Storytelling stand-up talks about her long-gestated Fringe debut
The detailed documentation of a life lived well on social media is a curious thing. Day to day existence is now screened and filtered so it resembles something almost entirely glamorous and exciting; a phenomenon that, while no doubt entertaining millions, is bound to foster feelings of inadequacy in others. It's something that's played on the mind of comedian Sara Barron, whose debut Edinburgh show For Worse offers truth as a counterpoint to careful curation.
Barron is preparing for her first visit to the Fringe as a stand-up, after previous visits for recreational and research purposes hammered home a desire to bare her soul on stage for a month. 'What I've realised about myself as I've got older is that I would sit down with anyone and tell them anything about myself. I'm a real warts and all person, which I think is just a healthy way to live.'
The show's thematic parameters stem from Barron's own specific experience of becoming a mother for the first time in 2016, which she says left her shellshocked. 'I thought motherhood was smothering an adorable infant, smiling into a selfie and putting that shit up online. Anyone who takes an attractive photo of themselves and puts it online while dealing with a newborn is feeding so many other people's post-natal depression, you know?' The disparity between the difficulty of coping, and the idealised presentations she found herself confronted with was striking, and forms the basis of For Worse. 'I'm trying to talk about advancing towards middle age in a way that's real, what it's actually about, and not the whitewashed version that ends up on social media.'
Barron's own journey to the Fringe has been a long one. Moving from the Chicago suburbs to New York as a 17-year-old, she enrolled at NYU with dreams of becoming an actor, before realising just days after graduation that it had been a huge mistake. 'I sorta knocked around for ten months, waiting tables, trying to figure out what to do and what I was interested in.' At that point Barron gravitated towards New York's thriving comedy scene. 'We're talking 15 years ago,' she qualifies. 'I tried stand-up for like six months and thought "this is the most terrifying, horrendous thing I've ever done". If I had a gig that night I'd be sick with fear the whole day.'
She kept up with the writing side of things, publishing two comic essay collections (People Are Unappealing and The Harm in Asking) that brought comparisons to David Sedaris, and got involved with The Moth, a non-profit collective in New York dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling. Now a popular podcast, it began as a series of live shows in New York that Barron would occasionally host. Through The Moth, Barron met her future husband (a podcast and radio producer) who assumed she was a performing comedian. Finding out she hadn't performed in a decade, he encouraged her.
'Something clicked second time round. I got it in my head that when I was done working on this second book that I was writing, maybe I would try and put my toe in the water again,' she says. 'I immediately fell in love and got the bug, an addiction I couldn't find at 22.'
For Worse is the culmination of a lengthy journey for Barron, a talented performer with a fanbase that includes gonzo journalist and storyteller extraordinaire Jon Ronson. You sense her debut Edinburgh show is something she believes in with every fibre of her being, a show that will resonate with audience members at a time when openly talking about mental and physical health is so important. 'I wanted to write a stand-up hour that had the momentum of a story-based show. I've tried to keep in mind the goal of telling the truth. That's the northern star I return to: is it true, is it real? The more you can talk and be honest (and air what is painful and hard with your life, even in the context of a relationship with a friend) the better. It's a valuable service.'
Sara Barron: For Worse, Just the Tonic at The Tron, 2–26 Aug (not 13), 3.40pm, £5 in advance or donation at the venue.