Fern Brady: 'This article was supposed to tell you why you should start comedy as a student. DON'T DO IT.'
The comedian started gigging while at uni. She urges you not to do the same
Think uni’s the right time to try your hand at stand-up? So did comedian Fern Brady... this is what happened
I started comedy in between graduating from Edinburgh University and doing a postgrad in news journalism in Sheffield. I found a furious letter from my journalism tutor at Sheffield University the other week: ‘Throughout this increasingly farcical saga you have failed to come to any classes or cooperate with me in any way.’
I was there on a scholarship for 'socially diverse' youths [read: neds] who wanted to be journalists – except I had very quickly become addicted to gigging four times a week. I had been using my scholarship money to fund train journeys across the UK and had stopped showing up to any classes. I'd just got my first paid gigs at the Stand in Edinburgh. My bit about my homemade latex vagina was going really well, I thought. My tutor called me in for an urgent meeting.
‘I am asking you to choose between comedy and the course. You cannot keep doing this many gigs.’
‘David, I'm just a bit tired at the moment from... revising and that.’
‘Yes, I imagine it's very tiring talking about your latex vagina. Very tiring indeed.’
He looked smug just because he'd Googled me. Like he was Poirot.
I stared at the floor. He didn't understand my latex vagina joke in the wider sociopolitical context it was intended for.
‘You could be a great journalist, Fern. I really mean that.’
That week I'd written a piece about a crow with its foot stuck in a roof. I wrote it as though the crow was an angry little man. My tutor had slow clapped proudly, reading it out to the rest of the class as if it was something revelatory instead of a story about a crow with its foot stuck in a roof. I quietly realised news journalism was nothing like being Lois Lane in Superman and would instead be an endless procession of asinine pish about distressed animals or local council meetings. On the other hand, I'd just done a gong show in Warrington where I was paid with a packet of supermarket own-brand crisps that I had to share with all the other acts.
‘I'll stay on the course, David.’
As I left his office I remembered with dismay that I'd spent the last of my money on train tickets to perform at the Stand. I desperately needed the cash from the gigs. I was living off food I stole from my amorous Nigerian flatmate, who as a result kept trying to get off with me and leaving little treats around the house and notes that read ‘You look beautiful this night by the washing machine’.
I never went back to university. I spent the next three years crying in Jobcentres or being sacked from jobs after gigging late at night then falling asleep at my desk. This article was supposed to tell you why you should start comedy as a student. DON'T DO IT.
Fern Brady appears on Seann Walsh's Late Night Comedy Spectacular, BBC3 and iPlayer. She also performs at Gilded Balloon, Glasgow Drygate, Fri 3 Oct, 7.30pm & 10.30pm.