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Tom Skelton: 2020 Visions (What If I Hadn’t Gone Blind)

By | Published on Friday 22 July 2022

If, like us, you’re fans of improv comedy – and comedy in general, in fact – you’ll no doubt be aware of Tom Skelton, who first came to our attention over a decade ago as a member of acclaimed improv troupe Racing Minds.

More recently, though, we’ve seen him performing solo shows to approving audiences, including his latest set, which has won much acclaim down under.

Tom brings said latest show – ‘2020 Visions (What If I Hadn’t Gone Blind)’ – to the Fringe this summer, and although there is a bit of a clue in that title regarding what it might be all about, I still wanted to find out more.

Not just about the show, of course, but about Tom’s path through comedy, how blindness has affected his creative life, and about what to expect from him in the future. And, naturally, what he loves – and looks forward to – about spending his Augusts in the Scottish capital. 

I arranged to speak to him, ahead of his run in Edinburgh this summer. 

CM: Can you start by telling us about what to expect from your edfringe show ‘2020 Visions’. Does it have a specific theme? What is it all about?
TS: So, no prizes for guessing which year this show was written for originally and intended to be performed in!

2020 marked a decade since I lost most of my sight due to a genetic condition that runs in my family, and this show is a look back at that decade of being blind and also imagines what my life might have been like if I hadn’t lost my sight – the ultimate “what if?” / ‘Sliding Doors’ moment.

It compares what I was really doing as I adapted to my low vision and sight-loss, and my imagination runs wild as I envisage the great man of history that otherwise I could have become throughout the decade! 

CM: What inspired you to create a show centred on this theme? 
TS: The end of the 2010s and the convenient simultaneous culmination of a decade of being visually impaired meant I was naturally reflecting and asking myself those kinds of questions, and then the perfection of the title made it an impossible show to not do! 

CM: How do you go about creating your shows? What’s your creative process like? 
TS: When I first wrote this show towards the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, much of the material was inspired by living in Australia at the time and silly things that happened to me to do with my eyesight.

As I wandered through the outback – to make myself sound very very cool, or at least try to – I muttered ideas for stories and jokes into my phone either as dictation or voice note, and then I guess the show develops through performance as I try and work out what works and strip it down.

It’s very much a devised piece!

CM: What effect did losing your sight have on your creativity and the way you work?
TS: I have definitely leaned towards recording myself on various audio devices through the years to capture how jokes and stories sound and, as I have come to terms with my eyesight more, the visual impairment has started to play a large role in the content of my comedy.

I suppose I have realised that it is – hopefully! – interesting for me to tell things from my unique perspective, as in my literally unique perspective, from behind my eyes and the way things appear to me visually. Not that I am the great philosopher of our age!

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your background? Did you always want to be a performer? How did your performing career begin? 
TS: I wanted to be a footballer, but I did always have an instinct for acting things out and doing silly voices, and when my gran and grandpa looked after me when I was very little, I always cast them in various roles in Robin Hood, Postman Pat and Superman… so my creativity was encouraged/indulged.

I didn’t really pursue any performing at school beyond drama GCSE so, when I got into an improv troupe at university, I felt like I had rediscovered my childhood love of putting on little plays and doing silly voices, just like I did with my gran and grandpa.

CM: What would you say the highlights of your career have been? 
TS: I think winning the Perth Fringe World Weekly comedy award in 2020 was a definite highlight, as was being an official complete sell-out at the beautiful BATS Theatre in Wellington for New Zealand Festival Fringe.

But maybe just as lovely was that first big laugh from an audience when I did my first show again after COVID a few weeks ago. Such a lovely warm feeling that I have missed!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
TS: I would love to do this show to as many people and as many times as possible, because it really feels like the perfect combination of a decade of doing comedy with a decade of my visual impairment, and comedy and performing were huge in helping me cope and come to terms with my sight loss.

Otherwise, I have done and would love to revive, hone and unleash my one man Macbeth onto Edinburgh at some point…

After finally getting back to performing this summer after a couple of years off, I have just realised how much I would like to keep doing shows and playing to audiences, as it is such a unique, lovely, warm thing that I want to keep doing.

CM: This isn’t your first Edinburgh, by any means – what makes you keep going back? 
TS: It’s such a vibrant, brilliantly intense month and the pace and rhythm of doing a show – or three! – every day just always makes me feel so alive. Performing, promoting and interacting with audiences, fellow performers and friends is so active – it’s anti-passivity!

I always come away from Edinburgh wanting to continue living that intensely – though perhaps after a week off being passive… and with less booze than I tend to have in the second half of the fringe… It’s also just the opportunity to see so many amazing and diverse acts and shows in such a concentrated space – both geographically and temporally!

CM: What do you love most about the Fringe? What do you dislike about it? 
TS: I love the intensity and immediacy of the month and performing. I probably dislike the same things after an entire month… But no, it’s probably the anxiety about getting audiences in that’s the hardest.

CM: What are your best memories of being in Edinburgh for the festival? 
TS: Discovering the Penny Black pub that opened at 6am back in the late 2000s…

When our producer dislocated her knee, and our improv troupe brought the Fringe to our fifth floor flat, and did a night called ‘Fringe Dislocated’ with various brilliant acts, including Josie Long headlining!

Audience members coming back to see my shows year after year and then introducing themselves afterwards – that is always the loveliest feeling.

CM: What are you most looking forward to about edfringe 2022? 
TS: I am really, really looking forward to my first sandwich at Tony and Margaret‘s café on Teviot place… but I’ve never learnt the name of the café as I can’t see the name, so I’m sorry for not giving it a proper plug. But it’s lovely, please go! [I think this is probably Salut, 18 Teviot Place – CM].           

I’m also really looking forward to that first laugh in that first show, and that feeling of the streets filling up with eager people coming to sample the Fringe.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this? 
TS: I’m not sure yet… I would love to keep performing this show, and I’m doing some improv after the Fringe. I would also love to start writing some new material and see what comes out.

Tom Skelton performed ‘2020 Visions (What If I Hadn’t Gone Blind)’ at Underbelly Bristo Square at Edinburgh Festival 2022.

LINKS: www.facebook.com/TomSkeltonComedy | www.instagram.com/tom_skelton