Interview with Founder of NextUp Comedy, Sarah Henley
Sarah is founder and director of NextUp Comedy – a Netflix style platform for stand-up comedy specials. Having originally trained in law, and subsequently musical theatre, she moved into comedy and, having made friends at the London Comedy Writers group, started the Grazia and Guardian recommended live comedy night in London – ‘ComComedy’ as well as the associated YouTube channel, before taking it up a gear to found NextUp with the same team.
In her spare time she also writes, produces and directs plays, musicals and TV scripts (she’s on the BBC New Talent Hotlist at the moment) and is trained NLP coach and trainer. Sarah has a 15 month old boy – Rudi – with actor husband Timothy O’Hara.
Describe a typical day for you?
Rudi is currently waking up at 5am, full of the joys of spring, which is hell! Tim (my husband) and I take it in turns to do the morning shift while the other one gains a much needed two hours of sleep. This involves dealing with a big poo (Rudi’s usually), lots of playing with a ball or five and multiple near death experiences, trying to chase him and get some food down him whilst he manically runs around the flat shouting ‘ball’ at the top of his voice, a dog walk if I’m feeling ambitious and doing my best to get ready for work. I then get to leave the chaos (Tim’s an actor – mainly theatre – so tends to work evenings which is brilliant) and walk to the relative calm of our office in Bermondsey.
I work there all day with a team of friends doing what we think is a really good thing, so it’s very rewarding. Because it’s a start-up and there are only four of us, my job (official title Head of Operations) involves everything from reviewing legal agreements and getting sign off, negotiating deals with big companies, writing press releases, speaking to journalists, comedians and agents, and analysing data to fundraising, pitching and making plans for future of the business. At the moment we’re doing a crowd-equity raise on Seedrs which means comedy fans and investors can buy a share of the business and grow with us for as little as £10. This sees me answering investor enquiries, doing press interviews and pitching to rooms full of people (not my favourite part of the job!).
I leave the office at about 6/6.30 and depending on where Rudi is, pick him up, take him home, bath him – getting absolutely soaked in the process, and try and get him to sleep which is an absolute war-zone. Then sometimes have a piano lesson or do some writing or more work emails and invariably have wine with food which is good if Tim’s around or a potato if not. If I go out it’s usually to the theatre.
What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
I love what we do at NextUp. As an ‘artist’ in another part of my life, I know how much work goes in to putting on a show. In comedy, something unique was happening. Comics put an incredible amount of blood sweat and tears in to creating an hour of comedy to take to the Edinburgh Fringe each year, then maybe tour, but then that work completely disappeared. With plays they’re often published so others can perform them in the future, and music is recorded and streamed, but unless you’re a huge name TV comic, there was previously no way of preserving your show. I’m really proud that we have helped some fantastic shows have a much longer life and worldwide fanbase.
I’m also proud of a lot of the theatre work I’ve done – in particular Burkas and Bacon Butties which was co-written with my friend Shamia andpublished by Nick Hern Books and Streets.This was a huge collaboration and got a standing ovation at Hackney Empire and (I think) spoke to the issues a lot of disenfranchised young people were facing at the time in a unique way.
I’m also proud of having a child. I was 96 hours (Tues-Sat) in labour and there was nothing easy about it, but we all lived and we’re growing together, learning, doing our best and loving a lot of it!
What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
Pretty boring really! A laptop and charger, phone charger, notebook or two, many pens, some cutlery often lurks in there and usually a ball for the baby in case of emergencies, sometimes a Jack Reacher novel (guilty pleasure if I’m feeling ambitious about having a lunch break).
What are your ambitions in life?
Wow. Big question. I’m currently going through a bit of a ‘spiritual awakening’ as my current hero and life guide Brene Brown would say. This has resulted in trying even harder to live as many of my values as possible (hence taking back up the piano etc.) and maintain integrity at all times.
I want to raise Rudi to be the kind of person the world needs and wants, especially given his inherent privilege. I want to promote diversity in every aspect of my career. I want to challenge social constructs and expectations where they’re not helpful. I want to support people who are passionate and good at what they do. I want to have a happy and long lasting marriage.
I’d like to put more comedy into the world – through NextUp and my writing – ultimately, laughter is an incredible force for good. I want to eat really good food as much as I can and travel a lot. Oh, and learn Italian (Tim’s family are Italian and I’ve been completely rubbish thus far).
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
I wish I’d had the confidence to realise that I didn’t have to do one thing exclusively to have a worthwhile life. I flitted about a lot in my twenties (and worried that that was a problem). I went from law, then performing musical theatre, then writing, then NLP coaching and training as well as comedy. It’s all been incredibly useful and contributes immeasurably to the story thus far – and I’m using almost all of those skills in my current role at NextUp (bar the singing – I should crowbar that in somehow!). I think I could have backed myself a bit more in the past. There were a couple of times I took feedback I didn’t agree with because the people offering it were the ‘experts’ – I wish I’d known to stick to my guns.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Another mega-question! Still in London. In terms of career, I really hope NextUp is still going from strength to strength and still giving fantastic comics a platform for their work. I hope I’ve written a few more plays and a couple of TV series. I hope Rudi is at school and enjoying it. Who knows!
What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur?
Maintain perspective and keep in mind the reasons you’re doing that business. Work on a company you really believe in as it will take a lot of your energy which isn’t worth wasting. Don’t get sucked in to the ‘start-up’ bubble and enjoy the fact you’re working for yourself. It’s a well-known adage in the start-up world, but ‘better done than perfect’. This works in a lot of areas of life – just do things – perfect doesn’t exist – you can always pivot and change if needed.
What advice would you give a new parent?
Well I’m no expert – I don’t want to pretend it’s been easy – it’s full of joy and laughs but there is no doubt it’s been the biggest challenge of my life so far. I’ve found it helpful to take as much support as I’m offered, not listen to the helpful ‘advice’ I’ve got from complete strangers (often a weird obsession with the baby’s temperature for some reason!), same goes for judgement from other parents (should you go back to work so soon? should you sleep in a bed with the baby? blah blah blah) and to maintain a sense of humour at all times. Rudi managed to explode his nappy and sh*t all over me at a wedding when he was a few months old, which left me wearing a tiny nude coloured vest for the whole day – so in the wedding snaps I look naked…you have to laugh!
Finally, happiness is…
A boiling hot bath completely in complete silence and solitude with a big G&T and a Jack Reacher novel, a hug from Rudi and the joy of seeing him learn new words and skills every day, watching my husband boss it on stage, swimming in the sea.
About Sarah Henley
Sarah Henley is co-founder of NextUp, a worldwide subscription video-on-demand platform specialising in stand-up specials. NextUp, described as is ‘The Netflix of UK Stand-Up’ (engadget), showcases the full spectrum of the live comedy circuit from sketch, character and storytellers, to gag merchants, observationalists and surrealists. As well as familiar household names, there are also acclaimed rising stars and circuit legends for you to discover.
NextUp members have access to recording tickets and exclusive discounts whilst comedians are supported through a 50/50 revenue share model. If you’re a comedian interested in being on NextUp, please get in touch.
NextUp is dubbed ‘The Netlfix of UK stand-up comedy’ and is available on web, iOS, Android, Apple TV, web, Amazon Channels and Amazon Fire Stick, and features over 90 full length comedy specials. Female comedians on the platform include Rachel Parris, Bec Hill, Danielle Ward, Eleanor Morton, Fern Brady, Kiri Pritchard McLean, Morgan Murphy, Ria Lina, Lou Sanders, Gina Yashere, Tiff Stevenson, Anne Edmonds, Alice Fraser, Grainne Maguire, Annie McGrath and Njambi McGrath, with Kat Bond, Laura Lexx, Jess Fostekew, Holly Burn, Lauren Pattison soon to be released. Male comedians include: Ed Byrne, Richard Herring, Simon Munnery, Tony Law, Jordan Brookes and Andrew Maxwell.
The NextUp App has been featured as Apple’s ‘App of the Day’ and has a five star rating in both app stores. A NextUp subscription is just £3.50 a month with a 30 day free trial and Nextup also supports comedians in numerous ways including a Spotify-style revenue share and supporting community projects including the Care Home Tour.
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