Readers from Britain’s big cities will be familiar with the posters that go up every July: comedians getting match-fit for Edinburgh with a rash of pre-Fringe warm-up shows. But when I phone the highly rated Portuguese stand-up André de Freitas a few days before it all kicks off, he’s at home in Costa da Caparica, a small seaside town near Lisbon. “I like to be by the beach and restore my energy,” he says, a couple of days before heading to Scotland.
The pre-festival rush is not for him. “The industry gets too frantic. It’s not very chill,” he adds.
De Freitas is the first comedian from his country to appear at the Fringe, and is doing so with a show called What If, which runs at the Pleasance Courtyard Bunker One every night until August 27. He explains that whenever he voiced his fears of failure to his civil servant dad, the reply would be: “What if you succeed?” So aged 18, “with a dream and a twinkle in my eye”, De Freitas moved to America, and promptly did not succeed. “I had this young naivety of not understanding visas and that you needed to work,” he admits. He returned home quickly, but three years later and with €400 in his pocket, he set off for London, where De Freitas senior was finally proved right. André has since opened on tours for Alan Carr (who calls him “so funny, a star”) and transatlantic big-hitters Jim Gaffigan and Russell Peters.
His comedy offers a unique perspective on the UK, based on his experiences as an immigrant. Outside his home country, De Freitas usually starts his sets the same way. “I get up on stage and say ‘Hello everyone, I’m from Portugal’,” he tells me. Once, at London’s Top Secret Comedy Club, he got an unexpected reply. “Talk about Ermesinde!” came a shout from the audience. It’s a tiny town on the outskirts of Porto where, De Freitas assumed, the heckler was from. “I remember thinking ‘this will be relatable to literally no one’,” he laughs.
So don’t come to his show expecting an hour of Portugal-based laughs. “It’s easy to make an audience laugh with a joke about the UK, USA or even Spain, as there’s a natural understanding of the culture and politics,” he says. Portugal, however, not so much.”
“The biggest challenge is how to explain the mindset of a country to people who have never been there and maybe don’t know much about it – except for custard tarts. It’s either this or Cristiano Ronaldo, and I’m not trying to write a set about football,” he says. I look down at the paper in front of me and cross out a note to ask De Freitas about pastéis de natas.
André says his typical audience is “anyone who has travelled or emigrated, roughly between the ages of 25 and 40”. When he performs in Portugal these days though, thanks to golden and digital nomad visas he has noticed a rise in Brits in the crowd.
The tourist trap Algarve was “basically British” already, but now it’s the north that is a hotspot for the young professional fleeing post-Brexit Britain. “In my town right now, you’ll hear more English than Portuguese,” he adds. “Even my neighbours are British!”
The data backs this up: in March last year, Portugal’s Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) revealed that 42,071 Britons became Portuguese residents in 2021, a 7.8% rise from 2020 and marking the sixth consecutive annual increase. This has brought with it its own set of problems, including rising rents and house prices for locals, but De Freitas is reluctant to get into all that.
Instead, he’s eager to share what he knows about the rest of Europe. He jokes about how his German ex-girlfriend’s kink was doing taxes, and how the Dutch conveniently forget their own colonial past when conversations about slavery arise – a handy trait he puts down to the memory loss associated with too many visits to Amsterdam’s cannabis coffee shops. Then there are the eastern Europeans…
There is a Portuguese word that evades translation – saudade. It refers to a sense of inherent melancholy, which he believes bonds Portugal with eastern Europe. “They are close to us in our sadness and, of course, they also come from a late communist state,” he tells me.
The only difference, he says, is that the Portuguese can medicate their economic woes with sangria. Both are economically disadvantaged, but at least, says De Freitas, Portugal is “fun poor”.
Andre De Freitas performs his show, What If, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at 8:10 pm at Pleasance Courtyard Bunker One every night until August 27th.