How Barry Hilton Went from Electrician to Successful Comedian

How Barry Hilton Went from Electrician to Successful Comedian


I was destined to become an electrician

My father was a tradesman, and completely rejected my dreams of becoming an actor. It was my earliest introduction to the boxes we create for ourselves. If you allow yourself to be contained you’ll never follow your dreams and achieve the life you can have.

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At 23, my wife’s father, who was also an electrician, said to me: ‘Don’t worry Baz, you’re only 23, you’ll be a great electrician by the time you’re 65.’

For him, this was a compliment, and working 42 years to excel in that field was worth striving for. But the idea horrified me. I wanted to do comedy. And so I started trying to make my jokes and way of looking and acting outside of my box work for me.

For two years I struggled

No one booked me. I was a second-rate comedian. And so I quit my job, and decided to focus full-time on a comedy career. I struggled like mad, I hustled, I borrowed money, anything to make ends meet, and still it wasn’t coming right. And so I really did think out the box – I approached a club and pretended I was British.

I was great with accents and all the doors that were closed to me as a South African now opened up

I was British, so I must be funny. It’s just another example of the boxes we all create for ourselves. I ended up building an early career as a British comedian who was really, really great at a South African accent.

During those early years I learnt that the road to success is continually under construction. You need to work at it. Because I’ve got ADD, I’m terrible at remembering names, which is why I first started calling people ‘my cousin’. Know yourself, and make it work for you.

I believe that success is what you want it to be

I feel successful because people want to see me perform. I was contacted by a woman whose husband was on his deathbed, it was Christmas, and all he wanted was to meet me. That is the most humbling experience, and has nothing to do with how much money you have in the bank, or what you drive, and everything to do with how you touch people.

I’ve had a lot of side businesses over the years to ensure my children will be taken care of should anything happen to me. One of those side businesses was a DVD store. I noticed that one of my customers had a very sickly looking son.When I asked her what was wrong, she said he had cancer. I immediately told her she could take as many DVDs as she wanted, for as long as she wanted. Four years later that same child walked into my store and said ‘Thanks Uncle Baz.’ I didn’t do much, but every little bit counts. I think that’s something we should all always remember, because it keeps us humble and human.

My ‘Nou Gaan Ons Braai’ range is a product of this same entrepreneurial spirit that has shaped my life. I want to create something that will last long after I leave the stage.

Once I printed the first range of T-shirts, I knocked on so many doors

No retailers would take them, particularly because I couldn’t produce to the scale they wanted. So we launched a website with Shopify instead.

That just keeps growing, and we add products, like the ‘My Cousin’ range, apps and plug-ins as we find them. Today I’m in talks with a major retailer to get the brand out there, but we first had to do it ourselves.

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Always have faith in yourself

Pick yourself up after each failure, because there will be many of them. Just understand what success means to you, and strive for it. And find a good partner – in life and in business. My wife Sandy is my rudder, my business partner, and she’s able to honestly appraise my ideas. There’s nothing more valuable.

Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.