Nick Helm talks about his Super Fun Good Time Show

Nick Helm. Credit: Ed Moore

As Nick Helm continues his Super Fun Good Time Show tour, BCG caught up with him to talk about his route into stand-up, the reactions to his current show, and how asking for help saved his life.

How did you first get into the world of comedy?

When I was at school, my drama teacher took us up to Edinburgh to do some school plays. 1997, 1998 and 1999. Romeo and Juliet, then we did Tony Harrison's The Passion and then Twelfth Night.

When we were doing these plays, I watched loads of stand-up comedy. I was just like, "Oh, wow, that looks great!" In 1997, Al Murray was at the Cabaret Bar at The Pleasance and I went to see him. He picked me out of the audience and got me on stage with him, and I loved it!

Then I wrote some plays I took up to Edinburgh. I started writing plays because I wanted to act, but I wasn't very good at auditioning, so I started writing and directing stuff. When I graduated, I didn't know what to do with my life, so I made a big list of all the things I wanted to do; like be an astronaut, be in a band and write a book. One of the things was 'be a stand-up comedian'. I crossed off all the things that would take loads of time and that were impossible, like being an astronaut. And one of the last things was stand-up.

The only thing I had to rely on was myself, so I saved up all my money and I did a stand-up course. It was a one-day course and at the end of the day, they said, "Not good enough". But they said I had to tell a story that I wouldn't tell my mum. They said, "You could go on stage tonight and tell that story and it would be alright." And then that was it, really!

When I was doing theatre, you'd do your play, and then that'd be the end of it. But when I did my first gig, someone else gave me a gig. So I did one gig and, from doing one gig, I got another gig. I was just like, "Oh, this is much more straightforward than anything else!". So that's how I got quite involved. I always loved stand-up comedy, sitcoms, comedy films, but I never thought I'd be a comedian when I was younger. It just seemed impossible. But then you start doing it and you realise you just have to keep doing it, and then you get better.

Nick Helm

Can you tell us a bit about Super Fun Good Time Show?

It's a really great show! [Laughs] I've done loads of shows. I wrote my first stand-up show in 2006 and I've done Edinburgh almost every year since 1997. This is the first show that I've put together without doing Edinburgh first. Normally, I would do a work-in-progress or a whole month in Edinburgh, and then I'd take that on tour. But I haven't done that this time!

I put it together really quickly. The focus that I've put on the show is not so much material - it's more about performance. Before the pandemic, I never really enjoyed stand-up to that degree because I've always let stress and nerves and anxiety get in the way. During the pandemic, I pretty much stopped doing stand-up. But then towards the tail end of the pandemic, I realised that I missed doing stand-up, but that I couldn't keep going the way I was going. So I retrained myself to enjoy it. The majority of the work went into stagecraft, and then I had all these stories that felt like they were place fillers at the time, because I was just like, "I'll write something specifically about this thing." And then, as we were going, it turned out that old material fitted really well together; all my temporary material fitted really well together.

The way the tour started was we did three dates in Scotland - Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow - and then we had a week and a half off for Easter. I thought, "We'll see how Scotland goes", because I've just started some new medication, and it was early days.

Nick Helm. Credit: Ed Moore

My last two previews in London were absolutely terrible. Soho Theatre at 10 o'clock at night. It was eight people and they were hammered. It was just pointless. And those were my last previews before we started the tour. So I fully expected that after the Scottish dates, I'd have to rewrite it all. But as soon as we did the first one in Aberdeen, me and Aaron, my tech, we were both really surprised, like, "Oh, we've got an actual show!" And it's just got better as the tour has gone on. It's just a really fun show. It's two and a half hours with an interval, a show that has two halves. I'm just so happy with it. It makes me really happy to do it. Audiences are all leaving happy and I'm just really, really proud of it.

What has it been like touring the show?

It's a long tour! It's my longest tour so far, and that comes off the back of five months of nonstop gigging all over the country. So I was tired before the tour started, but I've loved it!

I've loved every gig that we've done. Some of them have been harder than others, but there's normally one every week that is a gig for the ages. I do a meet and greet at the end of every show, so I'll do the show, and then I walk out the front and meet everyone, and you just get instant feedback from people.

I've really enjoyed going everywhere. Even when you have a quieter audience, like Exeter was really quiet. And so you're tempted to go, "They hate me and they're not enjoying it." But when you meet them afterwards, they all enjoyed it! They just enjoy it a little bit quieter than other places.

We did this place called Norden Farm in Maidenhead and that was quiet as well. The crew there were saying that lots of comedians say it's the hardest gig of the tour. And it was difficult, but they all enjoyed it. Everyone's happy and everyone's smiling and it's just lovely.

And what is it like performing comedy live on the stage versus on screen?

When you do a sitcom, when you're acting, no one laughs because you're filming and you don't want to ruin the take. So you don't really have any feedback. You might get some positive feedback when they cut and they go, "Oh, that was funny," or whatever, but really, you don't get much when you're filming.

8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown. Image shows left to right: Susie Dent, Nick Helm

Something like 8 Out Of 10 Cats, that's a really long record. That can be up to two and a half hours, unless I'm grossly misremembering it! Dictionary Corner's quite a difficult spot to do because you're sat there on the set for an hour before they get to you. So they go around and they do their mascots and while they're doing the mascot, you're just sat there waiting to do like a song or a poem or something. And that's quite difficult because you're sat in front of the audience - you can't check your notes or anything like that. So you're just waiting for an hour, and then all of a sudden, Jimmy Carr goes, "What have you got, Nick?"

A lot of TV is made in the edit - you don't really know how it's gone until much later. Whereas live stuff is spontaneous and you get instant feedback. Live work is like door-to-door sales and TV, you don't have to travel - you go into people's living rooms on the telly. So they do different things.

It's not financially viable, but my favourite gigs are 60-seaters above pubs where it's hot and everyone's packed in tightly together. [Laughs] We did an amazing gig in the Newcastle Stand. That was a real hot room, low ceiling. It was brilliant! One of the best gigs I've ever had.

You can't really compare it. TV, you get to look back on it with pride and go, "Oh, look what I did!" But with live stuff, you're in the moment. Now, I'm enjoying it while I'm doing it, whereas before, I would try to just get through the gig. But now, I'm just enjoying it. It's a different experience.

Nick Helm

What do you hope audiences take away from Super Fun Good Time Show?

Well, I've done three quite heavy shows in a row that were all about mental health. I felt like I wanted to draw a line under it and write about other things. So I do mention mental health a little bit. I wasn't gonna mention mental health at all, but a lot of my audiences, we have discussions about mental health and stuff like that, so I felt like I owed it to them to give them an update on how I was. So I did a little bit of an update at the beginning, and I mentioned it again at the end, but I didn't think it would have such a huge impact. It means something to some people, and people have come up to me and said that me talking about mental health in the past has helped them get help, or help them talk to their family about it. I help them talk to other people about it and I'm very proud of that.

So what do I want people to take away from my show? First and foremost, I want people to find my show funny because it's a stand-up. I want them to enjoy it and I want them to have a great night. They have a first half, then they have an interval and then I put on a big show for them and it's a proper night out. So that's what I want, first and foremost. But if you're gonna take anything else away from it, it's if you're suffering from mental health problems or you're in a dark place, it's important to talk to people about it. It's important to ask for help.

Nick Helm

I was in a very dark place and I asked for help, and it saved my life. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't asked for help. If you just keep talking to people and keep the conversation going, it will get better. It does get better. I don't want sympathy or anything like that - I never say it for that, but I have really struggled. And I am coming out of it. I just want people to know that it gets better.

So I want them to have a good night and if they get anything else out of it, it's that it's important to talk about mental health stuff, because that's the only way that you get better - by telling people about what's going on.

And finally, how would you describe Super Fun Good Time Show in one word?

Spectacular.

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