Comedy in the making!

Some of my clients heard that I undertook a stand up comedy course earlier this year, and flattered me by wanting to know more! So here’s what happened…


Nomad Creative Studio

An unfamiliar pub in Stockwell, South London on a bleak Tuesday evening in late Winter isn’t where you’d typically find me. And certainly not one advertising a “Comedy Virgins” night. But, my friend Trish is very persuasive.

As a sixtieth birthday present to herself, she’d undertaken a 10 week comedy course. And no, this wasn’t her showing off her graduation funny stuff to me (she had quietly done that to others a couple of weeks before) but I was to be an additional “plus one” who could be borrowed out to another comedian.

In the lower comedy ranks, pubs putting on comedy require the Acts to bring a mate or two to ensure drinks are bought. No one pays to see an unknown standup so costs are recouped through the till. I could be a friend with a function.

My first mistake was to sit on what I thought was a very good seat. In the middle of the first row, just in front of the small stage. This was plain naivety. Anyone with any inkling of how comedy venues work, knows this is the one place where an unfortunate punter is likely to be picked upon. And I was.

With Trish laughing raucously to my side, and with a couple of lagers inside, I bantered with the MC. The audience cheered and whooped, and Trish believing she was whispering, but more so hollering (she had been the stadium announcer at the 2012 London Olympics - she seriously doesn’t know what it is to whisper) engineered a commitment that I too would undertake the very same comedy course.

And, with a further lager on a promise, I agreed.

OMG. That’s a language understood by most twenty and thirty somethings; the target audience for most stand-ups and the age-pool from which new talent is drawn by tv. Except in comedy school where the student ratio is skewed more to thirty and forty year olds with £500 disposable income to invest in their “dream”. For many, the self belief that they could make it as a stand-up comic is an itch which they wish they had scratched sooner.

My fellow course members proved a diverse bunch. AndrĂ©, an American with an uncanny resemblance to Jimmy Carr,  Matt, a television producer for whom masturbation and lack of girlfriends went hand in hand and Josh, the recently graduated actor and children’s entertainer were most immediately identifiable as having good comedic potential.

Women made up a third of the group; Amira, a BBC lawyer, Nina, a Pole newly arrived in London with a borrowed Glaswegian accent and larger than life Ginny who exuded a natural comedic persona - if only she could bottle it. Logan “no refunds” Murray was Comedian-in-Chief having overseen one hundred and thirteen previous courses. That’s an awful lot of wannabe enthusiasm to point in the right direction.

Our first meeting was a Wednesday night at the Welsh Centre, on London’s Gray’s Inn Road. The male voice choir won out on allocated space and presence. Heard but never seen. Sixteen of us crammed into the “studio” adjacent to the bar’s cellar. From somewhere else, loud music was playing to the Salsa class.

Course fixer, name-dropper and longstanding promoter on the stand up circuit, Hils, I forget her surname gave very clear instructions as to what was expected of us. Turn up on time and don’t eat or drink in class. Logan arrived later with coffee in hand and proceeded to discount everything alluded to by Hils. A comedy duo if only they could stay in the same room long enough.

Over the next weeks, we explored the key principles of comedy through games alternating high status with low status, or role-plays in which we were forbidden to self edit, releasing our “inner idiot”. For Logan “no refunds, no refunds”, comedy is about “afterthoughts”. The comic asserts a thought, supports and then subverts it. And gets a laugh. ASS for short.

By week seven, we had all generated enough carefully written down thoughts to include in our act. Yes, we were suddenly individual Acts,  learning how to walk onto stage with confidence and importantly, how not to trip over the microphone lead. We were being treated like pro’s, expected to behave like pro’s and indeed some group members were already testing waters on Open Mic nights across the Capital. Child minder Amanda had assumed an East-End Gail Tuesday type character in “Chermaine”. References to a tanned corpse and “tit lips” were eliciting much wanted laughter.

Four of us ventured to a new comedy venue close to Mile End tube where other comics were also trying out material. All four of us were terrified when a young comedienne brought out a raw chicken as a prop (you really don’t want to know what she did with it) - we were all going to have to handle the microphone after her.

Graduation was at the historic Water Rats pub a little further up the Gray’s Inn Road. As my friend Ken told me - where Bob Dylan first performed in London. Logan would be MC, in his alter ego of Ronnie Rigsby. And I would close the first Act. Don’t read anything into that positioning - it’s simply how the cards fell.

Now, I’m a performer. I’ve acted, hosted television programmes and am a freelance television announcer and voice-over artist. I’m fifty six and been, what you’d call, around. I can honestly say I have never been so terrified, ( except for the time when I was paraded on shopping television as a DIY expert, demonstrating a portable workbench with a wobbly circular saw).

The urgent need to retch minutes before storming the stage was so real that I considered fainting as the better option. But of course, I didn’t. The Acts ahead of me were winning laughs. I was engulfed by doubts that my observations on naked croquet, tea commercials and playing Clytemnestra at 14 in a school play were anything close to a half decent set.

But I was wrong. I leaped onto stage, didn’t trip over the lead and OMG, the audience laughed. I even picked on the guy sitting in the middle of the front row. And he bantered back. Somehow, my five minutes in the spotlight (after five minutes a light winks and you HAVE  to get off) disappeared, in a flash. If it wasn’t for the video recording, my recollections would have been completely consumed by pumping adrenaline. Coming down took the next five hours.

As I write, my WhatsApp is alive to shared messaging between other class members identifying and confirming gigs at various venues across London. For myself, my stand up career is over and with note to self, when Trish next sets herself a challenge, I don’t have to follow.

It’s now a couple of months since I completed the course and one person in particular is emerging as a talent to watch;  Amira Saied. Catch her if you can. 

NOTE: All names are real.

Published 22 July 2016

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