In 2017, after nearly 10 years of doing comedy, London Hughes spent $10,000 on her first one-woman show, “London Hughes: Superstar (it’s just nobody’s realized it)” at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. She had a 100-seat theater to perform to every day for a month. About six people, sometimes less, showed up each night.
“It took me six months to write the show. I put everything into it, and just gave it one last go and it died. And then that was the lowest point,” Hughes said. “But it was a happy ending because then, two years later, I came back to that same festival with a show called ‘To Catch a Dick,’ and then that show was nominated for best show and that show is a Netflix special… so you never give up.”
Hughes and fellow comedians Sam Jay and Michelle Buteau sat down with Variety film and media reporter Angelique Jackson for “Room for Discussion: Mentorship & Black Women in Comedy,” a conversation presented by Messenger. Their central piece of advice for success boiled down to “be yourself.” Hughes recalled feeling pressure to fit in with Britain’s overwhelmingly white, male comedy scene. Then she had an epiphany — leading her to focus on impressing herself and speaking her truth.
“That’s when things started happening for me,” Hughes said. “I forgot the rules and did it my own way. I feel like the best thing about comedy, to me, is the authenticity of it.”
The trio each boast impressive resumes that span from performing in stand-up specials and acting to hosting and producing. While a reflection of their talents, it’s also a result of how the entertainment industry, and particularly the comedy world, functions.
“As a Black woman, I feel like we have to do it all,” Hughes explained. “I don’t think there’s ever been one straight path for me to get into the industry.”
For Buteau, that meant stepping out of her role behind the scenes.
“I started out editing and field producing because I did have a college professor tell me I was too fat to be on camera,” she said. “For me, I was just really tired of producing basic people and giving them my shine and teaching people how to be talented, so I was like, ‘Oh, what happens if you actually work with talented people?’”
Members of Displaced Comedians, a Facebook group of comics created for networking during the pandemic, joined in the conversation to seek advice. Buteau, Hughes and Jay opened up about the personal nature of the industry and the obstacle of self doubt.
“The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was me,” Jay said. “I feel like once you figure that out, the rest of the stuff it just stuff. But that’s the hardest thing, is conquering the fear to continue to push yourself, to not allow yourself to get comfortable.”
Watch the full conversation below.