Nicola Dempsey on getting started in comedy: 'Don't be afraid to eat shit, and just get on and do it'

Sister act

As Flo & Joan (aka siblings Nicola and Rosie Dempsey) hit the road with a new tour, the duo tell us about their student days and offer advice to aspiring comedy stars

When you were students, did you go to see much live comedy, and is there a gig that stood out from that time?

Nicola: I was at Cardiff uni, and the first gig I ever went to was Eddie Izzard at the Motorpoint Arena (if it's still called that). It was amazing, if a big way to introduce yourself to live comedy shows. Otherwise I didn't start going to shows until much later.

Rosie: I went to uni in London so I started going to see the Comedy Store Players improv shows in Leicester Square. But apart from that, most of my comedy consumption was TV. One of my biggest regrets was not using my student loan to fund more trips watching live comedy in London.

Were you ever tempted to get up and do comedy while a student? What do you think stopped you at that point?

Nicola: I started writing songs and song parodies at uni but never, ever had the balls to do them live. Firstly, I didn't know where to start in looking for shows, because I didn't know anybody doing it, and secondly it just terrified me. Those songs exist on a hard drive somewhere and have never, and will never, see the light of day.

Rosie: It was always in the back of my mind as something I could have attempted but that urge wasn't strong enough to overtake the 'student lifestyle' I was enjoying a little too much. I did a bit of theatre whilst at uni and that satisfied my need for attention but tackling comedy wasn't something I felt ready enough for (which is a rubbish excuse for being too lazy to try it).

Do you remember the moment when you thought, 'yep, doing live comedy is for me'?

Nicola & Rosie: It wasn't an exact moment, but once we had a few spots under our belt that didn't tank that makes you know you're not awful. Then when we took our first show to Edinburgh, and audiences came (and the number of audiences coming increased despite us being total nobodies), then you're reassured that you might be onto something.

What do you remember about your first gig?

Nicola & Rosie: Our first gig was three years ago as a spot on a show called Iron Maidens, in a basement black-box theatre in Toronto. There were maybe 15 audience members, mostly people we knew. We landed on the name 'Flo & Joan' that night because we didn't know how to be introduced otherwise. We did a sketch, a song and a poem. The sketch was bad and we never performed it again; we held onto the song for quite a while, and we still perform the poem now. It was arguably not a disaster.

How did you conquer any nerves that were there initially?

Nicola & Rosie: I think with two of us there's safety in numbers, so that helps. There wasn't any pressure of 'this has to go well', we were just having a go with basically no risk or reputation at stake. And also knowing that it's OK to fail on stage, and in public, helps too.

If you had one bit of advice for any aspiring comic, what would it be?

Nicola: Don't be afraid to eat shit, and just get on and do it and do it and do it.

Rosie: Watch lots of comedy, all different kinds, and if you're on a mixed bill watch all the people on the bill with you, especially the headliner.

And do you have a joke that you could tell us about students?

Nicola & Rosie: Paying back your student loan.

Flo & Joan: Alive on Stage, The Stand, Glasgow, Thu 17 Jan; The Stand, Edinburgh, Sat 19 Jan.

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