA: My background impacts massively on my comedy. In my show I talk about growing up in the 1970s and living on a council estate and the racism I experienced as a child. I think my comedy has a Northern grit to it. I think my manner is also informed by my Northern, working-class background; I’m direct, to the point and say it as it is.

CM: What ambitions do you have for the future? 
IA: A long rest after this run involving lots of sleep, kebabs and cake. And then I’m planning a shopping spree in a stationery shop to stock up on new notebooks. I’ve got an idea for another show so I’ll start working on that post Edinburgh.  

CM: It’s not your first time at the festival, What makes you want to come back? 
IA: I wanted to come back because I wanted to have a deadline and a focus for the show. And I wanted to share the show with as many people as I could, and the best place to do that is at the Fringe. 

CM: What do you like about the festival city?
IA: I love the Mosque Kitchen. We went on the first day we arrived and had a lovely curry – and kebabs. My son asked for a tour of the Mosque, so we got shown around, which was lovely. We learnt that one part of the outside wall dates back to the time of Culloden.

CM: What advice would you have for festival first timers?
IA: Pace yourself. Always carry snacks, water and a cagoule. Go see a mix of shows; people that you’ve heard of but also take a chance on unknowns. There’s some amazing talent out there just waiting to be watched. And don’t get off with any comedians. But go on easy on yourself if you do.

CM: Have you been seeing other people’s shows? Anything you’d recommend?
IA: I’d recommend Jen Brister’s ‘Under Privilege’, Maureen Younger’s ‘Out of Synch’ and Hayley Ellis with her show, ‘Nobody Puts Haley In The Corner’. All great shows by fab women. 

CM: What’s coming up next for you, after the festival?
IA: Sleep, kebabs and cake. In that order. 

Isma Almas performed ‘About A Buoy – Adventures In Adoption’ at Gilded Balloon Teviot at Edinburgh Festival 2019.

Photo: Andy Hollingsworth