Glasgow Comedy Festival

Blog: '7 Things You Might Not Know About JJ Whitehead'

With the Glasgow International Comedy Festival approaching I’ve had time to reflect on my days back in Scotland. My stay in your country really transformed my life. Here are 7 things you probably didn’t know about me:

1) My stand up comedy career started in Scotland 

In 1998 I was just doing the traditional Canadian thing of strapping a flag on my bag and disappearing to Europe for what was supposed to be a few months. On my second night in Scotland amidst apartment hunting, handing out my resume and learning that those terms were now ‘flat’ and ‘CV’ respectively a few new friends took me to see some stand up comedy at the local comedy club. I saw Frankie Boyle headline that night. Smashed it. He was packin’ a killer Chewbacca impression. I was hooked on comedy.

2) My first gig was at The Stand Comedy Club

After Frankie stormed the room the compere on the night said, "If anyone wants to have a go, come talk to us." Three months later I performed at The Stand Comedy Club’s Red Raw. It’s still a showcase that The Stand runs today. One of the best opportunities in the UK for new comics to get their start and form a wee community. My gig in front of twelve brave audience members was in a back room that is just a dressing room these days.

3) My first death was at The Stand Edinburgh

Seven gigs in to my ‘career’ I guess I was getting a little bit cocky. I crashed on show number 8 in the main room at that same Stand on a packed Saturday night in front of what I recall as being too many drunken off duty firefighters who had a hate on for America or anyone who sounds like them. That was a pretty devastating humbling to a cocky kid who had not been booed yet. I remember Brian Hennigan, greeting me backstage (in the same room that was used for Red Raw) with the words, "Wow, I thought you were supposed to be good. Ha ha." That’s a painful memory but a necessary one.

4) My first paid gig was in Glasgow

One of the most important gigs of a stand-up’s career is the first time he gets paid. It’s still one of the most exciting nights of my career. I was asked to come through from Edinburgh to Glasgow to support a young comic by the name of Fred MacAulay at Blackfriars. 40 quid! It’s still one of my favorite paydays ever even though I’m way over the £45 threshold these days. That’s the moment every comic starts to think 'OK maybe I can do this for a living.’

5) I’m from New Scotland

That’s right. Nova Scotia. Canada’s easternmost province before you fall in the water and swim to Newfoundland. My father always describes it to Americans as, "You go to Maine and take a right." He was a military man and a proud Nova Scotian himself. He had traveled the world so I knew I could trust him to advise me on where I should go for my walkabout. He quickly replied: "Scotland."

6) Scotland was my first time outside North America

Not that the Whiteheads weren’t well traveled. Being military, whenever my father got transferred we treated that as an excuse for a road trip in the family van. The whole family. We’d combine summer holidays with moving. I don’t advise it.

Most lunches on the road required a rest stop on the Trans Canada highway where you’d have to tether your moody housecats to a tent peg in order to enjoy the serenity. I remember the one time ol’ Toonces was already freakin’ out when a stray Frisbee influenced her to throw claw marks up and down half the family’s faces. 

7) I saw a man bite another man for the first time in Glasgow

I don’t know why this makes the list but maybe it’s because I just saw World War Z recently and the zombie attack filmed in Glasgow’s own George Square brought the memories back for me. I had me some late nights in your city. I was young, dumb and not afraid to sleep in a bus stop. I learned that ‘Glass’ can be a verb. I saw a fight so ridiculous that the shorter man lunged forward and bit the taller man’s jaw and did not let go. He just dangled there like a rottweiler would from a suspended rope. It still freaks me out to this day. More than sleeping in the bus stop.

Yeah I learned a lot in my formative years in Scotland. Since then my career has taken me all around the world and I can’t wait to catch this flight from LA and come join you guys for the Glasgow International Comedy Festival. I’ll be performing at The Stand too! My comedy birthplace!

JJ Whitehead: Sharing Too Much With Strangers is at The Stand Comedy Club, Monday 23 March at 7pm - book your tickets online or call our box office on 0844 873 7353.