Until recently, Ali Woods was, as one reviewer put it, PR man by day, comedian by night.
Better known to his QE contemporaries as Alister Heywood (OE 2005–2012), he first made a name on TikTok and then gained a big boost when his debut solo show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe sold out amid five-star reviews.
Now, underpinned by his huge online following, he has given up the day job and become a professional comedian.
The very first time he was involved in performing comedy was at York, where he was reading English & Related Literature. He was part of a university ‘improv’ group called The Shambles. He then first did stand-up in London in 2015 at open mic nights. In 2017, he was runner-up in the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year competition and was short-listed for a BBC New Comedy Award in both 2017 and 2018.
Alister won Hackney Empire New Act of the Year 2020 – Evening Standard writer Bruce Dessau’s quotation in the headline is from that time. He has appeared on BBC Radio 4, TalkRadio and TalkSport, alongside hosting his own podcast, All I Do Is Fail.
All of this was achieved while he was simultaneously working in PR: he is working his notice as a New Business and Marketing Executive for the Propeller Group (a global PR, content and events agency) and finishes on 21st December.
Alister was planning to do his debut full stand-up show in 2020, but was thwarted by the pandemic. Instead, during lockdown he started making videos, which soon went viral. Today, he has 153,000 followers on Instagram and 113,000 on TikTok. His online comedy sketches under the tag @aliwoodsgigs have gained millions of views and likes, and featured on LadBible and Buzzfeed UK. It is by using this audience that he has now managed to turn professional.
In his comedy, he presents a mix of the ‘everyman’ and the ‘modern man’, displaying sensitivity and a genuine interest in men’s mental health, which gives him a great perspective on the modern ‘lad’ culture. He speaks on topics such as football, the environment, and many social causes close to his heart.
Typically outspoken, he is keen to encourage those interested in creative work to pursue it and get the career they really want: “You can do it, believe that you can. I’ve done it and I’m not even funny!” It was not, he said, an aspiration that was really valued in the QE of his time. “I was never encouraged to take creative work seriously, it was seen as a facilitator for cover letters and CVs.”
Alister, who was among the guests at this term’s OE Association Dinner, therefore feels a special impetus to encourage today’s pupils if they hold similar interests.
“You can work really hard to end up in a job you hate because you thought it was the safe option,” he says. “I would like to communicate to current QE boys that creative arts are a legitimate pursuit which requires the same work as any difficult degree or discipline or career, and will truly be worth it. If you are passionate about it, and you’re willing to be consistent, put yourself out there, learn from your setbacks and not to give up: it will be the most fulfilling journey you’ll ever make.
“Don’t be afraid to take the risk. Believe that you are able to succeed in a competitive, creative field.”
- You can view Alister’s videos at his website.