Chat with Johnny Campbell-Tavernier, local standup
Johnny Campbell-Tavernier lives and breathes stand-up comedy. If he’s not performing himself (after 33 performances, he’s already headlined his first gig), he’s watching other shows, either to keep an eye on the competition or in his new capacity as one of Soho Theatre’s new Trainee Comedy Promoters. In his words, “I’ve found an industry where I belong”.
Three years ago, he knew nothing about stand-up, and was working in a central London gluten-free bakery (“the banana bread was great”, he says). So what happened?
“One day I went to support a mate who was doing stand-up. I liked it, and I thought: ‘I’m a good storyteller. Why don’t I give that a try?’”.
After spending 18 months preparing and practising, Johnny performed his first open mic stand-up in March 2020. The first lockdown stopped him in his tracks, and Johnny signed on as unemployed. “I spent a lot of time by myself. I went for a lot of walks, which helped me massively. I freed my mind and figured out what I wanted. I did a lot of self-education through things like podcasts.”
“It was my first time pitching an idea, my first time working on a creative project. It gave me confidence and it was definitely a massive start for me. And I met 17 other creatives. There are some really talented people in Waltham Forest!”
Johnny was keen to develop his performance skills too, and Soho Theatre’s Waltham Forest Comedy Lab caught his eye. “I thought I’d give it a go. After ten weeks we performed at the Waltham Forest Fellowship Square. That’s where I met Jess [Draper, Soho Theatre’s Head of Creative Engagement]. She asked if I’d ever thought about working for Soho Theatre, and said I’d be a perfect fit.”
A few months later, Johnny saw an advert for the Council’s hospitality and culture jobs fair at Truman’s Social Club. “I thought I’d drop in. Soho Theatre had a stand there and we talked more about the Trainee Comedy Promoter job.”
Soon enough he was booked in for an interview with Comedy Promoter Frank Sweeney at Soho Theatre. “‘Yes!’ I thought, ‘now’s my time to shine!’”. Not long after, he bumped into Jessica Draper, Soho Theatre’s Head of Creative Engagement, at a comedy night. “I can’t stop smiling even thinking about it. She said ‘Johnny, have they told you yet? You got the job!’”
Just a few weeks into his new role, Johnny is excited about what the future holds. “Developing my scouting skills is great. I want to carry on promoting as well as performing. I’ll be working on Soho’s New Acts of the Year Comedy Showcase for rising stars, which means I get to go out there and find really good comedians and show their talents to the world.”
The former EMD/Granada cinema is currently being transformed into a new venue run by Soho Theatre in the heart of Waltham Forest. The 950-seat Soho Theatre Walthamstow promises to host the biggest names in comedy. Is Johnny excited?
“I cannot wait for it to open. I hope I’ll be able to do some work in the building and be a part of it. I’m a local boy, so it makes sense to me!”
Watch this space.
Johnny made use of the Council’s Steps into Work service for unemployed residents, its Future Programmes aimed at early-career residents, and its Hospitality and Culture JobsFest held in conjunction with Truman’s Social Club in 2021.