Steen Raskopoulos | FESTIVAL COMEDY

No one need fear being enticed onto the stage of Steen Raskopoulos. This mercurial Australian tells Jay Richardson that his improvised sketch

show comes from a place of love

S o completely does Steen Raskopoulos inhabit his creations that he sometimes gets stopped on the street. ‘I’ve been muttering to myself and not realised,’ the Australian admits. ‘When I’m constructing a character, I’m really in my head and not able to sleep until I’m satisi ed with a voice or physical trait. I’ll be hunched while walking, just talking to myself, acting out the sketches. I look like a schizophrenic and a lot of

people have been worried about me.’

The 30-year-old’s wife and friends accept it as part of his creative process. ‘But when I i rst started, they wanted me to get help.’ Raskopoulos was nervous before his i rst Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. But he needn’t have worried as he secured a Best Newcomer nomination for his character-sketch improvised comedy, with crowds appreciating the good-natured, playful energy of his audience interaction. ‘I no longer need to explain that no one should be scared, that everything comes from a place of love and joy,’ he reckons as he approaches his third festival. ‘I also i nd the UK more accepting of what I do, just because there are more sketch and improv and amazing character comedians around, I guess.’ For his new show, The Coolest Kid in Competitive Chess, he asks a ‘volunteer’ to engage him at the chequered board, while elsewhere he becomes a peculiar driving instructor, a grieving horse, and a human resources co-ordinator expressing himself through interpretive dance. His most popular characters serve the show, rather than the hour acting as a spotlight for them.

For the i rst time, there’s no return for Greek Orthodox priest and movie reviewer Yianni Kostopopoulo, but stoic schoolboy Timmy Zegamo is back. With a wavering voice Raskopoulos stole from family videos of his wife as a child, he won’t expand on what’s in store for the pathetic poppet, beyond suggesting that ‘it’s a nice resolution for a lot of stuff I’ve set up in previous shows. It’s probably the darkest show I’ve written and the most narrative. With the ending, everything all loops together, which I i nd satisfying and hopefully the audience will as well. Tonally though, some bits are pretty, pretty grim.’

He’ll also be performing in The Bear Pack with his improv partner Carlo Ritchie. Raskopoulos appears in the Australian version of Whose Line Is it Anyway?, but this is a longer form improv format in which he and Ritchie simply elicit suggestions for a location and their characters’ occupations, then make the rest up. He likens these ‘yarns’ to the i lm The Princess Bride, in that one character will tell the story from say, a child’s bedroom, and they’ll keep ‘cutting away’ to perform it. Urged to bring the show to Edinburgh by Sara Pascoe and Nish Kumar, it’s being produced by Liam Williams’ l edgling production company Fight in the Dog: ‘we’re excited to hopefully get a bit more exposure and it remains one of my favourite things to do in the world,’ he enthuses. Last year’s debut run of The Bear Pack was ‘draining’ but a ‘good boot camp’, he recalls. ‘We found out pretty quickly that we couldn’t get away with stuff that we usually can back home, so we had to really work hard. And I think we actually got better.’

Collaborating since 2012 when Raskopoulos taught improv in Sydney to his so-called protégé, he maintains that Ritchie is one of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet: a multi-linguist who’s written a children’s book in the Germanic language of Wymysorys, despite it only being spoken by approximately 70 pensioners in Poland. The Bear Pack don’t rehearse or even warm-up beforehand and never go in with anything preconceived. They’ve become so intuitive as a double act that they invariably attempt to disrupt and destroy each other’s comfort zones.

‘You can see us testing each other,’ Raskopoulos rel ects. ‘Whether it’s planning games within the show, trying to force the other to sing a German or Polish song or speak in poems and rhyming structures, we make it extremely difi cult for each other. You line them up for an epic fail. But it’s very much tongue-in-cheek and ultimately supportive. Carlo, brilliant as he is, always succeeds and gets the biggest cheer of the night. I can’t explain how much trust I place in him as a performer and how much fun it is working with him.’

Steen Raskopoulos: The Coolest Kid in Competitive Chess, Underbelly Cowgate, 5–27 Aug (not 14), 8pm, £11.50–£12.50 (£10.50–£11.50). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £7. The Bear Pack, Underbelly Cowgate, 15–27 Aug (not 21), 10.40pm, £10–£11 (£9–£10).


For those who don’t recoil in

horror at the thought of audience participation, perch yourself in

the front row for this lot

SAM SIMMONS A-K This self-anointed ‘40-year-old dickhead’ will scatter his stage with props to be wielded on his throng. There may even be a chance to play badminton with the Aussie chap. Assembly George Square Studios, 11–27 Aug, 9.40pm, £14–£16 (£12–£14).

JAYDE ADAMS IS JAYDED Having nabbed a Best Newcomer nomination last year, Adams will be aiming to avoid the old second-album syndrome. To that end, one section involves her being ‘very present’ with an unsuspecting member of the front row. Pleasance Courtyard, 5–28 Aug, 9.30pm, £8–£12 (£7–£11). Previews 2–4 Aug, £6.

NAZ OSMANOGLU: THE NAZ SHOW The WitTank guy’s show features Dita Schultz, a documentary i lmmaker in search of truth. How far he will go to i nd the truth is down to his audience . . . Just the Tonic at The Caves, 5–25 Aug (not 14), 2.45pm, £5. Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £5 or Pay What You Want.

NICK HELM: MASTERWORKS IN PROGRESS Renowned for his up-close and personal style of sweat-inducing stand-up, Helm is in the intimate surroundings of the Cabaret Bar. Exactly 20 years ago this August as a mere student pup, he was taken up onto that very same stage by the mighty Al Murray. Pleasance Courtyard, 14–27 Aug, 5.20pm, £10.

CATRIONA KNOX: ADORABLE DEPLORABLE The former Boom Jennies member is promising a ‘no-holds barred, full tilt, silly interaction. Think Joyce Grenfell on acid: slightly unhinged but always well mannered.’ That’s good enough for us. Pleasance Dome, 5–28 Aug (not 15), 6.50pm, £8–£11 (£7–£10). Previews 2–4 Aug, £6.

3–10 Aug 2017 THE LIST FESTIVAL 53