Cally Beaton is a comedian that is known for her TV appearances in shows like BBC’s QI as well as The Apprentice You’re Fired, Radio 4’s Museum of Curiosity, The Unbelievable Truth and Saturday Live. She is a frequent guest and commentator on BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio London and Times Radio.
Her journey fo transitioning from Senior Vice President of ViacomCBS (Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and Paramount) started when Cally was forty five. It was while working for Comedy Central, on the road with the late, great Joan Rivers, that Cally was nudged into the sphere of performance. Acting as an unofficial business event warm-up for Ms. Rivers, it was she (then 81) who told Cally she had what it took to be a stand-up; and so, as a 45 year old single parent, Cally first took to the stage. She has since become one of the UK’s most-booked professional comedians.
Her latest project – a blazing podcast ‘Namaste M*therF*ckers‘ on Audioboom is where the worlds of comedy, self help and business collide.
We sat down with Cally Beaton to chat about finding her voice as a comedian and about failing – but failing better and failing further.
Bringing her comedian persona under one roof with other roles
With so many seemingly unrelated skills under Cally’s belt – comedian, executive coach, VP of massive corporation – we wonder whether they compete to each other in some way or rather contribute something to one another.
In her calm and pacifying voice, podcast host revealed that when she first started it was in her forties. “I thought it was like a secret second life. Stand up was completely separate from corporate life. I used different name for my stage persona – Cally as opposed to Caroline – so that when people research my name, me they wouldn’t find out. Then some of my colleagues started to join the dots… It took me probably a couple of years as a stand up to realise that I might be able to bring everything I’d ever done together into one sort of persona… it took me a little while as it does for all comedians to find my voice. I’m still working on that.”
There are quite a few comedy podcasts out there. In fact, they seem to be quite popular. But, according to Cally, hers is a bit different: “My podcast is the first podcast where worlds of comedy, business, and self-help meet.” But that’s not all. The podcaster admits that she is willing to check and re-check her bias and is interested in a nuanced debate. Her guests include Geoff Norcott – one of very few right-wing comedians on the circuit, Matt Forde – most high-profile left-wing comedian and founding leader of women’s equality party Sophie Walker.
The inner voice of a comedian
We encourage you to watch Cally’s YouTube videos. Her motivational speeches are peppered with humour and we can clearly see what Joan Rivers saw in Cally’s way of delivery. So, is it an acquired skill or has Cally always had the talent?
“It’s hard for people to laugh if they think you think you are better than them”
“Throughout my career in a boardroom, when I had to deliver very boring end year result reports or quarterly budgets, I always wanted to have something personal and funny in it jus because that suited my style. I was always a bit humorous in my approach. When I started taking up stand up, I realised how much I had that voice in me and I wasn’t able to use it as much as I wanted.
“Then I started writing and coming us with ideas. I’m not really good writer. I love performing it but am not a confident writer. I would have an idea that is not well written out and I would try it out on a stage either as a comedian or MC. And usually, through working with live audiences and trying things, that’s where I get the funnier stuff. It takes me quite a lot of live mucking about to get good at it. But I take the piss out of life.”
First gig as a comedian
“As a comedian, no one cares if you know how to hold a microphone and you are sleek and polished. They just want you to be funny.”Cally Beaton
Everyone’s first gig will surely stand out in their memory. We asked Cally about her first gig. “I did evening classes with a guy called Logan Murray – his classes were called ‘Stand Up And Deliver‘.” The one evening a week 8-week training culminated with a life gig. “It was in the same pub as where we did our training sessions. It was mainly with friends and family of people on the course. But it did mean there were 50- 60 people and you would be speaking for 5 minutes.”
“At the training, I was very confident because I used to give presentations in my corporate life. I looked as if knew what I was doing. So everyone thought I was going to be quite good at it. I thought so myself. But I was awful. I think what I forgot was as a comedian, no one cares if you know how to hold a microphone and you are sleek and polished. They just want you to be funny and often being funny is when you are a bit less polished and are a bit more natural. So, I recited my lines but I didn’t think about how I would deliver it. So, I didn’t really do a very good first gig at all.”
“With the second one I just decided to have fun. I did the opposite. I did that at another South London pub at Comedy Virgins, which everyone reading that should go and visit that comedy night. They will call you out at random and at the end of the night, they would give out an award for who was the best of the night. That night I won the competition. It was really just twelve comedians and no one knew exactly what they were doing. Then I thought to myself that maybe I’m not absolutely useless and maybe I can get good at it.”
“It took me tens if not hundreds of gigs to get a bit more consistent. And nothing equips you to doing it like doing it.” She elaborates that one of the things that often scares people is “the concept of being perfect”. She advises to let go the idea of perfection if you want to be a public speaker. “Because there are so many variables. There is always that element of public may not like you or something not going quite right on the day. You never quite know how far you are away form a bad gig. There is a saying you never learn as much from a good gig as you learn from a bad gig. I think if you go into performing with an idea of perfection, you might be even too scared to try because you will fail. But it’s about failing better and failing forward.“
Top 5 tips for budding comedians from Cally Beaton
- Don’t focus too much on what you’re going to say rather on how you are going to say it. How you are going to say it is incredibly important. So, think about that. Are you going to have fun and engage with the audience or that you have some really good jokes written down?
- Billy Connolly has a quote “a good comedian isn’t a person on stage saying funny things; it’s a funny person on stage saying funny things.” It’s a very good thought to hold on to.
- Write about what you really want to write about rather than what you think your audience want to hear. Think what you have really strong opinion on and try writing about that rather than thinking “People like jokes about Brexit at the moment”.
- Having an idea of what is your opinion about the subject is the thing that makes it funny. No matter what the subject, if it’s your genuine opinion and it’s interesting, people are more likely to laugh.
- It’s hard for people to laugh if they think you think you are better than them. I always go in showing my vulnerability quite quickly. When I come to the stage, I might look like I know all the answers – I have my make up and have glossy stage clothes and am well spoken… then quite quickly I’ll tell a story about myself. Whatever it might be – being the only girls in all boys’ school or being a single mum of a kid with autism – something that tells the audience “I know I’m a hot mess. I don’t think I’m better than you. My life is not sawn up. This is going to be funny and you are OK to laugh. Your life is a mess, my life is a mess, we are the same.”
Being vulnerable is not an easy thing for anyone. And comedians, no doubt, have special relationship with vulnerability. We asked where Cally stands with that. “You teach what you most need to learn. That’s what I talk about vulnerability so much because I do find it such a difficult thing. My last but one comedy show was called ‘Super Cally. Fragile Lipstick‘. It was built on the idea that behind this superhero exterior, things were much more complicated.”
“That year, I suffered with clinical depression for the first time in my life, my kids were leaving home, I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep my corporate job. I was really a mess and I realised that I never really articulated these things to anyone other than my therapist and my very close friends.”
“I made a conscious decision that I wanted to know my own vulnerabilities more and I wanted t be brave enough to talk bout it to other people, talk about it on stage. I say that quite a lot, especially in corporate speeches that it takes a lot of effort to make things look so effortless. And I want people to remember that when they see me on a stage and I look so effortless. I do still find it really scary to let my real self be seen but I’m incredibly taken with the importance of doing that and letting that struggle be seen.”