Brendon Burns had to hit rock bottom before hitting the top – a successful stint in rehab was followed by triumph at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and an equally well-received run this year. Now the combative Australian comic is on his way to Dublin for th
COCAINE and alcohol are a bad mix at the best times. Cocaine, alcohol and the Edinburgh Festival is even worse. Throw in some thwarted ambition, lashings of paranoia, a naturally aggressive nature and you’re looking at a potentially lethal toxic cocktail which is as damaging to mind as it is to body.
Brendon Burns should know. All the above ingredients drove the Australian comic, quite literally, mad. Hospital and rehab eventually sorted him out and, as some weird moral award for his redemption, in his first year clean and sober, he carried off the biggest award at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe, the if. com (formerly Perrier) award that Irishman David O’Doherty won this week.
A shouty, confrontational comic who has been plowing away at the Fringe for the last decade, Burns always sold out his runs. But a certain lunacy in his ap- proach seemingly prevented him for reaching greater heights.
“The word that was always used about me was ‘ inconsistency’,” he says while sitting quietly outside an Edinburgh cafe. “The shows were inconsistent because, some nights, I would be coming down from a drugs binge. I never should have been on stage. I should have been at home wrapped in a blanket, with a bowl of soup.”
Getting clean was a laborious process. Burns did manage to deal with his cocaine habit, but was under the illusion that he could still drink alcohol. He found out the hard way that this wasn’t really so.
“The ‘not doing drugs but still drinking’ theory is something I tested out quite a few times. I eventually found out that I couldn’t do one without the other. Bad things happen when I drink, and even worse things happen when I do drugs, so both had to go.”
Burns’s material is a frequently misunderstood scatter-gun approach to notions of race, sexuality and prejudice. He artfully combined all three last year in his award winning show, I Suppose This Is Offensive Now, which saw him “blacking up” for the promotional poster and dividing audiences as to the points he was trying to make about discrimination. There were frequent walkouts halfway through the show from those who were uncomfortable with his rants. But, in a clever theatrical twist at the end of the show, he literally reflected all forms of prejudice back at the audience. “Because I wasn’t coked up, I could,
for the first time, really focus” he says. “A lot of the material I had done over previous years just seemed to come together neatly last year. I knew it was the right show at the right time. There were some slower bits, and I had stopped trying so hard to ‘make a statement’. If you try too hard, you suddenly stop being funny. I think I was too pompous in the past and saw myself as a satirist – but to the detriment of the material.”
It’s usually the case that if.com/Perrier winners don’t usually return to the festival the following year, and certainly not for a fullmonth run, as Burns is doing this year with a show, pithily titled Fuck You, I’m Brendon Fuckin’ Burns.
“I see this show as my love letter to the Fringe. The way I see it is that the Edinburgh Festival built me and I couldn’t not come back this year. I hope, after all the theatricality of the show last year, that this one is just ‘cutting to the funny’. It’s all about finding a balance between what makes me laugh and what makes other people laugh. I have a sort of ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger standup’ section, some stuff on Michael Barrymore, who is playing in the nextdoor venue to me this year, and lots more besides”.