by Ed Fortune
Marc Burrows is an award-winning comedian, author, journalist and musician. In 2020 they wrote The Magic of Terry Pratchett, the first-ever full biography of the beloved author, which won the 2021 Locus Award (non-fiction). Their new show, The Magic of Terry Pratchett, is currently on at the Edinburgh Fringe before it tours the UK. We caught up with Marc to find out more.
STARBURST: How would you pitch The Magic of Terry Pratchett to someone who has heard of, but has never read, Terry’s work?
Marc Burrows: This man, Terry Pratchett, was the most-read living author in the English language in the UK for a lot of the ’90s. Whatever ideas you have about the type of books he wrote or the type of people that read them, I promise there’s more to it. That many people can’t be wrong, can they? (Ignore that pile of Fifty Shades of Grey in the corner of the bookshop). I’ve worked really hard to make sure this show will work for people who have never read a Pratchett book as well as it does for people that have read all of them multiple times. It’s the story of a man with a fascinating life who wrote great jokes and had a really interesting worldview. After you’ve seen it, you might even want to pick up one of his books.
Why was the Discworld series so beloved?
That might be the biggest question of all, you know. I can tell you why Terry’s books are great, how nuanced, fascinating, funny, angry, and exciting his work is, how well he understood people, and how vivid his imagination was. But those are just… factors. They’re not explanations. It’s like when someone you love asks you why you love them. You can list a million things you love about them, but you can never really define why you love them.
Why did these books capture the imagination? I’ve got theories. Firstly, it’s that they’re funny. And they’re funny before they’re anything else. That’s important. Secondly, I think Terry understood people, our lives, our thinking, our society, our weird foibles, our strange desires, the best of us and the worst of us better than any other author since Dickens. I mean that sincerely. He could see how and why the world ticked. Something about that resonates. It makes his work addictive, and his characters are people you fall in love with. You read his books, and you want to read another one.
How different is this show from your work with The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing?
That’s a fantastic question, actually. Because on the one hand, obviously, it’s totally different – The Men is a punk rock/metal band – it’s loud, it’s shouty, it’s a wee bit obnoxious, and it has guitar solos and considerably more swearing.
But… it’s not a massive stretch to see that there’s considerable crossover between Terry’s fans and ours. I think 90% of people who love our band (and there are, weirdly, quite a lot of them) are also Discworld fans. There’s a lot of thematic cross-over. Terry LOVED the Victorian era, and our band is entirely Victorian-themed. He also had a sharp sense of injustice and a filthy sense of humour, both of which we do as well, although remarkably, I’m the only Pratchett fan in the band, despite Andrew, our guitarist, literally being in Good Omens 2.
Why this show? Why now?
I suppose the obnoxious answer is, “Why not?” There’s never a bad time to celebrate Sir Terry. It may as well be now. More broadly, though, I always knew I wanted to turn my book (of the same name) into a stand-up show, although in truth, the show moved quite a long way from the book. Terry’s life is a great story, and his message is powerful – think for yourself, don’t suffer injustice, don’t tell people who they should or shouldn’t be. Have a large brandy. That’s good advice, whatever the year, but in 2023, amid all the fractured identity politics, propaganda, fake news, media saturation, oligarchy, patriarchy and cryptocracy, it feels like a message worth hearing. I just want people to remember him. To say his name. To pick up the books. I think we need it now more than ever.
What is the appeal of the Edinburgh Fringe?
Great falafel and pubs that open late. But aside from that, it’s a completely unique setting. You can see comedy and theatre anywhere, but there’s specific magic to having so much of it in one place. As a comedian, it gives you a chance to write a real show with a beginning, middle and end, something that says something about who you are and your worldview, which isn’t always easy to do in a club set. It’s a rich creative opportunity. It’s also a place where audiences take chances – they’ll go and see something weird, they’ll take a flyer and pop into a show on the off chance they’ll like it. Also, many comedians and performers in such a small, concentrated space for such a long time always run the risk of punching a hole in space-time, and that’s an annual rollercoaster. Terry would use a metaphor here with weights on a rubber sheet, I’m sure.
Why theatre? What does theatre bring to this story that other formats don’t? They are thousands of shows at the fringe. Why should STARBURST readers seek this out?
‘Theatre’ is an interesting word, isn’t it? Is this show ‘theatre;? My natural inclination is to think of it as a stand-up comedy show, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. A “one-man show” is theatre, but stand-up is always stand-up, and though this is a show that can be at times very earnest and deals with some tough subjects, I never wanted to lose sight of writing a comedy show. I was very keen for it to be in the “comedy” part of the Fringe brochure. Terry was a comic author – he was hilarious. The first sentence of the first page of the first Discworld novel has a great honking pun in it “on an astral plane that was never meant to fly”. I wanted the story to be funny, and funny works best out loud. Terry’s jokes sing on the page, but they SCREAM when you read them out. You could also call it a lecture, which is technically true, but I promise I’m funnier than most of your lecturers.
As for why this one? It’s a good story, I promise. It really is. Terry’s life was fascinating, and it’s a joy to be allowed to share it. Plus, you get a free booklet of Terry Pratchett writing unseen since the ’70s. You don’t get that from free-entry improv shows, I promise you that.
What’s your favourite Terry Pratchett work?
My answer to this changes week on week and probably day on day. I think his very best book is probably Nation, a staggering YA story about a young Pacific Islander whose entire world is wiped out by a Tsunami, leaving him to rage at the gods. It’s his masterpiece in every sense of the word. My other favourite is Night Watch, the 29th and angriest Discworld novel and the closest Terry gets to writing a thriller. It’s a really special book.
What’s your next project?
Currently, I’m consumed with Fringe stuff. I’m taking this show, plus its companion show The Magic of Terry Pratchett: The Footnotes, which is a full-on fan core nerd-out in a smaller space straight after the main one, and I’m doing a straight stand-up show every night, Marc Burrows In the Glom of Nit [at City Café at 11.15pm], so that’s kind of filled my thinking. We’re doing a big London performance of The Magic of Terry Pratchett in October at the Bloomsbury Theatre and then touring it next year. Then there’s something that Rob Wilkins, who runs the Pratchett estate, and I are working on together, but I can’t tell you anything about that just yet. I’ve also got a book about Nirvana coming out if I ever get time to finish it, and I want to do a sequel to my last book, The London Boys, which was about Bowie and Marc Bolan’s teenage careers in the ’60s. The next one will deal with their ’70s pomp. And like everyone else, I want to write a novel. Oh, and I’ve started writing songs for the next Before Victoria album, which is my little indie-rock off-shoot from The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing.
I’m not sure which of these counts as my “next” project 😬.
What media are you currently enjoying?
Predictable answer, but Good Omens 2 is BRILLIANT. Neil has done such a wonderful job of capturing what worked in the first series. I really hope they do a third. I’m also devouring Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2, which is, I think, the best season of Trek we’ve had since the ’90s. And in a year that also had Picard Season 3, that’s really saying something. Music: new albums by Blur, Nicky Wire, Tim Arnold. Podcasts: The Inadvisable Trapdoor by Andrew O’Neill.
How can we help?
Say. His. Name. The message of the show is to keep talking about and celebrating Terry Pratchett. With Good Omens 2 being written entirely by Neil Gaiman – and John Finnemore, who has done a great job with it, I want to remind everyone that Terry is sewn into its DNA. Terry still lives while we talk about him. While the ripples are still spreading. As far as the show goes – spread the word! Come see! Find me on social media! I’m @20thCenturyMarc on pretty much everything.
Where can we see the show?
At the Edinburgh Fringe, at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, 2-28th August, with a day off on the 14th, with The Footnotes show straight after at 7pm. Then we’re doing the Bloomsbury Theatre in London on October 14th, which will be a big celebration for the 40th anniversary of Discworld with some really special guests and a tour next year.
The Magic of Terry Pratchett will be performed at 5.30pm in Gilded Balloon Teviot (Dining Room) from August 2nd – 28th (not 14th).