Phil Dunning: Meet the People’s Prince
By Caro Moses | Published on Tuesday 23 August 2016
You may have seen Phil Dunning performing at the Fringe before as one quarter of sketch group Oyster Eyes. This time he’s taking to the stage alone, though as a plethora of different characters, a feat only possible thanks to an impressive array of wigs.
We caught up with Phil to find out more about ‘The People’s Prince’, going it alone at the Fringe, and all that hair.
CM: So tell us some more about ‘The People’s Prince’. It’s a character comedy show, right? What kinds of characters can we expect?
PD: Yes, it’s very much character comedy. I have a lot of influences – from drag to Disney to musicals – so think of all those things mashed together into a weird hybrid and you’ll come close to the kind of characters I perform. I don’t really stick to a specific theme when creating the different characters. If I do a voice or accent and laugh smugly to myself, it goes into the show.
CM: I hear there are lots of different characters over the hour. What made you go that route?
PD: I began the show-making process thinking I would write about four characters. Then I started trying out short versions of various different characters at a few gigs in London and a lot of them worked, so I didn’t really want to cut any. Then things got really out of hand and I ended up having around 20 characters that I’d grown too fond of. So now I have a ridiculous amount of characters in the space of an hour. The backstage wig changing action is so messy!
CM: So, are you ‘The People’s Prince’ in the title?
PD: Yes, I’m the People’s Prince. It’s a self-indulgent title, but a boy’s gotta dream big if he wants his big break on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame and his name in lights on the New York boulevard.
CM: How would you describe your style of comedy?
PD: It’s difficult to describe. It is everything I love merged together in one big extravaganza. Think drag, cabaret, songs, spoofs and wigs. It’s stupid, camp and surreal.
CM: Do you have any particular comedy influences?
PD: I would say French And Saunders would be my biggest influence. I grew up watching their unbelievably wonderful film and TV spoofs on repeat. My VHS tapes were full of them with ‘DO NOT TAPE OVER’ written on each one. I also am obsessed with Chris Lilley. His characters are so perfect. Also, I LOVE Lisa Kudrow. She is a complete genius. Her sitcom, ‘The Comeback’, is my favourite piece of television comedy ever. I’d like to be her.
CM: We previously saw you at the Fringe as one quarter of sketch group Oyster Eyes, of course. What made you decide it was time for a solo outing?
PD: We did Edinburgh for three years together and I do really miss them. We took a break, because everyone was busy doing different things, and we haven’t really come back from the break yet, so I decided to try a solo show. I know lots of people doing solo shows so I thought, how hard can it be? Turns out, unbelievably hard.
CM: Ha! With that in mind, what advice would you give to anyone else presenting their debut hour?
PD: Commit fully to your comedy, whatever it is. Not everyone will like it, but you will find people that do, and when you find them it’s worth all the stress and heartache.
Reviews can be harsh, especially when it’s your first year and you’re still trying to develop your comedy. I cried for a whole day when I got a nasty review. Then I felt guilty because there are people dying in the world and I was crying over that. But it’s crazy how much of a bubble the Fringe is. The outside world doesn’t seem to exist any more.
The tip is to find supportive friends and cling on tight to them. So many people at the Fringe are going through, or have been through, similar situations, so talking to them really helps. I’ve just realised how dramatic this sounds. My main advice is to have fun, and if it goes well that’s great, but if it doesn’t, as Aaliyah would say, dust yourself off and try again.
CM: What made you want to do the solo show at the Fringe in particular?
PD: It is really tiring here – and it costs more than a really luxurious holiday and is a hundred times more stressful – so I do question my life choices sometimes. By which I mean, all the time! But there is a strange magnetic pull that draws me here. Maybe it’s the battered Mars bars.
CM: How does being at the Fringe on your own compare to your stints here with the sketch group?
PD: I loved performing with Oyster Eyes. It was so nice to have other people to cry with when it was going badly. Now I cry on my own into a gin soaked duvet. We were very close as friends – and still are – so it always felt nice to walk around Edinburgh pretending we were the ‘Sex And The City’ girls chatting about sex and drinking cocktails. I was the Carrie of the group.
CM: You mentioned the wigs. Do you have a favourite?
PD: I love all wigs. My favourite Christmas present I ever got from Santa was a long blonde wig. I wore it so much and did performances for my parents’ friends. They didn’t really know what to make of it, but I really committed. I weirdly like wigs that are a bit scraggly and ratty. I have one in the show that makes me look like a weasel and I love it.
CM: What made you pursue a career in comedy in the first place? What job would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
PD: I met the other Oyster Eyes at Leeds University, but we were based in Bretton Hall, which is a big old mansion in the countryside. It was a very incestuous place. We seemed to just find each other and then, after we graduated, we lived together in London and decided to do some sketches, because we weren’t doing anything else. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I hadn’t gone into comedy. I’m not really good at anything else. I want to say a lawyer but that’s a lie.
CM: Looking ahead, do you have a grand career plan?
PD: I should have a plan shouldn’t I? I don’t though. Lawyer?
CM: OK, perhaps less long-term, what’s next for you?
PD: Who knows? I’ll keep plodding along and see where the comedy road of dreams takes me. Fingers crossed for those bright lights of a New York boulevard though.
‘Phil Dunning: The People’s Prince’ was performed at Pleasance Courtyard at Edinburgh Festival 2016.