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Joe Sellman-Leava - Fanboy Interview

Fringe First award-winner Joe Sellman-Leava (Labels; Monster) is heading to Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol with his hit Edinburgh Fringe show Fanboy. This love-hate letter to pop culture and nostalgia explores our past and future selves through epic storytelling, razor-sharp impressions, and theatrical magic.

Joe’s teen obsessions with Nintendo, Star Wars and A Muppets Christmas Carol have continued into his thirties. But he’s started to notice something about the way certain fans are behaving – something unsettling. Fanboy doesn’t just question our love for superheroes; it also considers the fandom of political figures and the protectionism that can build around certain icons, and the language and responses that are then generated online.

This innovative, multi-disciplinary show examines loneliness, mental health, and how men often use pop culture and fandom to form connections and process emotions. Sellman-Leava, with director Yaz Al Shaater (Dead Reckoning, Young Vic; Boris: World King, Trafalgar Studios), asks us to consider the very nature of fandom and what happens to our childhood obsessions over time, how we can sometimes feel safer in our childhood memories, hiding from the world.

The show is heading on a tour this November and December ahead of this we chatted with Joe.

Can you tell me what first inspired the show?
I’ve loved Nintendo, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings since I was a kid, and became obsessed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe in my 20s. I thought it would be fun to make a show about the nature of fandom, obsession and nostalgia, and the role these things play in our media and politics. I was particularly curious about why certain fandoms – at least parts of them – had become so toxic, with racist or misogynisticbacklash against newer entries in the franchises. And I was fascinated by how this overlapped with wider divisions in oursocieties and politics.
How much did you have to research into the world of fandoms when developing the piece?
A fair bit – some of which was a lot of fun (rewatching, replaying or rereading my favourite things!), and some of which was lots of internet wormholes. In one way, I was already in these fandomsbut I never spent loads of time on fan websites, or going to conventions, so I was sort of looking in as an outsider. The research for Fanboy was often about delving into quite specific elements of fandom – e.g. the hatred Ahmed Best - who played Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels - faced, and the toll that took on him. Or the backlash to The Last Jedi, and how this film became wrapped up in culture wars. I wanted to examine the joy being part of a community can bring (e.g. how some Muppet Christmas Carol fans felt when Disney restored the ‘lost’ song!), compared with the entitlement and bullying that occupies certain fandoms.
What was the one fandom you have/would be a part of?
If I had to pick, it would be Star Wars, which is a fairly majorpillar of Fanboy!

How do you think social media has changed the way fans interact both with each other and with celebrities?
I once heard someone explain why, in the red mist of road rage, drivers get much angrier with one another than they would if they were all pedestrians, blocking each others wayor being too slow: the theory being that they see the car, not the person. I think that’s the case with social media – we see a digital avatar, and forget we’re interacting with a real human being. This comes with unpleasant and sometimes harmful behaviour, including how fans interact with each other, or with the stars or creators of their favourite things. It’s also the case that social media has enabled many fans to find communities they might not otherwise have found, which of course can be hugely positive.
What do you want an audience to take away from seeing the show?
hope audiences laugh, and enjoy the story. If they’re fans of some of the things the show includes, I hope they feel seen! And, if not, I hope they understand the nerds or fans in their lives a little more! Mostly I hope the show resonates, and that people feel they’ve had a good night out!
What keeps you inspired as an artist?
Plays, games, films TV, museums, exhibitions and gigs. Walking and swimming - especially if I’m feeling stuck! And, most of all, talking to people – sometimes about a shared love for something, but often just about anything and everything.
Can you describe the show in 3 words?
Funny, moving and surprising.

Fanboy plays on tour in November and December 2023. Full dates and venues can be found at

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