Why can't I do rape gags at 16?

Teen comic Lewis Costello shares his frustrations

Hello. My name is Lewis. I am a comedian. I am 16 years old. I am from North England.

Five simple sentences, and if you are anybody who has interviewed me, you will have deduced from them that I am a lovable scamp with observations on homework who fancies himself as the next Peter Kay.


I have a lot of influences, but Peter Kay isn’t one of them; Doug Stanhope, Chris Rock, Jim Jeffries, David Cross, Louis C.K., Stewart Lee, Jim Norton... Those, among others, are the people who I can watch and learn from.

But the look of confusion on anyone’s face once I tell them which comics inspire me is amazing. They don’t know who Louis C.K. is! There is a certain prejudice put on people like myself; that we want to fit neatly into the mould of previous successful Northern comedians, most notably Peter Kay.

I don’t think younger comics should shy away from discussing anything that an older comedian would, as long as they do it right. In my stand-up, I have talked about religion, racism, disability, paedophiles... I have never said something just to create a ‘bad boy’ persona, I'm just honest about who I am on stage and although a lot of people love it, it has a tendency to leave some people confused. One audience member from a show a while back said: ‘He shouldn't be doing rape jokes at his age...’ But why not? If I have a good joke about rape, why can't I use it?

One obvious problem with my age is that travelling can be difficult, so a lot of my stand-up is done in Manchester. Jim Jeffries was punched in the face at the Manchester Comedy Store. Doug Stanhope had a few hecklers shouting ‘you're sick mate’ and ‘fucking paedo’ when he came to Manchester. These are the comics I look up to, so I’m never 100 per cent sure how far I can go. The line that shouldn't be crossed is very blurry, and my age only serves to blur it even more.

I talked to Jim Norton, a New York comedian, about this problem, and he said: ‘I suggest just being honest onstage, address whatever subjects you want. Don't let other people dictate what you feel is right.’

I've written my act with that in mind ever since, and specifically asked MCs not to go into the predetermined: ‘He is a young comedian and he's very brave to come up here tonight…’ introduction because that creates a sweet image that people don't want to be destroyed by bad taste jokes. From now on, regardless of what people make of it, I am me, and I do the material I want to do.

To combat the prejudice of what material I should do, I am putting together a show called Don't Hold Back: Live at the Salford Arts Theatre on October 24, where there will be no restrictions. It will feature three fantastic 16-year old comics, a top-tier MC and myself headlining. We will be recording the show and making it into a DVD. If you are looking to see a new Ross Noble, a new Jack Dee or a new Bill Hicks, be there. If you're waiting for a new Peter Kay, give it a miss.

Published: 4 Aug 2009

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