Livin My Best Life, Hun by London Hughes | Comedian's memoirs reviewed
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Livin My Best Life, Hun by London Hughes

Comedian's memoirs reviewed

Most followers of comedy must surely know London Hughes’s story by now, since she’s spoken about it often enough in interviews and on her socials. After years of banging on the door of Britain’s comedy industry to no avail, she moved to the States and found instant success in Hollywood - Netflix special, starring roles and now this autobiography. Her conclusion is that she was held back by a UK scene that’s endemically racist.

The counter-argument might be that success in any entertainment field is near-impossible  and just wanting it more than anybody else just isn’t enough, whatever the narratives peddled by talent shows might suggest. Plus Britain is a much smaller market than the US, and opportunities for anyone so much harder to come by.

But Hughes describes so many seemingly unfair knockbacks in Livin My Best Life, Hun that it’s hard not to agree with her conclusion. Not least the fact so many white male comics are given breaks when they are still just average that were denied to Hughes when she was at least on their level. Plus the fact she has done so well so quickly in the States points to a talent overlooked in her homeland.

On the topic of ‘wanting it’, Hughes says she always knew she was destined for fame. Chapter two is titled: ‘I was born to do this’ – which she accepts ‘sounds wanky and bigheaded, but really I was. I truly am doing exactly what I was put on this earth to do: entertain you bitches.’

Of course she’s not alone in thinking that, almost everyone with a social media account thinks they are a star-in-waiting. And while Hughes admits ‘I’m a strong believer in faking it till you make it,’ there’s no doubt she’s put in the hard hours to get where she is. There’s perhaps little surprise that she has found a mentor in Kevin Hart – a man whose gargantuan work ethic has seen him rise to the very top, way above many more naturally gifted comics.

Even as a kid Hughes used to write herself into scripts for Frasier or The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air. So desperate was she to get an agent - even though she didn’t know what one was - that she wrote to an estate agency.

This personality type did not make her popular with the cool kids, and she was bullied (a feeling she would experience again years later during an internet pile-on). At her 13th birthday party she was left crying alone in Pizza Hut. Not only did no one come, the mean girls came and pointedly sat at the next table having a celebration of their own without her.

Five years later she got Big Narstie to perform at her   birthday, and her 32nd was at Dave Chappelle’s Ohio mansion, with a cake custom-made by his personal chef and R&B queen Estelle singing Happy Birthday.

It’s clearly a fairytale ending, almost impossible to countenance. The very first time Hughes went on holiday to LA, the land of her dreams, she ended up with a meeting with a top agent. What happened to Hollywood chewing up and spitting out desperate young talent?

The quote ’the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have’ springs to mind, for Hughes is a grafter whose devotion to becoming famous is impressive. (She once idolised Russell Brand – ‘a complete rock star and everything I wanted to be in comedy’ – which seems unfortunate in hindsight)

She took an early job at porn channel Babestation, covering the daytime shift before they were allowed to get X-rated, just to get on TV. But she got the sack from for ‘lowering the tone’ – which is quite some achievement. A long career in children’s presenting followed, and then ventures into reality TV, despite her agent’s fears that she wouldn’t be taken seriously as a comedian.

Probably inappropriate for someone who worked in kids’ broadcasting, Hughes admits she always ‘wanted to be a hoe’ – even when she was way too young to know what that meant. But given that her breakthrough stand-up show was called To Catch A Dick, it’s unsurprising that she’s frank about her sex life once she did figure it out. ‘My comedy sex roster looks like an all-star episode of Mock The Week,’ she jokes.

Getting on the programme itself was more challenging. She was repeatedly knocked back from panel shows, with her agent being told: ‘We love London but we just don’t think our audience would get her.’ Others told her ‘black people just aren’t in this year’, like ethnicity was a fad. Even the rap-based Don’t Blame The Playaz – a black-led rap quiz that very much played to her high-energy strengths - backed away from giving her a team captain role.

The racism keeps coming. In one shocking incident, she attended a week-long writers’ Retreat at the BBC, when one white producer told Hughes to write about her parents ‘and how they felt when they came here on the boat from Africa’. Reader, they did not come on the boat from Africa.

It seems that chances for black talent were severely limited at every turn. When Michaela Coel had a breakthrough hit with Chewing Gum, Hughes was happy but realised it would hamper her own ambitions: ‘Now that Britain finally had a black female sitcom, the chances of getting another made were second to none.’

Sometimes her enthusiasm was ill-directed. Her first Edinburgh in 2017 was a bust. One of the very few reviews said: ‘Somewhere along the road to Edinburgh, London Hughes has been poorly advised’ - which definitely seems accurate, playing in 100-seater off the beaten path with no one to help her.

However gruelling and devastating that month was, she came back two years later and did it properly – storming the festival with To Catch A Dick. She already had a strong toehold in the US by this point, but this success supercharged it. She got nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award, but Jordan Brookes won it – a fact that still grates a little, adding to her feeling that the Fringe isn’t for black girls like her. Not that she wanted to be a token to promote the false narrative the festival wasn’t overwhelmingly white.

Compared to some comedians’ autobiographies, here’s no incredible origin story. There are sad moments like that miserable birthday but it’s not wholly unique. And how much of a ‘poor me’ story can it be when one gripe is ‘I couldn’t afford to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag until I was 28 years old’?

But it’s as entertaining as her stand-up, full of opinions, gags and occasional bits of showbiz gossip (Gemma Collins, it will come as little surprise, is describe as ‘a complete and utter dick turd’).

Underpinning it all is a ‘dreams do come true’ narrative that would seem wildly unrealistic, had it not actually happened to this Croydon girl…

Livin My Best Life, Hun  by London Hughes is available from Amazon, priced £17.60 in hardback or £10.99 on Kindle.

Published: 5 Oct 2023

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