Edinburgh Fringe Q&A: Nathan D'Arcy-Roberts

The stand-up reflects on modern masculinity, his love of film and how writing for stand-up differs from scripted television

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 5 minutes
Published 28 Jul 2023
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Image courtesy of Flick Morris PR

When did you first want to become a stand-up? 

I first performed in my early 20s. And died so hard that I didn’t perform again until my mid-20s. I watched comedy obsessively as a kid but I’d never considered it to be something I could do. I came from a film background, and it wasn’t until I worked PT Front of House with the circus show La Clique at the London Hippodrome that I got a taste of what it was like to work in live entertainment.

It was there that one of the performers – A Freddy Mercury-inspired juggler – encouraged me to try stand-up. I figured, if I’m going to take anyone’s advice it’s going to be this guy’s – I’ve seen him do nothing but crush every night for six months. In hindsight, I might have misjudged his tone. Oh God. Have I altered the entire trajectory of my life because I took someone’s sarcastic burn at face value? 

In your new show Present/Tense you talk about modern masculinity. What do you feel masculinity means right now?

The modern concept of masculinity is no different to what it’s been for centuries. What’s changed is how society is engaging with it. I can only speak to my own experience, but I’ve never aligned with typically masculine things. Unless you consider the collected works of Fiona Apple and series three of Birds of a Feather typically masculine. 

When I was a kid I felt like there were only three types of guys: you’re a Zack Morris, an A.C. Slater, or a Screech (yes, I did just use Saved By The Bell as my reference there and I’m sticking by it). I look at the world now, and I feel like younger generations are defining themselves beyond the rigid parameters of masculinity that I was raised within. Growing up I felt like anything outside the norm was considered a challenge to masculinity (a belief also shared by the men who’d scream at me from their white vans frothing with rage at the idea of a bloke with long hair in skinny jeans) but now anything outside of the ‘norm’ is simply part of an extended definition.

I find it interesting to explore the constricting influence that this archaic notion of how a man should be has on people. There are a lot of young men who feel as if they’re being shamed for being typically masculine and they’re having these feeling of shame and estrangement co-opted by nefarious and insidious snake oil salesmen. Being deluded into thinking that one form of expression is a challenge to their own when in truth it doesn’t matter how young express yourself. You can look how you want. You can dress how you want. All that’s important is that you don’t be an asshole. 

In your show, you mention grappling with a barrage of memories – could the show have been called Past/Tense or is the tension very much in the here and now?

The tension’s rooted in the here and now. The push and pull between a desire to be present while the past has the hooks in you trying to reel my mind back into its murky, unresolved waters. I’m prone to rumination. My mind gets caught in a whirlpool of recollection. I’ll be halfway through a driving lesson and my brain’s like: ‘I reckon now’s a good time to think about the time you called the teacher mum in front of your crush during your mock GCSE exam’ 

You wrote for Horrible Histories! How does writing scripted television and stand-up differ?

My stand-up’s rooted in stories from my own life, so I’m the main character in most of my material. When you write for television you’ve got to extend beyond your own viewpoints and write for a myriad of perspectives. This gives you a bit more freedom in the kind of jokes you can write.

You’ve got more control over the way and audience engages with your work in stand up. You test your material. You tighten it. You come to understand how and why people are connecting with what you’re saying. You don’t have the same degree of control when it comes to scripted. You can’t test your script in the same way you can your set. So you have to really focus on structure and the clarity of your storytelling to make sure that when it comes to an audience sitting down and watching your work you’re confident that they’ll be to connect with it. 

You started a film podcast this year. Has film always been a big part of your life?

I’ve been obsessed with film for as long as I can remember. Going to the video store as a kid was the closest I got to going to church (and I say this as someone who went to church). Films felt like they contained these great secrets about the human experience they were being passed down through the generations. I was the kid at sleepovers who was like ‘Sure we could watch Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls again but I’ve heard great things about Blue Velvet.’

What’s the best Edinburgh Fringe show (or comedy hour) you’ve seen? 

I can’t give just one answer, so the shows that I’ve seen that left the biggest impression are: Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, John Kearns’s Don’t Worry They’re Here, Chris Gethard’s Career Suicide, Ross Sutherland’s Stand-By For Tape Back-Up, and Luisa Omeilan’s Am I Right Ladies?!.

What comedy shows are you looking forward to in Edinburgh? 

Mike Birbiglia’s one of my favourite comedians. Getting to see him at the Fringe is a big deal. 

Where can comedy fans find you on social media? 

Instagram:@nathandarcyrobertsT: Twitter: @MrDarcyRoberts