We're all about significant shows here at First Gig, Worst Gig - the clue is in the title - and Travis Jay is a week away from a big one in his burgeoning career. Next Friday, the 12th, the popular stand-up and punchy podcaster takes over London's Bloomsbury Theatre, for the next step in his stage work.
"My new show feels like I've turned a corner as a comedian," he says. "I've been a comic for a decent amount of time now and it feels like something has shifted for me. I crave complete transparency with my audience at this point and this show will be my most honest thus far."
Jay is no stranger to mixing comedy with heavier topics - offstage he's appeared on Late Night Mash and written for Spitting Image - and his live work has been lauded by everyone from festival judges to Dave Chappelle.
"I feel like my voice has always, either directly or indirectly, leaned towards serious subjects," he says, "and I tend to see light-hearted topics and deep and serious ones in the same way. Comics like Richard Pryor who can attack tragedy and find the comedy have always made me admire that skill."
Now, back to an even more significant date on the Travis Jay timeline: his debut.
It was May 24th, 2009 at the Slug and Lettuce on Wardour Street. I was absolutely bricking it! I was so nervous, my hands were shaking, and I kept running my set whilst waiting to be introduced on stage.
A comic called Littleman introduced me and I'll never forget it. He said "Are you guys ready for a joker? Well we have a joker coming to the stage!" and I heard that and thought "that feels slightly offensive..." My first gig and I was already annoyed by something!
I remember it going really well, but I don't know if I would have felt it went really well if I watched it back today. Either way, I look back at that date with a smile.
Favourite show, ever?
I'd probably have to say the first gig I got to perform with Dave Chappelle. He's one comic that has inspired me beyond any other, and I was a fan of his before I'd ever considered getting involved in comedy. That was a phenomenal moment!
I had a gig at Camden Centre, probably about five months into doing stand-up. I won a competition at Cottons Comedy Club in Angel, and the prize was getting onto the line-up for Camden Centre where I'd be presented with a trophy.
My set just didn't connect with the audience at any point, but despite this I stayed resilient. I believed my next joke would get them onside! Mid-way through my final joke, they started clapping. At first I thought "Oh I've finally got them!", but the claps were not in sync with anything I was saying and I soon realised they were clapping me off!
I finished my set as if it was a killer - in those days I couldn't address the elephant in the room, so I just stuck to my script. The host Robbie Gee (from The Real McCoy) came out and presented me with my trophy for winning the competition at Cottons. All I could think was 'this crowd must be thinking "who the heck did he beat to be the winner?"'
Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?
I'd have to say my mother Angie Le Mar. She's one of the pioneers of black comedy in this country and I've been so fortunate to have her in my corner. She's been very straight talking about what needs to be done to last in this game - her mantra is 'Do the work. Don't take shortcuts, do the hard work!'
A lot of people would imagine we'd write material together or she'd write some for me at times, but she always said to me, "You have to go out there and experience it. I can't go up there for you, I can't deal with hecklers for you. You have to learn the skills!"
And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?
Ah man, where to start? You know I've come across some real douchebags in this game, I don't think anyone stands out as number one, but I've matured past responding when somebody wants to be an idiot!
Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?
I had this throwaway bit in my very first set where in the middle of the story, I would say 'I looked at the time and it said 12:34! Now I don't know about you guys but when I see the time say 12:34 I always whisper to myself "oooh, 1234''.' Now I LOVED saying this material, but the crowd almost always were like "what the heck...?"
How were your lockdowns, generally and creatively?
Creatively it became a struggle. I was on tour with Kojo Anim (Golden Buzzer winner from BGT) at the time and it was cut short as a result of Covid. We went from one extreme to another: running up and down the country performing and having a great time to suddenly being home-bound.
I was grateful for the rest, but I swiftly became annoyed that I couldn't perform. I got creative with a few bits of online content but it made me miss stand-up more than ever.
On a personal level, I enjoyed the family time I was experiencing. This was very unusual with how my schedule is set up, but the fact we were all going through it made it easier to manage.
Any reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions stick in the mind?
I tend not to pay much attention to reviews at this point. Social media has given audiences a voice of their own so I look to hear from the people. One time this guy heckled me with interview questions, and it was so strange because he wasn't rude, he was just curious! My set before that was going well, but my answers to his questions were getting bigger laughs so I just allowed it to become 'an audience with Travis Jay'.
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
I feel very optimistic about the future. I feel like growth on a personal level is starting to show itself in my career and I'm very excited to keep pushing in that direction.
I used to feel the pressure of my career, needing to get to a certain place by a certain time, but now I am just embracing the journey and giving my all to the opportunities that arise. I'm happy, but very hungry to level up and be the best Travis Jay possible.
Some people have been supporting me for my whole 12-year journey and I owe it to them to keep growing, keep getting better and keep delivering!