Opinion: Comedy Careers Advice From Charmian Hughes

About five years ago, while compering new material night at the Hob in Forest Hill I saw an act I didn’t think I’d seen before. He was so good I couldn’t wait for him to come off stage so I could immerse him in my golden largesse of advice hewn from over two decades at the coalface of comedy, some of it headlining the legendary Guilty Pea Club to well over thirty people, some of it from MCing Glastonbury Festival’s most challenging arena- The Soapbox By The Clanging Toilet Stage.

“Have you tried the Comedy Store yet?” I gushed. “You should do an open spot! You’d do really well. Or Thursday’s ‘Downstairs at the Kings Head New Act Night’- there’s a bit of a wait but well worth it. Tell Peter I recommended you.” He seemed very grateful, this bloke, nodding politely as he backed reverentially away. A few nights later, when I stayed up way past my bedtime to see Live at The Apollo on the telly, there he was again, this Michael McIntyre, compering. Gosh that was quick!

How did I become such a font of wisdom and advice? 

Well my mother always used to say "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" but then she also said "Knowledge is Power". She was full of contradictions: "She who asks, doesn’t get!" followed by "she who doesn’t ask, doesn’t want!" You couldn’t really win but it didn’t stop us trying.

In my childhood home if you didn’t know Things, Things would take you by surprise- divorce, moving house, changing school, they could all happen in the blink of my mother’s eye without warning so it was important to be one step ahead of the game even if it meant eavesdropping, steaming open letters and grassing up everyone else.

That’s why I’d always yearned to be the Queen of All Knowledge, not in a London Black Cab or showing off kind of way but in a wanting to be a helpful indispensable human being kind of way. 

The precocious risk taker and experimenter essential to becoming a comedian was present in me even as a child - like the time we were in the posh hotel restaurant on a family holiday in Ireland and the pudding menu offered apple tart, fruit crumble, ice creams Various, I ordered the Various. 

And when I entered the 1980’s world of Alternative Comedy with its holy mantra ‘Hope over Experience’, I gobbled up the Various as much as I could and then regurgitated it for the benefit of others, often unsolicited. 

And I have never stopped giving Comedy Advice to those who will benefit from it. Whether to a young Jo Brand ("Great stuff but  I don’t think anyone is going to be really interested in hearing about eating cake") or Rob Ballard from double act ‘Official Touring’ ("Rob, you’re the one with the talent, drop Eddie Izzard, he’s a dead weight with all that surrealism, go it alone,") or Mike Black from Black and Baddiel ("Mike, you’re the one with the talent, dump Dave") and I think they are all very grateful for that.

Charmian Hughes: When Comedy Was Alternative (The Laughs and Loves of a She-Comic) Blue Man, 29 - 31 May & June 1 at 7pm, Brighton Fringe.

Charmian Hughes: Soixante Mirth. Edinburgh Festival 6 - 27 August (not 15) 3.30pm, Cowgatehead.

More info here.

 

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