Fast becoming a BAME icon, London Hughes, a socially conscious comedian, is one to watch in the entertainment industry. Taking a break from her ITV weekend morning show Scrambled, Hughes is now hard at work on London Hughes: Superstar, which she’s taking to Edinburgh next month.
When London Hughes was growing up, she discovered that there were no real British black female role models to look up to. “Gina Yashere and Jocelyn Jee Essien (Miss Jocelyn) were comedy heroes to me,” Hughes recalls. “They weren’t on TV that much, but when they did make an appearance it was special. Whenever a black woman came on the TV in my house it was an event!”
London took a break to speak with WeAreTheCity about representation, rebelling against stereotypes and the need for more black role models.
Thanks for speaking with WeAreTheCity. Tell us about London Hughes: Superstar. How did the concept come about?
It came from my real life, this is me. I am a young funny black girl with dreams of becoming a superstar, the story is what I went through and still go through as I try to make my mark on the industry, as a black woman in the white man’s world of comedy and entertainment.
It’s very high energy, full of fun and told in a unique and entertaining way, and hopefully it inspires people whilst making them wet themselves laughing.
You talk a lot about representation in your writing. What are your thoughts on how BAME people are represented and the question of who gets to tell BAME stories?
I honestly don’t think BAME people are represented. I think our stories are used to tick boxes and fill quotas. We will never truly be represented until a wide spectrum of our stories are told. Not just the ones about gang violence, honour killings and racist murders, and that’s just in the world of drama.
In the world of comedy and entertainment we don’t exist! Name one BAME woman on UK prime time telly except Alesha Dixon!
How do you create change as a BAME individual in the industry?
I think it might take fresh blood with new perspectives to rise up through the ranks before we see any great change.
I honestly wonder sometimes if the people at the top with the keys actually want change, surely if they did we’d see the change?! It’s the new generation that really wants it. The older generation were fine with years and years of TV that either didn’t feature or completely degraded people of colour, shows like Love thy Neighbour or The Black and White Minstrel Show were the norm not so long ago.
I guess we just have to keep putting pressure on the powers that be, speak up and have open and honest discussions about representation and why it truly matters.
And keep creating pieces like my Edinburgh show that brings the topic to light in a way that is entertaining and thought-provoking.
How have you navigated being an outspoken feminist/artist with this cultural conditioning that tells women how they should behave, look and act?
I haven’t really, I rebel against it all! I say and do what I want when I want (within reason, I mean I am a kids’ television presenter). But I honestly have no filter, I find it freeing! Luckily for me I’m a comedian as well so people kind of expect me to be out there and different, but I don’t think I’ve ever been what a woman ‘should’ be. I don’t wear heels, only wear make-up when I can be bothered and I’ve been told I have a big personality that some men find intimidating.
Guys have often tried to dim my light based on their silly pre-conceptions of how a woman should be but alas I continue to shine brighter.
What’s it like to be a woman in comedy? Is there more visibility now?
It’s better than it was. We’ve taken a step forward but it’s still terrible. We’re still not getting booked for TV panel shows. If we are, it’s the same two or three female comics that just get rotated around.
The BBC introduced a ‘one woman per panel show’ quota which kind of did more harm than good. It made some male comics and members of the public believe that if a woman did land a coveted spot on a show then it’s merely because she has a vagina, not because she truly deserved to be there.
Plus, with the introduction of reality TV, most entertainment spots now go to either a male comic or a female reality TV star – female comics are now at the bottom of the TV pile. I face stigma for being a woman in comedy every day, whether it’s pitching a TV show idea but being forced to ‘add a male lead’ because ‘men don’t watch comedy shows with just women in them’ or coming off stage at a gig and being told by a woman that I’m ‘funny for a woman’.
We’ll get there one day.
Going forward, are there particular projects that you’re really excited about?
I’m really excited about taking my show London Hughes: Superstar to Edinburgh next month. It’s my debut show and people have been waiting for something from me for years, so I’m rearing to go! I honestly cannot wait for everyone to see it.
It’ll be a full on month up in Scotland and then as soon as I get back I go straight into filming series five of my ITV weekend morning show Scrambled and then I’m heading to LA. I had meetings out there last year and I plan on taking my show stateside, and after that who knows! The sky is the limit!
Finally, what advice would you have for young women looking to break into the industry?
DO IT! Enter competitions, go to open mic nights, film Youtube sketches – do whatever you can to get noticed. Once you do get noticed, remember that it does get tough.
Keep going. Never doubt yourself. Believe in your badassery!
Catch London Hughes: Superstar (It’s Just Nobody’s Realised It) at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from
2 August, 7:15pm, C Venues – C Royale. For tickets click here.