Speaking to Punjabi comedian, Sukh Ojla

Sukh Ojla

“Comedy with a Connection”

Getting the chance to share the story of comedian Sukh Ojla is a privilege that I am more than happy to grace you all with. From persevering through the most relatable situations to now accepting her first book deal, Sukh is the role model that women like me didn’t know we needed.

Grinning before our conversation even started, I was reminiscing her jokes from her appearance on Jonathan Ross’ Comedy Club which set me up in the most perfect of moods for a chat. Changing her virtual video background from her previous online comedy gig, was the first task Sukh tackled as she entered our Zoom conversation. Followed by an admirably fast-paced make-up application, she was ready to rumble.

If this isn’t the definition of hustle then I don’t know what is…

Still amazed at the speed of filling in her eyebrows, I was indulged in stories of her days in performance theatre and how she had costume changes with the time span of just 30 seconds. This was amateur stuff in comparison.

Born in the Leeds and raised in Kent, Sukh went to a small-town school, in which she admittedly didn’t feel like an academic achiever. Making the decision to go to drama school at the age of 18, Sukh then made her way to London. This step was considered as unconventional for a young South Asian woman in the 90’s and Sukh noted there weren’t any relatable role models at the time.

“If I was, to mentor my younger self… in my position, from a single income family, I would not recommend going to drama school straight away”

Following her completion of Drama School, it became ever more apparent that the types of drama she wanted to get involved in were just not available. With limitations on her chances of being in classical dramas or Shakespearean productions, Sukh was always pointed in the direction of musicals which is something she wasn’t interested in. During this time, Sukh applied her drama skills to the world of children’s theatre and after thoroughly educating Britain’s children to not do drugs she decided that this avenue had come to an end.

“I left the industry at 23”

After making this decision Sukh was propelled into the world of part time jobs. From being a bra fitter to being an usher at Lords cricket ground, to working in administration, Sukh’s CV was getting more varied by the minute and none of these jobs were fulfilling her creative streak.

Just like many creatives these jobs had to be flexible just in case an audition or an opportunity arose. Feeling a deep dissatisfaction with this way of life and not being able to express herself creatively, Sukh described a very relatable feeling that often comes to fruition as a creative.

Not doing anything professionally for seven years, it was an offhand conversation with a friend on Sukh’s 30th birthday that she admitted she wasn’t happy. With her own peers being in completely different stages of life, Sukh still felt stagnated.  She decided to make this milestone year her turning point.

“In hindsight I did realise that I was anxious and I was depressed… I just thought oh hey life is really crap”

Giving herself a timeline of a year to try again in performance arts, Sukh gave herself the plan to train as a primary school teacher if nothing came from the 12 months. Little did she know this time was going to be monumental in her comedy and performance journey. Alongside actioning the steps, she needed to do (signing up for auditions and joining acting groups), a foundational event that propelled her was competing in Monologue Slam. Whilst preparing for her audition she found that the available monologues didn’t feel right, so took this opportunity to write and perform her own.

Fuelling her monologue was the perspective of a Punjabi Bride at her own wedding reception that “made an arse of herself”. It was this performance piece that Sukh had won and got her noticed and signed by an agent.

Yay…or not.

Although the floodgates for auditions opened up again, Sukh’s work flow began to slow down again and she began entering a space where she wasn’t happy. This was a time in Sukh’s life where a lot of transition happened. Making the decision to move home was paired with a break up in her personal life, which acted as a catalyst for her to stay busy.

“It was a lot”

Taking a comedy writing class in the Southbank in London was one thing that Sukh did as a way to keep busy and sought enjoyment in this. After the workshop, she was unsure of how to build on this and enter the realm of stand- up comedy.

“How are you supposed to know how to do it?”

Beginning with performing small comedy gigs, Sukh was noticed by Sindhu Vee, who stealthily passed on her details to the BBC Asian Network, for which Sukh performed on their live 2017 comedy show. Creating a snowball effect, Sukh’s stand up opportunities heavily outweighed her acting involvement. Developing as a comedian is what has accelerated Sukh to be an active presence on the comedy scene and is what led me to see her at the live filming of the 2019 BBC Asian Network Live show.

It seems that in the past few years (after years of uncertainty) Sukh has been in the right place at the right time and her comedy journey has led her right to her book deal (pause for applause please). Having drawn on her own experiences in her comedy writing, the relatability factor for British Asians is second to none. I have no doubt that this book will also will be reflective and representative of this and more importantly hilarious.  Wanting to see more representation of herself in non-fiction, Sukh is actioning this for her own book writing and her new book is something I am eagerly waiting for.

“I just want to see myself in books”

With socially distanced audiences at the comedy gigs and a change of pace not only Sukh, but the nation, she also uses her platform to speak about mental health and encourages people to not shy away from the topic or feel isolated. This realness and vulnerability is another reason why I think Sukh’s success will remain ever-growing.

“You need to know you’re not on your own”

Quarantine Creatives: Jamie Oliphant

Jamie Oliphant

Jamie Oliphant joined me from the comfort of his home in South London with a beaming smile and a special guest, Odin. Odin the cat saturated my conversation with Jamie with much entertainment and magnified the wholesome energy that was felt through the screen, in what felt like a chat with an old friend. As Odin sashayed past Jamie’s camera, it was interesting to see this young comedian off stage and in the contentment of his bed surrounded by his well-kept house plants.

Born and raised in West London, Jamie always had a creative flair. From his school productions and acting to his first stand up experience, Jamie always put his creativity at the forefront. Before life as a comedian, Jamie initially went on to pursue his career path in acting. Going on to study drama at the University of Exeter, Jamie excelled during his time there and revealed that a memorable moment was his involvement in the play Trainspotting. “Like 1000 people auditioned for that and I got into that and that was probably the biggest bug for me, the acting bug in moving forwards and feeling like yeah I can do this”.

“I’ve always wanted to do drama”

Having graduated from the university with his drama degree in hand, Jamie went on to work in a bike shop to earn money whilst working in his first paid outdoor theatre project for a show called Child’s Play, at the same time.   This was a learning curve, as he quickly learnt that his input wasn’t as valued here as his work on productions during his time in his Exeter “bubble”. Jamie admitted that after a series of rejections and little input here, from not only himself but his team, he left with a feeling of “what’s the point”. After two or three months of working on Child’s Play, Jamie moved on to his next steps after recognizing that he was “enjoying the bike shop more than the acting”.

After revealing that his initial first step after graduating was sending “about 150 letters to agents in London”, and “hoped for the best. One agent “wrote back to me and said “let’s set up a meeting”. This was great for commercial work for Jamie, but still kept his foot in the door at the bike shop.

With theatre work not fulfilling Jamie in the way he thought it would, he decided to brave an open mic night and try stand up. What began as a dabble, then became addictive for this comedian and got him thinking “how can I get better at this and write better jokes and I was really determined to get better”. Jamie divulged that this was the first time he felt this strongly about something.

Jamie built up a series of comedy shows under his belt, learning to perfect his craft and even went onto win a New Act competition for comedy. He was then “roped into the sales team” for a credit card company. This made his regular input on the comedy scene reduce significantly and he saw that the comedians who he started with “were gigging like machines” and progressing fast whilst Jamie’s stagnation was prominent. Recognising that working in the credit company was stunting his creativity and his ability to get better as a comedian, he left after two years of service.

 “I really enjoyed it, but I definitely knew this isn’t something I wanted to do forever”

Sandwich deliveries is what was next on the cards for Jamie Oliphant, this ensured that his evenings freed up for his pursuit in the comedy world. Of course, financially he took a toll, but this accelerated his skill set and gave him more platforms as a comic.

From doing 5-minute open mic nights and working small stages and audiences, Jamie has now graced Edinburgh Fringe and sold out comedy clubs in London, with his storytelling style. Fuelled by his experiences working in the variety of jobs, including that of a Teaching Assistant. I personally went to see him in Waterloo and loved his animation and almost childlike blanketing of his set and performance.

Being in a creative space doesn’t often pair with the notion and idea of stability and this was something that Jamie had to fight the grain with, especially with his parents. “Edinburgh Fringe was a way to show my progression with this, there was a room full of people who weren’t my friends”. It’s apparent that as a comedian, the harder you work the better you get. Jamie was absolute about putting the time in for anything you love and have a passion for. An inspiration for all creatives.

Interviewing Jamie Oliphant was a pleasure and during this uncertain time, he upheld his optimistic outlook which I have to say left me feeling encouraged myself. Also, the fact he still uses the same headshots from 10 years ago may be proof that laughter really is the best cure for ageing.