When I started as a 28 year old freshman, I knew that I wasn't going to be living the life of a stereotypical student. I also knew that despite a ten years' experience of living in the 'real world', I was still terrified of public speaking.
My ridiculous path to self-improvement (self-embarrassment) was planned: I would throw myself into performing a five minute stand-up comedy routine at my award-winning Footlights society. It took me until I was 30 to finally man-up and do it.
As an aspiring writer, humour is a huge part of what I do. Mostly because if I didn't laugh at rejection I would head butt a speeding train, and also because for every moment in life - no matter how tragic or terrifying - there is a comedic angle. Unless you're not a Ricky Gervais fan.
It was from here that I started to talk myself into the idea of performing comedy, and started to have conversations with myself in my head:
"Just do it, you know you want to. What's the worst that can happen?"
They don't laugh...
"So! It's not Live at the Apollo, you'll get over it!"
Why can't I stop crying...
I signed up. But it's one thing to sign up for something, but it's another thing to write the material, keep turning up for meetings and rehearse and edit your material when there is four weeks to go. The Footlights crew were helpful and encouraging from the start, and I salute them for it still.
The lead up was surprisingly Zen-like. But the last three days saw a huge shift. I had confidence in my material, but the self-doubt had started to creep in. I envisaged performing the whole set, then realising that the mic wasn't turned on, and other nightmare scenarios all based around misfiring.
The night before, I rehearsed in front of the mirror, using a banana as a microphone. I looked at myself for a moment and thought: 'This is it. You've finally gone mad.' The banana was swapped for a TV remote. Far more sane.
The day of the performance was a blur, and the night itself was the most surreal three hours of my life. My fellow first timers were united in excitement and fear. I felt a strange brother-like duty to speak to anyone who was alone, as if to comfort them. They were probably thinking that I just wanted to be their friend. It was kind of true.
We were kept backstage until we performed. It was the strangest scenario ever. We were walking in circles, muttering material to ourselves and giving each other half-smiles and nods. I was waiting for R.P. McMurphy to burst in.
What was great was seeing acts return after their set: exhausted yet elated. I liken it to the aftermath of a sky-dive. You want to be alone to saviour the emotions, but you also want to shout from the rooftops that you did it.
When the MC called my name, I opened the door and walked onto the stage. I could feel the shift in myself. I went from terrified and weak to alert and strong in an instant. There's something magical about walking on stage holding a microphone. I understand now why comedians do it.
As for the performance itself? I've seen it on YouTube since, and it's a surreal experience. I paced like a crack addict in New Jack City because of the nerves, and delivering the material how I heard it in my head was always going to be a challenge.
I'm confident and honest enough to know when something I've written is good. The big laughs came where I wanted them too, and a couple of jokes misfired. Hey-ho. I'd give myself 6 out of 10, and I'm my harshest critic.
The inevitable question that comes with performing anything for the first time is: Would I do it again? The answer is simply: No.
My confidence is public speaking has improved, to the extent that I did a screenwriting workshop at a school with fifteen 12-14 year olds this year and it went really well. None of the kids threatened to beat me up and one of them bought me some popcorn.
Popcorn. That is very much where I belong: In the audience, chomping and slurping. The difference is now that my respect for anyone who performs in the public eye has gone through the roof.
Five minutes was too long for me.
Doing it as a career? I salute you all.
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