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Anne Edmonds on keeping comedy fresh

Comedian and The Edge of the Bush creator Anne Edmonds on giving stand-up comedy characters new life on the screen – and the pressure of playing four of them.

Fresh off the back of Edinburgh Festival, comedian Anne Edmonds talks about The Edge of the Busha “Catherine Tate meets Bloodline” series, which was shot in Melbourne over eight days in August 2016 and supported through the Screen Australia and ABC Long Story Short joint initiative.

In The Edge of the Bush, you play multiple members of the same family, who are estranged after a secret tore apart their calisthenics empire. How did the idea come about?

I’ve been performing live comedy now for about nine years and the four different characters I play are all ones that have turned up in live shows. I wanted to find a way to weave them together and one of the characters had done calisthenics in the live shows at some point, so when I decided to see if I could put them into the same family and what would draw them all together, it turned out to be calisthenics.

I started out in comedy doing character stuff and it always was in the back of mind that that’s where I wanted to go. Watching Catherine Tate, Chris Lilley, Kath & Kim and all those people as I was growing up, those were the shows I loved.

The other characters are largely made up of comedians. How did you cast those roles?

I already had a working relationship with Greg Larsen and Damien Power who are in the show (the trio founded True Australian Patriots), so their characters I specifically wrote with them in mind. Definitely that combination of live comedy and acting skills was what we needed for this show. So once it came to casting, it did tend to be people that I knew from the live comedy world.

In Fancy Boy you were part of an ensemble, whereas The Edge of the Bush is very much driven by you alone – how did you find being the creator, writer and star of a series?

When you’re on set and it’s your creation, you feel 100% responsible for everything. So even, are people eating? Out of the rain? I mean I’ve got a Catholic upbringing so it’s bad anyway, but I felt responsible and guilty for everything that was going on every day. To walk on set on that very first shoot day when I looked around at what was going on, it was a combination of a thrill, plus the horror of what if this doesn’t work. So I felt totally responsible.

Is it something you want to do more of?

As a stand up most of your work is solo and suddenly being in a team like that where there are experts in finding locations, experts in costume, experts in make-up. It’s just a joy to not be out on your own. And to have all that expertise around you. It’s the collaboration. Everyone around you knowing their job so well and pulling together to make something work, that’s the bit I love the most, compared to the solo-ness of stand up. Also Andy Walker is a sent-from-heaven producer and such an important part of it being made.

In live comedy you have the feedback of an audience to tell you if something is funny or not. How did you deal with translating these characters and humour to a different medium?

As live comics every night of the week during the comedy festival, it is training of a sort. It’s this nightly relationship with the audience and I think it does implant something inside you that once it comes to writing for television, you’ve got that knowledge and awareness of how far you can push audiences, and what they need to understand so they feel comfortable in order to laugh. And a lot of those characters came from the stage anyway, so I think I had a sense of how it would translate if I was writing it for TV.

Anne Edmonds and Greg Larsen in <em>The Edge of the Bush</em> Anne Edmonds and Greg Larsen in The Edge of the Bush

Because of the delay between writing a joke and filming it, how do you keep comedy fresh for the screen?

Of course that’s one of the challenges. Once you’re up to your 20th draft of something, which I was, it was hard to know how it was going to be funny. And on shoot days, because you do several takes the first one might get a laugh from the crew, but by the time you’ve done it eight times from different angles, you’re struggling to remember what’s funny about it. So you just have to trust in that initial writing of it and hope for the best once you’ve gone through that whole process of editing. A lot of that comes down to the team around you and I had a lot of faith in everyone around me, particularly [director] Kate McCartney (The Katering Show), that she understood where I was coming from and we were going to get there with the comedy. And we did eventually.

How long did The Edge of the Bush take to write and what’s your writing process like?

It’s hard for me to say, because variations of the characters and ideas have been around for so long. (And) it’s all spread out between me performing and going on tour. I definitely had this intensive period where I went to Docklands Library on my own every day. With this sort of thing, I force myself out of the house as if it was a job. And that’s why I went to the library from 10am-4pm and some days not one word made it to the page and… then the next day I’d pump through more of it. But for me I had to be removed from my apartment for a designated period of time to be able to do it.

How involved were you in post-production?

I sat in on the edit and I was pretty much there from woe to go. (Director) Kate McCartney and I had a seamless collaboration. She’s amazing and we were both there really, every step of the way. I mean it was a small production, so you have to step up and do things and be hands on, but she certainly let me in and we worked together where possible.

The Edge of the Bush isn’t a typical television format, with 5 x 12-minute episodes (it began as an iview-only project, but will now air on ABC TV). What do you think of the experimentation that’s happening with shorter formats?

I think it probably is a great place for experimentation because I get the sense that networks and funding bodies are willing to take a few more risks on this shorter format. And it’s an interesting space to work in, in terms of it certainly made me edit a lot. It had to be tight. Comedy is about timing and I think it helps if you’re in this space to get things down to, not the shortest, but the punchiest they can be.

But it’s still a lot of work because the production values are the same [as TV]. Sometimes I think people think because it’s an online series, it won’t need as much attention and funding as a TV series, whereas you’re producing exactly the same sort of look. And this series is going on the TV in the end anyway. So that’s I guess where it’s still developing, is the resources put towards these.

The Edge of the Bush airs from 13 September at 9.35pm on iview and ABC TV