The polyamorous ex-nun nurse nonbinary queer comedian Kelli Dunham takes us through their first day at the prestigious festival

BY KELLI DUNHAM, IMAGE BY KELLI DUNHAM

This is part of a three-week nearly everyday series wherein polyamorous ex-nun nurse nonbinary queer comedian Kelli Dunham explores all the queermost edges of The Edinburgh Fringe, performs her own hilarious and hopefully hopeful show, annoys and confuses people with her gender, and drags you along for the ride. 

Day  1: Travelling While Awkward  

I’m a middle-aged nonbinary queer person frequently mistaken for a 14-year-old boy looking half heartedly for his mother. You would think the perpetuity of this awkward situation would render me biologically incapable of embarrassment. 

In regards to gender, perhaps this is true. I expected to be sir/ma’am-ed a few dozen times each day. I even relish the opportunity to comment “One of the mysteries of modern life, isn’t it” when someone’s gender triple take causes them to smack face-first into a display of tinned artichokes. 

But having been a tourist in the straight world for so long (or perhaps more truthfully because I am not as humble as I brag I am), I do not want to appear to be a tourist. Hence, I will travel with a backpack no larger than my head no matter how long, far, or varied the voyage. I pack two black tee shirts and a plant-based liquid detergent for soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, shoe polish, (even in a pinch on a sandwich as a mustard replacement) and I’m ready to go.  

But as an Edinburgh Fringe solo performer competing with approximately 2999 other shows, my luggage grew plump with a startling assortment of escalatingly random items this month. I hoped to entice potential audience members to choose my show rather than the ukulele-playing goat booked one venue over. Rainbow-hued stress balls, magnets, stickers, and zines for giveaways. 

A plastic yodeling pickle my sister gave me when I had knee surgery. 

Laminating film. In case I need to laminate anything. 

A tiny raccoon puppet. A miniature giraffe puppet. A slightly larger elephant puppet. There are no puppets in my show, but there might be –as happens sometimes– a puppet emergency. 

My red canvas suitcase was so large that any logical person would assume it contained an actual elephant rather than a miniature felt version. As I attempted to load this luggage into the taxi at the Edinburgh train station, the driver asked me if I was a magician in training. 

Trying not to be offended (some of my best friends are magicians) I handed him a flyer for my show. 

“It’s not about death,” I explain, even though the flyers clearly say Second Helping: Two Dead Lovers, Dead Funny. This title seemed funnier when suggested by my writing group in Brooklyn rather than explaining it to an Edinburgh taxi driver still processing the disappointment of having picked up a comedian rather than a magician. 

“It sounds like it’s about death,” he said.

“It’s about life and hope. And most importantly, learning to accept help.”

He watched me struggle with the suitcase, despite his outstretched hand.

“Aye, it’s a work in progress then?”

He gently pulled the bags from the boot for me. 

“Well, mate, maybe you’re a work in progress.” 

And while my ears burned with embarrassment, my little queer heart was warmed to the reminder that in a world where everyone’s a comic, perhaps everyone can be a bit of a therapist as well.

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