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: Amber Sandhu

Amber Sandhu

Amber the firecracker has an absolute abundance of energy, but don’t let that fool you, this young radio producer has her head screwed on and her hands in all the right pots. Speaking from her home in the Midlands, Amber’s animated conversation brought much entertainment to us both whilst in lockdown. Even during quarantine Amber is keeping her creative juices flowing and bringing the finesse to her skill set.

Born and raised in Wolverhampton Amber went to an all-girls grammar school and was always known to chatter. Reminiscing on her teacher’s words telling her “to put that voice to good use” paired with her love for radio is what spurred Amber on for a career in media from a very young age. Whilst completing A-Levels she got her foot in the door at Wolverhampton Community Radio (WCR) and lied about her age- saying she was 18- to gain some hands-on experience. It was at this point Amber’s go-getter attitude was cementing more and more for me and her cheekiness didn’t make it hard for me to believe.

Whilst growing her experience at WCR, Amber applied for media apprenticeships but to no avail and decided to pursue her other passion in physical activity and study Sport Science. This Active Alice indulges in cricket and loves sport so educated herself further and went on to play games at a high level. Amber’s passion for the media still hadn’t extinguished as she completed internships at Sky for Soccer AM and the Daily Mirror, but radio was still where her energy lay.

Following graduation, Amber went on to be a PE teacher at Silkmore Primary school and admittedly went to school every day and “had tennis balls thrown at her”. Her gruelling schedule at this time, meant she was still putting in the hours in at WCR, working as a PE teacher whilst upholding her sports commitments and looking for full time jobs in radio. She admitted that this was a time where her “self-care didn’t exist”. Although loving her job at the school, she knew this wasn’t her long-term dream.

After applying to the BBC Asian Network through Creative Access, Amber made her way to London for her first interview, not realising that this would be the first step into the world of national radio.  Off the back of her interviews, Amber was a top-notch candidate for an internship at the BBC as an assistant radio producer.

Starting on a Tuesday in the spring of 2019, Amber walked into the Birmingham studios to be greeted by no team (little did she know that people typically work from home on a Tuesday). “I didn’t meet anyone; I didn’t meet anyone on the team… and as the week went on I met the team, everyone was super nice and welcoming”. She revealed that her first few months at the BBC, she “struggled to come out of her shell” in fear that she wouldn’t be taken seriously. As an intern in the media industry, this is a commonality for many trainees as it’s often their first step within their chosen enterprises.

“I think I got a bit of imposter syndrome”

As Amber continued to develop, she showcased her potential. By working on the cricket world cup to going on to assistant produce weekend shows, her proactivity ensured her success amongst the team. An example of her initiative is shadowing the social media team in the London studios and then learning to create social media content for the Birmingham studios too. This thirst for learning and continually wanting to advance is a tip that Amber gives to anyone starting off in a creative industry. The importance of finding a work life balance is something that is apparent to Amber’s journey and reminds future interns to make sure to enjoy time.

“You’re still learning and you’re new as well…be proactive and be creative”

Quarantine Creatives: Amrit Matharu

Amrit Matharu is truly a force to be reckoned with. From engaging the nation with her work at the BBC to indulging in personal projects to empower other people, it quickly became apparent that Amrit actions her ideas whole heartedly and seeks opportunity in the most unlikely places. Based in Northampton, Amrit is a true media chameleon and is growing her skill set as well as her following. With me chilling in my hair band and Amrit rocking box braids, I felt like I’d caught her in a rare moment where she wasn’t going 100 miles an hour.

Born and raised in Northampton, Amrit was educated here and grew to be an extroverted social being even from a young age. Educating others was always primary to Amrit’s values and she admitted that she often felt like she “had something to share”. Her initial career inclination was to go into teaching as a way of sharing her knowledge and inspiring others, but a teaching module at university made her realise that teaching wasn’t going to be the way she wanted to insight knowledge. “I realised it was all just paperwork!” At this point in her life Amrit didn’t know that “broadcasting was a thing or an option”.

Studying English Language and Literature at De Monfort University Leicester , Amrit began blogging and getting more in tune with the media world. The conception of her brand Amaretto’s World was to be, and still is, the platform that she was to share her endeavours and future involvements with her readers. With her love for writing fuelling her career choices, Amrit went on to “do a load of internships” for different magazines and working a newspaper office. It was during this time that a staff member suggested to Amrit a career in broadcast.

“People can do that as a job!”

After graduating from Leicester in 2013, Amrit’s proactivity leaked into her professional life and encouraged her ever widening accomplishments. From turning her passions into her job, she set about to explore the world of journalism. From working in the fashion department for Avon to waltzing through the head offices of different brands, Amrit admitted she felt a “little bit like Ugly Betty” and wanted to work for a magazine or newspaper. After immersing herself in different types of writing and journalism, Amrit’s next career move would bring her through the doors of the BBC.

Training and working as an assistant radio producer at the BBC Asian Network, Amrit continued to build her network as well as learning more about herself as a person. By starting at the Birmingham studio, Amrit then quickly became involved in the modelling world and promoting body confidence on her social media platforms. Representing Yours Clothing Amrit has been involved in many campaigns and is another great example of her go getter attitude.

As Amrit’s career breadth was growing and growing, she revealed that she had to learn to slow down and find balance. “Sometimes I would feel guilt and not know how to relax”. Many creatives feel this way, but Amrit did stress the importance of doing so for her well-being. After her own Father was diagnosed with cancer, Amrit became a carer and was diagnosed with arthritis herself. In a way it was almost her body telling her when things were getting too much.

“I was in so much pain at one time that I couldn’t walk…I’ve always put other people’s needs first…it’s almost like my body is telling me to slow the fuck down”!

With corona virus putting a hold on so many people’s lives, Amrit has taken on the responsibility of being a primary care giver for her family. This caring side to Amrit was resonant throughout my whole conversation with her. Even with helping people in the media world, she disclosed that creatives ought to collaborate and not create a hostile dog eat dog environment. Even as an interviewee, Amrit’s conversation was laced in clarity and a real honesty. It was a pleasure to speak to her and I can truly confess that all the positive mantras and stories across her social media are definitely true to form. An organic heart will always produce organic work and Amrit Matharu brings that to the ever growing media table.