"Jokes weren't really a thing when I was homeless... especially knock-knock jokes." The crowd laugh as Kev Mud lays down his opening Comedy Store gambit into tales of homelessness, addiction and poor mental health.
Not only is there truth to this joke for Mud, but a certain romanticism is apparent when you realise that the man who is making his Comedy Store debut has, at numerous times in his adult life, been a part of the homeless community in and around Covent Garden. Now, ten minutes walk from that spot and a mere seven months after he first picked up the microphone, Kev more than held his own amongst some of the UK's most established names at The British Comedian Of The Year finals.
His first experiences with homelessness were through a university project. A podcast with the express intention of seeing what his best friend was going through. "I wanted to show support and gain an understanding of an issue I felt was a possible and perhaps likely outcome of my mental and financial struggles with addiction, which hadn't fully ramped up at that point."
Fast forward a decade and Kev has been homeless numerous times following repeated declines in his mental health, legal struggles and what were, at the time, undiagnosed enduring mental illnesses.
"It's been strange talking about it on stage because occasionally you get to play in front of old friends. Some of which were unaware of the extent of my issues, and that I'd found myself in shelters, or had even been homeless at all. Some have even doubted it and asked me if it's an act.
"A few of my close friends knew, but speaking so openly about that period of my life to people I care about has been extraordinarily cathartic."
It still affects his mindset today. "There's a freedom that comes with the knowledge that if I lose it all, I'll be fine." He goes on to joke, "I still don't really have anything, a small, stupid part of me is quite looking forward to the upcoming economic catastrophe, because I'll have worth - here guys, follow me, I know what I'm doing here..."
Kev now lives in his caravan by Porthcothan Bay - a beautiful, middle of nowhere beach on the north coast of Cornwall, and has kicked his alcohol and drugs altogether. The southwest county is where he began his own journey performing stand-up comedy, just seven months ago.
His first gig was an unexpected one. Having gone to a comedy night with his friend in Newquay, a slot became available after a comedian didn't turn up. "I got pressured to go on stage," he says. "I really didn't want to do it, but my friend Mimi (who is now a comedian too, Cornish Comedian of the Year in fact, after being pressured herself a few weeks later to try comedy) pushed me to go up."
"It was five minutes and I was just doing this stupid bit about going up to heaven after being murdered," he continues.
It led directly to his second gig at an open mic a few weeks later and since then he's been gigging frequently across the southwest (and sometimes further), from tiny open mics with four attendees in the back room of a pub to bigger venues with up to 100 people. He's caught the performing bug. "I have a pretty standard comic's reaction, which is an inbuilt panic and desire to be liked by everyone," he says. "A need for attention."
Although Kev's performing career is mere months old, he has been involved in the comedy circuit for a good while. After a case of mistaken identity with the then producer of Leicester Comedy Festival, a conversation saw Kev work within the festival team for many years. Running the tech for multiple venues, producing kids' comedy events, and designing posters, flyers, brochures and logos for the festival - including a design that won him 'Best Poster' at the 2016 awards ceremony where he had to wrestle the award off Paul Foot, in front of a perplexed Barry Cryer.
He's also won The Liberty Award for his community work with the festival, and now works backstage helping out with the smooth running of the comedy program for the Cabaret Tent at Glastonbury Festival every year.
"I've spent hours sitting behind the mixing desk, or backstage, in awe of countless comedians getting up there and baring their souls. I'm very happy that I've finally built up the strength to do it myself."
Last week was certainly his biggest gig yet - the final of British Comedian of the Year at The Comedy Store, where after drawing the dreaded opening slot, he warmed up the room of just over 400 to a rapturous reception. Performing his best ten minutes, which touched on homelessness, sex, mental health and biscuits. His honest, charming, humorous angles of his genuine vulnerabilities were particular crowd pleasers.
After his time being homeless in Covent Garden round the corner from The Comedy Store, the gig was a full circle moment for Kev. "I used to walk up and down Shaftesbury Avenue and ask people for money - I used to see the Comedy Store, and ask people around there" he says. "Fast forward a few years later, I'm sitting on a sofa and there's a noticeboard with pictures of all the people who have sat there. You've got Robin Williams, Greg Proops, Stewart Lee - who is still one of my heroes today - and now I'm sitting there."
Looking forward, Kev is working on new material, his Edinburgh debut - Homeless Sex Biscuit - and a podcast, as well as looking at an even more packed schedule after his Store debut. But nothing will ever take that evening away from him. "Walking 10 minutes from the street I used to sleep on into my gig at The Comedy Store," he says. "I don't know what would beat that really. I could end up being at the biggest stage at the Edinburgh Fringe but it wouldn't be 10 minutes walk away from where I used to lay down...
"It's something I can constantly hang onto in my head now," he continues. A proper symbol that change is literally around the corner. "I used to do that walk kind of depressed, isolated and nihilistic, but suddenly I'm on my way to stand on one of the biggest stages in the world of comedy, to talk to 400 people about my penis."