From the editor: family is a hot topic at the Fringe

At Edinburgh’s annual arts takeover there seemed to be lots of acts talking and joking about parenthood

A microphone on a wooden stool with red curtain in the background


To the Edinburgh Festival (hence radio silence on the blog front for the last few weeks), an annual pilgrimage.

If you really want to hear about the time I performed stand-up comedy there many years ago collar me at our awards do later in the year.

Noticeable in Edinburgh was the number of comedians referring to family life. Maybe I noticed it more this year because I’m doing this job (I’ve written two books about gender and family and stuff so I think I was probably would have been aware of it before). Maybe it’s because the comedians I went to see were often the ones I saw when I was young and now, like me, they’ve grown up and become mothers and fathers. Maybe it’s because there’s more females on the Fringe. Maybe it’s because in the face of a political storm that is both depressing and more absurd than anything a comic could concoct the acts are retreating to the domestic sphere for their subject.

Whatever the reason, it’s notable. And the best shows are good on the topic because they are honest. Two in particular stood out.

Ugly babies

Josie Long’s gone from refreshingly twee comedy to angry Corbynista rhetoric but a year on from becoming a mother she’s looking for positivity. Her set was all the more uplifting because she’s unflinchingly honest in her account of giving birth and parenthood. Her partner, one half of Johnny and the Baptists, on the other hand performs a very funny song about ugly babies. That might say something about the sexes differing approach to becoming a parent. But it’d be wrong to extrapolate from one couple/two acts.

Philip Simons spoke to us before the Fringe began about his show Who’s the Daddy Pig? I made time to check it out and it’s funny but also powerful. He talks about how it took him a long time to come to terms with fatherhood and how bonding with this boys took time, leaving him feeling like a failure. Things have improved for Philip but it’s brave and refreshing and necessary to hear a man talk so openly. Most of all his show is funny though.

These are two of thousands of shows but there is often an overarching theme at Edinburgh.

In the past few years it was hard to find a blurb that didn’t reference Brexit in some way (and there’s still plenty of tired titles on that theme).

I wonder what it means that parenthood and family life are up for discussion, and mockery.

Ripe for change

I’d like to think that it’s yet more evidence that people are looking to the family as a place ripe for change. With politics apparently out of control we can all exert some influence over what happens in our own little units. We can make things better by trying to achieve a work life balance that benefits every member of the family – dad, mum and children. That probably means dad looking at his working pattern so he can spend more time with the people most important to him and mum being able to make a free and genuine choice about how she prioritises career and kids.

The advantages are so large that it’s no laughing matter.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be po-faced about it.

The best delivered joke I heard at the Fringe came from Mary Bourke and it was about family. “Unfortunately I can’t have kids,” she deadpanned, “because I’ve got white carpets.”

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