Alex Zane on becoming a presenter

Presenter Alex Zane

Alex Zane started training to be a doctor, before quitting to be a stand-up and landing a job presenting on XFM. Alex tells Bethany Minelle how he made the switch…

Did you always know you wanted to perform?

I didn’t get into the universities I applied to the first time around, so I took a year out and went on a Raleigh International scheme to build a longhouse on the Malaysian Island of Sabah. The purpose of the trip was personal development and becoming a better person. They made you get up in front of a group and talk about your day. From a young age I was fairly cynical, and I thought, I’ll just make stuff up and try to make people laugh. It was my first experience of standing in front of strangers and them laughing at something I’d said. It was an epiphany in my life – that first taste of the magical chalice that is stand-up comedy.

So how did you go from medic to comic?

The following year when I came to university in London, I was surrounded by a network of comedy clubs, and did stand-up every night when I should have been studying. I was gigging and writing and getting more enamoured with the stand-up scene. At the end of the first year, I was called in front of the Dean of Students and given the option of re-sitting my exams or leaving to pursue what was then a non-lucrative career in stand-up. I opted for the latter.

Was presenting your own student radio show at uni an important step?

I recorded the shows at the time with the intention of making a demo, but I think if I’d played that tape to XFM I would never have got the job! It was an utter, hideous, disorganised car crash live on the radio. It was more about becoming comfortable in a studio environment and broadcasting live. It doesn’t matter whether one person or a million people are listening, even if it’s just in the Student Union, people are hearing you live and you need to overcome the inherent fear that comes with that. It’s the things you perhaps don’t realise that help prepare you the most.

How important is having an agent?

It’s a must. The best agents will be able to put you in front of the right people, whether it’s the head of a radio station or the commissioner of a TV channel. It’s the way into a network that you haven’t had to create yourself, and, more importantly, they deal with the financial side of things and contracts.

Tell me about landing the job at XFM

I had to lie a bit. When I was offered the 2am–5am slot, they asked if I knew how to work a radio desk on my own. I told them I did, but I had no idea… I used to sneak in and get the other DJs to show me how to run the desk. The first time I was left on my own was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. The show was terrible because it was a man with fear in his voice – not about talking on-air but about making the music work, and worrying if the mic was turned on. But I did it, and then gradually worked my way up the schedule to the flagship Breakfast Show.

What are radio stations looking for?

They’re very aware of whether you have a YouTube Channel, how many Twitter followers you have and if you’re active online. Rather than seeking out fresh new talent from a student or local radio station, it’s far easier for them to buy into something that’s already popular – it’s more potential listeners for their show.

How important is it to have a niche?

More than ever you need to be an expert in your field. If you love music, pursue a career in music television. If you love cooking, pursue a career in cooking TV. I present movie shows because I have a passion for film. Nowadays channels aren’t really looking for good-looking young people to present, they’re looking for people to host what they know about.

You present for Sky Cinema and review for The Sun. What makes a good film presenter and reviewer?

A presenter needs to be able to do a good interview and the longer you do it the better you get. The tough part is interviewing someone, and then having to put your reviewer hat on and be honest about a film that maybe isn’t great. I hold the newspaper readers in high regard – I’m not going to send someone to the cinema to see a terrible film just because I got on with its star. You have to be honest.

So what are your tips for a good interview?
Red carpet interviews are the hardest thing in the world. You have a PR behind you and journalists next to you waiting. You have just two or three questions – it’s a really difficult thing to do well.

In a sit-down interview, where you have more time, then there’s a real talent in constructing the interview to get what you need while also making it enjoyable. It’s all about gauging the individual – their demeanour when they walk in the room, and even the movie you’re talking about. Is it a fun romp or is it more serious? The most important thing is to do your research.

What’s the most important skill for a presenter?

Confidence and self-belief. The trick is once you’ve built it up and you’re successful, you need to manage it so it doesn’t morph into the uglier side of those qualities.


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