Q&A with comedian Jake Donaldson

You may know comedian Jake Donaldson for a number of reasons:

  • He’s a regular at my annual 12 Hour Charity Open Mic
  • He’s a pretty darn good comedian
  • He made the news thanks to his appearance on The Chase 

However you know him, you’ll know he’s ace and one of the funniest guys I know. I should hope so, too, cause that’s what he does best.

Returning to this year’s 12 Hour Open Mic on 28th May (bank holiday Monday, this year we’re raising money for the rain forest), Jake will be taking on an hour of stand-up time to tickle our funny bones.

How long have you been performing stand-up comedy? Do you remember your first ever gig?

I started when I was at University in 2013, I had been going along to an open mic comedy night at a club called Mr Ben’s in Leeds every week during my first year and I eventually worked up the courage to have a go myself. The format of the show was that each comic had to survive five minutes on stage without being voted off by three judges in the audience (they call it a gong-show) and I lasted about two and a half minutes, during which I got one single laugh. I really enjoyed it, despite the fact the set had been an obvious abject failure and I tried to book back onto the show a month later but the club had closed down. I don’t think this was due to my first ever set but it’s a possibility…

I did another, non-gong show gig a few months later at the Verve Comedy Cellar in Leeds (which is still going, every Tuesday at the Verve bar on Merrion Street!) and it felt like it had gone much better, although in reality were I to watch it back now I’d probably be very ashamed of the quality of it! But nevertheless, I’d been bitten by the bug at that gig and I joined the Leeds University Comedy Society who let me perform at their shows over the next few years before I moved onto the proper circuit after I graduated. I now perform at professional gigs across the country and focus my comedy year around writing and taking shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

What’s been your best and worst gig experiences?

Both of these would probably have happened during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I love the festival because you can have both the best and worst experiences of your career within 24 hours of each other. I’ve had some of the best times on stage I’ve ever had during the fringe, I’d be hard pressed to choose one single experience, but certainly near the top would be when I was asked to perform at the cult late night show This Is Business which ran during the 2015 and 2016 festivals. The show was a bit of a bear pit but in a fun way, everyone (acts and audience) was in on the joke that heckling and joining in was encouraged but only as long as the heckle included the word “Business” and the audience would self-police and turn on any genuine heckles that didn’t stick to that format. Some of the comics were made aware of the format before the show and some weren’t so it was always a bit of a gamble as to how the show would go and whether the acts would get on board with it or whether it would just kick off. It made the gigs very exciting and there was a sense of danger about the whole affair that was quite attractive to comedians and audience members alike.

I don’t know about the worst gig, but there have certainly been odd moments in shows during the festival that are, let’s say unexpected. I’ll never forget the man who sat in the front row of my final show of the 2015 run and halfway through just pulled out and started eating a packet of plain boil-in-the-bag rice with a fork he’d brought from home. It was just very weird to witness. Then I later found out that the venue had supplied him with the kettle he’d used to boil it…

I’ve also had a couple break up in the middle of a show; an audience entirely made up of Danish people who’d missed their flight home; an audience of only five men on a stag do wearing sombreros (who were surprisingly polite) and a gig in someone’s living room where I stopped doing my material half way through to start a pub quiz instead.

How many times have you performed at the Edinburgh fringe? How has your comedy style / routing developed over the years?

I did one run in 2015 of a solo show which was 40 minutes long, and will be taking my debut solo hour to the Fringe in 2018. I also did a run in 2016 as part of a late night double-hander with fellow Leeds comic Jim Bayes and I’ve been involved in various ensemble shows at festivals as part of University showcases etc. So I’d say I’ve been actively participating in shows at the festival since about 2014, although not always doing my own shows.

In terms of how my “comedy style” has developed, I’d say that I’ve certainly gotten better as the years go on. I’m much more comfortable being myself on stage now and I don’t feel the need to put on a voice or try and be something I’m not, like I used to when I first started out. Also, the topics I’m talking about these days are much more in-keeping with my actual thoughts and opinions on things and the stories I tell are drawn from my true experiences (although they might be exaggerated in places). Previously I had just talked about anything that got a laugh and I hadn’t considered the impact some of it might have had, I have taken on board criticism and feedback and I think I’m a better comic because of it.

Okay, we have to talk about your quiz show fame. Do you have any other quiz show appearances lined up? Any backstage gossip?

Haha! For those that don’t know, I appeared on Pointless in 2015 and The Chase earlier this year. They were really fun and memorable experiences (if you ignore some of the Tweets I got…) and I’d love to do some more – however they do take quite a bit of production so I can only realistically record one a year. I’ve got my heart set on Mastermind one day, but I’m not sure I can ever show my face there again! I once went to see it being recorded in Salford and got thrown out of the studio for accidentally smashing a bottle of vodka I had in my bag which leaked all over wires under John Humphries’ desk…

I hear comedians get asked ‘tell me a joke’ more often than they’d like. How do you respond to that one?

It’s one of my pet hates, you wouldn’t ask a plumber you’d just met in a pub to sort your boiler out for free, would you? I usually just politely decline and explain that “I don’t really do jokes, it’s more like stories that won’t work out of context” and this usually stops them pushing it any further. Sometimes though if they’re drunk or just a bit of a knob, they’ll persist and I’ll have to get a bit stern with them and explain that I’m not their performing monkey and if they want to see me do some jokes they’ll have to come and see me live. Either that or I just run away.

Watch Jake Donaldson live in Leeds

You’ll be able to see Jake in action on 28th May at the 12 Hour Open Mic – all for a fantastic cause, too! Visit the Facebook page for all the info.

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