By Bella Humphries
Having first stepped on the stage age 10 and making my west end debut a year later, my childhood was not what you would call conventional. I would regularly miss school to attend auditions, do extra classes and to take part in shows, ferried around by my very supportive (if not bewildered) parents. For my GCSE years I transferred to The Sylvia Young Theatre School in London which only fired my passion more. It never really crossed my mind that I would do anything else with my life. Ever. I just desperately wanted to be an actor. I wanted to do the thing that I loved more than anything else in the world as my job and be good at it.
Now, I’m not saying I was naive. I was far from it. Having grown up in the industry I was well aware just how difficult forging a career in acting is, especially these days when the market is so wildly oversaturated. However, after over 10 years auditioning and graduating from drama school with a great agent I still was no closer to my goal. I’ll be completely honest with you here, I found it so tough. For a long time I was pretty miserable and desperate, just wanting any opportunity I could to be seen. This kind of attitude really isn’t conducive to career longevity especially in an industry as turbulent as this where no amount of hard work or talent can guarantee you work. All I could see online was people doing amazing work whilst I was stuck trying to make ends meet doing multiple dead end jobs. I’m sure if I’d taken a moment to ask any of them how they were finding things then I’d have realised nothing is as perfect as it seems and they may have been struggling too. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and when you’re in that headspace it’s hard to take the blinkers off and look around you.
In the midst of feeling uninspired and fed up I had also thrown myself in head first to the, quite honestly exasperating, London dating scene. Possibly not my best move when I was already facing quite a lot of rejection in my professional life, I saw fit to add that to my personal life as well. Most dates I went on were very uneventful and nothing much to really write home about. However when a guy called Chris who is matched with on Tinder asked if I wanted to see Sara Pascoe do a work in progress show I jumped at the chance. I had just finished reading her book, ‘Animal’, and although I quite liked comedy I don’t think I’d ever seen any live. We met at The Four Thieves in Battersea and drank a lot of G&T’s and chatted before the comedy started. It didn’t work out with Chris, but thanks to that meeting I felt totally inspired. I couldn’t tell you what it was but I knew inside me that something had begun. Watching Sara stand up in front of a room full of strangers and not only tell them stories but also make them laugh had me transfixed.
“What if I could do that?” I thought. Now that would be amazing.
A few weeks later I did my first gig. I stood up in the dimly lit basement room of a pub in Mile End and spoke for 5 whole minutes to a bunch of complete strangers. I loved it. I didn’t get a huge amount of laughs but the ones I did rippled through my body like an electric current. Fast forward two years and I’ve done circa 300 gigs, taken a show to The Edinburgh Fringe, been on the radio, acted in sketches and travelled the length of the country to perform for people. All of this has come from me taking the leap of faith and trying something new. I was always so focused on my acting and was worried that if I tried something new outside of it then I’d look like a failure. For some strange reason I felt like I’d picked “my thing” and that was what I had to stick to for life. This blinkered view of my career really stifled my creativity for such a long time. Little did I know that by diversifying (albeit ever so slightly) that I would open myself up to a world of new opportunities.
I have by no means “made it” in comedy. Honestly, I’m far from that. However, comedy has forced me out of my comfort zone kicking and screaming. I take more creative risks than I ever have before and I’ve found a new fire within me, which in my books can only be a good thing.