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Jessica Fostekew: ‘Last time in Cambridge I was heckled by two surveyors’

Stand-up comedian, actress, writer and podcast host Jessica Fostekew is to embark on her biggest tour to date. Titled Mettle, her new show is about passion, pace and purpose.

“It’s a really energetic hour of comedy,” says Jessica of Mettle, “kind of about where I’m at now, in terms of life.

“I think the most succint way to put it is that it’s a show about being impassioned and about trying really hard at things, just for the sake of trying really hard.

Jessica Fostekew. Picture: Matt Stronge
Jessica Fostekew. Picture: Matt Stronge

“Not being too cool to put your hands up and say ‘I’m just going to try really hard’. I’ve had a bit of a revelation; my son is eight now and we’re so good at telling children that all I want is for you to try your best.

“I say to him all the time ‘I’m so proud of you if you just try your best – that’s all you can do’, but I think it’s really easy actually to forget that as an adult, and I’m really trying to re-remember it...

“I turned 40 [last year] and didn’t cope great with that! It’s much worse the few years running up to a big birthday than it is actually once it’s passed, I find, but I sort of go into slight hyperdrive, and I think as I get older, I’d hoped to slow down a bit but I think if anything I’m speeding up – I’ve got stuff to do.”

Jessica is indeed a very busy woman. Her numerous television credits include Live at the Apollo, QI, Travel Man, World’s Most Dangerous Roads and Richard Osman’s House of Games, and she is also a regular co-host of The Guilty Feminist podcast, which has 60 million-plus downloads.

She is also the host and creator of the long-running podcast, Hoovering, where she’s most recently interviewed Joe Lycett, Grace Dent and Jimi Famurewa, and has co-written and stars in Real Friends, a new special for Sky Comedy Shorts.

As an actress, her credits include Avoidance (with Romesh Ranganathan), The Trouble with Maggie Cole, Cuckoo and BAFTA-winning BBC drama Three Girls.

Film-wise, you can see her in Official Secrets, starring Keira Knightley and Greed, starring Steve Coogan. She is also a regular on Radio 4.

“I’ve got loads going on so it’s an exciting time,” says Jessica, “I feel very lucky but also slightly mad! And the tour – the biggest tour I’ve ever done, so that is the main news really, that’s the exciting thing.

“And I can’t wait to come back to Cambridge, it’s always a really belting gig at the Junction. Cambridge audiences are really good – I discovered them via The Guilty Feminist podcast and then I’ve stolen them just for me.”

The comic’s last stand-up show Wench played a sold-out Edinburgh Fringe run and UK tour and is available now as a special.

Another of her previous shows, Hench, was nominated for Best Show at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards and won Best Show at the Chortle Awards, where Jessica also won Best Act. Hench has also been adapted into the BBC Radio 4 stand-up special, Sturdy Girl Club.

Recalling how she initially got into stand-up, Jess says: “First of all I wrote some sketches for a competition the BBC were running, I think in 2006, called ‘Finish This Sitcom’, where they sent out the first 10 minutes of a sitcom and you had to write the last 20, or the other way round, and I did that with a friend.

“I sort of got the bug for writing comedy; I wrote some sketches for another open submission thing, and I went to see other people perform them and there was some improvised comedy on – and I was blown away.

“I’d watched a bit of Whose Line Is It Anyway? on TV as a kid, and I grew up in Dorset and there wasn’t really live comedy to go and see there at the time, so my mind was blown that people were also doing this live in real life and not just on the telly.

“And I asked the people running it if I could have a go and then cut to a year later and I was in quite a star-studded improv group.

“It was only a small group but Gemma Whelan was in it, who’s in Game of Thrones. Cariad Lloyd is an author and one of the best improvisers in the world, I think, and Sara Pascoe was in it…

“So basically we all really wanted to be actors; Sara started doing stand-up and made it look really cool and sexy and fun and then half of us copied – including me.

“About a year after she started, I thought ‘I’ll have a go’ and then that was it – I was just head-over-heels.

“It’s a really direct form of expressing yourself; it’s really obvious if it’s worked – they either do or don’t laugh...

“The adrenaline of it, the chemical release of it, is incredibly addictive and I just think it’s a really fascinating craft. And it took me quite a long time to settle in to the person I am on stage, and work out who that was.

“Then now, it’s just a joy to do – I feel really excited before gigs now.

“I do still get a bit scared and a bit nervous, especially about remembering the structure of a show and that kind of thing.

“But actually I love building a show, I love each stage of it now, and honestly this bit now, where you’re just about to take it on tour, is really thrilling.”

Although she clearly enjoys her craft, Jessica had an interesting and initially somewhat unnerving experience when she was last in Cambridge.

“The last time I was at the Junction, two guys had come specifically to try and derail the show and to heckle,” she remembers.

“It was two really posh surveyors – this could only happen in Cambridge – and the amazing audience, it was a lovely sold-out show, they simply booed them out!

“It’s one of the funniest things that’s ever happened in my career and I still feel deeply grateful for that audience – so if they could all come back, minus the two surveyors, I think we’re going to have a really lovely time.”

Jessica Fostekew. Picture: Matt Stronge
Jessica Fostekew. Picture: Matt Stronge

She adds: “I did not expect it in lovely Cambridge but you live and you learn. This time I’m going to be ready.”

See if the two disruptive surveyors return when Jessica brings Mettle to the Cambridge Junction (J2) on Friday, 1 March.

[Read more: Sara Pascoe: ‘I was once booked as a prank for Hugh Grant’, Former BBC New Comedy Awards finalist Helen Bauer’s new show looks at self-esteem]

Tickets, priced £20 (£18 concession), are available from junction.co.uk. For more on Jessica, go to jessicafostekew.com.

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