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How I became a comedian and my advice to you

Comedian Louise Stevenson is the CEO of Brighton Comedy Course and the author of 'How to be a Comedian and Smash your First Gig'.

People often ask me, “What made you get into comedy?

What MADE me?

It’s like I’m under duress, with some sort of comedy pimp pushing me out onto the stage, night after night: “Make them laugh, bitch.”

The truth is much more straightforward. I got into comedy because I loved making people laugh (and, with the help of my comedy pimp, I knew I could). The truth of it was, I thought I’m funny, I can do this. I know it’s not something you can say out loud. It’s like announcing “I’m gorgeous!” in public – not very British at all.

How it all began

I can’t remember a definitive moment when I decided to become a comedian. I always enjoyed watching comedians on the TV when I was a child. Billy Connolly was my first experience with stand-up comedy. He was a trailblazer and is now a comedy legend.

In 1969, my mum gave birth to the first boy into an almost all-girl family. I was born three years later. I know it’s not China, where boys are highly coveted, but there were definite similarities. I was in my brother’s shadow and didn’t enjoy it at all. There’s nothing more tragic than a show-off without an audience.

Humour was (and still is) a valued commodity in Glasgow and very much so in my home. I used to look for any way to make my family laugh. I experimented with some dodgy impressions of famous TV characters, all of which reveal my old age. Some of you won’t remember Frank Spencer and Rigsby from Rising Damp. I’m sure, though, even the youngest among you will be familiar with my speciality, Miss Piggy!

Learning new tricks

I wouldn’t say stand-up was a burning ambition for me when I was growing up. There were few women comedians. That may have had an impact, though I loved making people laugh (I still do!).

Comedian course
Louise Stevenson runs courses for budding comedians

While backpacking around Australia at the age of 27, the appeal of making people laugh on a bigger platform grew stronger. I confided in a few close friends, and though they ribbed me mercilessly, they were incredibly supportive.

I met street performer buddies who suggested learning tricks for street performance. They thought if I could master street performance, I could do anything.

So, naturally, I joined the circus.

Yep. It was like a postcard eliciting much despair on its arrival in Glasgow: “Guess what she’s done now!”

Running away with the circus

I started my circus career as a candy floss girl and ended up as a lighting and music technician. I always used to mix up the animals’ music. Confused tigers would enter the ring to the dog’s Mission Impossible soundtrack. Ever been given the deadeye by a tiger? Scary!

After three months, I left the circus with one circus skill: I could juggle three balls. Not totally convinced I had enough for a street show, I headed for Wellington, New Zealand. I got a job in a bar, and that’s where the story starts. One night I met an English comedienne and confessed I wanted to perform stand-up. She smiled and told me she ran comedy courses. Even better, she had space on one starting the next day! Maybe some things are meant to be. I did my first gig a month later.

Stand-up highlights

My favourite gig was in Murphies Laughter Lounge in Dublin to around 500. Sometimes an audience just goes with you and you can feel the love. They even forgave me the massive faux pas of saying (after living in Australia for two years), “It’s so nice to be back in Britain.” Honestly, there was a collective gasp. A mistake that English comedians may have been lynched for. Thank God for the Celtic connection!

Stand-up can be hard graft and unpaid for years though I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside some great comedians like Jimmy Carr, Ross Noble, Alan Carr, Rich Hall, Frankie Boyle, and Lucy Porter, among others.

The hard bits

There are many obstacles in stand-up comedy, the travelling, the loneliness of staying in hotels in cities where you don’t know anyone, the lack of pay at the beginning, the undermining voice in your head telling you it’s not worth it and to give up. Fame doesn’t really appeal to me though I still enjoy performing, and love making an audience laugh and hope my business, the comedy courses and the book to do well.

Writing a book

How to be a comedian and smash your first gig
Louise’s book ‘How to be a Comedian and Smash your First Gig’ is out now

How to be a Comedian and Smash your First Gig is a serious guide to stand-up with content that’s been tried and tested over the last ten years with Brighton Comedy Courses.

This book will help aspiring comedians create, write, and edit their material to its best. It will provide the know-how to write a killer set, take the stage and make an audience laugh.

There are plenty of tips on performance, delivery, timing, and confidence that will also appeal to public speaking enthusiasts. It’s a practical book with writing, editing and performance exercises and tasks throughout.

There are insights from both well-known comedians and real-life stories from Brighton Comedy Course graduates, who share their own comedy journeys.

I did my first stand-up comedy gig in 1999, in New Zealand. I’ve worked alongside Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr, Rich Hall and Steven K Amos among many others. This is the book I wish I’d picked up twenty years ago before my first stand-up performance.

Tips for the aspiring comedian

Don’t leave it too long, if you want to make people laugh, give it a go. Immerse yourself in stand-up, read books, watch stand-up or go on a comedy course to give yourself the best chance of success.

Confidence plays a key part of being a comedian. Keeping nerves under wraps and embracing nervous energy is a sure way to engage any audience. And don’t worry about the hecklers, they’re easy to handle when you have the know-how.

If I could go back and give one piece of advice to my teenage self?

You’ll do alright. Much better than you think you will. Have faith in yourself.

Including excerpts from How to be a Comedian and Smash your First Gig. Kindle available on Amazon or purchase paperback here.

The next comedy course takes place in Brighton from September 1, with spaces available. Find out more about beginners comedy courses and weekend comedy courses happening soon, here.

Bex Bastable
Bex Bastable
Bex is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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