Stuck In A Lift

Emmanuel Sonubi cabbaged Chris Rock

Get to know the comedian on the rise ahead of his UK tour Curriculum Vitae

For any budding comedians out there weighed under by self-doubt and a thankless job, look to Emmanuel Sonubi for hope. The London-born comic tried his hand at plenty of different jobs until he decided to not let them get in the way of his dreams. In just a handful of years he’s toured internationally, guested on Have I Got News For You and appeared with a beaming smile as the Live At The Apollo sign lifted to reveal everything he’d ever hoped for.

From working in IT to being a club bouncer, the journey of jobs that lead Sonubi to this point is the subject of his new show, Curriculum Vitae. Touring from April to May, there’s just enough time to get stuck in a lift and get to know him a little better.

Emmanuel Sonubi | New Slang Doesn't Make Sense

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with? 

Robert Downey Jr. I think he’s got such an interesting story. And I’ve been watching his films since I was a kid. So you see the transition, you see the different types of characters he’s played and how he actually tells a story. He’s just one of those people that fascinates me, because he went through a lot. I’d love to have that conversation – not to find out what happened, but really to find out how he got through it.

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?

Donald Trump. Being a bouncer, your job is conflict. It’s being a mediator between two parties that don’t want to hear each other talk. So to do that, one of the best things you can do, I learnt, is just to listen, because a lot of times people just want to be heard. I find that regardless of my opinion, if I go to a conversation thinking I don’t know anything, I’m a lot more open to hearing things when people say them. So I think I would just go and just really try to understand him, because I don’t get how he or many other politicians think what they do is okay. It makes no sense to me.

What’s the weirdest interaction you’ve ever had with a famous person?

I was at The Comedy Store in London and we got a very excited message that Chris Rock was in town and that he wanted to come down and do a set. I got very excited. I watched Chris Rock shows when I was too young to watch Chris Rock shows. In my mind, I concocted this scenario where he was going to walk in, we were going to meet, lock eyes, nod, shake hands and become best friends. He was going to go “Do you know what, I want you opening for me on my world tour”. And then he would go “We should do films together” and that would be it: Hollywood. That’s how quick my brain went, this is exactly what’s going to happen. And then he walked in as I was walking to the greenroom and as we went to cross paths we sort of caught eyes and nodded at each other. And in my mind, I genuinely thought it was all actually going to happen. I’ve lifted my hand to shake his hand to say hello, he’s lifted in his hand, and because I’m too busy looking at him, I’ve seen that he’s gone to do a spud, and I’ve gone to do a shake… It felt like an hour, it was maybe a couple of seconds, but it was awkward. And then I just took my hand and cabbaged him. The look on his face… I’ve got a picture of us two, I took a selfie on the night, and you can see it in that picture. He doesn’t want to be there.

What was the last gig that you went to?

It might have been Glastonbury! I was performing but I saw a lot of shows. Guns N’ Roses and Elton John were the highlights, I thoroughly enjoyed them. Guns N’ Roses are pure nostalgia for me, I went to see Slash do the solo in ‘November Rain’.

What’s on your rider?

I’m very low maintenance. The only thing I probably would put on there is green tea – and I pretty much always have that with me anyway. I’d love to have an extravagant rider, but I’m not sure I can think of anything I’d need. What’s the name of Simon Cowell’s friend? Sinitta? I got told that one of her riders was 12 bottles of this very specific champagne. Imagine going everywhere wanting 12 bottles of champagne?!

What work of yours hasn’t got the attention it deserved?

You’ve used a really interesting word there – “deserved”. I could go, “this [show] didn’t get what it deserved”, but in some respects it got exactly what it deserved, because that includes the people who watched it and the time that went into it. That was the plan, and it got what it deserved. So I’ve never thought of it like that, I’ve just more been caught up in the fact that I got to do stand-up sketch shows, and Live At The Apollo.

I’ll tell you what: the only one that I wanted more attention on was a skit that I did on TikTok about Peppa Pig. I thought this is gonna go viral. It did a 70,000. About as viral as a slight cold.

You’ve been on a very quick and steep ascent, do you find yourself checking yourself or your expectation to help go with the flow?

I think you should constantly check your expectations. It’s very easy to get bitter, jealous or arrogant in this industry, because what we do is for immediate gratification. I tell a joke, I get a laugh. Every 30 seconds a roomful of people are telling you that you’re great. But it’s very easy for that to go. I’m amazing, but every comic will say they’re amazing, because you need that confidence. But I think if you let that go too far, that’s when the quality will drop. So yeah, I constantly keep myself in check. Social media gives you the best version of everyone else’s life, so it’s very easy to see something that you’re not doing, and it’s very easy to fall in the trap of comparison. And that’s probably one of the hardest things I have to deal with, mentally.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

The worst job I had wasn’t the job, it was the people and the customers. Do you remember Dixons? The electrical place? I worked there when I was 16 and I hated the manager from the interview. He said one of the worst things to me that I’ve never let go. The interview was going really well and he went “Do you know what, this isn’t what I expected. You don’t speak like a Black guy!” I’ve never been more furious. That’s one of the first times I’ve really felt rage and I let him know exactly what I thought. I was surprised when I actually got the job. Everyone else was actually okay, but those Saturdays were so long. I think part of me was like, “I’m going to do this now to show him exactly what I could do”.

If a song played every time you walked into a room what would it be?

‘Welcome To The Jungle’ by Guns N’ Roses. I was thinking about this other day, with that intro, I think you could walk into any situation and play that song, and it would be awesome.

Guns N' Roses - Welcome To The Jungle

What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of very good people that have my best interests at heart. The worst thing I’ve had people say to me is “You can’t”. I remember before I got my current agent, when I first started, I’d only been going maybe six months. When I sat down with them they asked me what I wanted to do. I said my goal was to do Live At The Apollo in five years. I know how long it can take but I don’t mind hard work. And the guy was just very dismissive. “No you can’t. It takes years, 10 to 15 years to do it…” Yes, it does, but when he said “you can’t”, I just lost faith. It wasn’t long after that I met my current agent, and when I told him what I wanted to do, he wasn’t so dismissive. He was like, “if you want to do the Apollo, you need to do these sorts of gigs to get seen by these people. This is how long it can take you if you do it quickly and do it right”. Perfect. Let’s go. I said I wanted to do it in five years and I did it in six, but that’s including lockdown.

What was it like when you were finally about to get on that stage?

The most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I forgot how to walk, my legs were shaking. It was so nerve wracking. It was one of those when you go “I’m actually here, I’m not watching this on TV”. I’m behind that stage, waiting for that sign to go up. But when I walked out, the audience was so good and they immediately got behind me. It actually felt very intimate.

What’s the skill that no one else knows that you’re great at?

I play the piano and guitar.

Any Guns N’ Roses solos?

I learnt the solo on ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’ – the first one, not the second. I can do it, and it will vaguely sound like it, but it’s no Slash.

Have you got any controversial food opinions?

I think oysters are disgusting and I can’t imagine anyone being turned on after slurping that crap. Apparently it’s an aphrodisiac. The last thing I’d be is turned on after having oysters. I tried it and wanted to throw up. I don’t know, it probably started when very rich people got bored, so they ate lobsters, then that escalated to oysters, and they just convinced each other that they were nice.

Do you have any superstitions?

My biggest pre-show ritual is being in the audience before I go on. I like to be around them. It’s harder on tour because you can’t really do that, whereas in a club, I can be around the audience so you get a really good feeling of what the people are like before you go on.

Emmanuel Sonubi starts his UK tour, Curriculum Vitae, in April. Find tickets here.