At some point I did another one. Probably in Manchester, definitely in a pub but couldn’t tell you where and, in an attempt to not be mute with fear, in character. I took a glass of water onstage as if it was gin and behaved like a drunk Bette Midler. Can’t remember any of the material. I remember the audience being polite but came off feeling like a cheat. I hadn’t delivered stand-up, I’d done an acting sketch. I’d hidden behind a character. And worse – pretended to be drunk. I didn’t even have the guts to be properly pissed like Jonny Vegas.
Around the same time, I was watching lots of stand-up for inspiration. Mostly thinking “I could do that” but knowing I couldn’t. The fear, THE FEAR.
I saw a support act for Paul Tonkinson get GLASSED once at a student venue. He wasn’t bad. But he did kind of attack the audience. And you don’t do that in Manchester. But he didn’t deserve real glass. This was before plastic glasses – the saviour of the stand-up. No, the adrenaline rush after a gig did not outweigh the terror. I decided it was just not worth it. The desire to stand-up and potentially get glassed sank beneath weightier, loftier ambitions of regional theatre, the BBC, the RSC – anywhere where the audience was behind a TV screen or in a numbered seat.
I got into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1993. Suck on that stand-up. I was on my way to being a proper actor like Glenda Jackson (I am THAT old), Gary Oldman and Robert Shaw. RADA was the only drama school I auditioned for coz it was the only one I’d heard of. I graduated in 1996 believing even more than I did at 12 that I was destined for Oscars and Hollywood.
20 years later. Hmmmm…..
A little note about the Acting Profession
Everything they tell you is true. Every time someone told the 19 yr old me “the profession is over-run, most actors don’t work and live in poverty, it’s all about who you know, it’s about luck. People are c*nts. You need a back-up career, two back-up careers for the months, years you’ll be resting” I privately thought “Yeah, that’s for other people, the shit ones. Not me.” Yeah, no – what they tell you is true. All of it.
My Acting Career
Ok, those 20 years weren’t all bad. I have a respectable CV and an awesome, if slightly terrifying, agent. I worked with Vic and Bob in Randal and Hopkirk Deceased II, got killed by a Triffid in the remake of The Day of the Triffids with Eddie Izzard, got killed by a Dalek in Big Finish audio adventures. I’ve even been in films and taken 2 shows to Edinburgh. One was called Pramface. Comedy agents and promoters turned up to see it, obviously hoping I was Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I wasn’t. Pramface was not comedy, it was ‘worthy social-conscience theatre’ – I won the British Council’s Plat de Jour. And got a small tour out of it. Then it sank without trace. Maybe having the odd TV role and nice theatre tour was my downfall. Acting was drip-feeding me. If it had totally told me to F*ck Off, perhaps I’d have faced my true fears earlier on? There is just enough fear in waiting for the phone to ring and attempting to hide your desperation in an audition and facing an audience, knowing you’re good but not having had enough regular work to not have to prove it. There’s the f*cking rub.
Oh yeah, the Writing Career
I had also managed to become a professional writer. With an actual literary agent. I had plays on BBC radio and went to pitch meetings with film companies and the RSC did a reading of a script of mine and everything. The second hardest thing to becoming an actor is becoming a writer. Oh, you can sit in your shed with a pen and paper and say “I’m a writer” but until you get produced and earn money from it. You’re like, not. The big commissions never came but I did the odd project and struggled along in two careers rather than one. Genius. It was going to be 2008 before I did gig number 3…