Comedian Bella Younger was tipped to be the “next big thing” in stand-up comedy. Here, she explains why she walked away - with no regrets.
Scrolling through my Instagram feed flags up more inspirational guff about never giving up than I can shake a stick at, but I’ve decided that I’m finally bucking the trend. I am giving up and, what’s more, I feel good about it.
Like many other stand-up comedians, I recently submitted an application to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s biggest comedy festival. I had a great idea for a show and I’d started writing some pretty good material. I thought I was ready. But almost immediately after sending off the application, I had a panic attack.
“Christ,” I said to myself. “You haven’t even booked your first preview yet.” Two days later, I decided to quit stand-up comedy for good. I really hadn’t anticipated the quiet joy I would feel in deciding to pack it in. I had no idea about the power of saying no to nerves, to silent laughers and to angry hecklers. I have the utmost respect for people who love performing stand-up, but I respect myself just as much for knowing that I am not one of them.
Statistics show that (47%) almost half of professionals want to quit their jobs. Quitting can be a way of taking back control and of putting fulfilment before financial gain. For broadcaster turned best-selling author, Dawn O’ Porter, the decision to close down her business BOB was driven by something simple. She wanted to be happy.
“Success is subjective,” she tells me. “The brand was good but I wasn’t happy. The second I let it go I felt a weight lift off me and I have never looked back.”
I’ll admit that it wasn’t an easy decision for me to give up performing. I was incredibly lucky very early on in my career, with my stand-up debut making me an overnight success that saw me hailed as an inspiration to others in the field. I signed with an agent after performing less than 20 times. I sold out the entire run of my second Edinburgh show.
But what I hadn’t done was ask myself whether stand-up actually made me happy.
Initially, I started performing stand-up comedy because I loved telling stories. I longed to write for TV but I couldn’t catch a break. My friends would joke that hyperbole was my middle name, and my stories got wilder and wilder with each retelling. Pants came off, dads were snogged, Prince Harry was DEFINITELY THERE. It seemed a logical next step that I would tell my stories to strangers. So I booked myself in for a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe for an hour each night, and became a hermit to prepare. I was sure that I’d be a natural, and I was – when it went well.
The good gigs made me giddy, but the bad ones made me mad. I was named as one of Glamour magazine’s top comedians at the Fringe and cried with joy. Then I got a two-star review and physically collapsed. Of course, I was melodramatic: that’s part of what made me good. But it is also what made stand-up an impossible long-term career choice for me.
When I told my Dad I was quitting I could almost feel him hugging me down the phone. My mum breathed a sigh of relief so big it could have caused a severe weather warning. It’s not that they weren’t supportive of my stand-up career, but rather that they’d seen what it was doing to my mental health. I had secretly known all along it was making me miserable, but I felt guilty for turning down the chance of a lifetime. I was an overnight success, I was the next big thing, and I felt I had to “make it” at any cost.
So much of my identity was tied up in that part of my career that, for a moment, I worried giving up would make me lose my sense of self. Am I even a comedian if I don’t do stand-up? Will everyone think I’m a massive failure?
I ask Dawn if she has any regrets about closing BOB, and her response reassures me. “I still think quitting is one of the best decisions I have ever made,” she says. “Despite how proud I am of what BOB was, I am more proud of letting it go.”
That’s when I came to a realisation: no one can take what I’ve achieved away from me. No one can deny my hard work or my bravery. And as anyone who has ever quit will know, sometimes saying no and walking away is the most courageous thing you can do.
When we give something up we don’t give up what we’ve learned from that experience. Rather, we go forwards armed with new skills and knowledge to apply to the next challenge. I now know that people who aren’t my friends or relatives think I’m funny. I’m also pretty slamming at social media. If you need a consultant with a sense of humour, please do hit me up.
I have no regrets. If I hadn’t done that first show I would never have started my Instagram account, Deliciously Stella. I would never have written a book, launched a podcast or even had the opportunity to write this article. My best friend always tells me that everything is a step forward, and she’s right. Giving up feels like the beginning of a wonderful new chapter, one where my creativity isn’t compromised by stage fright. I still love telling stories, I just don’t want to tell them on a stage. From now on, I’ll tell stories in articles, books, podcasts and scripts.
I am a writer, actor, presenter, podcaster, influencer and consultant. I am no longer a stand-up comedian.
Image: Rex Features