Opinion: Milo Edwards On His Decision To Continue To Perform In Edinburgh After His Father's Death

The comedy industry is hardly notorious for being good for your mental health. The uncertainty of spending lots of time away from home, performing for not enough money in the hope of gaining the approval of strangers, all in the slightly more vague hope that it will progress your career somehow, is perhaps not what most people envisage as a dream job.

That said, being a comedian is more or less the only job I’ve ever had. It’s not the only thing I’ve ever done for money (otherwise I would have starved to death in 2015), and it still isn’t the only thing I do for money: I do all sorts of podcasts, production work and so on, but stand-up comedy is the only career I’ve ever seriously embarked upon.

This was always something which both my parents, but especially my dad, Keith, were fully behind. To many people’s surprise, my dad, who’d sold fabric out of a suitcase when he left school at sixteen before building his own fashion business, never raised an eyebrow at his son finishing a Cambridge degree and then eschewing the comforts of a nice professional job to pursue a career telling jokes to strangers. To him that always seemed like the sort of thing I would do.

That’s made this Fringe quite an event for me in ways I never expected. This was always going to be a big year, as I’m performing my debut hour ‘Pindos’ about how I became a TV comedian in Russia after a gap year got out of hand. The first few days of the show went well, and then on the fifth day I had to go back to London because my dad had been taken into hospital. I got there at about 6pm and we all sat there with him and my mum, until he died shortly after 10pm.

We knew he was sick, he’d done his best to battle kidney cancer for over a year, and he was strong - the doctors thought he had a year or more left. But my dad, it seems, much like the British people, had had enough of the opinions of experts. Typical.

My mum, my sisters and I discussed it, and decided I should come back and finish my run of shows. In the morning, before he’d lost consciousness, dad had been adamant that that’s what I should do. I wasn’t sure how it would feel, but I knew how I had to do it.

The next day I changed the end of my show and organised with a lot of my fellow comics, and my PR, to perform it the next day and enlisted their help promoting it, as I’d missed a few days of valuable momentum and flyering.

On Wednesday, August 7th I performed the show again, not just to a full room, but to a room full of comics and friends and colleagues. It was an extremely long hour on stage as I was focused on getting the new ending right, but I got there and I talked about my dad and somehow the show felt finished in a way it hadn’t before.

I’ve never had a religious experience, we were always a very secular family, but I can say that I’ve never experienced such a remarkable atmosphere in front of an audience as I did that day. I sat on the stage and people came up to me and cried and talked about losing parents and what the show meant to them and it made everything a tiny bit better. Doing the show this month has been a much needed funnel for my energies, and while the show isn’t about my dad in any real sense, it’s become a way to process what’s happened.

Being a comic has vicious ups and downs and I think the Fringe especially can push people to their wits end as careers and self esteem hang in the balance over reviews, awards and audience numbers.

And I am not immune: I worry constantly about being good enough, about whether I will ever be able to make a respectable living doing this or whether I’m wasting my time - and this industry is such that I can’t truly know the answer to those questions (even if my dad never doubted it). 

But having said that, sometimes, on a day like Wednesday August 7th, things click into place and I have to admit that comedy is one of very few professions that can provide those fleeting moments of magic, connection and catharsis. I may win no awards and get no lucrative deals to advertise cider, but to be a part of a moment like that is worth it in and of itself.

Milo Edwards: Pindos runs in Edinburgh until August 25. Details here.

Read a review here.

Pictured: Milo Edwards on his graduation day with his mother Susan and father Keith.

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