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EMMANUEL SONUBI 

Rising comedy star updates his CV

“The last job I had before comedy, I was working full time in an office…” Emmanuel Sonubi is telling me about his professional life before comedy. “I’d be working full time Monday to Friday, then Saturday and Sunday, I’d be gigging. It was such a weird experience going from playing in a theatre with a thousand people, and then, eight hours later, I’m back at my desk… and nobody cares.” It’s safe to say the North Londoner has been around the block, but now he’s found his niche in stand-up comedy. 

He’s been getting some well-deserved attention for his composed stage presence and infectious confidence. Right now, he’s out on his largest UK tour so far, so it’s a day of doing press stuff. Sonubi has lost track of how many different interviews he’s done. “They’ve all been quite fun. It’s all kind of blurred into one, but it’s nice.” He seems faintly bemused by his rapid progression through the comedy ranks, admitting he’s still evolving and learning a few things about performing. “It’s timing really. Now, when I do a 10-minute show, it goes so quickly. You don’t realise how different it is to do a full hour. I remember the first time I did a club set after being at the Fringe, and you’ve got to be more fast-paced.” 

His career in stand-up might only have started a few years ago, but when his 2022 show, Emancipated, sold out at Edinburgh and won a nomination for the Best Newcomer award, it was only a small step to BBC TV’s Live At The Apollo and serious attention. There’s an acknowledgement that it’s bizarre transferring from some anodyne office position, where you’re just a cog in a machine, to being the reason a huge room full of people are venturing out for the evening. “It’s a weird rush of dopamine, which gets quickly taken away the next day. But you don’t have a come-down. It’s just gone.”

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“I wouldn’t say it’s fame yet. There are people who know who I am… This is what I’ve worked for, and I’m happy. Which has stopped it being ‘work’. That’s the best feeling… I could stay at this level for the rest of my life, and I’d be happy.” Sonubi’s new show, Curriculum Vitae, offers an often-poignant look at the world of employment, and the other people it forces you to spend time with. From an uninspiring existence in IT to gracing the stages in a variety of musical theatre productions, they’ve all made him the man he is today. “It’s talking about my working history before comedy, that got me to the stage. That’s the most coherent way I’ve actually said that. I think there’s been maybe nine interviews before this, and I’ve now got it down to exactly what it is!”

He tells me there’s one job which didn’t get into the show – potentially because there’s not many gags you could wring from it. “I used to work selling mobile phones. And I’ve always thought about what I learnt from that experience. I got that job, and the manager lost his… In the interview, he said to me: ‘You don’t sound like a black guy…’ I just asked him what a black guy sounded like. He couldn’t answer.” At that point he didn’t care if he got the job or not. Pragmatically, Sonubi confesses this situation did provide a realisation he could be tolerant and keep his temper under the most testing of circumstances.

He tells me he studied musical theatre at college, as an A-Level, which has always been a big interest. His aspirations to work in theatre might be a clue to why he’s gone through so many different shades of employment. It’s a tough world for actors. A huge proportion of them are resting, waiting for casting agents to recognise their brilliance, and forced through a meat-grinder of unedifying jobs.

Most fans will already be familiar with Sonubi’s previous employment as a nightclub door supervisor. It’s unsurprising really, as he is what’s known in the industry as a ‘proper unit’. The late nights, drunk patrons and a lack of self-awareness from colleagues have already offered some hilarious anecdotes and observations, but he’s also had a plethora of other jobs, each accompanied by their own eccentricities and awkward moments. Beyond the burly physique is the reality of someone who can be vulnerable but is charismatic and confident onstage.

And onstage is where he likes to be. The gentle self-assuredness echoes through the material. There’s no desperate need to elicit quick laughs from his audience. This guy is an accomplished storyteller, and that makes the jokes even more delicious when they reveal themselves. The creative process can be unorthodox. He does try to settle in and knock out gags. “I’m terrible at that. I do have days when I’ve said ‘Right! This is a writing day!’ And I’ve done nothing, apart from watch YouTube videos. Then I’ll be lying in bed and think of something, and I’ve got to write it down, because I’ll forget it by the morning. I’ve got a whole playlist of voice notes, that I will sit down and write all of them out. To me, that’s the easiest way to do it. If I’m out and about, living life, if I think of something I write it down. I’ve tried to force it… I’ve tried to make stuff up, and it just hasn’t worked. All the stuff I talk about has really happened.” 

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His mantra is to encourage people to laugh as much as they can with the people who mean the most to them. “You only get to do this once, and it’s not very long. With my show, I want to give people somewhere they can escape to, leave the baggage at the door and just have an hour of fun.” It’s a simple and earnest ambition, which is key to his warmth as a performer. Stand-up has taught him to be increasingly honest and objective about life and people. “I’m a lot more accepting of things that I’ve done. And things that I haven’t done. There are things which are my fault, and things that aren’t. Out of that acceptance comes comedy.”

Emmanuel Sonubi brings Curriculum Vitae to Brighton’s Forge Comedy Club on Thurs 25 April.

www.emmanuelstandup.com 

www.forgecomedyclub.co.uk 

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