Why people usually do stand-up:-
- To get laid
- Because they’re mentally challenged (this covers everything from basic narcissism to ‘I have my own day-of-the-week plastic pill tray’)
- They think they’re funny
- They think it looks easy
- They’re bored
- They LIKE being scared
Why I’m doing it:-
2, 3, 5 but most definitely 6. To explain:
- I’m married. (Didn’t think that one through).
- On the mentally challenged spectrum, I score fairly low. We’re talking normal to basic narcissism, arrogance and egotistical show-offyness (the flip-side of insecurity).
- I must think I can be funny or I wouldn’t risk my bowel.
- Nah. Never. I’m not INSANE. (See 2.)
- Yep. Low attention span.
A MILLION, TRILLION YEARS AGO…
My very first stand-up gig was in 1992 at the Buzz Club in Manchester. I’d just finished University there. I did Drama. The least useful degree in the uuuuniverse. The comedy legacy at Manchester University was HUGE. Studio Group took place every week at the tiny, weeny Stephen Joseph Theatre on campus. It had bred Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson, Ben Elton, Steve Coogan (his brother Kevin was in my year). The first ever comedy gig that blew me away was when Steve Coogan did the Trumpton Riots at our Student Union. We had Paul Tonkinson in our 3rd Year – he was our rubber-faced God. I couldn’t be better placed.
The problem was, attempting to be funny in front of people TERRIFIED me.
I’ve been a horror fan since the golden age of the video nasty, when my mate’s dead-hard brother showed us A Nightmare on Elm Street and I never slept again (soon after, this dead-hard brother did a Ouija Board, convinced himself he’d conjured up an evil version of his dead gran and wet himself.) From then on, I absorbed everything scare-related. Read James Herbert, Stephen King. Watched everything from Hammer House of Horror to A Serbian Film (don’t watch this – you’ll puke but not from fear). Nothing. NOTHING came close to the fear I felt before my first stand-up gig. I don’t just mean I got a bit nervous, had a bit of a dry mouth, butterflies etc. I mean I WOULD RATHER HAVE RATS EATING THEIR WAY INTO MY STOMACH THROUGH A HOT BUCKET. That kind of fear.
- THAT FIRST GIG. Someone somewhere must have said “Oh if you want to do stand-up, call this pub”. I got my first 5 minute open-slot from some weird man called Agraman and turned up with a small posse of supportive friends. Of course NOW I know the pub in question was legendary. The Southern Pub in Chorlton was where Jason Manford pot washed for months before being given his first gig at 17 when an act failed to show up. The Buzz Comedy Night was started by John Marshall, aka Agraman “the human anagram” and every comic from the glorious alternative comedy hey-day had performed there including Steve Coogan, Peter Kay, Frank Skinner, Linda Smith, Eddie Izzard – and of course Agraman himself was crucial in his field as a talent spotter and booker. And NOW I realise I should have listened to the small, self-effacing blonde woman called Caroline Aherne who performed so brilliantly that night in a nuns habit as Sister Mary Immaculate and said in the loo that I should got to London and do some gigs there. NOW I know that Manchester in the 1990s was the absolute BEST place EVER to start a comedy career. Yes. I was THAT stupid.
I remember 4 things about that night:
- I was scared to muteness. My accompanying friends sat round worried, trying to give me gin, saying “You sure you’re ok?” I could only nod. I actually couldn’t form words. I wasn’t shaking, I didn’t feel sick, I didn’t evacuate my bowels. I was just unable to speak. At all. It was my first experience of being MUTE with fear.
- The walk to the mike. It’s the walk to the gallows. The closest thing you’ll EVER experience to approaching capital punishment. And I’ve been hanged in Pierrepoint by Timothy Spall. Also. Never held a microphone in my life. I’d practised with a hair brush in my bedroom. This was a heavy thing attached to a lead which I was suddenly holding and which made popping noises when I spoke which I didn’t understand.
- Caroline Aherne. Beautiful. So in control of her audience. They loved her. I watched in awe. “You don’t do the usual stuff that women think they have to do” she told me in the loos. “That’s good.” Neither did she. Ever.
- The rush of adrenaline poisoned me afterwards. It was a good poison. Better than any Manc party drug. But the high did not outweigh the FEAR.
An example of my material back then:-
I opened with (said in a very posh – well, Crosby – accent):- “I’m from Liverpool so watch your handbags and hide your car keys.” First laugh. “And I’m a woman so I’m not going to talk about men, sex, periods or tampons. So… (Long pause) There’s fuck all else to talk about really.” Big laugh. They were a polite, Guardian-reading audience who wanted me to be good. They were, as are most of us in the audience of a stand-up gig, on edge and desperate for me to be good. I didn’t know I was BORN. So yes, I was all set up to storm London with my edgy woman-doesn’t-do-usual-woman-stuff.
Photo by Kevin Murphy Photography