Robyn Vinter 9th August 2019
“I used to bounce from job to job. I went to Jo Malone as a temp there, like every other Christmas, then I think I worked at Thomas Pink. Went to Apple, went to Reiss.” says Mo Gilligan, describing his life before Instagram fame, a sell-out tour and now a popular TV series, The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan.
Though from outside, the comedian’s success came about almost overnight, in reality, it was years in the making.
“I was always working part-time because I was always doing comedy on the side. And that was probably the hardest challenge. Because every part of me wanted to just do it full time and earn more money, but then I want to still chase my dreams as such and perform.
“When you go out there the industry is quite tough. I tried to do it alone and say I’m just going to do comedy full time. But, when you’re waiting on an invoice or you’ve got a gig and it gets cancelled? You know, I can’t pay my phone bill so I had to get a retail job.”
Gilligan studied performing arts in London and always had sights on showbusiness – but, unlike a lot of TV and film personalities these days, he wasn’t propelled into the limelight immediately.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, man, it’s like two years ago on Instagram’, but there’s always a backstory,” he says.
Gilligan started comedy when he was 19 and hadn’t intended to be a social media presence, he just started putting videos up for fun.
“There’s always times you get a bit disheartened by it. Especially when you do things like the competitions,” he says. Gilligan took parts in lots of different stand-up competitions with the hope of getting mentioned in the press.
“When you’re disheartened by it, you have to persevere and keep going. And that is the struggle sometimes, because sometimes you can travel to the middle of nowhere to do a gig for 10 minutes, and there’s only maybe 20 people that have arrived. And it costs you more money than you’re going to make at this gig.
Going all the way to Suffolk to do a gig in front of 20 people now feels worth it
“When you have some successes in your career, you can look back on those things. Going all the way to Suffolk to do a gig in front of 20 people now feels worth it. Because those 20 people might be watching my show tonight and being like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve seen that guy when there was only 20 people’. So that’s sometimes the payoff a little bit.”
Though, at 31, there’s no getting around that Gilligan is young to have his own Channel 4 show, and there’s an enormous amount of pressure for it to succeed.
“I can count on one hand the number of other black or just ethnic minorities that get a show like I’ve got. So when someone like myself does get a show, there is a massive amount of pressure. It’s got to be so many things for so many people.
It’s 2019 and you look around, you walk outside in London city or just the UK, it’s massively diverse, but on TV, and it’s only just portraying that
“I was even thinking this the other day, I was like ‘Oh my God. When was the last time I’ve seen a black female presenter be a lead of a show?’
“Things are changing. But yeah, it’s very hard to be the person that’s got the baton. I’m representing the minorities with this show, which is great, because you have a whole load of people behind you.
“It’s 2019 and you look around, you walk outside in London city or just the UK, it’s massively diverse, but on TV, and it’s only just portraying that. It’s definitely changing but it should change a lot quicker.”
Gilligan mentions how actors are often who he looks up to — perhaps that’s why he’s inclined towards character-driven comedy, which makes up a huge section of both his stand up and on The Lateish Show.
“But when you look at some of the most successful people in their craft — the actors or actresses, producers, directors — and you start looking at their catalogue, and you notice, ‘My gosh, he started when he was 30’. They might be 60 and only winning their first like Academy Award or Grammy?
“I’ve kind of learned that it isn’t a race game. It’s more of a patience game if anything.”
The Lateish Show with Mo Gilligan is on tonight at 10pm on Channel 4.
Robyn Vinter 9th August 2019