Edinburgh Festival Fringe guest blog: Chris Harcum, star of American Gun Show, explains how comedy came from a personal tragedy and why he took the risk of appearing at the Fringe.
Doing Political Theatre is always risky. The possibility of offending people looms large and there is always the fear of coming across as didactic or preachy. But I live in the United States, a country where the general population owns firearms in a ratio of 101 guns per 100 people. Just lifting the covers off the bed in the morning and daring to interact with other human beings is a huge risk!
Like 90% of my country, I take the position that gun ownership should be heavily regulated, that background checks should be required and be thorough. This is not a risky position. But very recently, a person I care about deeply became a casualty of our gun culture. So I was compelled to write a solo show about what it’s like living in a culture more in love with guns than with common sense.
As I struggled with the enormity of the issue, the statistics that show there have been approximately 20,583 gun-related deaths in the US since the massacre in Newtown, CT (According to Slate and @GunDeaths), and my own feelings of rage and mourning for my lost friend, it became clear that I couldn’t approach the beast head on. Rattling off figures that anyone could look up with a quick Google search doesn’t bring us any closer to understanding what it’s like to maneuver through the complex social interactions, the difficulty of being human, that comes when one in five people around you is armed. I had to push through the tears; I had to write a comedy.
Performing American Gun Show, a solo comedy about gun violence, and debuting with it at the Edinburgh Fringe is one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life. I was unsure of how audiences would react to the material. It’s not a lecture or a documentary. I use true stories to connect everyday life to the more extreme incidences in the news. While it does make people laugh, the ending goes to a place of introspection and heartache.
Thankfully, most are willing to take the journey with me and I have been overwhelmed by the majority of the responses, from the couples holding onto their loved ones at the end, to the ER doctor and his beautiful family who mugged through all of the audience participation, to the group of friends visiting the Ed Fringe from their respective homes in the UK, the US and Sweden, all of whom stayed late to tell me their stories.
The show has become controversial, which is a big surprise. One couple, American tourists, made a point of exiting the theater at the very tail end of the show. As they left, I thanked them for attending and while they said “excellent job,” they also yelled that I was a “gun-hating liberal” on their way out. Then there is the guy, a local, who took to Twitter to say that while the show was funny and intriguing, he was annoyed because he didn’t believe the stories. He thought I was making them up and that US culture couldn’t really be this tense. I can assure you, every word of the show is true.
But the most amazing response came from a woman from just outside of Sandy Hook, CT where all those innocent children were lost simply because a damaged young boy had access to an arsenal of assault rifles. She happens to teach at an elementary school. She stayed after to thank me for doing this show with humour, for poking fun at the beast, for giving her the chance to back away from the constant fear and for giving her room to look at the problem from a new perspective.
It took traveling approximately 5,250 kilometers to connect this show to this particular person. This is both the wonder of the Edinburgh Fringe and why artists are continually willing to dare it all to get here. In my case, I am eternally grateful I took the risk with American Gun Show.
MORE INFO: American Gun Show is at Gryphon 2, Point Hotel, 34 Bread Street (venue 109) until 24 Aug. at 5:30 pm (no show 11 or 18 Aug).