Well, it finally happened. The thing I was dreading the most – more than getting naked, chatting up strangers and even jumping out of a plane – is now over and done with.
Yes, on Sunday night I got up in front of a microphone in a London pub and delivered a stand-up comedy routine.
I use these terms loosely – I was definitely standing up but whether it was ‘comedy’ or even a ‘routine’ is debatable. But either way, I did it. And it was was one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life.
I find watching stand-up comedy quite stressful. Even the good ones make me nervous. The chance that they will say stuff and it will be met with a resounding silence, or worse still, booing, is just too much.
Who the hell would put themselves through that?
Well, me, obviously.
I didn’t have the guts to walk straight into an open-mike night so I signed up to a weekend course organised by Laughing Horse Comedy. The idea is that a pro teaches you how to be funny on Saturday and Sunday and then you’re unleashed on an audience on Sunday night.
Five of us turn up to class, in the basement of the Mitre pub near Paddington: a Finnish guy whose wife had given him the course as a present (‘She’s telling me I’m not funny anymore’), a Greek Woody Allen who booked the course while drunk, a ‘6ft5 poof from Rotherham’ (his words) whose friends tell him he’s funny and Vicky, an advertising manager from Manchester who made a new year resolution to do more fun stuff.
Our teacher, Lewis Bryan, a working comedian, gets us started by asking us to talk about ourselves and why we’re here. I give them the whole fear fighting spiel and they find it interesting and funny. I begin to think this will be OK.
Then we were asked to do an exercise called ‘Rant and Rave’ which involves finding five things that drive you crazy and ranting about them for 3 minutes.
I prattle on about hen dos and being single at a wedding, like some sort of tragic Bridget Jones and then half-heartedly moan about the phrase ‘Let’s put a date in the diary’.
‘I work from home,’ I say. ‘I’m doing well if I leave the house most days… but everyone else is acting like they’ve got a social schedule like Obama.’
It’s not funny. My classmates are confused. I am embarrassed. I head off at the end of the day like a woman with a death-sentence.
After a night of offal and karaoke I wake up at 6am in a total panic. I only got to bed at 3am but we have to write a 5-minute routine before class and I couldn’t sleep for worrying about it.
I write up my crappy ‘rants and raves’ and some other things – getting naked at the life-drawing class, chatting up strangers on the tube and living back at home with dad. I don’t know if any of it is funny. I no longer know what funny is.
By the time I get back to our pub basement, the hangover’s kicking in and I can’t decide whether to cry or be sick.
We have to read out what we’ve written.
The group agrees that I have some good lines but I have to work on my delivery. Lewis tries to get me to deliver lines with ‘attitude’ – be ’embarrassed’, ‘positive’, ‘angry’ but I’m just terrified.
He gives up: ‘It’s OK, even if you deliver it as flatly as that you’ll still get some laughs. The misery and desperation comes through, you’re like a woman on the brink of a breakdown.’
Great. I was going for witty and self-deprecating.
Unfortunately my friend Jo agrees. When she arrives before our evening performance I read out my routine to her. She doesn’t laugh once. ‘I just feel bad for you,’ she says. ‘It really is hard to be single at a wedding…’
I order a large glass of Chardonnay.
And then it’s time. The basement room fills up with punters and we prepare for our moment in the spotlight.
Greek Woody Allen talked about his therapist having Alzheimer’s, Vicky did a brilliant routine about a date giving her a PowerPoint presentation, Finnish guy did good stuff about hating cats…
Then me. By this stage I am so tired I’ve actually run out of energy to be scared. I get up. I start talking. I think I hear laughs. I find myself miming the weird ballet poses I had to do when I was life modelling. I get more laughs.
I make a joke about mum worrying that this self-help stuff will turn me all American. (‘What do you mean,’ I asked her. ‘Happy!’ she said with disgust.) That got a laugh too.
I tell them about being put at the kids’ table at a wedding.
‘There’s nothing like sitting at a table with a bunch of teenagers playing Angry Birds on their iPhones to make you wonder where you’ve got wrong in life,’ I say. That got another laugh. I think it was a sympathy laugh but by this stage I couldn’t care less.
Then before I knew it, it was over. I floated back to my seat. My friend, Jo looked amazed. ‘It was funny!’ she said. ‘Really!’
And there you go. I am almost officially funny.
A couple of the others want to do it again – the thrill of making people laugh was such a high – but once was enough for me. My nerves couldn’t take anymore.
I flag a taxi home and tell the driver what I’d just done. He looks stunned. ‘You’ve got bigger balls than I do,’ he said.
We end up having a conversation about the stuff that frightens us and he tells me he hates going into parties. ‘But it’s all in our heads, isn’t it?’ He asks. ‘Cos, if I make myself go, it’s alright and I wonder what I was worrying about.’
At the end of the journey he refuses to take any money off me. ‘I think what you’re doing is great, love,’ he said.
The truth is, I think it’s great too.
I have never felt prouder of myself in my whole life.Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway: How to Turn Your Fear and Indecision into Confidence and Action
Everyone else recorded their routine but I was so convinced mine was going to be hideous I told Jo I would ‘kill her’ if there was any record of it. I regret that now but here are some more photos.
Also, if any of you are interested in stand-up, I’d really recommend the course. Lovely, friendly, experienced teachers and for all it’s scariness it was fun too. http://www.laughinghorsecomedy.co.uk/comedy/