“Is following your dreams the meaning of life or an unrealistic waste of time?”
Ed Surname tells me he’s from Gloucestershire and I ask him to crack a joke about it. “Children’s author Beatrix Potter and serial killer Fred West hail from the same place. If you see my work, you’ll see I’m somewhere in between”. We are sitting in the Camden Eye. He’s working here later this evening, along with a bunch of other comedians. He’s got 5 minutes to show his film trailer on a screen. Having already been Grand Jury nominated for his documentary which explores the mask that the comedian wears for his public persona, it serves as a reminder that in this business, pub theatres are the back bone.
He explains that he doesn’t make anything up: “The whole appeal about filming my life is that it attracts mad situations”. He has also been nominated for Best Editing in the Madrid film festival. When he was Grand Jury nominated in February, they referred him to the Madrid festival. He loves the idea that he is editing on his laptop and competing against people on £20,000 budget. He paid £47 cash for the camera. Surname says he doesn’t put a “value on success, trophies or money or financial gain because as society we should re-judge how we judge success.” After a moments refection he adds, “I think there’s something wrong with that”. Self-criticism is something he does throughout the interview, having seen himself mature on screen, he has more self-awareness than most.
The film has serious deep messages in it. It’s silly fun and games but really looks at the meaning of life. As Surname puts it: “Is following your dreams the meaning of life or an unrealistic waste of time?” He’s also a stand-up comedian but he tells me: “Whilst not wanting to sound an idiot, I don’t have any influences. I want to do something different in comedy”. He claims that “if you turn the volume up on my personality I’d have no common sense; it gets in the way of being creative”. It takes someone going against the grain to create something original.
Surname is grammar school educated with a bunch of A stars that he doesn’t value at all. He values having a good time more than academic success. Nevertheless, there’s quite a lot going on inside his head. Foremost is “the contents of the film which you can watch for 700 pence”. At the same time his mind “is at war; my ambition, my dream is at war with my knowledge that it affects my family.” Having seen the trailer a question about whether his family ‘hates him’ roles off the tongue. He quips: “You’ve been speaking to them have you? My nephews don’t speak to me. But to be fair, they are three months old”.
There is something very endearing about Surname, in his honesty, his self-chastisement and his scrummy modulated West Country accent. It turns out he is also a thinker. He explains that his family went from “annoyed, to fighting it, to begrudgingly accepting it to genuinely accepting it, to actively helping it.” It sounds like the process of dying and how you deal with grief. “And then you embrace it”, adds Surname.
“That’s what I did with my dreams, starting as a naive kid, the same struggles; then making this mad film and thinking about the ethics - I had moments of doubt throughout the whole thing. It’s like an addiction. I don’t drink or do drugs. I stand up in front of strangers like a twat. I can’t switch off. There was always sleepless nights and that’s in the film.” 'Twat' does seem to be part of his signature persona and says something about his understanding of the smallness of our daily lives. He is very aware of the human condition. The appeal of the film isn’t some nutter filming his life, it’s the scope of footage of what’s inside the mind of an aspiring comedian. Other comedians relate to it the most. They tell him afterwards they laughed a lot but that it really resonates. At the same time the concept of following a dream can speak to people of all ages. Surname continues to explain that “16 year olds laugh at bits of it and 98 year olds laugh at bits of it. It’s a satire on the mind of a comedian – it's ridiculous what we put ourselves through."
Is this the comedian’s happy external face masking a tragic inner? In his case, “that’s true, there’s an inner turmoil, it works for you by making light of everything.” Is it his personality type? “I was bullied at school and I didn’t want to be seen to be taking anything too seriously; sort of more accepted, it’s the mask speaking.” Happily, these are formative experiences which might provide a catalyst for the artist. “I started out wanting to make a reality-sitcom hybrid about me playing a deluded video blogger interacting with the public. I could pitch to production companies and they wouldn’t complain about no budget.” It was topical, in the early days of social media, Surname continues “it only took one step back to question whether I was playing a character or not and because my family are quite funny I just decided to make it my real life.”
Surname explains that at first the family found it "intrusive, really irritating, but they got so used to it, they are probably the most relaxed subjects of documentaries ever." Their reactions are 100% genuine. “I told my Mum ‘I’m in the sun newspaper’ and she just said ‘yeah yeah, but these fish fingers are from M & S. Come, come and eat them before they get cold.” Now the family are excited to see where the film goes next.
So is life just one long comedy? “No, it certainly isn’t. How can it be with children starving? Its tragic. As people, we know about human mortality, the tragic reality that everything is coming to end. Everything in between; you have to make it funny, it’s a coping mechanism.”
t doesn’t seem tragic as its lived and Surname concurs citing a survey amongst young teenagers asking what they want to do when they grow up. “They didn’t say actors or footballers, the majority said rich and famous. I don’t think we all want it. After they’ve watched the film they won’t say that.” The film serves as satire to ask why anybody would want to be rich and famous. The film is so multi-layered that Surname decided to make it himself to make it exactly as he wanted. Back in the day, he had a VHS camera, so did as much in doors as could. He gives me one of his anecdotes: “When it ran its course, I wanted to visit a Mexican gun maniac who lived down the road at 3.00 am in the morning. I couldn’t afford a portable camera so used 20 extension leads down the road in the middle of the night.”
He taught himself about editing, years in front of a computer. He did fool a producer into believing he was professionally taught at age 17. It hasn’t been a straight line, as before he knew what he wanted to do with it, he had his own web series and a weekly TV spot on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network. When they wanted to take it another direction he wasn’t prepared to compromise. “If I didn’t fight all the way this film wouldn’t exist. Every step of the way I knew what I wanted my own output to be.” The film has been described as tragi-comedy but it’s also a romance. He has just celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary – the only girlfriend he’s ever had. “It happened organically – I proposed to her over the phone. There are parts of the film when we’re courting and she was saying it was awkward. She was three hours away, we travelled every week to see each other, lovely, romantic, also in the film, deceptively so”.
The film is cut down from 10 ½ million minutes. “When I die I hope my life doesn’t flash before my eyes because to me, it’ll be a re-run.” What’s his most cringe-worthy moments? “It’s not the things people might regard as embarrassing such as underground Piccadilly Circus (in the film). It is when my family have been ever so supportive and I’ve just been ungrateful. Silly arguments which everybody has but it’s horrible to have the ability to watch it back.” Surname describes himself as “really shy, the real me is very shy, anti-social … well meaning, annoying but ultimately a family man.” So why does he feel compelled to entertain people? “The whole point of film is to find out. It took 20 years to find out but you will find out in 90 minutes if you watch film.” It has a definite and uplifting ending, but no spoilers; you’ll have to see the film (you won’t guess).
What’s the next obsession after this? “I’m writing a book. It goes into much more detail, 19 years of deleted scenes.”
Ed Surname was chatting with London Pub Theatre’s editor Heather Jeffery (having a blast and looking forward to seeing Ed in the film).
WATCH TRAILER here
BUY TICKETS here (Aug 12, 13, 14 at noon, Etcetera Theatre)