As this year's heats for prestigious competition So You Think You're Funny? get set to begin, we speak to past winners and find out some tricks of this particular trade
Peter Kay. Dylan Moran. Rhona Cameron. Tommy Tiernan. Aisling Bea. Lee Mack. David O'Doherty. Phil Kay. Miles Jupp. This array of British and Irish stand-up talent might not have a huge amount in common in terms of style, technique and content, but there is one key thing linking them. The crown of So You Think You're Funny? has been placed on all of their heads at the end of August ever since the number one comedy competition in this country was founded by the Gilded Balloon in 1988 (a young Bruce Morton was the inaugural winner and his post-SYTYF? career hasn't been too shabby either given that he's had his own Channel 4 series and played a ghoulish undertaker in Still Game).
The list of those who made it to the grand final but didn't emerge victorious on the night is equally as impressive: Sarah Millican, Kevin Bridges, Jack Whitehall, Josh Widdicombe, Romesh Ranganathan, Micky Flanagan, Hannah Gadsby, Jimmy Carr, Daniel Sloss, Doc Brown, Sara Pascoe, Reg D Hunter, Russell Kane, Zoe Lyons, Mark Watson, Nina Conti, and, well, the list just goes on and on.
Ten years ago, at the tender age of 18, Ivo Graham became the youngest winner of the prize and his rise up the comedy ladder has been impressive to watch. He's racked up numerous TV credits, played to sell-out audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe and gone on his first full solo UK tour this year.
'It made being a comedian as a job seem suddenly not impossible,' he recalls of his moment in the SYTYF? sun. 'I got a bit of attention from the industry, I got an agent, I got the chance to return to the Edinburgh Fringe the following year. I got the bug, the addiction that has led to me continuing to chase comedy ever since, a decade of semi-viable larking around that has brought with it the occasional moment of further pride to my father, but also a hefty dose of further shame upon the family.'
Maisie Adam / credit: Andy Hollingworth
What advice would Graham give to any aspiring comic looking to earn plaudits at this year's event? 'Pick a theme for your material, and stick to it for the entirety of the piece. The repetition of certain key phrases, however irritating they may sound, will give your set rhythm, and the illusion of structure. These same techniques are equally applicable to answering questionnaires about the competition ten years later. Also: try not to bring shame on your family.'
Wise words. Maisie Adam is another 21st century winner, having scooped the gong in 2017. One year later she performed her debut hour at the Edinburgh Fringe, with Vague becoming an audience and critics' favourite, even earning her a slot on the Edinburgh Comedy Award Best Newcomer shortlist. That's the kind of success that some might call 'overnight'.
'It's clichéd to say, but it really didn't sink in,' recalls Adam of the moment her name was read out to announce her as the winner. 'The comics who placed second and third were so good that when they were read out beforehand, I sort of mentally wrote myself off. When I heard my name read out, I was sat backstage and my mouth just dropped open. Then someone patted me on the back, and I saw it was actually the technician pushing me up out my seat to get me onstage.'
Adam also has pearls of wisdom for those looking to follow in her winning footsteps. 'Enjoy it. When I watch the footage from the final now, I can see how much fun I was having, and I think that the audience could see that and therefore they enjoyed it too. So, yes, have fun. You're taking part in the biggest and best new act competition in the UK.'
So You Think You're Funny? Regional Heats take place from May to July 2019, with the winner announced following the Edinburgh Heats and Grand Final in August at the Gilded Balloon. Supported by Coors Light.
So You Think You're Funny has launched the careers of comedic greats such as David O'Doherty, Peter Kay and Dylan Moran, so there's every chance you'll see a stadium-filler of the future as hopefuls compete for a place in the competition's heats.