First Gig Worst Gig

Janine Harouni

Janine Harouni

At this time of year a lot of us pine for the DVD era, when it was much easier to buy presents with the barest thought required. "Which comedian do they like again...?" two lazy clicks and their latest show's in the post. Streams are a lot trickier to wrap.

It's still worth browsing Amazon for comedy specials though, as they've just launched a second series of Soho Theatre Live, with a splendid roster of comics, from Jordan Brookes to Jessica Fostekew, Nina Conti to Kai Samra, and this week's guest. Stand Up with Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated) is an intriguing title, but all will become clear.

"The show is about a car accident that paralysed my leg and ultimately helped bridge the divide between me and my Trump-supporting dad," the London-based New Yorker explains.

"Until I started writing this show I didn't talk much about the accident. Friends of mine saw it in previews and were like 'I had no idea that happened to you'. I didn't like talking about it. But my director Adam Brace really encouraged me to tell the story.

"Stand-up already scared me, so pairing it with something as vulnerable as sharing the story of my accident seemed absolutely terrifying. Anyway, two years (and one stomach ulcer) later and I'm really glad I listened to Adam."

More on him later. Speaking of potentially nervy performances, can she remember much about the filming itself?

"The recording was a dream. The team at Soho Theatre all worked incredibly hard. And my husband was running all over the place to help out too. I kinda just sat in a makeup chair all day and then did the show. Audiences were lovely as well - except one man who was so drunk he had to be ejected and made one show almost entirely unusable in the edit. Thanks bud."

Janine Harouni

Still, it's an anecdote. Speaking of which...

First gig?

My first gig was Comedy Virgins at The Cavendish Arms in Stockwell - it's an open mic night and a competition. I ended up winning but I'm fairly certain it was because there was a tube strike that night so loads of comics had dropped out.

It was November 2016 and I closed my set with a bit that was like "Imagine if Donald Trump actually wins the election and then nails it as president?" The next day Trump won. It was pretty surreal. It also made my "Wouldn't it be funny if Trump won the election" bit totally unusable.

Not sure if I was more upset that Trump won or that I had to drop that bit from my set.

Favourite show, ever?

This past summer I got to perform back home in NYC. I'd never performed outside of the UK before. I was absolutely shitting it; I wasn't sure if my stuff would translate to a US crowd. But it was a dream. American audiences are so much more vocal. They love being part of the show.

And because my show is about having parents who voted for Trump, it was amazing to perform to a crowd who also had family members who voted Trump. I'd never performed for an audience who could relate to my material in such a direct way. It felt very cathartic.

BBC New Comedy Award. Janine Harouni. Copyright: BBC

Worst gig?

My second year of stand-up I arrived at a gig that had two audience members in a room that fits 60. Lots of comics on the bill left 'cause they didn't want to gig to two people, but a few comics stayed behind and were like "a gig's a gig."

They convinced me to go on. And there was a good group of us, maybe eight comics, so that made the room feel more full. But by the time I got up all the other comics had already been on and as I reached the stage they all stood up and left. None of them really knew me, they were just staying to support their friends.

So once they left - it was just me and these two poor people in the audience. I tried to do some material which of course died on its ass. I lasted about two minutes before I ran off stage crying. I didn't even take my coat. But honestly, it wasn't worth the embarrassment of going back in to get it.

Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?

Three years ago I signed up for the Young Company at Soho Theatre. And one day a guy called Adam Brace came in to work with us. We argued over a bit of mine that he said wouldn't work and I insisted would and basically we've been arguing ever since.

I asked him to direct my show. I'd seen and loved his other work (Alfie Brown: Lunatic and Alex Edelman: Just For Us) He agreed for some reason, which turned out to be very fortunate for me. Adam is comedy rocket fuel.

He's helped me grow so much as a comic and taught me that comedy can be much richer than just jokes. He encouraged me to not shy away from material that is personal and meaningful. He's a genius and I feel really lucky that took me under his wing.

Janine Harouni

And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?

LOL - pass ;)

Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?

I had a bit about women's periods syncing up and our collective cycle becoming so strong it could harness the power of the moon - and there'll be no end to our wrath once we can control the tides. I still think I could find a way to make it work. But audiences vehemently disagree.

How were your lockdowns, generally and creatively?

Shit. Couldn't write a single joke. I'd love for there to be no more lockdowns, so for the love of god please wear your masks.

Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?

I performed at Latitude and my mic kept cutting in and out so I asked the audience "Is there something wrong with my mic?" and this Northern voice in the crowd shouted "No! Just with your accent". I thought it was a pretty good burn actually.

Buffering. Thalia (Janine Harouni). Copyright: Avalon Television

How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?

I did my first gig five years ago this month. If you told me then that in five years' time I would have an Amazon Prime special, be in a sitcom (Buffering, ITV2), and be performing regularly on TV - I would have laughed in your face.

I feel so grateful and lucky, especially because I know so many brilliantly talented comedians that don't get the same opportunities or recognition. So I don't want to take anything for granted.

Stand Up with Janine Harouni (Please Remain Seated) is available to view now on Amazon Prime. Watch

Share this page