"I just post videos online, there’s nothing that special to it."
It’s hard not to laugh when you listen to Henry Rowley, Instagram and TikTok’s resident posh-boy comedian. Amid prompts from his manager on the more promotional aspects that come with being an online star and answers that delve into his personal life and professional growth, he only gets so far into anything serious before reverting to habitual self-deprecation. It's an almost stereotypically British combination, but Henry keeps it fresh with absurdist plots and dialogue, mid-joke laughs and a genuine joy for what he's doing. "I love a bit of attention, I'm not gonna lie," he laughs when I ask about how it felt as his page started to get traction.
And therein lies the TikToker's appeal: a unique kind of self-awareness that has led him to such success with a supportive and impassioned fanbase. While the boy-next-door persona Henry embodies (and has found success satirising in all its cinematic incarnations, floppy hair and all) might lead his viewers to suspect hidden effort going on behind the scenes to make his content as spontaneous as it appears at first, it's a happy thing to see little difference to his online presence as he reflects on his journey so far.
Just as with his TikToks, the stream-of-consciousness answers are a refreshing change from a carefully curated, promotionally targeted response. There’s no doubt Rowley is, in every area of his life, unapologetically himself.
Henry Rowley on stage at Edinburgh Fringe | Photo by Jack Finnigan
"I think I’m always going to keep my sense of self, that’s how I've been raised and how I've acted with my friends." Rowley describes when I ask how he keeps grounded despite the growing success. "And I think part of it is not taking yourself too seriously [just because you’ve got followers]." It’s an attitude that informs every casual answer, small qualifications added as verbal footnotes whenever he feels as though his answer strays towards a self-importance Henry’s ensuring he keeps clear of. In doing so, he encourages the same of those around him, his famed ‘Minty’ impression teasing the questions that touch on the posh stereotypes he excels at disentangling, so that, by the end, there’s nothing to do except laugh at yourself alongside him.
His recent debut at the Edinburgh Fringe’s Pleasance Stage pushed this knack for connecting to his audience in a live performance as part of a show platforming TikTok creators at the cutting edge of comedy. "When you’re looking at an audience, you’re there with them, you’re in the same room, you’re getting their immediate laughter, you’re playing off of that, you’re making eye contact, you’re basically having a conversation, whereas online you’re talking at them," Henry explains. "If you tell a joke and no one laughs, you really feel that."
The casualness with which Rowley talks about his career so far shows no sign of disappearing even as he expands into live shows. "I sort of stumbled into TikTok," Henry says of the very beginnings of his channel. "Because a few of my friends really enjoyed this impression I was doing, which was the Minty character [a husky voiced, private school cliché]. I'd seen a few people on TikTok who had been making a living out of it and I was strapped for cash, so I thought, 'Right, I'll give this TikTok thing a go.'''
"Sometimes, when I’m by myself, I’ll get these bursts of energy and I’ll do these characters and then the most random stuff comes out, and I don’t know what’s going to come out, [...] it makes me laugh. That’s more my day to day sense of humour, so one day I just decided to film some of it, like the improvised Harry Potter [series], and film it with some kind of structure so it wasn’t pure chaos." But the chaos isn't ever too far from his skits, Henry's breaks from character as his plots descend into absurdity continuing to strike a chord with his audience. Most noticeably, when his humour takes a particularly strange turn. "Keeping in the giggles, keeping in that raw sense [of humour], it doesn’t feel as genuine if you do it and rerecord it without you laughing," he says. "I think people like the unscripted giggles because it's more personal. It’s still you breaking through these characters and it's breaking that fourth wall [...] not taking it too seriously, not too strict and conformative and it’s kind of refreshing to see that. [...] Like when you see improv shows, on TV or on stage, some of the funniest bits are when the other characters are laughing because they’re so baffled by what’s happening and the absurdity of it all."
The off-the-cuff nature of Rowley's comedy is threaded throughout his process, one that allows for inspiration to strike from the video's conception to the recording. "I don’t ever script it. Sometimes I will write some stuff down if I'm not in a position to film, when all these thoughts are coming into my head, because I don't want to lose them, but usually it's not word for word. It's sort of paraphrasing ideas and then, in the moment, I'll use that concept.
I think [the inspiration] just comes from people you see day to day, people you see on the tube or in a bar. I’m definitely someone who, walking down the street, will listen to everyone, will try to get to know someone really well. Even how they walk. You can construct a character around what they were into as a kid, even just the way they hold themselves."
@henryrowleyy The whole country is having the same convo #pov #uk #winter ♬ original sound - henryrowleyy
In particular, Henry looks to the everyday, making videos that examine details the rest of us might not consciously notice, but which often have a lot of comedic potential. "I think [it's] just what a lot of comedians do. Picking things that are on the periphery of everyone’s day to day existence, so when this weird thing we all experience is picked out and made fun of, it’s hilarious because it’s relatable but not necessarily something you’ve always noticed, and the absurdity of this thing that everyone goes by without noticing it’s like 'oh yeah that is hilarious'."
Some of the fan-favourite characters, like Delicatessen and her boyfriend (named after UK staple JD Sports), focus on the particular quirks of the English upper classes. But why does he find so much comedic inspiration in this particular stereotypical subset of British society and why does it appeal to his audience? "There are these sort of hyperbolic, really exaggerated personalities or characters that come with that. It is almost cartoonish because it’s so exaggerated, so emphasised.
It’s very recognisable, it’s very consistent. For example, the husky-voiced posh girl: I've heard people of all ages from all different universities knowing someone like that at uni. I think it is that relatability of someone being, like, I know that kind of person, because oftentimes they grow up in similar communities and [those] kinds of behavioural mannerisms and phrases get passed down." Rowley has a little experience being among the Minty's of the world, something which continues to inspire him even now. "I grew up in Leicester being the posh one of my mates and then I went to Bristol, suddenly being in a whole new world of posh where I was suddenly not the posh one and they were really nice people, but it is hilarious."
He laughs. "They’re characters, in and of themselves. I'm just filming it."
Despite finding a niche, Henry Rowley's not looking to narrow down anytime soon. "I don't want to restrict myself and be like 'Right, I'm gonna do stand up comedy, it went pretty well and now I'm gonna focus on that.' I want to still keep all my options open and still do all the things I love doing and just see what works and what takes off." It's clear that Henry holds a deep respect for those that make a success of the craft and doesn't see his own work holding up against the catalogue of legends such as Steve Martin, Robin Williams and Jim Carey, who he credits as inspirations. But with his goals set on expanding into both writing and acting, while keeping up with producing content and furthering his experience in stand-up, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise to see him alongside industry heavyweights some time in the future. Like Henry says, "as long as you enjoy doing something, you should carry on doing it." It really is that simple.
1. Best 3 songs of all time?
Any Blink-182 song, literally any, Jeff Buckley I know it’s over or Je N'en Connais Pas La Fin, (‘c’est super, magnifique’), and… the theme tune for Arthur.
2. What was your best & worst night out?
Best: I can’t remember, but it was great.
Worst: The night was good but I woke up topless on my doorstep, it was raining, it was winter, [and] I was locked out.
3. Favourite comment on a video?
There were hundreds of these, but they were telling me I looked like Rumplestiltskin from Shrek. I looked it up and it was so funny because it was so true.
4. Dream job?
Being an actor/stand-up comedian/writer.
5. Waitrose or M&S (and why)?
Darling, it has to be Waitrose. Waitrose purely because there’s a big Waitrose near where I live, so if I'm treating myself, I go to Waitrose.
6. Any advice for aspiring creators?
Just post loads, find your niche, stick with it and then branch out when you’ve built an audience.
7. Top 3 comedians/creators?
Mickey Flanagan, Maddie Grace Jepson and my brother.
8. Favourite posh nicknames?
Minty and Bontoft!
9. Best dad joke?
My friends genuinely hate it and me because of it. But, [and] I will do this upwards of 10 times a day, if anyone ever says ‘I’m hungry’ I will, without fail, say ‘Hi Hungry, I’m Henry’ and I laugh every time. They genuinely hate it.
Especially my friend Ryan. Sorry Ryan.
10. Favourite Edinburgh Fringe moment?
There were so many, but I think the first show where I was really comfortable on stage, I really let go and just enjoyed it so much, stopped worrying and [...] the crowd was really with me that night. Getting that feedback and that really lively crowd, that feeling, that first real burst of wow, this is amazing.