A Communication with Steffan Alun


JAG: Is the Uk comedy industry becoming more accepting of outsiders?

SA: The comedy industry, like any other industry, cares first and foremost
about making money.  For a long time, this meant prioritising straight
white male comics – the performers most likely to earn money and find
acceptance.  Over the last ten to fifteen years, though, the
industry’s become over-subscribed with that kind of comedian, which
means agencies and TV producers are more likely to chase a niche.

That said, that doesn’t mean we’re getting to see genuine outsiders.
It just means we see investment in straight white women, or gay white
men, or straight black men.  And it’s great to hear those voices – but
it’s not enough.  Truth is, the comedy industry isn’t great at
investing in acts from the most marginalised backgrounds.

There are brilliant individuals everywhere, and we’re lucky in the UK
that the BBC has a remit to cater to all audiences.  Things could be
worse, but they could be an awful lot better.

JAG: What can we do to push change? And do you believe that words are more
important than ever?

SA: Standup’s a very intimate medium.  There aren’t many forms of
entertainment where a single person shares their point of view
directly with an audience.  I’ve learned a lot about other people’s
experiences from standup.

I think the main thing is to work harder to seek out and support
artists from marginalised backgrounds.  I have friends who said they
watched some standup, and gave up – they weren’t interested in a
confident handsome man talking about his inability to get a
girlfriend.  But I do think there’s a standup comedian out there for
everyone, and it’s very rewarding doing the research.

For the industry, I’d like to see more TV coverage for more
interesting acts.  It’s been great to see audiences get excited about
Hannah Gadsby’s show Nanette on Netflix.  That’s a good start. But we
need more.

JAG: What are your fears? How do you deal with moments of extreme emotions?

SA: My biggest fear is that I’ll get so obsessed with my work that it
affects my personal life, or my happiness.  Otherwise, I’m pretty
content – I’m lucky enough to get to do a job I love, and I’ve managed
that without needing to move to London or get on English TV, both of
which seem horrendous to me.

I’m sure some people will roll their eyes at this, but I started
meditating this year.  It’s helped me cope so much better with the
pressures and emotions of performing.

JAG: Which artists shaped your work?

SA: Bill Bailey and Dave Gorman were the first comedians that made me
realise the potential of this medium.  When I got into it more, I
adored the work of Josie Long, Bethany Black, and Tudur Owen.  Every
year I see people I’ve never seen before and get inspired all over
again – last year, I saw Australian comic Alice Fraser, and she
absolutely blew me away.  She’s terrifyingly clever, thoughtful and
balanced – and those are difficult things to convey in standup.  So at
the minute, I’m obsessed with her comedy, as I examine every tiny
piece to work out how she does it.

JAG: Where do you think comedy comes from? Is there a funny gene?

SA: I don’t.  I think comedy’s quite simple, at heart – and comedians are
people who found comedy so fulfilling that they dedicated their lives
to it.  That’s not just comedians either – I think plenty of people
get a real sense of relief when they watch a sitcom, or when they’re
sitting around with friends, making each other laugh.

Some people accidentally become funny, others do it by studying jokes
and learning the tricks.  In comedy, there are naturally funny people
who usually have a head start – but eventually, they’ll be overtaken
by the hard workers, every time.

JAG: How do we learn to laugh when the world keeps turning to shit?

SA: I think that’s precisely when you NEED to laugh.  I do think comedy’s
mostly a coping strategy.  Poor people laugh more than rich people, in
my experience.  When the world gets darker, it’s easy to despair and
do nothing.  Joking about it can help you calm down, get up, and do
something important.

Comedy itself doesn’t change the world.  But it’s there to support the
incredible activists who CAN change the world.

JAG: Do you have a mantra, quote or phrase that calms you?

SA: “It’s fine.”  Haha! I say that quietly to myself five or six times a
day.  That’s a bit sad, isn’t it?

JAG: What advice do you have for artists?

SA: Work hard.  Find friends in your field.  Capitalism will trick you
into thinking that success is the same as happiness; it isn’t, and
happiness is far more important.  Any craft feels like a job in the
end – so make sure that’s what you want.  When bad stuff happens, find
someone to tell about it, even if it isn’t possible to speak up

JAG: Which word do you think is the most poetic?

SA: I love the word “llethrau”.  It’s the Welsh word for “slopes”, but
sounds so lovely.

JAG: What are your feelings towards flowers?

SA: I’m a bit bored by flowers.  I’ve inherited my wife’s love of trees,
though.  I have a little tree in my office, and it brings me calm.

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