It’s the first week of November 2019. So far this year, Steph Broadbridge has performed stand up comedy 304 times.
“So, I’m a little bit behind…but I have been MC’ing a lot and that cuts out doubles”.
Malcolm Gladwell claims that mastery of any craft is within all of our reach, it is simply a matter of dedicating 10,000 hours of our lives to it. Think of a 14 year-old Bill Gates sneaking out of his bedroom window to code until sunrise, or of John Lennon and Paul McCartney playing 8 hour sets at Hamburg strip clubs seven nights a week. The moral is clear – success in any passion or pursuit is a product of hard work first and talent second.
But stand up comedy is a unique art form; one that can’t be honed from the refuge of a library or bedroom. One where practice is utterly dependent on an audience and their attention span. I wonder if there would be a Microsoft had Bill Gates learned to code in four-minute increments upstairs at Hotel Sweeneys, for the amusement of two first-dates, three backpackers and a lonely drunk, holding a Carlton Draught in one hand and a 50-cent chicken wing in the other.
When it comes to stand up, opportunities like these are, quite simply, the only path to improvement. There are no short-cuts or secret tricks. There is only one tried and tested method for developing any ability at all: stage time, and lots of it. So comedians like Steph Broadbridge take every opportunity they get, determined to chip away at their 10,000 hours, 4, 10 and 15 minutes at a time.
In a short three and a half years, Steph has become an incredibly proficient comic. Her performance boasts a distinctive voice that possesses a nuance well beyond her years. Her material is meaningful yet subtle, allowing her to explore pertinent issues without ever sacrificing laughs. But arguably, Steph’s greatest asset as a comedian is her mindset, one that guarantees success by disregarding it. It’s not the promise of fame, money or recognition that drives Steph, instead, she is powered by a pure passion for growth.
“You don’t want to ever nail it, you don’t want to say ‘I’m the best comedian’, you want to find something you can always improve on, that way you’ll always have something to do…:”
Through this lens, Steph’s superhuman work ethic begins to make sense. If improvement is your only imperative, no gig is below you, every effort is worthwhile. Performing 400 gigs a year is a necessity for any comic with their sights set on mastery, and a near impossibility for one who pursues anything else.
Steph’s perpetual desire to improve is clear in her creative choices on stage. She relishes challenge, taking chances and attacking grey areas, never content to settle for the easy path. She tackles subjects that are deliberately divisive; secure in the knowledge that if it’s good enough it’ll work anyway. Most of all, she is determined to be different; the minute a topic becomes trodden ground she abandons it and moves on, preferring to construct her own perspective than to share one with anyone else.
“It’s all about what’s harder, I like what’s hard, I like to improve, I like to challenge myself. The harder the sell, the better you have to be.”
Steph herself acknowledges this isn’t always the surest path to success, “we should get difficulty points from an audience…but we don’t”, but you should write the harder joke regardless, because “you love it. You’re more passionate about it.” Such a perspective is what distinguishes good comedians from great ones. Performing 400 times a year will make you good, but an enduring respect for the artform and a never-ending desire for progress is what makes you great. With this in mind, there’s little question why Steph is widely regarded as one of the most promising prospects in the Sydney comedy scene today.
We are living in a golden age of stand up; today, people have more opportunities to watch, attend and perform stand up comedy than any other time in history. In a given week, Sydney will host somewhere around 30 gigs, that’s 1,600 shows a year. In 2020, if you find yourself at any one of them, keep an eye out for Steph, there’s a 1 in 4 chance she’ll be there.