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Double life of journalist-turned-comic revealed

Journalism is a funny business – not least for one regional daily staffer who swaps his notepad and pen for the stage and a mic in the evenings as an up-and-coming stand-up comic.

Jonny Greatrex, a Birmingham Mail and Sunday Mercury reporter who was recently promoted to multi-media editor at the title, is making a name for himself on the comedy circuit with his tall tales and quirky anecdotes about life in a newsroom.

Having ploughed every spare penny and waking moment into improving his act for two years, Jonny has reached the point where promoters are paying for his travel to and from venues.

“This is the next step up from performing for nothing as a tryout spot,” he told HTFP.

“I now have a 20-minute set which is the industry standard for getting paid work, and am getting booked to do the 20-minute opening spots on nights.

“It has taken me two years to get to the point where I can perform for 20 minutes and have good enough material to do so. Now it needs to be made an amazing 20-minute set.”

Birmingham Mail journalist Jonny Greatrex in action on stage

He performs anywhere he can get stage time, which often means hopping in a car to drive two or three hours after finishing his Mail shift to perform – and has even secured a slot at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in August.

“From Brum I’ve been as far as Newcastle and back in a night, after work, and also Plymouth,” he added.

“The majority tend to be within two to three hours’ drive. There’s quite a lot in the Midlands but to get better you have to do at least three gigs a week, and you can’t keep doing the same gigs, so you need to go wherever you can.

“It’s hard. Hard. And exhausting. But enjoyable. Some people here have had children recently and I tell them, jokingly, they should try doing stand-up to know real tiredness.

“It means some days start at 6.30am when I get up for work, then end at 2.30am when I get back from Darlington having dropped another act of in Coventry on the way home. Then getting four hours sleep and doing it all again.

“I tend to be a bit more selective now. Or swap to a late shift the day after a long distance gig, but there’s still a lot of grimly tired days. And power naps at motorway service stations.”

He got into stand-up, he said, as he had always enjoyed making people laugh – and after confessing to his girlfriend on their first date that he would one day like to do stand-up, she encouraged him to take up a stand-up comedy course at a local arts centre.

An avid fan of Billy Connolly, he had also worked at The Hyena comedy club while studying at Newcastle University, and realised each stand-up had a routine they performed each night.

Software engineer Jon Pearson and regional journalist Jonny Greatrex will perform their Hack and Hacker show at the Edinburgh Fringe festival next month

For him, his time walking the news beat has provided him with endless material to draw on.

“I talk about my time as a journalist. I was a reporter, I am now a multimedia editor working on the Birmingham Mail website,” he said.

“My stories about being a reporter are loosely based in fact, sometimes I stick two stories together, and twist the odd thing, and embellish things – so in a way it’s just like being a reporter.”

And despite the long hours and struggling to juggle his responsibilities, he said, he would definitely consider leaving newspapers behind to pursue comedy full time.

“Me and a pal, who was made redundant last year, joked that a long-term career in journalism looks so precarious that trying to break into stand-up looks like a more secure option,” he joked.

“It will take a lot of hard work and fair bit of luck but I would do that.”

Jonny will be performing as part of his The Two Jonnies: Hack and Hacker show alongside software engineer Jon Pearson at the Edinburgh Fringe between August 3 and 16.

The pair will also be doing a podcast to diary their experiences.

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  • July 26, 2013 at 10:31 am

    As the Birmingham Mail’s former comedy reviewer I can honestly say I’ve never seen Jonny’s act (apart from an online clip) – but if anyone deserves to ‘make it’ then he definitely does.
    But an ‘editor’….? How on earth did that happen.

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