During this telephone interview with Milo Edwards (@Milo_Edwards), former Cambridge Footlight, ‘BNOC’ turned satirical CUSU presidential candidate, and now London-based stand-up comedian, we discuss Russia (ranging from politics to comedy), the Cambridge Footlights, and his upcoming show at the ADC Theatre, Pindos: An Adventure in Modern Russia.
“So is it pronounced Pin-does or Pin-doss?” I’m slightly embarrassed to ask this question during my telephone interview with Milo Edwards. After all, this is the title of his upcoming comedy show at the ADC: Pindos: An Adventure in Modern Russia. He laughs gently before adding “I think I’m going to live to regret that title because no one seems to get it”. He goes on to explain that ‘pindos’ is a mildly derogatory term used by Russians to describe Americans (or rather, anyone who seems ‘American’): “There was a guy I worked with in TV who used to call me that as a joke, and from there it just stuck around in the office”.
Milo was in Russia from September 2015 to July 2018; to describe his three years there as an “Adventure” is almost an understatement. He travelled there intending to improve his grasp of the language during his post-graduation gap year, but he ended up establishing an impressive career as a professional Russian stand-up comedian, featuring regularly on Russian national television as a member of the TNT programme Stand Up, and performing all over the country – even in northern Siberia, where temperatures can drop to – 50 degrees. “This is the way things happen in Russia, it’s all random as hell”.
He might have stumbled into stand-up “because none of [his] friends wanted to write sketches” for the Footlights, but he has always been “serious about having a go at comedy”: in that sense not everything is “random”. Although he shares fond memories of his popular ‘Back-story to the invention of the font Wingdings’ sketch with Archie Henderson in third-year, Milo quite amusingly and frankly relates that “it’s much better when the only person you have to rely on is yourself, because unless you work with the right people, others can generally let you down”. It is clear in his passion that stand-up is what he enjoys most: “It was the main current running through my career in Cambridge”.
I’m quite surprised to hear Milo draw a breath before adding “I’ve lived in Russia for too long”. It wasn’t just the weather (“the cold bit’s all of it, in my humble opinion”) that made him feel that way: “The whole place is insane – you feel like you are not really living real life. It’s kind of like a cocaine habit”. Despite some of the skills he gained in TV work and addressing a foreign audience through a second-language, he fundamentally felt that “the kind of stuff that would make [him] a better comedian in Russia would make [him] a worse comedian in the West”. In short, ‘Russian comedy’ was too prescriptive. He was soon bored of being asked to make ‘impressions of Russia as an Englishman’ jokes; TNT as a channel was rather conservative – “they are very big on being all things to all people” – which made it difficult for him to make any comments on “anything that might be considered ‘smutty’”.
However, he has – somewhat counterintuitively in the context of subtle “censorship” – had the freedom to experiment with ‘Russian stand-up’. “In general, the stand-up scene in Russia is very under-developed. In fact, people didn’t really understand that stand-up existed as a genre separately from the TV show Stand Up.” Because of its novelty, there is greater collaboration between those who practise stand-up professionally, creating a Cambridge Footlight-esque community of its own. “At TNT, they had this philosophy that you can’t write comedy on your own because you never know if it’s actually funny or not, so they introduced ‘workshops’ where you would be assigned to write with people.”
Milo now incorporates some of these methods in his own comedy. His intrinsically “analytical” sense of humour – one which seeks to “take a topic that I’m interested in, deconstruct it and see what’s interesting about it” – has stayed, but he adds: “If I look back at my student shows, [in productions like The Unbearable Shiteness of Being, available to watch here], I can see that I put on a lot weirder stuff than I would do now as a professional comedian. I don’t think some of my previous ideas have the same punchiness and conciseness”.
Throughout the telephone interview, Milo has been very attentive to my questions, and delightfully witty with his responses. When I ask if he would like to say anything else about his upcoming show, his enthusiasm becomes even more prominent: “Hell yeah!”, he exclaims. “I hope that the show will be interesting for people who are into languages. I talk a lot about languages – that’s kind of been a real feature of my life since I was 18, coming from a background studying Classics. Also for just anyone interested in a career in the arts – because I have, for better or for worse, forged a career in it having absolutely no idea what that entailed!” He adds with a dash of his self-deprecating humour, “not much for money, to be fair”. But from his playful tone it is quite clear that this is beside the point – he is excited by everything that’s going for him: the Brighton Fringe in May, three shows in the Balkans, a gig in Berlin, and, most importantly, this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
Milo says he doesn’t necessarily see himself as a ‘story-telling’ comedian, but I genuinely enjoyed his ‘stories’ during our one-hour telephone call. “I feel like my 18th birthday was like 3 weeks ago and I’m 26. Life happens, man”, he says with a leisurely sigh and a modest laugh. He shows some concern about the “transient population of Cambridge”, and how that might not work to his advantage when the ADC has a rather daunting 225 seats to fill for his show. But he has undoubtedly “picked up some interesting anecdotes along the way” (having a gun pointed at him being one of them – click here for a full blurb of the show), and there are undoubtedly people in Cambridge who will want to hear these. In Milo’s own words: “You never know, don’t write yourself off anything just yet”.