Edinburgh Fringe 2022
The Power of Difference
Perrier Award-winning comedy legend Simon Fanshawe is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in decades with the live show based on his book, The Power Of Difference. As a pioneer of the UK comedy scene and co-founder of Stonewall, there is nobody more qualified to perform comedy on the topic of difference. This hilarious and thought-provoking show explores all aspects of diversity and its impact on society.
Hi Simon, it’s a real honour to have the chance to talk with you, how have you been keeping?
How lovely of you to get in touch. Thanks. Well and v excited by appearing at the Fringe for the first time in 30 years. Last time I did all three weeks at 10pm. This time it’s five shows and at two thirty in the afternoon. Everyone can get home for a nap.
How does it feel to be making your return to Edinburgh Fringe and Assembly Festival this summer?
The Fringe is a festival of constant discovery. So, I am excited and curious and looking forward to making a live comedy audience laugh again (and even perhaps think!).
Can you describe your experience of winning the 1989 Perrier Award? And did you imagine winning Best Comedy Show at the Fringe would put you on such a long and successful journey?
It was amazing! Although on the night it was odd, because I’d have the first edition of the Scotsman chucked onto the stage and I’d improvise gags off the front-page story. Because the paper wanted to be ahead of the Perrier announcement, they made all the shortlisted acts have our picture taken with the award. When I saw the paper that night, they had taken a punt on who they obviously wanted to win. And there was a picture of John Hegley!!! But I love John and have forgiven the Scotsman. As to my comedy career, three years after winning I stopped doing stand-up and moved over to broadcasting for the BBC.
What does the Fringe mean to you?
Jonathan Miller, who was Chair of the Fringe when I first joined the Board, used to call it a “Darwinian crapshoot”. I agree. The Fringe means new friends, new experiences, finding your voice, making people laugh and seeing far too much Latvian Clog Dancing…
Are there going to be any nerves ahead of your run?
Yes. Tons. Nerves of the best kind though.
Can you tell me a little bit about how The Power of Difference came about? And had you always intended to turn the subject of this book into a Fringe show?
I wrote the book in lockdown. It must have been on the tip of my tongue as it flowed very easily. It’s about what I believe most sincerely, which is that humans cannot understand each other. And trying to do so in the certain knowledge that we never will is our most fundamental challenge. And in politics particularly we seemed to have given up that curiosity for a childish game of goodies and baddies, in which if you don’t agree, if you see the world differently, you’re a bigot. Turning that into a live comedy show seemed the obvious thing to do as it is a sadly hilarious state of affairs. I wake every morning laughing and crying about the state of it all.
How much of a role does language and the lived experience play in how we understand difference within society?
Because we can’t understand each other, and it’s a joy to try, language is always approximate. Humans misunderstand each other constantly; it’s how we learn. So, we need to stop weaponizing offence, accept that we fuck up all the time and learn from it. Instead of standing in opposite corners calling each other bigot!
What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced creating this new show and what has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from it so far?
The biggest challenge is turning complicated ideas into jokes and wit without trivialising them. It’s fun and hard work.
In the past, comedians had to face the growing challenges of “political correctness” which now seems to have morphed into “wokeness” and “cancel culture”. How different is the conversation we’re having now about “woke” compared to the conversations we had about “political correctness”?
PC was all about concern for other people. So-called Wokeness is entirely narcissistic. It’s not about change and challenging inequality and discrimination, it’s all about showing what a good person you are – according to you. I am glad I don’t claim such moral certainty.
Why do you think it is so hard for contemporary society to find solutions that lead towards compromise?
Because people are far more interested in proving that they are right than they are in trying to understand difference and finding common goals. Individualism is rampant. The Common Good seems to be on the retreat.
What can we do to try and find, as well as champion, that middle space?
Politics is all about building the widest alliances in the centre and marginalising the extremes. Now the extremes on Right and Left are marginalizing the centre. Purity is no way to collaborate. We have to challenge the fact that the Left always thinks it’s right and the Right never thinks it’s wrong.
Where did your passion for comedy and social justice come from?
Comedy – laughing as I grew up and realizing I could make people laugh.
Social justice - from being viciously beaten around the head and heart intellectually by feminists and people from different backgrounds when I was at Sussex Uni in the late seventies. Working class lesbians terrified me into action!
As co-founder of Stonewall and Diversity by Design, what are some of the steps that can be taken to bring real and long-lasting positive change?
You can’t bully people into agreement. That’d be like me saying I am gay and if you don’t laugh at my jokes, you’re a fascist! So, whether in organisations or in trying to achieve social change, we collaborate to do that through our differences not through being the same. That’s how we achieved change through Stonewall. You can join forces with people who take what my father called “a dim view” of homosexuality around equal treatment under the law. Because if you’re a Catholic or a Jew or a Muslim you know what it’s like to be discriminated against as a group. Since Stonewall went ideological and demanded total agreement (2015) they have won absolutely not a single campaign. Total agreement doesn’t achieve change, working with difference does. And either way, if you don’t laugh at my jokes you are displaying, at the least, very bad taste!
"You can join forces with people who take what my father called “a dim view” of homosexuality around equal treatment under the law."
Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer anyone heading to the Fringe for the first time?
No show longer than an hour fifteen. Have fun. Lose your virginity or fall in love. Don’t mix wine and beer. Have one night off in your flat and eat stew. Make soup for the week. Eat at least one deep fried sausage roll from the chippy. Don’t bad mouth other performers. And don’t ever wear clown make-up. It scares children.
And finally, what do you want your fringe audiences to take away from The Power of Difference?
Lots of laughs, a few new thoughts and a lot of warmth.