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20 Questions: Adam Riches - 'Edinburgh's about throwing caution to the wind'

The former Edinburgh Comedy Award winner discusses breaking his leg on stage and the dark side of Sean Bean

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'The work gave me confidence' - Adam Riches
© Idil Sukan

1.Could you give us a snapshot of the young Adam Riches?
I'm the second youngest of five brothers - I guess I was always the cheekiest out of us all, just to try and get noticed. I was bright when I was younger but then I got very thick very quickly. I messed up my GCSEs and A Levels and I fled to Paris to join EuroDisney and try and work out exactly what I wanted to do.

2.How did you get into acting/comedy?
I got into acting when I was really young but never studied it formally. I always liked writing stories and putting on plays in our front room. But my ambition only got galvanised when I left home. I filled in some forms and bluffed my way into university. Once I got into a proper acting course, Media and Performance at Salford, I put my head down and thought 'just knuckle down and get where you want to get'.

3. Did you ever have any doubts?
I think when I was younger the doubts were always on my family's side, and bloody-mindedness and stubbornness made me go, ‘I'm going to do this, screw you'. I soon realised that performing on stage wasn't the same thing as being funny in class or with friends, but the studious kid from when I was younger came back and I was methodical and disciplined. That overshadowed the doubts - the work gave me confidence.

4. If you hadn't become an actor/comedian, what might you have done?
I really don't know. I was all over the place. There are things I was interested in - I liked working with animals, for example, but I lacked any science discipline. I liked writing, so I could have possibly gone into journalism, but it seemed an awful lot like hard work. If I had no creative aspirations at all I would love to have run a video shop; I used to work in one when I was younger and I love film.

5. First big break?
I wrote, directed and starred in a series of plays at the Fringe many years ago, the idea being that it would be a staged serial with a different episode each week for people to watch. I was a big fan of Cheers and wanted it to have a similar feel. This was the early 2000s and it was much harder to get an audience back then, so when we started selling out I got a sense of 'ok, I can make things happen'. That was a big confidence boost. And more recently, winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2011 was a game changer.

6. Career highlight to date?
I think the best show I've taken to Edinburgh is the one that I took up in 2009. I'd broken my leg on stage the year before so I had a lot to prove. It had a great spirit to it because there was a real freedom to it. It was where I started experimenting more with the audience and going with whatever happened in the room, grabbing the audience by the scruff of its neck and taking them through a show. Even though the award was a great high point, that kind of just happened. In 2009 I began to find my voice - I knew how I wanted to feel and how I wanted the audience to feel.

7. Is it true you broke your leg by slipping on yoghurt?
Yes. The character I played when I did it was an ultimate alpha male. He's pumped up, he quaffs Yakult. That particular year, in 2008, there was a stooge in the audience who would come on stage and have a mock fight - it was actually my younger brother who slipped on the Yakult and shattered my right leg from the knee down. It was excruciating. And what was more excruciating was getting a phone call from the venue two days later saying ‘when are you coming back?' I broke my leg on the Sunday, had the steel put in on the Monday and by the Thursday I was back performing in two shows. That's the brutal reality of Edinburgh; I couldn't afford to go home and recuperate.

8. What is your earliest memory of the Edinburgh Fringe?
I went up in my second year of university, maybe 1994. We performed a Pinter double bill at a venue in Morningside but I never left that venue for the entire month we were there. I was convinced that that venue, with its six shows going on, was the Edinburgh Fringe. I never went into town, and I thought 'this Fringe is alright, I think I can take it'. It was just three rooms in one little building and I was so bemused to hear later that there was a whole bigger thing going on.

9. Who are your Fringe idols?
We all feel on a level footing at the Fringe I think, though I love a lot of acts. When I first went up I was in the same venue as Pappy's Fun Club, and I remember seeing them and thinking ‘wow, these guys are tearing it up the way I want to tear it up'. At that time there were also groups like Idiots of Ants and the Penny Dreadfuls who I became friends with. Nowadays I love comics like Nick Mohammed, Nick Helm, Cariad Lloyd. I like spending an hour in a show where good, bad, laughter or not, you just get a real person, a true voice. I don't have to laugh all the way through but I do have to find it interesting and compelling because I've got a love of theatre before I've got a love of comedy.

10. Describe this year's show, Adam of the Riches, in a nutshell
It's seven characters, which is I think the most I've done in a show. I haven't consciously tried to make it different from 2011 but it's a bit less intense, less audience baiting. There's a softer side to it, thought it's still fast and still stupid. You should be able to do that at the Fringe - experiment and throw caution to the wind.

11. I understand Sean Bean features?
I first played him when I was preparing an audition tape for Saturday Night Live a couple of years ago. I just started improvising as him and I made him quite tragic and desperately sad. I thought 'what would an actor be like if he took on all the pain of all the characters he's played?' I'm a big fan of Sean and there was something very nice to latch onto. He's proved a popular character and he opens the show.

12. Does winning an Edinburgh Comedy Award increase or decrease the pressure?
It changes it. It was never something I was thinking of or planning for or wanting, it just came along as part of a successful show up there. The pressure has always been to better myself. I guess there's a bit less pressure in that I don't have to worry as much as I used to regarding whether people are going to know about the show and get the sense of humour. I've certainly felt a greater warmth from audiences over the last couple of years. So a lot of the bad pressures have been taken away in that sense, and the producer side of my brain is calmer. But I think the performer side of my brain will always be bricking it. I've got an hour of material, a big room and I want everyone to enjoy it as much as I enjoy it.

13. Do you read reviews and if so to what extent do they affect you?
Yes, I read them all. I've always been ok with that - I think it came from being the producer and director, I needed to. It's hard when you're directing yourself to get that distance and people like yourself [critics] afford me that distance. Sometimes people won't like it and sometimes people really like it. It's that old thing, don't read the good ones if you can't take the bad ones. I think I'm always my worst critic anyway.

14. If you could swap places with anyone for the day who would it be?
I'd love to be a footballer. I'd love to switch places with Steven Gerrard a few years ago and see what it felt like. There's a performance element to that as well, the idea of 80,000 people just roaring you on. That Champions League final must have been an incredible experience.

15. Do you have a dinner party trick?
Just not going, I think that's my dinner party trick. I'm not very good at socialising. In Edinburgh I pretty much get up, go to the swimming pool, watch a film, do my show and then come home and read or watch TV. I'm not very good in that environment. So if I'm at the dinner party, that's trick enough.

16. What's your favourite Edinburgh hangout?
That would be the Cineworld over at Farringdon Bridge or the Virgin Gym pool, the one opposite John Lewis. And my bath. I like to have a bath. I'm always gutted when the flat's just got a shower.

17. What's your favourite film?
Some Like It Hot. That was the first film I saw where I didn't quite know which of the lead characters I wanted to be. Normally it would be Tony Curtis - the funny, good-looking, gets the girl hero, but there's just something so great about Jack Lemon in that film. I saw it very young and it instantly chimed with me, really had an effect on me, as a performer as well.

18. What projects have you got in the drawer?
I always threaten to do that serial again. It's been a while since I've looked at some of those characters and the idea of writing something theatrically and staging it as a weekly thing really appeals. I always look at that project during quiet periods, dusting it off and seeing if anyone's interested.

19. What about TV work?
I really want to do a character sitcom on TV, a narrative piece, which is proving tricky. I'd like to experience that and know how it would improve me and expose me as a performer and writer on TV. And then I'd love to do a film. Film is a passion and a hobby and something I get a lot of inspiration from and I'd like to sit down and write a short and get more experience in front of the camera. I feel very comfortable on stage but I could do with a little bit more experience on TV and film.

20. Where would you like to be in 10 years?
I've always liked the idea of having a six months on, six months off lifestyle. I like the idea of going away somewhere warm, somewhere coastal and writing for six months, possibly looking after the kids, writing stories for them and entertaining them and then taking my work wherever in the world I could produce it. I really love travelling and that freedom of going anywhere you like to perform and try and win over a crowd in a different language. If I had a perfect vision for the next ten years it would be that.

Adam of the Riches is at the Pleasance Dome until 24 August