RHYS Nicholson is not exactly sure when things began to shift for him.
The 29-year-old is one of the hottest talents on the Australian comedy scene but he admits that he still finds himself wondering how he got there.
Earlier this year presented one of those moments, when he took part in a photo shoot for a newspaper to promote the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
It was then, dressed up in a designer Silvana Tedesco gown and posing on the staircase of The Espy alongside some of the biggest names in Australian comedy, that he recalls feeling truly "weirded out".
"I was involved in this photo shoot where it was me and Becky Lucas, who were kind of the younger ones, and the rest was people like Wil Anderson, Dave Hughes and Judith Lucy," Nicholson says from Auckland where he spent two weeks performing as part of the New Zealand Comedy Festival.
"It was the strangest day.
"To be amongst those people and to be in that group was, like, so f - - - ing weird. It was like 'Oh, I get to hang out with these people and these people know my name'.
"It was quite odd."
It's been 10 years since the Newcastle-born and raised comedian earned his place as a finalist in the Raw Comedy open mic competition, which led him to move to Sydney in the hope of building a career in comedy.
Since then, Nicholson has picked up a string of achievements: winning Best International Act at the 2018 New Zealand Comedy Festival, spots performing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala, appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and a gig opening for US comedian Conan O'Brien in Sydney this year.
Meeting O'Brien felt particularly "odd", says Nicholson, who confesses that he often jokes with his older sister, Ceara, a jewellery designer based in the US, of living with a case of "imposter syndrome".
During his show in Sydney, O'Brien joked about Nicholson, who bears a likeness to the talk show host, being his secret love child with Nicole Kidman.
"It was really bizarre seeing Conan O'Brien making a joke about me," Nicholson says. "Seeing Conan O'Brien say my name was very bizarre. It was pretty incredible."
The pair hit it off and this week, Nicholson took up an invitation to fly to Los Angeles to make his American television debut on O'Brien's TV show, Conan.
"Meeting him, strangely, opened up a door," Nicholson says. "It's one of those things where it's not life-changing, but it will definitely be putting me on television in America, which is very odd.
"I had met the guy that books the show a few times and we had been talking about how they run a live stand-up show in Los Angeles.
"He had said 'We would love for you to do the show' and I thought he meant just the show at this venue in the city - a little comedy club - and I said 'Yeah, absolutely'.
"About three seconds later I realised he meant the show show. The TV show. I had to go back to him and say 'Hang on, you mean the TV show?' and he said 'Yeah' and I said 'Hang on, I need to re-do my reaction to that'. And then I hugged him."
Nicholson's success has not come overnight.
The former Hunter School of Performing Arts student who grew up in Waratah first began his hand at stand-up comedy as a teenager when he would sneak in to The Oriental Hotel in Cooks Hill to perform at open-mic comedy nights.
He competed in Raw Comedy three times before making it to the final where he captured the attention of the owner of Sydney's The Comedy Store who told Nicholson to get in touch should he ever relocate.
Nicholson set his sights on Sydney, working double shifts at burger joint Grill'd in The Junction to get save money for the move.
"I worked at Grill'd as much as I possibly could until I had saved, I think it was, like, five grand, which, in retrospect, is so not enough money to move to another city," he laughs.
"I have no idea how I did that. You know when you look back and think 'How did I smoke a pack of cigarettes a day and eat?'. That's bananas.
"And drink, too. There was about four years there where I was only drunk or hungover. Those were my two standard settings.
"Now, I look at my life and I'm, like, grinding my own coffee in the morning and making a green juice. It's like, what the f-? And I hurt my back recently weeding the garden.
"I was like 'What? What's happened?'. I'm 29, but I'm also 29. You know? Which is kind of what my show is about this year."
After moving to Sydney, Nicholson became a regular at the Sydney Comedy Club and, two years later, won the Time Out Award for Best Newcomer at the Sydney Comedy Festival.
In May, Nicholson delivered his latest show, Nice People Nice Things Nice Situations, in front of a sold-out crowd at Sydney's Enmore Theatre.
"It was so weird. I think even my agent was kind of not expecting it to sell out. We knew it would do ok, but it's 1,600 seats," Nicholson explains.
"In the last few hours I sold the last 50 tickets and I was like, 'Oh! Yeah...right...wow'. It was really fun. I was able to really enjoy it.
"Then the next day I woke up really sick. You know when you're running on adrenaline? It was like my body just went 'Oh, we're done' and we weren't done - there was another three weeks left of the tour!"
The show was a defining moment for Nicholson who worked at the theatre's box office before he left to pursue comedy full-time.
"It was kind of loaded for me to sell it out because I used to work there for years, so it was very odd," he says.
"I worked in the box office for, like, four years. I was really f-ing terrible at my job. So that was weird as well. I had to stop working there when people started coming to buy tickets to my shows.
"I was doing a show at one of the other venues they run and people were coming in to buy tickets to see me, so it was like 'This really has to stop'."
Next weekend, Nicholson brings Nice People Nice Things Nice Situations to Newcastle for his biggest headline show at The Spiegeltent on June 16.
"The name of the show is in reference to an email I got from a woman who didn't like me and said that I should just talk about nice people, nice things and nice situations," Nicholson says.
"So, in a way, the show is kind of dedicated to Carol from Manchester. A little bit of the show is about that, but I'm just having fun doing an hour of jokes, really.
"It's kind of about how 29 is a bit of a stupid age, but not really. It's just jokes. This year I thought I'd just do a fun show that people will enjoy and that I'll enjoy doing."
On stage, Nicholson is an open book when it comes to his personal life and experiences.
In the past he has shared his experiences with anxiety, bulimia, and bullying he faced at school as an overweight kid "with naturally red hair and tremendously bad acne" who was coming to terms with his sexuality.
And he manages to tackle it all with his brand of acerbic wit.
Nicholson knew early on that he wanted to become a comedian.
He religiously watched the Melbourne Comedy Festival Gala every year and recorded it, then re-watched it over and over.
"I have just always wanted to do it. And I wasn't that funny. Like, my high school friends would just say that I was annoying, I think, looking back on it now," Nicholson says.
"I think everybody figured I was going to try and do comedy, but I don't think anyone expected me to actually succeed.
"I used to obsessively watch the Gala every year. I've done four Galas now and I still get so nervous about them because they meant so much to me.
"I was just obsessed with it and I was 15 when YouTube became a thing, so there was suddenly access to comedy in a way that hadn't really been available before and I used to just sit and watch stand-up for hours and hours and hours."
By his own admission, he wasn't always great.
"I was very bad for about two-and-a-half years, I reckon. But everyone is," Nicholson says.
"I used to want to just be a shock comedian, I guess. I wanted to be this really gross...like, I used to say the C word so much.
"I will say it once in a show now, but I used to be, like ... I was the c- comedian there for a while. Good luck printing that. That will be the headline: Rhys Nicholson The C- Comedian'.
"A lot of people were very nice to me early on though. The older comedians saw that I really wanted to do it and just were nice to me, and probably didn't have to be."
He worked his way up, emceeing at events and then started doing the comedy festival circuit.
"And somehow now I still do it," Nicholson says.
"I was talking to my partner the other day about how I literally had no back-up plan. It's going pretty well, but if it falls through, I have been doing this since I was 17 and I have zero other skills.
"I was talking to my sister about this as well, like, we both have this imposter syndrome, like, 'Well, this is all going to fall through at some point, so just be ready for when it does. Just prepare yourself'."
SITTING among the crowd at his show at the Enmore Theatre were his parents Michelle, a school art teacher, and Sean, a ceramicist.
"They are the most blindly supportive people to the point where I say to my parents sometimes 'I'm running out of material - couldn't they have been, like, kind of bad parents or something because then I'd have a wealth of stuff to talk about'," Nicholson says.
"But from the get-go, they have always supported me.
"My parents taught both my sister and I to be independent. We both moved out of home pretty early - not because our parents wanted us to - but we were both like 'Let's go and do stuff'.
"I enjoy doing shows now in Newcastle because it's a good excuse to come back. I don't come back as much as I want to.
"Also, it's weird now coming back. I haven't lived at home for 10 years, but in that time, I feel like Newcastle has changed so much.
"I remember when I left, I was 18. And when you're 18 and you leave somewhere, you're always gonna be like 'F- this place', but now, when I go back, I'm like, 'Why did I leave here? It's so great'.
"Property is still more affordable and it's a pretty incredible place to live, and it's only an hour-and-a-half from Sydney."
Nicholson stops himself there.
"Sorry - I'm talking a bit like this is going to be in the real estate section, aren't I?," he laughs.
He lives in Melbourne these days with his fiancee and partner of eight years, ex-triple j host Kyran Wheatley, but would one day love to film a stand-up show at Civic Theatre.
"That's my five-to-10 year dream. I love that theatre. It's one of my favourite places," Nicholson says.
"I remember seeing Ross Noble or someone like that there 20 years ago and he said it looks like a kebab shop owner won the lottery and I was like, 'That's exactly what the Civic looks like'.
"The statutes of people holding shells and stuff ... it's so over-the-top. I love that."