On Wednesday nights you will find Jimmy James Jones at one of the most famous comedy theatres in London – Shoreditch’s Comedy Café Theatre – doing what he does best: making people laugh. He is Master of Ceremonies at one of the Cafe’s busiest nights: The New Act Night.
Jones began his artistic career studying Performing Arts in Milton Keynes College. He ventured into the entertainment world hosting all sorts of events, from private parties to Black History Month gatherings, before making the definitive jump into comedy around four years ago. He landed the residency at the Comedy Café just one year after that; a remarkable transition for someone who’s only 27 years old and also a parent.
We meet at The Old Shoreditch Station, the train station turned café and art gallery during the days and a more sophisticated version of a pub at night. The place is just a block away from the Comedy Theatre, or as Jones’ calls it “home away from home.”
“At first, I wanted to be an actor,” he says. Jones dresses in black jeans and jacket, wears big glasses and a flat cap. Red shiny headphones holding from his neck. “I began performing when I was 11 and then continued doing it until university.
“I only used to get comedy roles for everything. After time, I adapted myself to that and the aspects of delivering comedic lines. I started to enjoy it more until I was convinced comedy was something I may be good at. Sounds strange, but I sort of found comedy.
“There are similarities between acting and stand-up. Most of comedy is acting. There are times when you’re not really in the mood and you still have to get on-stage and pretend you’re the funniest of all. You must keep the audience entertained, even if you’re not feeling like it.”
Keeping audiences entertained has been a central characteristic of Jones’ career. Every single event eventually helped him craft his own comedic style and gain confidence dealing with crowds.
“It was me being silly most of the time,” He recalls. “But it was through them how I eventually made my way to London and tried my luck at open-mic nights. I remember that on my first-ever stand-up performance I had only like 15 minutes to do my thing, and I died. Didn’t get anything but air. It was devastating because I thought I had this awesome material, but as the audience quickly let me know, I didn’t.
“The worst part of all was when I heard this lady at the back going like ‘You know what honey? I think we should’ve stayed at home’.”
Although initial experiences failed to meet Jones’ expectations, he still managed to ‘break-in’ into the ‘funny business’ compering at the Comedy Theatre; a position he describes as tricky and perhaps dangerous for the career of any comedian.
“As compere, you have to let the crowd feel comfortable, make them laugh in between acts,” He says. “It’s complicated because if it doesn’t go well the first time, you still have to get back there and try it again almost immediately.
“The thing about it is that, if you do it a lot in the circuit, you end up tagged as MC only. I did it for almost two years and I had to stop because I only got booked to do that. Now, I decided to only do it at the Shoreditch Café, mainly because it is, by far, one of the most iconic comedy rooms in London.
“It has a terrific management team that knows precisely what they are doing,” He explains. “The owner, Noel Faulkner, used to be a comedian himself, so he is very clear about what the place needs. I’ve been working for them for over two years now, and I feel really lucky about it. I’m also grateful for everything Noel has done for me.
“The way I see it; it takes six or seven years for doctors to really know what are they doing. Keeping the obvious differences, it’s the same with comedy.”
He says Patrice O’Neal and Chris Rock are his inspiration. “I’ve been dubbed UK’s answer to Chris Rock, can’t you see the resemblance?” Jones asks me, accommodating himself as if he was about to have a picture taken and emulating Chris Rock classic high-pitched voice.
So, can anyone be a comedian? “Come and see me at the Café and we’ll put you on stage to find out” He smiles.
And that’s when I realise you don’t just need to be funny to be a comedian. You also need to be brave.