Ever since I was twelve, I've been captivated by the rhythm of jokes. I was always secretly watching Chris Rock specials on my PSP after bedtime, and I have African parents, so those acts of rebellion came with the genuine threat of violence.
When I was young, I actually wanted to become a physicist, fuelled by my love for the subject. But I had a sixth form tutor who told me I wouldn't make the grades for Oxford. According to him, since I couldn't get into Oxford, I should just abandon my dreams altogether. Looking back, that dude was projecting his own failures onto a child.
So, at seventeen, I started writing jokes and structured my entire life around comedy. I began performing gigs at Lancaster University, from empty working man's pubs to music events that didn't want to let me on. But they reluctantly let me perform because they could smell my desperation from across the street. I was down bad, but at least it was a step closer to being a real comic.
Third Year Lecture
Comedy is demoralizing, especially when you're just starting out at university. The thing is, when you're eighteen, you have nothing profound to say, and what little you do say, you can't say it all that well. To make matters worse, I was performing mostly at music gigs, which meant I had to convince the crowd that I was worth listening to and then gradually admit that maybe I wasn't. I tried quitting comedy multiple times during my degree. By third year, I was out of the game.
I wanted to try and get a Maths PhD so I got elected as Education Officer for both Maths and Computer Science societies. But in third year, I had to start giving speeches to first years. As I started getting genuine laughs, the desire to pursue comedy came rushing back. I was furious. It felt like being a repressed homosexual Catholic who went to see Mama Mia. I had convinced myself I could be something else, but those lectures made it clear that I'll never be able to fight what I truly am.
Winning King Gong London
Early on, comedy is inherently competitive; no one has figured out what they actually do, no comedian finds their true voice for at least seven or eight years. There's a world of difference between Jimmy Carr and Stewart Lee now, but they started out in the same new act competitions, vying for spots at the same clubs. At that stage, you don't have the luxury of having your own lane.
At the start, we're all eating the same diarrhoea. So, naturally, you want to win every competition possible to get a chance at better gigs. King Gong at the Comedy Store is notorious for being the most brutal gong show in the country. You have to survive five minutes while the audience is actively encouraged to be mean and boo you off stage. I lost that competition five times since I was eighteen, but when I finally won, it felt like I finally had the power to take control of my situation and start making real progress.
First Brighton Comedy Garden
The transition from open mics to club gigs is massive, but it's nothing compared to the leap from clubs to theatres. At the time, I wasn't even doing many clubs, but one day my agent surprised me with an offer to perform in front of a couple thousand people. I was on a bill with Kiri Pritchard-Mclean, Sara Pascoe, and Aisling Bea. It was just outlandish, I barely had a tight 10.
The nerves leading up to the gig were overwhelming—I could barely stand—but the moment I stepped on that stage, everything clicked. I just felt a bizarre sense of control of the room. Knowing that I could not only handle a gig that big but also do it well, gave me an incredible boost of (what some might argue was an unearned) confidence.
The People of Peaslake
I was opening the gig, and to say it was awful would be an understatement. The MC did 35 minutes at the top, despite him saying he'd do 10 so I could catch the last train home. And it was 35 minutes of the most sexist, homophobic trash I've seen in my life. Shockingly, the audience ate it up. I went up and did my thing, trying to navigate the – I won't lie – weirdly racist, village atmosphere. At one point, I asked if anyone in the crowd was an immigrant so I could launch into a bit. And the most English-sounding woman ever replied, "Yes, I am." So, I shot back, "Where from?" She answered, "Ireland." And that's when I said, "That doesn't count."
You would've thought I assassinated the leader of the IRA by the way she reacted. After the gig, I made a beeline for the taxi, only to have this woman chase after me, screaming, "Where is that man?" And I'm 25, so on some level, I was kinda flattered she called me a man. This woman threw herself in front of the moving vehicle, ran to my side, and tried to open my door: fully aware that neither I nor the Indian taxi driver would go to jail if she hurt herself. So, with impeccable timing, I slammed the door shut, making sure her fingers wouldn't get jammed, locked the door, and screamed at the driver to peel away. I did nothing but black gigs for the entire next week.
Applause From Final Brighton Fringe Show Last Year
The only thing worse than doing 10 minutes of open mic comedy to 12 people is doing an hour to two people. That’s the experience of doing work in progress shows. Last year, I just didn’t have enough profile to get people to come to my Brighton fringe shows, so every one of the eight work in progress shows felt like doing your own little production you prepared while your exhausted parents nodded along encouragingly on the sofa. It was brutal.
However, the final show I did for whatever reason got 12 audience members to come. And the applause they gave me at the end just hit different. This sounds cheesy, but it felt like they were genuinely proud of me for putting on the level of show I did. It was nice, those things keep you going.
In the year since, the show has come on leaps and bounds, I am performing it everyday in the Pleasance Courtyard Bunker Two at the Edinburgh Fringe at 9.25pm. Do come!