Interviews: So You Think You're Funny? Winners

Now we know they're funny! As comedy's premier new act competition turns 35, we caught up with past So You Think You're Funny? winners

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Maisie Adam
Photo by Matt Crockett
Published 09 Aug 2022

"I remember reading the list of former winners and finalists," says Maisie Adam on the Gilded Balloon's So You Think You're Funny?: "It was a Who's Who of all the comedians I'd grown up watching. I applied straight away."

Following the path of comedians such as Dylan Moran, Tommy Tiernan and David O'Doherty – all SYTYF? winners before we knew their names – Adam reached the final in 2017: "exactly six months after my first gig. I thought I was a 'seasoned act' by then. What a tit!'"

Since winning the competition, Adam's success makes it easy to forget the rookie she was to stand-up just five years ago: "To suddenly be on this massive stage, in this huge hall, with a well-known comedian hosting the gig... it's a big step up."

Ivo Graham was less seasoned even than Adam when he entered in 2009. He says: "I'd been doing comedy for approximately five months and was already feeling this attention-seeking university hobby might have run its course." Encouraged by comedy producer Corry Shaw, Graham spent that August doing 15 minute slots each day in a split-bill show and progressing through the SYTYF? competition heats – a summer that turned him "from a chancer into a comic."

For Luca Cupani, the 2015 competition offered him a kind of redemption in Edinburgh. The Italian comic had made a shambles of attempting a Fringe-run the year before, where he thought: "I'll improvise every night a new hour of material, in a second language, without any experience." 

Luca Cupani, photo by Steve Ullathorne

Not that it's easy on the Gilded Balloon stage. Adam describes being a "bag of nerves" and so too was Heidi Regan in 2016. Regan says: "I struggled to get the mic out at the very start and just assumed I'd lost the crowd from that point on." She adds: "The room felt huge at the time, though the audience was friendly so I was able to enjoy myself by halfway. Going back a year later the room suddenly felt so much smaller. But maybe I just got taller?!"

The contrast from the ramshackle nature of early gigs to the grander surrounding of Teviot House may have helped Finlay Christie in 2019: "I was doing lots of open mics in London, sometimes performing to five or six people who were clearly unwell. The Gilded Balloon audience was massive and largely mentally stable. After I walked off stage it felt like I was on a very tiny amount of MDMA."

As ecstatic as Christie felt, he still didn't expect to win. A fellow competitor "had absolutely smashed it. I showered them with praise as soon as they came off and told them they were going to win. The first thing I said after they read my name out was 'Shit, I'm really sorry'. I must have come across like a complete tosser."

Like the comedians that won before them, all agree the competition propelled their comedy careers forward. Ivo Graham says: "It got me an agent, filled my diary with gigs and gave me an accolade of 'youngest ever winner of...' – which has been following me around in various promotional materials ever since; next to a photo of a greying long-adulted man who should surely have something else to bang on about now."

Adam agrees: "It put my name on people's radars – other comedians looking for support acts, producers who wanted to hear ideas, bookers who then gave me gigs."

Regan adds: "The competition also sent me to Montreal, which was mind-blowing and also introduced me to established UK comics, like Joe Lycett and Aisling Bea, who were so supportive and kind that it made a huge difference at that key time in my career."

The recognition that there's a future in comedy is perhaps as important as the industry boost from winning a competition. As Cupani says: "Most of all, it happened when I really needed a sort of recognition. I started doing comedy because I love the idea of being on stage, being myself and connecting with an audience of strangers through humour and laughter."


Where to Find the SYTYF? Winners

Maisie Adam: Buzzed
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3–29 Aug, 5pm

Finlay Christie: OK Zoomer
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 3–28 Aug (not 17), 6pm

Luca Cupani: Happy Orphan
Just the Tonic at The Caves, 4–28 Aug (not 15), 2:20pm

Ivo Graham: My Future, My Clutter Use
Pleasance Courtyard, 3–28 Aug (not 6), 7:30pm

Heidi Regan Gives Birth Live On Stage Every Night Or Your Money Back
PBH's Free Fringe @ Voodoo Rooms, 6–28 Aug (not 20, 21), 5:55pm