How London Hughes Went From TGI Fridays to Stand-Up Sensation
London Hughes doesn’t lack confidence. In her engaging and delightful memoir Living My Best Life, Hun, she dedicates the book to herself — specifically, her 14-year-old self, declaring, “she knew this would happen one day.” In the 20 years since, the British comedian has done a little bit of everything on the way to becoming a successful stand-up, writer and actress — including being a presenter on a children’s TV show and working on-camera for Babestation, which (as she writes) “was basically a live porn channel.” There were growing pains and setbacks along the way, but as the book chronicles, Hughes never stopped believing that she was meant for the spotlight. “I was born to do this shit,” she brags in Living My Best Life, Hun, which maps out how relentlessly she worked to make it happen.
Finally, that determination paid off: In 2019, Hughes was the hit of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, her acclaimed one-woman show To Catch a D*ck eventually becoming a Netflix special that helped make her name worldwide. In the book, we learn about that triumph, alongside stories of her haphazard dating life, befriending Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and developing her stand-up career.
But every star needs a breakout moment — that pivotal opportunity when someone goes from dreaming to actually making the dream come true. Cracked is pleased to publish this excerpt, in which Hughes writes about toiling away at TGI Fridays at university, desperate to get some time off so she can see some live stand-up and gain a greater understanding of what the job requires. Turns out, her wish will be granted in an unexpected way — and help propel her to begin writing jokes for an audience. There will be more ups and downs to come for Hughes in Living My Best Life, Hun, but here’s where the adventure really starts.
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Ever since my boyfriend at the time, Leon, had put the idea to try stand‑up in my head, I was desperate to see some for real. I didn’t really want to be a stand‑up at that stage — I wanted to be on TV, either presenting an entertainment show or starring in my own sitcom, plus I didn’t think stand‑ups could be female, because the only stand‑up comedians I’d seen were Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Lee Evans. I’d never even been to a comedy club, but my Roehampton friends had started going to the Sunday Show every week and I was dying to go with them.
The only problem was that I could never go, no matter how much I begged my boss, because I worked the late shift at TGI Fridays every weekend. I’d been working there for nearly a year, and I was over it; the hours were insane — I’d finish work at 3 a.m. some nights and be way too tired for lectures in the morning — plus I’d consumed all the Jack Daniel’s sauce I could eat! I started to try to find ways to get off work early, mostly by faking asthma attacks or injuries (I once pretended I got a concussion from slipping on chocolate dessert sauce), but I’d end up sitting in my boss’s office with an ice pack on my head until I was ready to work again. I knew that there was no get‑ out‑of‑work‑free card that I could pull that would let me go to the Sunday Show.
After a while I accepted my fate and put the thought of seeing live stand‑up to the back of my mind. That was until our original boss left and was replaced by a very strict American manager. One fateful Friday, I was running late as usual (to be honest, I was always running late, mainly because I didn’t want to be there). My old boss used to scold me when I was late and make me do the washing up at the end of my shift, but this new boss was even more savage. I turned up thirteen minutes late to my shift and he fired me on the spot. That was it: one strike, I was out. I couldn’t believe it. I begged him to let me have my job back, but he wasn’t having it. He was actually smiling as he let me go. I rang my friends in tears, but they weren’t upset at all. “Well, at least you can go to the Sunday Show now.”
The Sunday Show
Two days later, I finally went to the Sunday Show for the first time, and it completely changed my world. It was at a bar in Clerkenwell in London, a cool and trendy hub buzzing with energy, and the audience was always filled to the brim with Britain’s brightest soon‑to‑be stars. Anyone who was anyone was there, from Ed Sheeran and Jessie J to Amy Winehouse and Daniel Kaluuya. I felt so alive just being there. I sat right at the front and was captivated by how the two hosts — their names were Jamie Howard and Little Man — every week would build the crowd up into a frenzy, and I mentally took notes. I definitely could do this, I thought. Just like seeing Angellica Bell on TV when I was kid, all I needed was to see people like me doing something I wasn’t sure I could do. Even though they were men, culturally we were on the same level, I could relate to their jokes, we were close in age, and I knew that I could have a funny female perspective on things, too. Right after the Sunday Show, I went home and I wrote some jokes.
My first‑ever set was basically a seven‑minute rant about how Pro Evolution Soccer was ruining dating. My angle was that I was fed up with men who would rather turn the PlayStation on than turn me on. Getting sacked from TGI’s meant that I had all this free time to perfect my comedy skills, and so in about a week I knew the whole set by heart. I was so fucking proud of it! It absolutely killed! Well, Leon thought it did, and he was the only person that had heard it in full. As far as I was concerned, he was the only person who would ever hear it, as I had no intention of actually performing it anywhere. I saw it as more of a personal challenge, plus I couldn’t perform at the Sunday Show anyway because they only booked professional comedians. All I knew was that I had written and performed a successful stand‑up set, and that was enough for me.
The Talent Show
Britain’s Got Talent was the hottest new thing on U.K. television in 2008, and universities everywhere were putting on their own versions for students. As it happened, the week after perfecting my stand‑up routine, students at Roehampton University were having trouble booking their Roehampton’s Got Talent show, which was happening in three days’ time. Even though I didn’t go to their university, I was known around Roehampton for being a bit of a dancer, so one of the organizers asked if I would perform a solo dance routine. Of course! But I said I’d only do it if they let me do a stand‑up comedy performance in the second half. The organizer was very hesitant — “Can you even do comedy?” — to which I confidently replied yes, and that I’d been working on some new material. I don’t know what possessed me to say that, but what were the chances that I’d been working on comedy material at the exact same time they were organizing a talent show? It was a sign! I had to do it!
The night before the talent show I was typing out my set so it was fresh in my mind, and I was freaking out. I couldn’t just go onstage and do stand‑up, could I? Who did I think I was? I really could just do a little dance and call it a day. But even as the doubts were swirling around my mind, I found the Sunday Show Facebook page, tracked down Jamie Howard (the host of the Sunday Show) and added him as a friend. I messaged him asking for stand‑up advice, and to my total surprise he replied! Jamie was sweet and supportive, and when I told him I was performing stand‑up for the first time at a talent show, he even asked if he could come. I took a chug of my Fanta Lemon, exhaled, and replied. “Of course!”
I remember that night like it was yesterday. I was pacing around backstage while others performed to an extremely packed crowd of tipsy and rowdy students. I was completely shitting it, but it was too late now, I couldn’t exactly turn back! I waved at Jamie in the audience, who had come with Sunday Show co‑host Little Man and some other friends. I now had two of the coolest comics from the hottest night in London watching my debut stand‑up comedy performance. No pressure, hun.
The performance in the first half went seamlessly. I had come up with a genius freestyle dance routine to “Like a Boy” by Ciara. In the music video, Ciara dresses and dances “like a boy,” so I started off the performance in a baggy hoody and tracksuit bottoms. I was body poppin’, krumpin’, and moving around like a B‑boy, taking off layers of clothing as the song progressed to finally reveal a leotard and tutu underneath. I then pranced around doing ballerina pirouettes, leaps, and kicks “like a girl” and ended the performance in my signature split. It wasn’t really that progressive, but I killed it. The crowd went wild! I walked offstage thinking, You could just go home now, babes, you really could!, but not one part of me actually wanted to. I was already itching to get back on that stage and tell those people some funnies.
The second half arrived, and the host called me back out onto the stage. “And now … you’ve seen her rippin’ up the dance floor, so let’s hope her jokes are as good as her moves. It’s London Hughessss.” I remember walking on to the stage to more cheers from the audience and thinking fuck it. Let’s roll! I grabbed the mic, paused, and pretended to get all serious and emotional as I delivered my opening lines.
Students, I’m here to talk about a serious matter. Ladies, I got three words for you, and I know you’ve heard them before because you’ve heard them come out of guys’ mouth. These famous three words have been responsible for causing breakups in the Black community since 1998; the majority of Black males in the audience have all played a part in making these three words the most HATED words by females across the nation. These three words are... PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER.
As soon as I dropped the words Pro Evolution Soccer, the audience roared. It felt absolutely otherworldly. Nothing can beat the feeling of getting your first‑ever laugh from a group of complete strangers. In that moment, every single doubt and insecurity I’d ever had about myself vanished and I became a whole new person. The laughter from that audience was the validation I needed. It let me know that there was nothing wrong with me — I wasn’t this weird girl that everyone seemed to have a problem with — I was just ME and I was fucking funny.
I performed the hell out of my seven‑minute-and-twenty‑eight‑second routine (yes, I timed it); I had the audience in the palm of my hands, and it really felt like they loved me for me. I finished my set to more roars and a standing ovation, and when I stepped off the stage the DJ played R. Kelly’s “The World’s Greatest.” Over the cheers I could hear R. Kelly crooning, “I’m that star up in the sky / I’m that mountain peak up high / Hey I made it / I’m the world’s greatest,” and my whole insides burst. That was such a special and perfect moment, which I can’t believe R. Kelly went on to ruin with his pedophilic ways. Now I can’t enjoy that song! But for a long time, long before I knew R. Kelly was a sex offender, “The World’s Greatest” was such an important and poignant song to me.
After I stepped off the stage, Jamie and Little Man greeted me with drinks and a bear hug — I think one of them even had me in a headlock! I had clearly impressed them! Little Man grabbed my face, looked me in the eyes, and said: “Do you know that you’re going to be a star? Do you know how fucking famous you’re going to be?” It sounds bigheaded, but in that moment I really did, and it felt incredible to finally hear somebody say it.
With all the planning and scheming I’d done in my life, trying to figure out ways to make it in show business, I’d had no idea that stand‑up comedy would lead to all my dreams coming true. I had a celebratory drink with Jamie and Little Man, and the next day I planned on just getting on with uni life, but they had other ideas. Jamie and Little Man convinced their bosses to let me perform at the Sunday Show that very weekend. I did the same set and killed it in front of the cool industry crowd. The Sunday Show managers were so impressed that they offered me a regular paid gig hosting the game show segment at the club every week. Within ten days I had gone from getting fired from TGI Fridays to becoming a professional stand‑up comedian!
Well hun, I guess good things come to those who waitress.
Excerpted from Living My Best Life, Hun: Following Your Dreams Is No Joke by London Hughes. Copyright © 2023 by Superstar Hughesy Ltd. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.