I did my first stand-up set the other day.
I’ve talked in the past about the morbid fear I have of stand-up. I really enjoy public speaking (because I’m a masochist) and I love writing comedy, yet the thought of combining the two has been known to actually make me shake with fear. I’ve toyed, over the years, with the idea of giving it a go but I’ve always tossed it aside. I don’t want to do that, it’s silly, I’d rather write jokes for someone else.
I’m doing a class this semester on comedy writing and our first assignment was stand-up. We had to write a five minute set and then preform it to the class. So that was that.
I spent a long time composing my five minutes of jokes. I latched onto an idea I’ve had for a long time and I poked at it and poked at it until it unravelled into a page of material. And then I practised it, over and over and over again. I tweaked and I adjusted (I decided to say motorcycle a lot because it’s a funny word). I added emphasis and replaced words with ones that were funnier (I took some of the uses of the word motorcycle out because there was way too many). I remembered the skill I have for memorising things that once made me a pretty competent public speaker. Eventually I got sick of hearing the words come out of my mouth. That was when I decided I’d probably practised enough times.
I even planned my outfit – I was going to wear jeans and a comedy t-shirt. But on the morning of the assignment, the t-shirt in question was nowhere to be found. Rather than simply locating another shirt, I reconsidered. If I were to actually do stand-up, for real, I wouldn’t be a t-shirt-and-jeans kind of comic, it isn’t really very me. So I got out one of my favourite dresses and a pair of shiny red shoes and I wore red lipstick, even though I don’t usually wear makeup to uni at all. My teacher had encouraged us to create a persona, and so I did. I dressed as the kind of comedian that I would like to be.
I was up fourth. I was afraid that when I stood up, all my bravado would vanish and I would be left a gibbering, terrified mess. I wrote notes my hand, just in case, because that’s what the real comics do. But then I stood up. And I told my jokes. I remembered the hand gestures that I’d practiced and I paused in the right places and I had the courage to make the stupid noises. People laughed. They laughed a lot. It wasn’t such a terrible thing after all.
The thing is that, when it actually came to it, doing stand-up was exactly as difficult as it should have been. I wrote five minutes of jokes, I practised them and I preformed them to a group of people. It was fun. There’s nothing, really, to be afraid of.
All this doesn’t mean that there are endless evenings spent at dingy open mic nights in my future (not as a performer anyway). I’m still pretty confident that I’d rather be behind the pen than behind the mic. But I walked out of that room and I felt incredible. I wasn’t the only one who’d faced that fear – the whole class had. Even the seasoned drama students were nervous about the prospect and, almost without exception, we’d all overcome those nerves with flying colours. It was exhilarating.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: do the things that scare you. No matter how many times I learn the lesson, it still surprises me. More often than not, pushing yourself ends well. Fear is a ridiculous reason to say no. I shouldn’t be something that stops us.
And when I was standing up there, waxing lyrical about mobile phones, I realised how stupid my fear had been. Because that’s the thing about fear: it’s much, much more fragile than we think it is.

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Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year