Features

Letting the Genie out the Bottle: What Overnight Success Really looks like

I’m going to start with a truncated rundown of my career so far, bear with me.

Twelve years ago I was a Christina Aguilera tribute act in Ayia Napa. It was my first professional contract and a deeply strange three months of sun, sea and just a touch of organised crime.

Ten years ago I took up a standup comedy. I wanted to be in West End musicals but that is a tough business to get into when you only have Christina Aguilera tribute act and cruise ship pianist on your CV. Omid Djalili was playing Fagin in Oliver off the back of standup comedy and it was something I’d always wanted to try so it seemed a great way in.

Alongside finally going to drama school at 24 I hit the open mic circuit hard, doing up to six gigs a week, all unpaid of course, for my first six months, eventually picking up the odd paid ten or fifteen. I won Best Newcomer at the 2010 Musical Comedy Awards and then in 2012 entered the Funny Women Awards and won the Variety Award. It took me three years of standup to get to that point.

This year I take my seventh solo standup hour to the Edinburgh Fringe. It took me ten years in comedy to get to a modest Twitter following of 5000 and to be able to perform full-time as a career. I’ve never stopped hustling and it’s rare that I turn down a gig I can do. I’ve written numerous scripts, outlines and treatments, none of which have gone beyond a polite rejection email.

So that’s where I was three weeks ago. I use Twitter daily and at the end of May, I tweeted a couple of memories from the Ayia Napa contract I did in 2007 on the way to a gig. I didn’t go on my Twitter for a couple of hours and I certainly didn’t expect anyone to relate to me working as a tribute act for some criminals. But when I checked my notifications I’d gained over a thousand new followers and had been retweeted by Caitlin Moran. By the next morning, the thread (which of course I added to) had been shared by James Corden, Jay Rayner, Lily Allen, Piers Morgan (his followers were the only ones who reacted negatively, big shocker) and even Ed Miliband, my favourite Miliband. Hugh Bonneville asked if he could be in the TV series adaptation of the thread and countless people said it should be on Netflix. In two days I went from 5000 Twitter followers to over 24,000.

I’ve been approached by production companies and publishers all because of a tweet about a grotty contract that took place when Umbrella was the song of the summer. Last week I signed with United Agents, something that hadn’t seemed possible just a month ago. I don’t know what will happen next in my career, my expectations are being kept nice and low because nothing in this industry is ever definite. None of this would have happened without a few tweets, sure, but it also wouldn’t have happened if I’d sat on my arse at 22 and hoped opportunities came my way. I’ve always tried to stick to that ethos, that the person who gives you the best chance of a bit of success is yourself.

If you are two, three, four or five years in to standup and feel invisible, like you’re never going to get anywhere then know that it took me ten years in comedy to become an overnight success (!) Keep on trucking and when the opportunity finally comes along you’ll be ready for it.