I’ve always loved stand-up, but for a long time I never imagined it was something I’d be able to do. I know I can write funny material (my first job was as a reviewer for video games magazines, back when the industry had a sense of humour) and I can always make people laugh in the pub or round the poker table but, as a natural introvert, the idea of standing up in front of an audience horrified me.
As I got older I had to do more public speaking in my career and, while I still think of myself as introverted, I’ve learned to be extroverted in short bursts when the situation demands. It takes a lot of mental energy and usually wipes me out for a day or two, but I kind of enjoy doing it, and I eventually started thinking that I might make a passable stand-up comedian.
Why would I even want to be a stand-up? All the usual reasons – if you put together a list of all the cliches about what drives people to stand-up comedy, I would probably tick every one of those boxes.
I’ve been circling around the idea for a few years, but life kept getting in the way and I never got round to starting, so at the beginning of 2017 I promised myself that one way or another I’d get on stage by the end of the year. Spring arrived and I still hadn’t got my shit together enough to do an open-mic night, so I decided to book myself onto a stand-up comedy course.
I didn’t really want to do this, because all the advice for aspiring stand-ups that I read said the best thing to do was just start hitting the open-mics and learn from experience, but I felt like it would give me the momentum I needed to get started. The course, run by City Academy, was the only one I could find that was taught by an established comedian who I’d heard of, Kate Smurthwaite. It ran over six weeks and ended with a showcase night in a real comedy club with an audience guests invited by the students – so it seemed ideal.
I was on the course with 9 other wannabes, and the weekly lessons (held on a Wednesday evening in a studio at the back of a theatre in Soho) were good fun. There was an interesting mix of different ages and motivations amongst the other students, some wanted to be stand-up comedians, some wanted to improve their confidence and public speaking ability, others just thought the class would be fun but had no plans to continue comedy afterwards.
At the risk of sounding like a dick, I’d already spent a couple of years hoovering up books, articles and podcasts about stand-up (not to mention watching a lot of it) so I was already familiar with a lot of the stuff covered by the course, but it was still good to talk it all through with a professional comedian. For me, there were two main things I wanted to get out of the course:
- The showcase night – to try stand-up in front of a relatively tame-crowd for the first time
- To meet some like-minded people who would be up for hitting the open mic scene once the course was over
What I liked about the course was how it brought everybody along, regardless of ability. Right from the beginning some of the students were clearly going to be good at this, while I had strong doubts about some of the others. But by the end of it, every single one of them put together a set and performed it in front of a room full of people, and they all got laughs.
For me, it was all about finding a way of getting started instead of just daydreaming about being a stand-up, and it definitely helped with that.