British comedian London Hughes delivered a rousing Alternative MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, saying she would never have achieved the same level of success in the U.K. as she has done in the U.S. due to her skin color and sex.
“I wanted to be the British version of Whoopi Goldberg, but there is none. There is no British Whoopi Goldberg, there’s no British female Lenny Henry and I wanted to be that,” Hughes said in conversation with “Queer Eye” star Tan France.
After multiple rejections and repeated meetings with U.K. television executives that went nowhere, the comedian left London for Los Angeles in March 2020, just two weeks before the pandemic hit.
“I grew up thinking if you work hard and you’re talented and you’re a nice person, you will go far in the industry,” she said, recalling that after she won the Funny Women Award in 2009 she was vocal about her ambitions to host a Saturday night entertainment show, write a book and star in films, none of which materialized. “The UK industry… it has a good way of making you feel shit about yourself after you think all of that,” she said. “I got a rude awakening. Flat back down to reality.”
Moving to the U.S., however, where she went to her first round of meetings armed with 10 sitcom ideas, 10 scripted ideas and 10 movie ideas, she soon found herself landing a Netflix special, “To Catch a Dick,” produced by Kevin Hart, and has since gone on to land a lead role in Will Packer comedy “Hot Mess” for Universal. She also has a number of other undisclosed projects in the works. “When you’ve got talent, ambition, drive, dedication in the U.S., things happen. Doors open,” she said.
In the U.K., Hughes said, she wasn’t given the same opportunities as her white, male counterparts. “When it comes to women — let’s just take the fact that I’m Black out it — [because of] the fact that I have a vagina, the people in charge, the powers that be, do not look at me and think, ‘Yes!’ They look at men and think ‘He’s got potential. He can do that because he’s got potential.”
Hughes also recounted auditioning for Channel 4 comedy show “8 Out of 10 Cats” multiple times in front of Channel 4 executives, each time making it to the final round before being told, “We love London, we just don’t think our audience will get her.”
“Meanwhile I saw all my white male friends and white female friends get those opportunities,” said Hughes. “I’m cute as hell, I’m funny as fuck. Why wouldn’t [the audience] get me?”
Hughes, who was born in Croydon, just south of London, believes her being Black was the real reason the execs didn’t cast her. (Neither Channel 4 nor Endemol Shine, whose Zeppotron label produces “8 Out of 10 Cats,” responded by press time).
She ultimately concluded that her only option to achieve success was to move to the U.S. But she hopes the landscape will change for those Black British female comedians coming up behind her.
“I’m so sad that this might happen again, which is why I’ve been so loud about it,” she said. “I’ve been making so much noise because I don’t believe funny little Black girls should ever have to leave their home town just to live out their dreams.”