Sharlin Jahan interview: “It’s kind of like the audience and I are in a relationship”

You’re now in possession of my mum’s mobile number, so please use this wisely. Please don’t call her at three in the morning.

I’m gonna send her dick pics, is that ok?

So, how did you get started in comedy?

I did the Asian dream and became somebody in business, and then I was like, I want to give all of this up and pursue a career in stand-up.

So when did that happen?

Oh I haven’t given it all up yet. I am slowly making my way to do that. Currently I have two jobs. Yeah I think it’s less of a bitter pill to family if you can be like “look I’m already making money in this and I’m not wasting my entire life”.

So that’s where I am.

Did you go acting to comedy or comedy to acting, or was it a mish-mash and a mangle?

I’ll let you know… I was backpacking here and I thought ‘oh, I kind of want to stay, and I don’t want to do my masters in Chemistry, so I was looking for jobs and was just looking for anything that would give me a visa. And I have never studied here or done anything here. And this consulting job which I had no experience in gave me a visa and I was like ‘ok, I guess I’ll do this then’.

And I did that and it didn’t make any sense, at that point to get a sponsorship that noone else in the European Union can do your job… look, I was meant to be here because I don’t know how that happened.

So I did that and then a couple of years in I was like, ‘I don’t have any friends! How do I make British friends you guys are so unloveable…

That’s true.

And so I tried everything.I tried a bunch of things but one of the things I really enjoyed was acting. And so I started doing acting, I was doing that for a couple of years, didn’t really understand it, and then I tried a few other things here and there, and then I got into standup. I think I did my course in the June of 2018.

And then just fell in love with it.

Isay I fell in love with it but I fell in love with it because I was the best in the night, and I was like, ‘wooo-hooo! I’m so good at comedy, I don’t have to try anything else. Just take me to the Apollo’.

And then I did my second night and I bombed, and I was like: Ok. I am humbled. And then I didn’t do it that much but then at the beginning of 2019 I was like, I’m gonna do this, let’s see where this takes me. And then it took me to loads of places..

I’m sorry, I’m talking a lot!

No, that’s good, that’s good, I’m already looking forward to transcribing this.

The thing is like it sounds like you started and then there was this weird pandemic thing that happened? So did you have to rethink or did you go ‘well I can just plot and write stuff for a year’? How did that impact you?

Erm… so 2019 is a crazy year for me because I’m barely good at comedy but I was ‘ok let’s just see where it goes’, so I was gigging fairly consistently. I decided to go to Edinburgh Fringe Festival where I gigged about five times a day for a month.

I came back and I got a review, and like great things are happening. I got a spot at doing a tiny show in Soho Theatre, it was just going so well and I was like, ‘oh man, I should give up my really stressful consulting job and focus on this more’.

So I became a contractor which means I can manage my time a little bit more in October 2019, right before the pandemic came. So I had a couple of really good months of comedy, and I was like, ‘oh my god I can actually do this!’ And then the pandemic hit. And you know what? I didn’t do comedy for a year and a half. I didn’t do anything.

But it was just really good because how I was approaching comedy was not sustainable. Because I wanted to prove I could do it instead of just becoming an artist, if that makes sense?

So I was gigging SO MUCH but every day was a huge rollercoaster because it really depended on the audience if it did well or not Which is true for everybody, but it was completely ‘I should give up’ if they didn’t like me.

If my material didn’t go well tonight it’s because my material’s completely bad, even if it worked before. That kind of stuff. It was unsustainable. So the year and a half was really good, because I got perspective again.

Figured out – well, I haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life – it was just kind of like more settled, just look: everything’s open. You don’t have to be a consultant. You don’t have to be anything. What do you want to do, and from there I was like: I want to be an artist. I’ve always wanted to be an artist if I’m honest. And so then it came from a more secure place.

That’s really interesting, because I think the pandemic did that for a lot of people. I made the terrible mistake of starting a sketch comedy night in January 2020 which was really stupid of me, but then during the pandemic it meant we could focus on doing the podcast instead, and I felt I got a lot better at writing, and like writing is my thing, I enjoy performing but I’m not amazing at it, I definitely love writing, and it gave me some perspective about it… like you say artist, and I guess you mean artist in the broadest sense, yeah?

Yeah. Because I want to do so many things, that’s what I realised. Because even during the pandemic I joined a Zoom acting class and it completely changed my life on how I act as well. So I started doing that, I started doing more improv, I started writing more… I put stand-up comedy to the side. And I’m like, if I pretend this is my career, what could I do? And there’s just so many things that I want to do. It gave me perspective that, ‘I want to be an artist’.

For me, I wrote my debut album, the pandemic meant I suddenly had time to do that.

Wait. A musical album or a comedy album?

Musical album. I just sat in my friend’s spare room by the sea and forced myself to write a new song every day for eleven days until I had enough songs for an album… and it was a bit like improv, because it didn’t give me enough time to agonise about the lyrics. Like, tunes is fine for me, but I’ve always struggled with lyrics. I have to do this every day therefore whatever comes out of my brain with a modicum of light editing: that’s the lyrics…

You don’t even understand. I’ll let you finish in a sec, but I got so many lyrics coming into my head but I don’t know how to play any instruments. So I’m just like, I love singing, I’ve always loved singing, so I’ve had to park all of these random lyrics which will be picked up somewhere WHEN I BECOME AN AR-TIST.

Yeah. So you’re going to be a polymath, is that the right word? You’re firing off in lots of different ways and you’re trying to figure out what kind of art is the art that you want to do the most or that you’re the best at… it’s interesting that you, it seems to me, did stand up and then went ‘oh shit, I’m really good at this, so that’s something I’m pursuing’, but it sounds like there’s maybe other stuff that’s in there that you want to do as well?

Yeah. I think it’s polymath because there’s just too many things that I like doing and I have a bit of an ADHD brain. I haven’t been officially diagnosed but I read it off books…

Me too!

Yeah. When you find out when you’re older you just have coping mechanisms already. But like I just want to be Sacha Cohen. I wanna be Phoebe Waller-Bridge I wanna be… I love that guy… he did Atlanta. Donald Glover! He’s amazing, but noone’s putting him in a box; this is what I need to do, and don’t get me wrong, there are literally…

Is it polyglot?

It might be polyglot. [editor’s note: it was polymath] I can’t google because I’m already holding all my bits of electric equipment.

This is quite handy, you’ve led me on to my next question which was about your influences and the artists you’ve enjoyed as you’ve been developing your own voice.

Yeah. So there’s… I’m going to be honest, I didn’t even watch standup comedy before I started doing it. Like everyone is like ‘oh who’s your faourite comedian’ and I’m like, I don’t like comedy, I don’t even know. And now it’s just… the reason I did this is because I like making my friends laugh, and was like, can I try it? Now, I’ve been watching so much comedy, I’m amazed at how people’s brains work and how people develop and blah blah blah.

But yeah. That… again, as sucked in to actors that have the same story, and as sucked in to musicians, and blah blah blah. I think the thing I’m trying to figure out is prioritisation. I know I want to do it all, and I know I want to do it well, but I can’t do it all at the same time. So it seems standup is the priority, but all the other things are baking inside. They’ll be gotten to.

So speaking as someone who is also self-diagonsed ADHD, I think prioritisation is really tough to do. Because it’s bursting everywhere and it’s like even today I’ve got like thirty things written down and I know only a third of them will get done.

That’s a lot.

Thank you! I’ll be honest, some of them are like clean my teeth. Prioritising is really tricky and it’s really interesting to hear you talk about it in that way. Ok now for the pretentious question…

So your character on stage, so I’ve seen you perform a couple of times now, I want to know mathematically in a percentage terms how much of it is actually you? I need a number.

I’m gonna say 60% now, but it’s moving away from that, if that makes sense. If you saw me in 2019 it would have been 90% me. But that’s not that funny. Now it’s moving towards exaggerated parts of me.

I still have old material where I’m 90% me, but it’s moving to 60-ish, and it’s funnier.

So it’s turning into the comedy character creation version of yourself on stage, whereas when you were starting out it was just almost just… you. That sounds like quite a standard journey that way, but earlier you were saying that you are quite affected by how audiences reacted to it… is that something that’s settled down? Are you at a point where you have more faith in your own material and you just accept that there’s a bad audience sometimes, or how are you still using audiences to hone that 60%?

It’s kind of like the audience and I are in a relationship. In the beginning I was really trying to people please, being like, ‘please stay with me. I love you.’

But I think I’ve become a little bit more settled; now I’m not saying this is like a thirty year old marriage, we’re in year 2, you know? I’m a bit more stable, we can have bad days, we can have good days, but sometimes if I’m having a bad day it’ll rock my world and I’m like [crying] ‘youre going to leave me! You’re not going to love me any more!’ Yeah. I think that’s a good metaphor.

You’ve just done Edinburgh, I was not able to go to Edinburgh, how did it go and talk me through your show please.

Oh man, it was really good. I did the calculation of how many years I’ve been going and I think I’m at two years now, and I did something like 21-22 gigs and I think I smashed about three, and I failed about three, and everything else is in the middle, and I’m like, that’s a really good number for two years. That’s really good.

“But what I really remember is the bomb I did. It’s the last day of Edinburgh and my Edinrbugh partner was ill and just couldn’t come, so we found someone to replace her for just ten fifteen minutes and then I’d take over, and I didn’t realise how it impacted me until I got on stage and I just made it so weird. It was just so weird. Noone laughed at anything and I was like, erm, yeah. And then I’m like, ‘ok, maybe if I bring this guy on you’ll calm down a bit and then Ill come back and it’ll be fine’, and the guy, he smashed, because he was just like, ‘well this weird girl was on and I’m supposed to see her through the most of it’ – he’s really good, don’t get me wrong – and then I came back and like, hands were clasped, awkward.

Anyway: this hurt me for multiple days but I think I’m over the edge and over it now, because: I’ve never bombed for 40 minutes straight! And just kept my shit together. That was something.

So it was a learning curve.

It was a learning curve, but it was like pretending that you aren’t [bombing] – even though everyone knows that you are – is one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. And then I thought, ok, now I’m part of the actual comedian group. Yeah.

Talking of the actual comedian group, you’re part of Funny Femmes, which i came to see, and you’ve got another one of those shows coming up; can you talk to me a little bit about the importance of that kind of show and that kind of lineup?

The reason we got together was… me and Alex are more on the new / open mic crowd, Charlie has been going a bit longer and is doing a lot more. There’s lots of really good gigs but what we might find is there’s like one brown woman? Or like a black woman? It doesn’t matter what colour it is, or like a black man can be switched out for an asian lady. Like it’s just… the tokenism is rife. And don’t get me wrong, there was no tokenism before, it was all completely non-diverse lineups, so it’s going in a good direction. But we thought… you can have three brown ladies on a bill and it’s still interesting!

Kemah Bob is the reason we all met, and she started this thing called Femmes of Colour, and that night is such an important night for us because that’s how we started to get to know each other and be like, ‘hey! We’re not alone!’ And so it’s just, we think we’re different enough for you to be entertained completely differently by the three of us and that’s what we’re setting out to prove, and it’s been amazing.

What do you want to add?

Go see some brown women comedy! Or just any women comedy. I still get too many women coming up to me going “I didn’t think women were funny, but now I know…” and I’m like, I don’t want to bear the brunt of that! I don’t want to do that! Go see more women.

Sharlin hosts a new night at 2Northdown called Brown Sauce. Tickets here…

Published by jamesofwalsh

My past blogs haunt the internet like ghost ships on a digital sea.

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