I first started being funny at school to trick popular and good-looking people into being my friend. It worked really well and some of them are still my friends now, mooo-hahahahahahahahaa.
I spent most of my childhood wanting to be an architect until, years into this, I finally met an adult curious enough to ask me anything about it. They said “Tell me about some of the buildings you’ve designed!” And I was like “Pardon?”
Later that day I sat down and started drawing the skeleton of a house and as the pencil hit and paper and the lines started to layer upon lines in my heart I knew I was…. Bored. So so bored.
I needed to find another impressive and sophisticated sounding career to lie that I wanted. I went for ‘lawyer’ and I went even more method on that one. I got a whole, pointless, incredibly expensive degree.
To be honest, I still can’t believe I’ve got a whole grown-up job being a comedian. It’s like a hundred jobs and no jobs at all, all at once. Most of the time I feel like the luckiest duck in the world.
Here are five moments, of many, which shaped my career…
Ozzie and the Thwartz
When I was 11 years old, my school put on a new play called ‘Ozzie and the Thwartz’. I auditioned for every single part even though I’d never been in a play before.
A smoking-hot, cool, blonde, clever, funny girl called Maia got the lead as the villain and I managed to bag the part of her grotesque henchman, Grovel.
I went BIG and played him/her/it as a creepy little idiot goblin and we had the time of our LIVES. I’d never made a room full of people laugh before, and I remember the absolute thrill of doing that for the first time.
For a while I considered that I was pretty smug and clever for what I did with that Grovel character. Many years later, though, I realised I’d just completely and utterly ripped off the voice and physicality of Rick Mayall’s character Richie from Bottom. Oh well. The point is flame lit and achievement unlocked: ‘My first compliment which implied it wasn’t a fluke’.
I had a pretty important slow-light-bulb moment about seven years into doing stand-up.
I was at a stage where I was occasionally getting to either do tour support for or gigs with comedians who were further up the ladder than me and who’d made themselves a lovely lovely kind, clever audience.
Playing to fans of comedians like Susan Calman, Sara Pascoe and Bridget Christie - it finally dawned on me that my end game wasn’t to make giant groups of stags and hens or birthday bashes or works’ dos laugh while they tanked shots in weekend clubs.
And when my son turned one, I had a big wake up moment thinking: ‘If you don’t want to be doing that NOW, let alone in another ten years still, then why is that still where you’re pouring all your energy?’.
I couldn’t afford to stop immediately, but I made a plan to leave the clubs within a year, and work on other projects that meant being able to make more considered, clever and frankly slightly weird and personal comedy. Thankfully it worked.
Letters to a Young Poet
Sara Pascoe gifted me a book called ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ by Rainer Maria Rilke which changed my life and definitely changed my career.
Essentially my takeaway from it was about why you make creative work. If you’re doing it to get glowing reviews and win prizes or to ‘be the best’ comparing yourself always to others, you’re going to have a pretty poisonous and miserable or permanently deluded life.
Whereas if you make work for the love of making work. If you enjoy the ‘making’ and let that be the end of it, focussing on your own development alone, you are so much happier.
Also you’re able to be someone who is genuinely happy for others, who wouldn’t want that?
And best of all, you’ve then got a new-found resilience to rejections and set-backs because you’re only really pouring your efforts into what you CAN control, and you’ll just move on to making your next project and you’ll enjoy it whilst you’re at it. Win-win.
She gently taught me how to be a better person as well as a comedian with that book.
Hench in Edinburgh
I had a show at the Edinburgh Festival in 2019 called Hench. It went really well and got prizes and nominations, which changed the way the industry looked at me. But that’s not the moment really for me; I had a show before that which I was just as proud of which the industry ignored. Haha.
The moment was the very last, extra show I did of it. I was exhausted and so worried I had maybe run out of steam but that gave me a weirdly emotional energy. I had a connection with that audience in the Monkey Barrel which I’d never achieved until that point before, where it was like there was a fizzing in the air.
I flipping loved it, even though it felt a bit sort of wild and vulnerable. They gave me my first-ever standing ovation and afterwards I had a lovely big cry. I had worked so hard for so many years and it was as special as it gets.
World’s Most Dangerous Roads
I’ve been lucky enough to get booked for some really fun TV work in the last few years and the most recent one was getting to go to Colorado and film an episode of ‘World’s Most Dangerous Roads’.
I hadn’t expected to be quite so tested in terms of facing my fears and I will never forget it because I thought I was actually going to die. We had to do a drive where I thought I really might fall off the edge of a mountain. And what’s mad is I still spend the whole of my time on jobs like that just rolling around with gratitude that I get to be there, doing that.
Basically being paid to go on incredible adventures as long as I’m funny while I do it. I mean, that is my idea of heaven. But it does bring you back down to earth when you realise that as lovely as that is, it would be pretty embarrassing to actually perish, thanks to my own driving fails, on Dave.
It’s out soon so you can find out for yourselves if I did actually die or not.
METTLE is my biggest tour yet and it’s coming all around the UK and Ireland from February 2024 to the summer. It’s a show about passion, pace and purpose and I’d really love to see you there. For tickets head to jessicafostekew.com