Tiff Stevenson: Edinburgh Fringe Spotlight

As Tiff Stevenson rockets into the Gilded Balloon, we catch-up about her new show Bombshells, her viral success with Bridget Trump Diaries and ask whether comedy can make a political difference to the world

Feature by Ben Venables | 11 Jul 2017
  • Tiff Stevenson

Your shows have considerable range, from the inner experience of depression to the expectations placed on women in different societies and cultures. Can comedy affect social and political change? (Or, do you hope it can?)

Thanks for noticing! I hope it can. First job for me is to make my shows funny and relevant; I want to challenge thought processes and received wisdom. Sometimes I want to provoke people or get a reaction. I've had people come away from my shows saying that they've seen something from a different angle or perspective. I've had people who are politically opposite to me say they loved it. I think it is important to have as a wide a variety of audience as you can.

I love it when I get men in their 60s or 70s (my dad's age) and they say 'I've never thought about the women's perspective like that before'. So as long as that keeps happening then change is happening. One year I had a group of 20 students – all 17 to 18 – and they came to the show three times! I love that Edinburgh opens that up as a possibility. I also really wrestle with my shows in the lead-up to Edinburgh and I'll have a couple of previews that are absolute stinkers. I've learnt if that doesn't happen I'm not pushing my comedy or my art.

Just as a novel or film takes us to a different place or time – a dystopian future, contemporary Britain, a medieval court – where will Bombshells take us?

I think all of my shows have had some dystopian or utopian elements to them. I always start from where we are now and try to imagine what the future holds. They say great music is ahead of its time and predicts social change, what is to come; I think good comedy can do that too.

The show takes place in 2017 and with the probability that vain, egotistical men are pushing us to the brink of World War III. I know – 'NOT ALL MEN!', just some men, how about 'NEVER WOMEN'? And also, Trump, Putin, Kim-Jong Il, Assad... all with their itchy nuclear fingers. 

There is an exploration of what is wrong with left-wing politics right now (short answer – a lot), questioning my own political leaning, my sanity. What I stand to lose as I get older, and what the fuck are we gonna do about all this? There is some angry stuff about news coverage, Grenfell, gentrification. The possibility that I may have become radicalised. Women's role in a society that is falling to pieces. You know, the standard stuff.

On Stu Goldsmith’s ComCom podcast you describe yourself as a long-form comic, in that your style is better suited to full length routines and shows than, say, Twitter. Since then you’ve had viral success on Twitter with Bridget Trump’s Diaries. How did Bridget Trump came about, and given your preferred comedic style, has its success surprised you at all?

Well, this will sound arrogant but not really. I've always known I can write short-form punchy jokes, that was more my style when I started. I just find it hard to deliver them in a stand-up set because it doesn't suit my style. I'm too conversational, and purposefully so: then you don't know when a huge punchline is coming. I don't like the artifice of constant set up / punchline, I like my rhythms to be a little more off-kilter. Also doing stuff as a character frees you up from the chains of your beliefs and political viewpoint; sometimes it is quite freeing to be totally surreal, odd or awful.

Bridget came about from me looking at Donald Trump's tweets back in 2015, before he had announced he was going to run. I was writing [2015 solo show] Mad Man and I remember saying 'Christ, he is like a teenage girl' then not really thinking anymore of it. Then at the start of this year he tweeted about meeting Anna Wintour from Vogue 'in the AM'. It was that language that sounded very Bridget Jones. So, I did a couple of tweets in that style, created the account and away we went! A couple of people like Gabby Logan, Mashable and Marie Claire latched onto it pretty quick. I thought it had the potential to go viral but I didn't know how quickly and far it would spread. They mentioned it on Canadian news, then it was picked up in the US; People Magazine, US Weekly and so on.

You have to find new ways to satirise Trump because he is self-satirising. I write regularly for Mashable as Bridget now and I've also written satirical pieces for ST Style as Theresa May.

Who is your comedy mentor?

I have loads! Rich Hall and Mike Wilmot have long been givers of advice. They've championed me and got me in front of people. Roisin Conaty is one of my closest friends both inside and outside of comedy. She is a sage and reminds me to know my worth. I'm always keen to hear her thoughts and ideas on things. Ditto Stuart Black.

I also talk to Jena Friedman in New York a fair bit for her perspective. I feel like we are intercontinental sisters, sharing the same brain; [also] my boyfriend for a directorial eye and general level-headedness. He is funny but in a very different way to me, much more Scottish and stoic. Sometimes he is the lone voice of reason

What is the best or most inspiring show you’ve ever seen at the Fringe?

That's a tough one. My first year at the Fringe was 2006 and I saw stuff that was pretty hard to beat. I took my dad to a lot of shows and we both loved Dr Ernest Parrot Presents – Demetri Martin's show in the big purple cow. Hero, Warrior, Fireman, Liar was Roisin Conaty's first solo show. It was so great and absolutely nuts. I went three or four times and had to sneak out before the end to get to Celebrity Autobiography, which I was in at Underbelly. That was a great show to be in and watch other performers. I got to share a stage with Jennifer Coolidge and George Wendt.

I've seen Glenn Wool do mind-blowing stuff at Underbelly, and Andy Zaltzman at The Stand with Daniel Kitson scampering about causing havoc. Too many to mention! Deborah Frances White had a great show about leaving the Jehovah Witnesses. Wilson Dixon blew my mind in a tiny room, in front of a crowd of about 30, three of whom were me, Tony Law and Stewart Lee. Plus I get to see my friends like Stuart Black, James Acaster, Nish Kumar, Sara Pascoe, Sarah Kendall and Katherine Ryan write their shows at Old RopeI'm lucky I get to see so much .

Non-comedy related – Feet Don't Fail Me Now which is a rhythmic tap group from Minnesota, and Storm Large, who is a singer/performance artist, and the mutts' nuts.

What do you do to relax and get away from it all in Edinburgh?

I watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer, so I can see another woman fighting her demons and coming out with all the sassy lines.

Tiff Stevenson: Bombshell, Gilded Balloon, Teviot (Sportsmans), 2-27 Aug, 5:30pm, £9-£12