Adam Riches: interview

Adam Riches Adam Riches - © Idil Sukan
Posted: Fri Dec 2 2011

Knockabout character comic Adam Riches won the 2011 Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award. Time Out speaks to him about his powers of audience persuasion

With luminaries including Lee Evans, Frank Skinner and more recently Russell Kane and Tim Key all having won its favour, it's not difficult to see why the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Awards are still considered the Oscars of the comedy world. The 2011 list of nominees was particularly strong, but ultimately the gong deservedly went to supremely silly character comic Adam Riches. In 'Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches', audience members accept various ludicrous challenges set by the 38-year-old - who plays, among others, a swingball coach, monster hunter and Daniel Day-Lewis ('the most successful actor ever to appear in nobody's favourite film'). It's exquisitely written, superbly performed and, now, a major award-winner.

How did it feel to win the award? Did you ever expect - or want - to be nominated?
'No, to both of them. I've been going up to Edinburgh for a few years now, doing the same type of thing each year, stuff that I wanted to do, the way I wanted to do it. But I knew quite early on that this was going to be a different festival to the previous ones, because the show caught fire quite quickly.'

Is the win already helping to boost your career?
'Yeah, of course it helps. It hasn't changed me, or what I do, I still have the ambition of going where I want to go. But in terms of the doors being opened to go and express that ambition, it definitely has helped. The comedy industry, as I look forwards, doesn't look like it's got a place for me in it. I'm not going to do the panel shows, stadium tours or “Live at the Apollo” because my material just wouldn't work in those environments. Had I been a stand-up, that's possibly where I would've gone next. But I've always felt that whether I do a good show or a crap show, it doesn't matter: I always end up in front of a computer writing new material. It's just that now I can write and someone might read it.'

If not in comedy, where do you see yourself?
'I'd love to do narrative stuff. Still keep my hand in the live work, I love doing live comedy. But I'm an actor, essentially, who wants to do characters. I'm not necessarily interested in going all deep and meaningful or straight just yet, but I want to make the type of stuff I would want to watch on TV, and at the moment there isn't an awful lot of stuff that I do watch. And then I'd like to try and make the jump to America at some stage - that's always been interesting. Take this crap over there and see what they make of it!'

Your show relies on participation by audience members, but they're never humiliated. How do you avoid resorting to ridicule?
'I don't know that I actively think: I can't say that, I can say this. In terms of actually getting someone up on stage, they have to say yes. If one person says no, it filters through the rest of the show, so you have to win. They'll get a bit of ribbing and a bit of mickey-taking, but the whole point is to celebrate them, make them a hero, a star. If an audience sees that early on, they trust you and are okay to join in. Then you can start turning the screw and go: “Okay, in this one you're going to lie on a lizard and go on a skateboard, and in this one I'm going to maybe ask you to spew in my mouth.” You can gradually twist it, gently keep turning it up a notch and see what they do. Near the start of the show I get some of them to pick me up and throw me, and when they see me in that regard, being thrown and hurt, they go, “Oh right, if this guy's prepared to do that, then we'll be okay.” '

Do you feel you could persuade them to do practically anything?
'Well, maybe they're caught between a rock and a hard place. They think: I don't want to do this, but I don't want the show to be wrong because of me. In the show this year I just asked… Well, I told, but I never insisted. It was always “You're going to do this,” and they went with it. I wouldn't do what I ask people to do. But I had no one say no. Everyone was up and willing. Which surprises me as much as everyone else.'

The show worked particularly well in the small room you played in Edinburgh. How are you going to adapt it to the Soho Theatre?
'That has been a talking point in terms of taking it to London. I didn't write an Edinburgh show to take on any further. I wrote it for the Pleasance Upstairs venue. I knew that room inside out, I knew the shape of it, I knew the size of it and I knew it was perfect. For character comedy, personally, I want to see the character, I want to see the interaction, I don't want to be far back. In Edinburgh, everyone in the room, I hope, felt included and possibly threatened. But yes, it will work at the Soho Theatre, it will just be a case of trial and error. But for the purposes of this interview, it's going to be great, it's going to be better!'