That There London: How I survived the Big Smoke

Callum Scott

I’m a failed rock star and currently perform stand up comedy. I enjoy walking, pub quizzes, cooking, and TV. I recently graduated in Linguistics and Phonetics, and have yet to find anything useful to do with this fact. Mine’s a gin and tonic if you’re getting them in.

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So between Wednesday and Sunday I ventured out from my cosy little world of West Yorkshire to try and make it in the Big Smoke. That’s a grandiose way of saying I had three gigs in London, but it was an adventure to say the very least. Popular opinion states that the capital is the only place to be if you want to make it in the cut-throat world of stand-up comedy, and there’s certainly some truth in that. But is it the be-all and end-all of being a creative type?

Most of my time in London was spent wide-eyed and in awe. I’ve been before, but every time I go I love it. The gigs are certainly plentiful. It’s possible to gig every night, albeit the standard set length is half what it would be in Leeds. Take that, stingy Yorkshireman stereotypes! My friend I was staying with said the three gigs I did were by no means par for the course for London, as they were all fantastic, with a really high standard of acts, and most of them tend to be poorly attended, so my view is bound to be rose-tinted.

The thing that struck me most this time is that London’s more conducive to the lifestyle of a stand-up or artist. One of the things that always strikes me about cities in Yorkshire is that there’s nowhere to go for a quiet drink with your fellow acts after a gig to talk about how you ‘killed it up there’ or how you died on your arse and are thinking about packing it all in. London has no such problem. I passed not only pubs and bars open late, but a row of coffee shops, shisha bars and restaurants open all night. To my homely provincial brain this seemed like another world.

What I’m trying to say is that in my head and from my brief visits there, London seemed like a pretentious bohemian wonderland where I could live above a massage parlour, wear hand-woven smocks and do Quaaludes with transient artists and a snake. I’m the same when I visit Edinburgh during the festival; the overwhelming number of performers and shows filled me with the same childish sense of wonder because the atmosphere is so electric. I think if you surround yourself with other people who are creative, or trying to achieve the same goals as you, then you’re forced to better yourself.

Several of the comics I spoke to had the same story of moving to London with a suitcase full of dreams. Starbucks and call centres seemed to be popular professions for comedians. Even despite the cost of living, noise, and the fact that everyone is awful to each other, the extremely negative view of London popular in the comedy clubs of the North isn’t justified at all. This does read a little like a child’s ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ story, but I think that in conclusion, London’s probably not far away from my future.

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