There's a peculiar ritual that makes perfect sense to comedian Stevie Martin at the Edinburgh Festival. "In Edinburgh there’s a lot of what I call 'weird 40 minute time'," she explains. "You’ve got 40 minutes between the thing you’re doing and the thing you’re about to do, and that’s not enough time to go home." So instead, she frequents charity shops around the city, accumulating miscellaneous household items that she returns to said charity shops the day before she leaves "because I can't fit them in my suitcase, and why have I bought this silver duck paperweight?" It's not a habit she's too reluctant to indulge; as she explains, "What better way to commemorate anything than with a metal duck?"
Martin's had several years to perfect her Edinburgh charity shop routine: she's taken multiple critically-acclaimed shows to the festival with her sketch group Massive Dad, alongside fellow comedians Tessa Coates and Liz Kingsman (dabble in some of their sketches on YouTube, such as this take on the ubiquitous IKEA lampshade, if you're in need of a giggle). But this year presents a new challenge: Martin's debuting her first solo show, accurately titled Stevie Martin Vol.1, at the Pleasance Courtyard. It's a "bucket list thing", Martin says — and also the source of absolute terror. "The first time I went on stage by myself, I don't think I've ever been so scared in my whole life about something," she says. "But the first step is just doing it, and being like 'this is hard' and then the next time you do it it's 50% easier."
With Massive Dad, Martin never bombed — though their last Edinburgh show was a work in progress, she says, becoming their best so far by the end of the festival. "I've never done a show so far that's been really, really bad — so that's the thing I'm worried about. I am due one!" she says, before reconsidering. "Maybe that's not a good thing to say if I'm trying to get people in?"
Apprehension aside, Martin's keen to get her creation up and running. "I do really enjoy performing the show — it's a really fun show, with lots of bits to it," she enthuses. "It's not stand-up — there's lots of sketches and different characters, and it's very fast-paced, so there's no point where I can relax or breathe or anything." And it's going to get messy, she promises: "I get covered in stuff all the way through — water, glitter, everything. Make-up all over my face."
"I'm just going to let loose on stage and almost attack the audience," Martin laughs, before offering some reassurance for the more reserved comedy-goer. "But thankfully there's no audience participation!"
Unlike other comedians, peddling laughter isn't Stevie Martin's sole endeavour. She co-hosts a podcast, Nobody Panic, with Massive Dad collaborator Tessa Coates. She's working on a book, though she's not sure what it'll be about yet. And she's a freelance journalist, who's contributed to ELLE, Refinery29, Vice, and others. There's a practical purpose behind her multifarious career: journalism has funded her Edinburgh show, for instance. But, Martin says, "I just don’t think I’d ever be able to just do one thing, even if I was the most successful person ever at it."
"I just get bored and I act like a child when I have a 9 to 5 job — I need to have a different thing every day, and to be able to do it in my pants if I want to."
So what about the future beyond Edinburgh? Well, Martin explains, the comedy landscape is rapidly transforming, to the degree that her own former goals are now more or less defunct. "The idea of doing a show on Edinburgh, then maybe you get TV parts, then you write your own show," she says, "I think that’s now less and less the reality."
The rise of internet comedy — whether that's social media stars or YouTubers — has supplanted the traditonal comedy model, Martin argues, offering both positives and negatives to aspirant comedians. "The good thing is, you have full creative freedom and anyone can do it," she says. "Loads of people are funny and they haven’t had a platform before, and now they have." And the bad thing? "To translate that into a workable living is really difficult," she says, "so you have to find more intelligent ways to get your money."
An outlier to the trend, Martin says, is Jamie Demetriou's Channel 4 comedy Stath Lets Flats. "It's really, really funny, and I'm just so happy that something like that could get made, because it's all young, up-and-coming comedians, and there's very little space for those people," she says. "But that's the only one I can think of in recent history that's popped through."
"I hope it's not all reality [T V], it's not all Love Island," Martin says. "Even though Love Island is excellent."
After Edinburgh, Martin will take her show to London, where, she hopes, she'll be a little more relaxed. "I won't be worrying about it," she says, "I'll just be really excited to go and show everyone what I've been doing and how far it's come." And afterwards? She plans to make a web series with friends — "just to do a thing that's made and finished," she says. "Just make something, and put it out there, and then figure out how I can keep going in a way that's not going to bankrupt me."
But comedy, for Martin, isn't primarily about ambition. "I think a lot of people have very focused aims in comedy — they've got their eye on the prize — and I just feel like there's too much room for disappointment there."
Her goal? "I just want to have the most fun I can in whatever I'm doing," she says. And, presumably, curate an impressive assortment of commemorative silver ducks.
Stevie Martin: Vol.1 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from August 1–27 (excluding 15)