THE last time Jonny Pelham was at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, he did what very few comedians had done before him – he joked about how he had been sexually abused as a child.

Despite his widely acclaimed show – Off Limits – winning multiple awards and leading to an appearance on Live at the Apollo, he has realised it was probably a mistake.

“I wish I had thought about the consequences,” Pelham told The National.

Afterwards, he felt overexposed and anxious with strangers who stopped him in the street to talk about their own experiences.

What had been a healing, cathartic process led to a debate about whether his story and experience was a suitable topic for comedy, which left him disillusioned with stand-up.

Pelham talks about all of this – and more – in his new show, Optimism Over Despair, which is running at the Pleasance Courtyard from August 2-27, with a break on August 14.

The National:

He said: “Even though the topic is heavy, it’s still a comedy show so there are lots of jokes.

“I tell the story of going on Live at the Apollo, and then realising that I didn’t think I had fully processed what had happened to me.”

Pelham ended up back in therapy. He realised that in life and in "Off Limits", he felt the need to reassure audiences that everything was okay, so people were able to feel relaxed and comfortable.

In the show, Pelham explores this need to portray yourself as a "happy victim" and the dangers both to himself and to others that this causes.

He said: “I talk in the show how sometimes in comedy, you have to tell the audience you’re okay. Because if you don’t, they’re not going to laugh.”

Pelham also looks at who pays the price for the commercialisation of trauma. How do we protect the person telling their story and how do you tell your story without being defined by it?

He said: “This show gets to this space where I explain that I don’t have it all figured out, and it has less clear answers than the last show.”

Jonny Pelham’s new stand-up show Optimism Over Despair is at the Pleasance Courtyard: Upstairs at 6.50pm from 2nd – 27th August (not 14th). For tickets, go to