For as long as British comedian London Hughes can remember, she’s wanted to be on television. “My mom told me when I was 5 years old I tried to get on TV by climbing around the back of it,” she says. So when Kevin Hart’s HartBeat Prods. and Netflix came calling, the comic was quick to travel across the pond to film her first comedy special for the streamer, titled “London Hughes: To Catch a D*ck.”
What was the craziest part about filming your comedy special during the pandemic?
I’d planned on filming this special in March, so I flew to L.A. in February, and two weeks into me being in America, everything got locked down. I couldn’t go back home to the U.K. because we didn’t know when [America would] open back up. When we finally got the green light from Netflix — they literally were like, “We’re recording it in five weeks” — I said, “First of all, I need to lose all this lockdown weight.” Then I had to remember the set and make it fresh and funny, because now it was in COVID. I mean “dick” is universal, so it’ll always be in fashion, but I had to make sure I still believe in the things that I wrote last year. We filmed at Universal Studios [with] 100 people, and they were all in masks; I couldn’t even see them laugh. Luckily, they had their own microphone on their tables, so their laughter was getting projected to me back on the stage. It was crazy. My first-ever Netflix special, and it’s done to masked strangers in a pandemic on the Universal Studio lot; you just couldn’t make it up. [But] it was the best day of my life.
At the end of the special, I fall over because I left everything on that stage — all the build-up, all of the time I was stuck in COVID and not know where my career was going, or anybody knowing what we’re doing right now. Everything that’s been going on in America, I lived through it — lived through the coronavirus, but also lived through everything that’s going on with the civil rights movement and George Floyd. It was a tense time to be stuck in America as a Brit. All I came here to do was do this special, so me falling on the floor is just me being like, “You did it London, you goddamn did it.”
In the special, you highlight different opportunities for men and women in comedy. In the decade you’ve been in the business, how have things changed for women?
I feel like we have to compare the U.K. to the U.S. because I’m living in two different comedy careers. Literally not one female comic has their own entertainment show in Britain. It doesn’t exist. White men still occupy the majority of the space on British television. Women are doing panel shows, and we appear in other people’s TV shows, but we’re never really given the platform to shine, especially women of color. It’s the reason why I’m here. It’s the reason why Gina Yashere is also here, another female comic from the U.K. who, as a kid growing up watching her, I genuinely believed that she’d be a huge star in Britain, because she’s hilarious. And she lives around the corner from me now, so there’s a reason why we’re both here. When you think of great British comedy, the world thinks of white men and I just want to give the world something else to think about.
But comparing it to the U.S., I know they feel like they’ve got a long way to go too, but it’s better than Britain. In terms of female comics, we’ve got Ali Wong, Amy Schumer, Tiffany Haddish, Leslie Jones. I can’t say that for British comics — we have no British female comics that are on the same level as those women I just mentioned. They’re not allowed to shine this big. The U.S. has so many female comedy stars. And, for me, [seeing] Amy Schumer selling out Madison Square Garden, that’s insane. She’s celebrated, she’s allowed to shine. I feel like there’s so many hilarious female comics in Britain that get continuously overlooked, and the women of color ones, it’s like they don’t even exist. So, yeah, we’ve still got a long way to go, in terms females having space in the comedy world, but I want to change all that. That’s why I call out the men in my stand-up; that’s why I’m calling out how stupid it all is. I just feel like someone has to say something. If that someone’s me, I’m perfectly fine.
You also give yourself a pep talk in the mirror declaring you’re “comedy Beyoncé, Richard Pryor, Kevin Hart” — who inspired you to do get into comedy in the first place?
In terms of “wanting to be that funny person on television,” it’s Will Smith. As a kid in the ’90s, there weren’t many Black people on TV in Britain; when my mom got cable, it opened up my world to American television, where I saw Black people. I remember thinking, “I want to be Will Smith. I want to have my own TV show on a studio lot, live in Bel-Air and have a rich uncle and auntie.” I still have yet to meet him — the day I do will probably feel like “life accomplished.”
In terms of stand-up, though, it’s Chris Rock and Richard Pryor. My dad’s a comedy connoisseur, so I used to watch my dad watching Richard Pryor. He would laugh and I would too, but have no idea what I’m laughing at. Then I grew up and saw how great he was; he was a legend. Chris Rock’s “Bigger & Blacker” is the first stand-up special I ever watched and I can quote it to this day. And then you’ve got to have an honorable mention for Whoopi Goldberg, because without her I don’t even know if I’d be here; she is the ultimate comedy queen. I love her to bits.
How did the partnership with HartBeat Prods. come together?
Before I wrote this special, I came to L.A. and had a meeting with the HartBeat team and [development] executive Tiffany Brown. We just clicked, but my only thing was I’d never met Kevin. Obviously, he’s a comedy legend, but I wanted to see how he felt about me. So Kevin flew me out to Las Vegas, put me up in a beautiful hotel suite and then I spent the day with him. When I got back to L.A., I burst into tears because it was so surreal. He understood what I wanted to do [and said he’d] “drive me to stardom.” I thought, “Wow, he’s not my uncle; he’s not my next-door neighbor; he’s not a friend of the family. He’s a stranger that saw a talent in a 31-year-old girl from South London.” And he was true to his word.
You’re also working with Larry Wilmore on a comedy pilot for NBC.
These amazing, legendary, African-American men that don’t know me, have gone “That British girl, she’s got something.” I’m just so grateful to everybody that’s decided to just jump on London’s train and be like, “Yeah, I like her and I think she’s talented” because this never happened to me in the U.K. I’ve never had prominent U.K. comedy male figures reach out and be like, “Yeah, I want to help support your career” in the way that it’s happened to me over here. And I’m eternally grateful, so grateful.
What’s your big dream?
I say “Comedy Beyoncé” because I believe that Beyoncé is the greatest living performer and I love to perform. I think my stand-up style is unique — I don’t think many people have a stand-up performance level like mine and I just want to get better and better. I want to do world tours in stand up but, like Beyoncé, I do many things. The sky’s the limit. London Hughes is going to be global from now on.