Standup and TikToker Abi Clarke: ‘Why did I get into comedy? Attention!’

Can you recall a gig so bad, it’s now funny?
I was once booked for an outdoor, family friendly village fete where none of the comedians had been warned that the jokes would have to be child-appropriate. In the early days of your comedy career, you only have five minutes of jokes so we didn’t have tamer ones we could swap in. The section of field directly in front of the stage had been roped off for the dog show later in the day (the main event), meaning anyone wanting to watch the comedy would have to watch from about 10 metres away with a whole load of nothing between us. Only five people stood behind the rope to watch, including an adult in a full Peppa Pig costume who heckled throughout. I performed five minutes to silence, before the next act got their microphone disconnected and the comedy cancelled after saying the C word.

What is your upcoming show, (Role) Model, about?
It’s about 55 minutes long … 57 with a good audience. I want it to feel like an incredibly fun conversation with your toxic best friend. But I guess it’s also a show about what it’s like to go viral overnight, or even worse, going viral for dancing with your parents. I’m trying to work out who I want to be versus what other people want me to be, and asking why are both impossible.

Do you have any preshow rituals?
Just repeatedly saying, “I don’t want to do it” and “Why do I do this to myself?” until I go on.

In full creative control … Abi Clarke. Photograph: Dylan Woodley

Why did you get into comedy?
Attention. I joke, but also it seemed like the perfect combination of everything I liked: performing, writing things that made my friends laugh, getting full creative control over what I made, and all the while (hopefully) having people say they like you. That’s a pretty sweet deal.

What drew you to start posting online sketch comedy videos?
I submitted a sketch to a competition, and it didn’t get picked so thought I’d make it myself to show they were wrong. Most of my greatest successes in life have come out of spite! When lockdown hit, I was loving comedy so much and just wanted a way to keep progressing towards the career I wanted. I’d already identified that TikTok was the newest, most untapped app and therefore the least competitive at the time and so I decided to dedicate myself fully to it.

Is the first TikTok you uploaded still live?
Of course! It’s a work of art. It was a video about waking up to a window cleaner at your window to a sound that was trending on TikTok at the time.

You have more than two million followers, how do you get your head around that?
When you comprehend those numbers, you’re not sure which ones are actually even people. Then which are people who regularly see your posts and , on top of that, which are people who would come to see a show or recognise you in person. It can be completely overwhelming sometimes but day-to-day I forget I could even be recognised – I must stop glaring at people who have annoyed me in public places, just in case. I mostly do characters online, so that’s another level of disguise.

What’s one of the strangest fan encounters you’ve had?
Every now and then I get people talking to me like we know each other. They’ll stop me and say, “Abi! It’s me, Grace!” and I panic because I don’t know who they are or how we know each other, and then they’ll have the sudden realisation that they don’t actually know me. I’ve also had mortifying moments though, where I think I’ve been recognised and it turns out they just know my mum.

Favourite TikTok you’ve ever made?
I’m particularly proud of one I made to a TV standard with director and one-man camera crew extraordinaire Andrew Nolan. It’s about mentioning a new male friend around your parents and the interrogation that ensues. We took so much care in the filming and edit, and I think it shows! It got 1.2m likes on TikTok, even after I’d had a quiet period online, so it was nice to feel like quality work still paid off.

Have you had any resistance from other comedians because of the opportunities that come in part from your large online audience?
Yes, definitely. People used to really turn their noses up at the online stuff and assume that I wasn’t serious about comedy or wasn’t a “proper” standup. I still feel like I must prove to people I’m actually any good live. No one wants you to be good at both and, fair enough, I wouldn’t want me to be either. Everyone is still adjusting to online followings, rather than TV profiles, and what that translates to career-wise. The turning-the-nose-up vibe has definitely changed now people are realising almost everyone has to be online.

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from standup?
People enjoy your faults.

What are you most excited about right now?
Finally launching myself in the comedy form that I truly love doing. And I’m also doing an advert for cat litter next week and so I am being paid to spend three days with a very cute professional acting cat called Tom.

The Guardian

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