‘I Just Fell In Love With Making People Laugh’ - An Interview With Comedian Sean Collins
Sporting a relaxed Canadian drawl and brimming with clean, funny material that appeals to corporate audiences, comedian Sean Collins has been creating laughs for 25 years. After a lot of hard work and determination, he's now a headline act firmly established on the UK circuit, with several television credits to his name, including The World Stands Up Special on Comedy Central, The Comedy Store Television Show on Paramount and Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow on BBC1.
We interviewed him to find out how he got into comedy and some of his most memorable moments!
Hi Sean. Tell us - how did you get into comedy?
I always wanted to be involved with comedy. As I kid, I grew up listening to comedy albums while my friends did other things. When I moved away from home to the West Coast of Canada, I began working at a hospital as a counsellor for kids, but I'd then leave to do open mic nights and I just fell in love with the idea of making people laugh! So, I kept working at it until I could make a living out of it.
Did you take anything from your previous role into your comedy?
In my earlier career as a counsellor, I developed the ability to talk to people. I was very much a storyteller, so I think that helped. Although my stage-fright at first was just horrible… I remember for that first year, I was sick every time before I went on!
‘I just fell in love with the idea of making people laugh’
How did you manage to calm your nerves?
Well… I threw up! That’s how I calmed my nerves every time!
I started to get a real reputation because they’d have to come over to mop it up and then I’d go on… after a while, it goes into the back of your head, like, “Right, okay tonight I’m not going to be sick,” and then, of course, the fact that you’re focussing on it doesn't help. Over time, however, I got more comfortable and confident, and it stopped. Thankfully!
I take it for granted now because I’ve been doing this for 25 years and do a lot of these events, but I’ve had a lot of speakers coming up to me who are so nervous even though they don't need to make people laugh and have notes. But it's a nerve-wracking thing! All I can say is that imagining everyone in underwear never works… because then I do and I’m sick again!
The crowd at a comedy club is slightly different to a corporate audience...
What makes a comedian like you suitable for corporate gigs?
Firstly, I learned early on to take my ego out of it and to realise that the audience aren’t there for me. Unlike on a tour show or at a comedy club, where the audience is there specifically to see a comedian, at a corporate gig, I’m just a small portion of what their night can be.
In addition to that, I’m also not there to offend people in any way. What a lot of comedians do is they take a club act and assume it will translate appropriately into corporate settings – but it doesn’t. So, for these events, I’ve learned how to write clean, funny material.
Can you tell us about one of your favourite gigs?
I worked hard to get the Just For Laughs Gala in Montreal. The gala set was a big break for me; I found myself on the same night as Drew Carey and Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond, and all these big names. It felt good and I was pleased to do so well.
‘I learned early on to take my ego out of it”
How about some of the memorable learning moments?
One was my first road tour – leaving the safety of the comedy club to go out and do bars and pubs across Canada. Unlike in a comedy club, where you’re getting nicely introduced, in a bar, no one is introducing you, and everyone’s drunk! That was my first learning curve. My very first night was an open mic night, and I only had five minutes. But there are always going to be bad gigs while you’re still learning, and, over time, I learned how to salvage them.
I think that’s what helps with switching to the corporate setting – having that 25 years of experience of doing this all over the world. I learned how to fish things out of an area that are a little bit different and play them effectively. The whole corporate setting is a niche – especially hosting awards, which I love doing as well.
Sean has 25 years' experience on the comedy circuit
What made you come to the UK?
Well, I had the choice to go to America, but a few other Canadian comedians were over in the UK at the time and were finding the scene here good. I decided to come over too and ended up doing Glastonbury – and I just had a blast. From then on, I started to do gigs here.
It’s interesting observing how English people respond to comedy. It’s hard to bother an English audience, as you guys move on quickly (I mean, you guys invented the term, “I’m not bothered”), but some of the things you don’t get bothered at would bother others. In America, for example, I remember making fun of President Bush, and they all happened to be Bush supporters in the crowd - it didn't go down well!
What’s next for you?
I’ve been working on a sitcom idea with three other comedians. I'm also going on tour – I’m going to play an ‘aged’ version of myself, and I’m going to look back at my failures as a 75-year-old man. Bit bizarre, but I think it’ll be worth it in the end! I’ll be doing that in Edinburgh in 2018, so look out for that!
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