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Finding My Funny (Or, How I 'Learnt' to Do Stand-Up in Three Weeks)

Posted: 21/05/2013 00:00

Laughter Health

People keep giving me pity eyes. "You're very brave," they say, rubbing my shoulder, as if I'm ill. But I'm not ill. What I am, though, is terrified. Because this week I'll be making my stand-up comedy debut in front of about 300 people. Am a comedian? No. I'm a sub editor - a bespectacled dictionary lover who thinks grammar's a hoot. Yes, I make my friends laugh, but I've never thought I was funny enough to stand on stage and amuse strangers. So why now?

The truth is, I thought it might cure my blushing. I'll admit there's little logic here. But after a blush too many earlier this year, I decided to think of the most scary, humiliating situation I could - and then put myself in it. I'm hoping that I can somehow force all my blushes into one epic fuchsia moment and then never do it again. Opting to ease myself into stand-up via a course, rather than just heading straight to the nearest open-mic night (I'm not that brave), I signed up for the London Comedy Course, which offers 18 hours of tuition followed by a performance at the Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich.

Of course, there are other reasons I signed up. My obsession with taking on challenges (last year it was a half marathon). A professional interest in boosting my creativity. But also, I wanted to see whether I really was funny. I know I was funny once. I have a memory of being five years old and making a classmate laugh to stop her telling the teacher on me for saying "poo" (you gotta love kids). I have another memory where I'm 13, doing an impression of a girl at school to a rapt audience. I suddenly turn and see the subject of my joke standing there. I don't know how much she saw, but shame hits me immediately - I never do anything like that again. After that, things went decidedly unfunny anyway. Teenage angst. Parental divorce. An unhealthy obsession with the Manic Street Preachers. Suddenly life got serious. So is it too late for me to find my funny now? I hope not.

My tutor, Harry Denford - a Jongleurs regular with nearly 20 years experience - aims the course at beginners, so our first task is learning how to hold a microphone (not like I'm eating a Cornetto, I learned). We're then taught methods to find material and are sent away with homework to write, which will be performed at the next session. Some of my stuff gets laughs, some of it is met with blank faces still hoping there's a punchline. At least twice over the three-week course, Harry tells me that "as an editor, I expected you to be better at this" - which is, as you can imagine, hugely reassuring. He also tells me that female audience members are going to hate me just because I'm a woman who doesn't resemble Quasimodo's long-lost twin sister. This troubles me. I love women. They're awesome. I don't want them to hate me.

I ask Lynne Parker, founder of Funny Women, what she thinks about this. "Women are, by nature, competitive," she says. "The most difficult audience for a female comedian is a female audience. But I think that's down to you as a performer to get over that." She's right, so I decide not to dwell on this - I'm sure that in my five minutes of need, the sisterhood won't let me down.

Given the amount of comedy courses available, and the number of open-mic nights out there, there must be a lot of people hoping to be the Next Big Thing. But what is a promoter really looking for with new acts? "It's about bringing people into your world," says Martin Besserman, who runs North London comedy club Monkey Business, which has had everyone from Harry Hill to Noel Fielding to Stewart Lee play there. "Don't try to copy each other, don't all try to be like Russell Howard - the emphasis should be on one's individuality. It should be convincing." But he does warn new comics to take on board how tough the industry is. "You have to confront yourself honestly - ask yourself if you have funny bones. It takes a number of years to become successful - it doesn't happen quickly." I'm not hoping for a dramatic life change overnight, but I am hoping to get through my five-minute set and feel like the nerves and fear were worth it. In short, I need my jokes to be, well, jokes. "It's a wonderful feeling when the audience laughs," Martin adds. "But it's a real feeling of hurt when you don't get that."

As I prepare for my debut, I run over my lines in the shower, the car, walking down Oxford Street... I gesture on the Tube while going over things in my head, and stand in front of the mirror at home, talking into a remote control like it's a mic. This really is scariest thing I've ever contemplated and as the performance draws closer, I ask Martin how he thinks I'll do. "Oh, Amy, you'll be catastrophic," he says, a heavy silence filling the air between us before he laughs heartily. I settle instead for more comforting words from Funny Women's Lynne: "I genuinely believe everyone has the ability to be funny - we just have different ways of doing it." Oh God, please let my way be the right way... Will this performance be my one and only venture into comedy? I'll let you know. But for now, I'm going back to dictionary corner, where it's warm and safe and no one can see me blush.

 

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