So did a degree in linguistics prepare comedian Josh Widdicombe for a lifetime playing with language on stage?
“I can’t say it did,” says Josh who plays the Congress Theatre on Tuesday October 11 (01323 412000 or www.eastbournetheatres.co.uk).
“I went to university because I wanted to live in Manchester and get drunk for three years. There was no attempt to be an academic, and I think with comedy you only really learn your lessons by being on stage and failing. I don’t think you can learn about stand-up any way apart from actually doing it, by doing a bad gig, doing it again, having a good gig, doing it again and having a bad gig. There is nothing like actually being at the coalface. You lose your ego with a bad gig, but you gain it again with a good one.”
And you accept comedy’s great irony: your first gigs will always be your toughest.
“You will be gigging above a pub to eight people, but once you progress, you are gigging in better places and people know who you are, and it just gets easier and easier.”
And eventually, you reach the point where everything comes good. Josh has just returned from Rio with the award-winning The Last Leg as part of the Paralympic coverage on Channel 4, and the trio will be returning to their usual Friday night slot in October for their ninth series. Josh has also penned his own critically-acclaimed sitcom Josh which returns for another eight episodes on BBC 3 this autumn.
“But it is good to be back on the road. When you do your first gig of a tour, you think ‘Yes, this is my job.’ You realise this was why you wanted to do it in the first place. You wanted to be a stand-up.
“It is difficult to explain. I just enjoy it once you are on tour. The first gigs when you are trying out the stuff can be difficult, but I like the fact that every gig is individual. You would struggle to write a new show every night, obviously, but I think you have got to respond to the audience in front of you.
“When you are doing stand-up, that’s the most pure version of what we do in comedy. When you do TV, you are being yourself talking about something or on a panel show talking about music or whatever. But with stand-up, that’s the exciting thing, when you are really free. I started in 2008, and if I had known how much work it was going to be! But I didn’t want an office. Now I am working far more than I would have done if I had ever been in an office. But you never feel you have got where you are going. You are always thinking that the next gig is important. You never relax.”
Even though things are clearly happening for him now?
“No, it’s just a slow accumulation. I have done four tours now each one incrementally increasing in size, and I am doing Mock The Week tomorrow. It is just a slow build of more people coming to the gigs. I wish I could say that this was the night everything changed, but no, you are just moving through the stages. You start off by doing open-mic and then you start to earn a living, and then you start maybe thinking there are certain clubs you want to do. It’s that slow build. There is no world cup you are aiming for!”