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Go On, Say Something Funny...

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I went to a party on Saturday night. I knew it was a bad idea.

It wasn't a big party - when Mrs West and I arrived there were 6 or 7 people standing around in the kitchen. So far, so normal. We were reasonably early so everyone was sober and there was a familiar, almost reassuring, hint of British awkwardness in the air.

As we were introduced around, our host (a colleague of Mrs West) announced with almost tangible excitement "This is Andrew, he's the one who's a comedian". My heart sank.

I felt expectation levels in the room start rise - the evening was heading in THAT direction already. I was told that the host's boyfriend considered himself to be utterly hilarious and had been looking forward to challenging me to a joke-off. Someone piped up, "Oh good, the entertainment's arrived."
I wanted to smash the bottle I was holding and have a go at opening up a major artery. One of mine or one of theirs, I wasn't going to be fussy.

I'm not someone who "comes alive" in front of a crowd. To me, getting onstage is sort of a necessary evil. I enjoy it when it goes well, but if there was another way to satisfy my comic urges and my desperate need for approval, I'd probably take it.

Of course I love making people laugh. I love making people laugh at parties. Equally, as an open mic comedian I've performed to smaller audiences than the inhabitants of that party. Nonetheless, it was all a bit uncomfortable. I really need to write some actual jokes that I can use in those situations.

No doubt moments like that are an occupational hazard for comedians. It happens to people with proper jobs too, I'm sure. When nurses go to parties they probably spend a good portion of their evening hearing about everyone's aches and pains.

I explained that I'm not a professional comedian and that I'm still taking my first steps on the circuit and thankfully the topic of conversation drifted elsewhere.

Nonetheless, several times over the course of the night one or two people kept on at me to "do a turn". I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to extricate myself from the situation without coming across as a bit of a tool - or worse, by conceding defeat and reluctantly ploughing through a few minutes of material - but I really couldn't see that being a success.

There's a mysterious alchemy to comedy - this party wasn't the time or the place to be doing an impromptu gig. Open mic nights are haphazard enough, thanks very much.

Comedy is subjective. People who buy tickets to see, say, Mark Watson do so because they like Mark Watson - which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. At an open mic gig, however, it's certain that not every act will do well, because that kind of audience self-selection hasn't happened.

In that situation, more adept comedians than me can quickly get a feel for the audience and do whatever they need to in order to make that particular group of individuals laugh. They might alter their set, change their language or adopt a slightly different persona. I'm nowhere near that skilled yet.

Generally speaking, I get onstage with my 5-10 minute set in my head and off I go. If it's not going well, there's not much I feel able to do about it - other than cut it short and get off, so that the next act isn't left with a stone dead room to grapple with.

Back at the party, Mrs West (who is much better in a crisis than I am) heroically fended off the calls for me to "do a turn" with skilful changes of subject and apparently-light-hearted-but-actually-deadly-serious quips that she'd quite like to have a night out that didn't involve standup comedy. She always gets me out of trouble.

I'm just going to stop telling people I'm any sort of comedian. It's a bit much I suppose, like someone who plays Sunday League calling themselves a footballer. Mrs West won't always be there to rescue me.