After a number of critically acclaimed innovative Fringe shows, Fife's Richard Gadd created his most personal hour to date and left this year's fest clutching the biggest award in comedy
As Richard Gadd reflects on his 2016, you can almost hear a mixture of relief, pleasure and pride in his voice. 'The year certainly went beyond my expectations, I can't deny that. My plans were always to go back to Edinburgh and prove that the previous show wasn't a fluke. I wanted to be taken more seriously because I work really hard and I finally wanted to face all my personal fears. I didn't want another miserable year so I wanted to combine the personal goals of trying to find inner peace with the professional goal of getting people to listen to what I have to say.'
And listen they most certainly did. Having barnstormed the Fringe with technically audacious and occasionally frank hours such as Cheese and Crack Whores, Waiting for Gaddot and Breaking Gadd, the Fife-born comic took a deep breath, ditched the puntabulous titles and plunged face-first into a deeply personal show.
The trigger for Monkey See Monkey Do was the sexual assault he suffered at a party four years previously and his continual struggle to cope with that trauma. For most of his hour in a claustrophobic room at the Banshee Labyrinth, Gadd ran on a treadmill with images being screened behind him as his inner turmoil (represented by an ape we often heard and sometimes saw) plays merry hell with his everyday dealings.
At the end of an exhausting August, both physically and mentally, Gadd's efforts royally paid dividends when he held off competition from the likes of James Acaster, Zoë Coombs Marr and Nish Kumar to win the Edinburgh Comedy Award. By doing so, he became the first Scottish victor of the biggest prize in comedy since Arnold Brown scooped the Perrier in 1987 (that is, unless you consider Canadian Phil Nichol to be a Caledonian winner; though only people who argue David Byrne is Scottish would pursue that line).
Ironically, this is the first year at the Fringe when awards were literally the last thing on Gadd's mind. 'I didn't really care this time around,' he insists. 'I kept myself to myself; I heard that reviews were good but I didn't read them til the very end. I didn't go to any of those private members bars. I just did the show, went home and slept. Before, my shows have been a professional venture but this was such a personal thing and I felt I had got what I needed out of the show. Everything else was a bonus.'
Still, once he'd received his spot on the awards shortlist on the Fringe's final Wednesday, Gadd became a firm favourite for the gong in many people's minds. Come the Saturday afternoon announcement, he started to think it might just go his way. 'I'll never forget the serotonin rush to my brain,' he recalls of the moment his name was read out as the panel's choice. 'It was crazy. I was so convinced it was Acaster's and was just happy to be there with family and friends. When my name came out, I broke down in tears and I think I gave an impassioned speech. I'm not going to watch it back because I want to remember it as a thing that happened in a moment and can't be relived. It was the happiest single moment of my life.'
But as with every jolt of adrenaline, there's the inevitable comedown from an almighty high. And Gadd felt that very keenly. Having been announced as the winner, there proceeded an endless string of press interviews and receipt of goodwill from all around. But a few hours later, the whirlwind was over and he was left alone with his thoughts. 'About 6pm I had three hours before my next show and I thought, "well, what do I do now?" So I went home and sat on the couch and thought, "shit, did that just happen?" I was then filled with this feeling of depression that the Fringe was almost over; it was very strange. It was such a healing month for me and while I was very happy with how it went, I did get very depressed.'
For Gadd, it's all about what happens next. There are projects in the pipeline that he can't say too much about right now, but if they come to fruition then he may not be able to make a Fringe return in 2017. 'If I'm free for the months beforehand and the month itself then 100% I'll go back. Weirdly, this was the first time I enjoyed Edinburgh in a lot of ways and I would like to go back but I've no idea what I'd do. I don't want to be stuck in the rhythm of creating the same thing year in year out, so I'd want to do something as surprising as this year and as surprising as the year before that. I want to keep innovating and shaking things up.'
Monkey See Monkey Do plays at the Soho Theatre, London, until Sat 12 Nov.