FESTIVAL COMEDY | Sara Schaefer
Breaking free from her religious upbringing and escaping the shadow of Trump are central to a Fringe debut by Sara Schaefer. She tells Brian Donaldson about crazy chants,
wishing that she was living in the future and keeping it silly
D uring her stint as co-host of MTV’s Nikki and Sara Live, US comedian Sara Schaefer experienced a heightened state of delirium when Justin Timberlake made an unannounced appearance on their couch. It’s fair to say that while she might not be reaching those fevered upper limits of euphoria over her Fringe debut, Schaefer is still very much looking forward to the trip.
‘I’m really excited,’ she insists. ‘When I was i rst deciding if I wanted to do it this year, my manager and agent were almost trying to talk me out of it. They were like, “it’s going to be a very big commitment, and it’s going to be hard”. And I said, “OK, I hear you and I still want to do it”. I think they were just making sure that I understood how big a commitment it was. I’m mentally prepared if a little nervous, because . . . you never know.’ We’ve learned in recent times that ‘you never know’ has become a rock-solid mantra for us all. None more so than Americans such as Schaefer who were banking on the election of Hillary Clinton to save them from Trump. We all know how that one turned out, so it’s with a heavy heart that all American stand-ups must feel duty-bound to discuss their leader on almost every public platform they assume.
‘At this point Donald Trump has done enough to be impeached, but there has to be the political will to get him out of ofi ce and I don’t see that yet. The problem is that people want answers very quickly because the world moves really fast now, but investigations take a very long time. I can’t wait till we can fast-forward to the very well-acted, award-winning TV mini-series about all this. Over the last year we had the OJ Simpson documentary and the mini-series, which put something that happened over 20 years ago into such perspective that I’m like “oh right, that makes sense now: can we fast-forward to that and give away the Emmy awards?”’ While Schaefer admits that a portion of her show is Trump-related, a larger bulk is devoted to her religious upbringing in Midlothian (the one in Virginia, not the one orbiting Edinburgh, though it’s a coincidence
48 THE LIST FESTIVAL 3–10 Aug 2017
Schaefer is delighted to have noted). The title of her show, Little White Box, is concerned with an incident during that childhood rearing. ‘It’s part of a story I tell about something I did in church when I was growing up. I was raised in the Bible Belt, was very Christian, and “Little White Box” is the title of a chant they taught us. I won’t give too much away but I perform it in the show and it’s pretty crazy.’ As with a vast number of liberal-thinking people who have been religious during their early years, that God- fearin’ business tends to wane as they get older and wiser. ‘I don’t think I would say I’ve lost my faith, but I’ve certainly lost my faith in the church and organised religion as a whole,’ states Schaefer. ‘I question a lot of what the church has become in the United States, especially with the far-right Christians. I believe that Christianity made me liberal and I can’t understand that some people who grew up with me and who read the Bible and heard the same stories and sang the same weird chants ended up so ideologically different from me.’
An incident at her mother’s funeral a few years ago seemed to crystallise those thoughts in her head with the ‘platitudes and clichés and meaningless things we say to each other’ coming into stark focus on that sad day.
While there are a lot of serious themes in Little White Box (the press blurb cites her relationship with ‘Jesus, America and death’ as key), Schaefer is keen to ensure that jokes and comedy will ultimately win the day. ‘The show is exploring what it’s like to be in America right now in this climate and I’m asking: what is the core truth of it, what are we actually saying, what’s happening deep down and how do you go around in the world living what you believe and not being a hypocrite? It’s almost impossible to be pure but we demand it of each other in very unfair ways. This all sounds very serious but I will be keeping it pretty silly.’
Sara Schaefer: Little White Box, Pleasance Courtyard, 5–28 Aug (not 14), 7pm, £9.50–£12.50 (£8.50–£11.50). Previews 2–4 Aug, £6.