Kicking off our Glasgow Comedy Festival coverage, Jordan Brookes talks to Murray Robertson about winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award, breaking through in the business and struggling with his mental health

W hen he won the Edinburgh Comedy Award six months ago, Jordan Brookes balanced his understandable joy with a healthy dose of pessimism, explaining that he didn’t expect the prize to guarantee him a successful career, at least not in the short term.

‘I feel almost aggressively like that is the case,’ he confirms, putting to bed any notion that winning comedy’s biggest award has gone to his head. ‘It’s difficult to put into words without seeming entitled to anything but it’s definitely not opened any doors,’ he laughs. ‘These things aren’t instantaneous, so who knows. But I do think that the industry has a bottleneck with a lot of very talented people trying to access a limited number of opportunities. And I think that whether you’ve won an award or not, that bottleneck remains.’ Brookes has spoken very candidly in the past about difficulties he’s had with his mental health, and he was very careful about how he processed this overnight attention and acclamation. ‘When you first start, the award is something that you really fantasise about winning. But by the time you get there you’re like, “oh no, this isn’t really what’s gonna make me happy”.’ It’s obviously lovely to have won and there was a part of me that was absolutely elated, but I think you also have to temper that with a bit of pragmatism, and not over-invest in those things. These systems and these institutions are not all set up to benefit everyone, and when something like that exists and makes people sad or competitive then I think you have to approach it with a bit of caution.’

One benefit of winning the award is that he’s now able to put less pressure on himself in the run-up to August. ‘I can now get out of that torrid Edinburgh annual cycle of getting to September or October and thinking about a show, then writing it, and it just sort of sitting over me for nine months. Often I get very preoccupied where it’s the only thing I think about for months and months, and that’s not necessarily a good thing for mental health. So I guess now I don’t have to think about that so much and I can use Edinburgh as a place to develop a show as opposed to showcase one. In that sense, yes, I feel like I’m freed up a little bit.’

I’ve Got Nothing requires Brookes to get fully involved with his audience, fearlessly confronting, seducing and ultimately misleading them. It’s a dangerous kind of comedy which he relishes while having no qualms about it all going awry. ‘I think the worry that it’ll go wrong is part of the thrill because it’s the only time I feel fully present: “OK, what do I say now? What do I do now to pull this back?” and to follow those impulses as well, to get really used to noticing a twitch or seeing someone being a little bit uncomfortable or enjoying themselves too much. It made me enjoy comedy a lot more because it’s a style that’s very spontaneous, felt very in-the-moment and unrepeatable which I think is really exciting.’ It’s a change of course from his previous show, Bleed, a technically challenging endeavour employing the use of binaural headphone recordings. ‘I enjoyed building that show and I was working with a sound designer, Ciaran Clarke, who’s an absolute delight, and Bríd Kirby, my producer. They were both very much part of the process but I found myself ultimately hemmed in and trapped. Once the headphones came out, the show was basically on rails and had to play out exactly the same way every night. I found that incredibly stifling and restrictive.’

Even while at the coalface of a comedy festival, Brookes enjoys seeing other people’s shows. ‘I love comedy,’ he says. ‘I love watching it, I love being an audience member, I love surrendering myself to someone for an hour and seeing what they’ll do with me. I think it’s such a lovely experience.’ He says he’s always enjoyed the work of other performers without comparing himself to the competition. ‘It’s OK to enjoy and appreciate what they are doing and to be inspired by it. I always try to find the value in someone’s act and find the joy in it and not to be bogged down by negative feelings. So no, I don’t really compare myself to anyone. I think you have to remain open and then it frees you up as a performer. I think it makes you better, and it doesn’t trash your mental health because you’re in a good place.’

Jordan Brookes: I’ve Got Nothing, Monkey Barrel, Edinburgh, Sun 8 Mar; The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow, Fri 13 & Sat 14 Mar.

1 Feb–31 Mar 2020 THE LIST 41