I signed up for my first open mic at 17. It was in a function room above a pub, and my mum came with me. She sat in the pub area and was under strict instructions not to eavesdrop under any circumstances.

I went upstairs and made small talk with the other performers, hoping they wouldn’t notice that I was a nervous, underage amateur with hormonal acne and a secret mum nearby.

Suddenly the gig began, and then I was onstage, stealing panicked glances at a set list I’d scrawled on a Post-it note, which was now wrinkled and wilted in my clammy hands. It was a moment I’d been preparing for it my whole life. It went terribly. I ran downstairs and told my mum we had to leave immediately. But I arrived home with a singular thought: I had to do it again.

I was obsessed with standup as a teenager. I’d watch YouTube videos of whatever I could find until the early hours of the morning. Whether it was a heavyweight comic killing in a stadium, or a video from a university sketch troupe which seemingly had only been viewed by me, it didn’t matter. I just wanted more.

I did more open mics. I bought books on performance anxiety to try and make myself shake less onstage.

A year or so later, I was at the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time, doing a character called ‘Dr Egg’ to around eight confused tourists every evening. During one show, an audience member translated my jokes to her friend, and then I watched them collectively agree it wasn’t funny, in either language.

Bella Hull

I don’t know what motivated me to keep going after so much evidence I needed to stop. But I didn’t stop – and after university, I went back to the familiar open mics.

Titters and chuckles slowly morphed into more substantial laughter, and I’d record every gig and listen back on the Tube home, forensically analysing everything I’d said and the way I’d said it.

Shortly after, I was signed by an agent after a competition. One of my first paid jobs was opening for Russell Howard as he prepared for a tour. It was an outrageous clerical error, I’m sure. I’d not really been paid for gigs before - one time, I did a gig in a café and got paid in cupcakes. The sudden step-up from crummy open-mics to enormous, beautiful rooms with paying audiences felt preposterous.

I had to take beta-blockers before I went on stage so I could hear myself talking over my beating heart. I had the experience of about 300 gigs by this point, but as I walked on stage each day, I still felt like a clammy 17 year old.

Slowly, the audiences grew bigger and louder, and I started to pick up gigs of all sorts. I've performed to stags and hens, at literary festivals, gone to Europe and the States. I even did a cruise in Australia where the crowd hated me so much I could see them taking their hearing aids out. Most of the time I steal a peek at the audience before I go onstage, to ascertain what they'll find funny. The magic is that you can never totally tell - but you can get better at guessing.

Since then, I’ve had a few TV gigs, returned to Edinburgh, and I even got recognised once in a restaurant. As the person who’d recognised me walked away, my friends screamed so loudly with astonishment that a waiter ran over to check everything was OK.

I’m coming up to the Fringe with my second hour this summer, and I think the show is the best thing I’ve written so far. Long gone are the days of the wilted Post-it notes. But sometimes I still wish my mum was downstairs.

Bella Hull will be at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with her second full hour, 'Piggie', between July 31 and August 25, 2024 at 9.45pm, Pleasance Courtyard. Tickets on sale from 24 April on pleasance.co.uk