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How comedian James Barr turned his disastrous dating life into a no-holds-barred show about gay self-acceptance

The presenter and Attitude columnist spills the tea on his debut Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy stand-up show 'Thirst Trap'.

By Will Stroude

“I genuinely thought ‘Oh, this might help me find The One’!” exclaims James Barr as he tells Attitude about the concept behind his acclaimed new show, Thirst Trap.

James’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut, the raucous 60-minute comedy performance sees the MTV presenter and Attitude columnist delve into his disasterous dating history and life as a social media-obsessed gay man in 2019 for “a stand-up show with audience interaction unlike any other.”

Playing at the Underbelly Lounge throughout August after a critically-acclaimed run in at Vauxhall’s Above the Stag Theatre earlier this year, the show sees James invite audience members to join him for impromptu speed dates as he recalls the thrills and spills of his romantic past.

“Dating is a disaster,” James says of his inspiration for the no-holds-barred routine. “I got quite bored of the dating apps and trying to find love in the wild, so I decided to put on a show to help me figure out where I’m going wrong and why I haven’t found love yet.

“I sort of speed date the audience and I swipe them like Tinder. But it’s a safe space, I don’t pick on them – it’s more about them showing me up as a crazy person.”

While the misshaps and meltdowns of modern gay dating make natural fodder for a stand-up set, the making of the show forced James to confront some home truths about his own attitude towards sex and relationships, and Thirst Trap doesn’t shy away from passing comment on the state of gay romance 2019, and the sometimes darker forces which inform it.

“Doing it really brought out a lot of my demons – I had to face a lot of truths about what I look for and what I’m searching for, so the show explores a lot of that, and taps into a lot of the damage that sleeping with 300 guys can do to,” he says.

“I’ve slept with a lot of guys and I admit that in the show, and try to work out why. Whether it’s because of a gay shame thing or because of more than that.

The Hits Radio Breakfast Show host goes on: “I just did this documentary in Northern Ireland aout gay conversion therapy with Radio 1 and we interviewed a guy that does this therapy on people.

“It’s really dark, and facing this guy who’s really homophobic and believes all this pseudo-science about why people are gay really made me realise ‘Actually, I don’t really accept myself or love myself’.

“The show is a story about dating, but also about acceptance for ourselves.”

While James’s experiences as gay man dating in London form the heart of Thirst Trap’s raucous jokes, the picture of disposable dating in the digital age the A Gay and a NonGay podcast host paints during the course of his set is one all millennial audiences will recognise.

“Everyone’s ‘public’ now and we’re all seeking this attention, we’re all seeking validation all the time,’ James sighs. 

“I feel like even when I’m dating someone I keep my options open – my DMs are open. We’re all online putting hot pics up, trying to get DMs, it’s all about double-taps and the likes.

“That’s why it’s called Thirst Trap, because in a way we’re all becoming a thirst trap. We’re always on the lookout for something better, something that’s going to make us feel more ‘complete’.”

He continues: “I’ve tried to fill my own lack of self-love with people that don’t make me feel good. We always say ‘Oh that guy’s too sweet, he’s too nice’, and what we really mean is we want someone to be a dick to us, because that’s what we feel we are.

“I’ve accepted bad situations with men and turned it into a love story. You see these films where people fall in love through disasters and we follow that script.

“I figured a lot of stuff out through doing the show; realising if you love yourself and accept everything about yourself – including being a crazy needy person like I am – then you’re way more likely to find someone who fits with you, because you’re not lying anymore.”

While James might be used to keeping audiences entertained from TV and radio studios, he admits turning his hand to stand-up comedy is “really terrifying”, especially when improvised audience participation is involved.

“The worst thing that’s ever happened to me was that was on a date in the show with this guy, and he faked a phone call!” he recalls. “He got up and literally left the date and said I’m sorry I have to go, my friend’s having an emergency! I thought that was hysterical.”

Of course, every story needs a happpy ending, so what type of guy will James be keeping his eyes peeled for in an audience of potential ‘The Ones’ in Edinburgh this month?

“I think I want a daddy to save me” he laughs. “I want my Disney daddy to save me, scoop me up and tell me everything’s going to be okay!”

James Barr’s ‘Thirst Trap’ is at Underbelly Cowgate at the Eindburgh Festival Fringe August 1-25 (not 12) at 5.20pm. For tickets click here.