Dave: Twenty-Something in Comedy

Find out how Dave made it as a comedy producer and performer

Did you always want to work in comedy?

The majority of jobs I've had have come from people who I've met at some point in the past

Nope! I fell into it accidentally to be perfectly honest. I always enjoyed comedy growing up, but I never considered it a possible career. I had no idea what I really wanted to do until my early 20s.

What do you love most about what you do?

It's being silly for a living. I get paid to sit in a room with my friends and think of ideas and jokes, then we write them down and perform them somewhere. It's just really fun, and it almost never feels like actual work. The only thing that feels like a job is when I have to do budgets on spreadsheets. I'm not good at spreadsheets. But the rest of it is essentially like being down the pub and having a laugh with your friends. But in the daytime. And not in the pub (well not always).

What did you enjoy most when you were at school?

Subject wise? Music. I wasn't particularly confident at school, so was never in the forefront of performing or public speaking. Away from music I loved French, and was pretty good at it, but you wouldn't know that now.

Did you go to Uni?

Yep – I went to Nottingham University and did a music degree. It was a pretty classically based degree, although we did the odd module in pop music or film music. While I was at uni I joined the student radio station and that was where I learnt all about the media, about radio, and started to learn a bit about comedy. Doing that stuff with the radio station alongside my degree was pretty much wholly responsible for my career today.

What was your first job in comedy and how did you get it?

It was on a 5 live comedy show called 7 Day Sunday. After uni I carried on working in radio in sport, and took myself to London. I started touting myself around different radio stations and picked up some shifts at 5 live doing production-y bits. I ended up working there fairly regularly for a couple of years, mostly on sports programmes. One day I got a call from the boss of the station asking if I'd help record a pilot for a new comedy show. I vividly remember being excited to meet the presenter, Chris Addison, who I'd seen on the telly in The Thick Of It. The guests for that pilot were up-and-coming comedians, who weren't particularly well known at the time – a fella called Andy Zaltzman, a woman called Sarah Millican and another guy called Micky Flanagan. They're all doing fairly well now, I believe. I ended up doing the whole series with them. After that I decided I wanted to work in comedy, so I started asking around for other shows I could work on.

If you could give any advice to yourself when you were a teenager what would you say?

Think outside the box more in terms of jobs I want to do. It's something that I still say when I do talks and workshops at schools. I think there's a tendency to just think that there are only traditional jobs available to you – teacher, doctor, lawyer etc. I'd also encourage myself to be more confident and explain that those things that I was good at but seemed geeky at the time (music etc) will actually be cool things to be good at when you're older!

What's the most important thing you’ve learnt during your career so far?

If someone asks you if you fancy a drink after work, always say yes. That's where you get to know the people you're working with, and the people who might give you work in the future. Of course, you don't have to actually drink: it's the social aspect of it that's important, and getting on with the people you work with on a personal level. The majority of jobs I've had have come from people who I've met at some point in the past and have had a good chat to. And those people will then recommend you to others if you’re good.

Also, don't try to do anything to early. You can do yourself irreparable harm if you get, for example, a work experience placement and don't know how to do basic things that might be required of you. Learn your skills first (be that in radio, or TV, or writing etc) and make sure you know you can do that job. There's no point in blagging a job you can't do. People will quickly notice, and they'll spread your name. Everyone knows everyone in the media, it's a small industry in that sense, and you don't want to get a reputation for being someone who doesn't know what they're doing.

What are the three qualities someone who wants to work in comedy should have?

Be fun. Most important. Comedy is about being funny (obviously) and the worst sort of people that work in comedy are the ones that aren't enjoying it. Luckily, they're a dying breed.

Be willing to work silly hours, and travel. Comedy is a late game – gigs and show recordings are usually in the evenings. You have to be willing to sacrifice a bit of your social life for that sort of thing. But the job you'll be doing will be fun anyway, so you won’t really notice too much.

Be supportive and encouraging of other people's ideas. The best teams I've worked in are ones where nobody shouts down someone else's ideas in the writers room. If you can leave your ego outside the room, it makes for such a much more productive (and pleasant) experience for everyone. And I find you end up with much funnier stuff as a result.

Which websites/resources are musts for any aspiring comedian or comedy writer?

BBC Writersroom – full of advice, competitions, opportunities for writers.

Chortle – the forums especially have advice on doing stand-up, MCing and getting your name out there. The main website is just good for keeping up with the world of comedy.

Mandy.com – free to register, has loads of production jobs and casting opportunities on there.

And Google!

Photo (c) John Wilson

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