“I was very fat when I was growing up. If you’re fat with frizzy hair, and your mum calls you baby seal, you have to be funny or you just go a bit suicidal,” Heather Shaw laughs.
She’s a relatively new comic, having practised stand-up for just four months, and I’m about to see her perform at Goldsmiths’ Student Union. We sip drinks at the union bar and discuss her arrival into the world of stand-up comedy.
“It was good. As long as you don’t vomit on the stage, it’s a fine gig,” she says of performing stand-up at an open mic night for the first time. But the night itself “was awful. There were so many rape jokes. And then this guy did a big misogynistic speech where he called the woman in the front row a mouthy c*nt, and his reason was ‘all women are mouthy c*nts’. I had to leave halfway through cause I was just like ‘I can’t’.”
Open mic nights are unpredictable, but Shaw keeps at it: “At the moment I’m doing about three [stand-up gigs] a week and those are open mics. Because you have to do your legwork. You have to just bash them out.”
The life of a “baby” stand-up comedian is a busy one. Shaw holds down a day job while developing her comedic skills with open mic nights and courses. “I did a course over the weekend and they described me as an anecdotal comic, I tell stories about my life, so apparently that’s my style. Although, I sometimes do book jokes so I can be very intellectual,” she sniggers. She is an English graduate, after all.
Shaw also spends time training with Monkey Toast. “They’re Chicago-style improv, but here in London,” she explains. “[Before stand-up] I did improv comedy for two years in a comedy group called the Pina Colliders. We’ve just broken up because one of our members had to go back to New Zealand, and another member has gone into sketch comedy.”
But which does she prefer, stand-up or improv comedy? She mulls over the question carefully. “They’re very different. Stand-up is good to do because you dictate how many gigs you do yourself. With improv you can have a really great night if you come out with lots of good stuff, and it’s so satisfying. But then you can’t do the same thing again, and that’s really sad. No one makes any money. You’re not really going to get any professional work, unlike in stand-up. I do like improv though, a lot.”
It’s almost time for the performance to start, but Shaw seems relaxed. The event organiser calls on her to head backstage in five minutes, and she leaves me with her favourite words of advice. “I heard a really good thing from another comic, Alfie Brown, he said: ‘You have to be your own favourite comedian’. That’s not to say you think you’re the best comedian, but you have to be your own personal favourite, just doing comedy that you really love, and would like to hear.”