Lessons from stand-up


I’ve always had a great respect for stand-up comedians.  It’s the ability to go out and make an audience laugh in a challenging environment where all you have is yourself and the microphone.   It’s that admiration that has always made me want to try it out but never had the courage to do until now.

So after recently leaving my job I had run out of excuses and it was time to confront my demons.   For the last six weeks I’ve been going to the Comedy School in Camden and this culminated on Sunday night when I did my first routine with 11 other comedians.   It was an incredible experience and something I never thought I could or would do.   I learnt so much in the process.   Here are some thoughts.

Keeping it real 

When you look at comedians it’s their ability to laugh at themselves and be themselves that makes people laugh.   Ultimately you have to be able to look at all your quirks and traits and have a good laugh at it.  I learnt it was humbling, empowering and amusing to laugh at yourself.   We all need to do more of it.  On stage, as in life, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being someone else.   Ultimately you have to be authentic and comfortable being yourself.   That was the true test.

The beauty of diversity

The twelve comedians who did the course were from a range of different backgrounds ranging from students through to grandparents all with a variety of life experiences that came together.   I realised that recently in the past few years it is easy to live your life in a bubble with closed circles of experiences and friends, reinforced in the echo chamber of social media.  The beauty of comedy was it has helped broaden my horizons and learn from others with a variety of experiences and new ideas.   I’ve met some of the most incredible people and friends doing this.   It’s been a privilege.    We need more diversity and inclusion in the world.

The art of conversation

One of the areas I struggled most was how to have a ‘conversation’ with the audience.   I simply found standing up in front of people and remembering my content hard enough – let alone trying to interact with them and make them laugh.   But there is an art (which I am still learning) in how you engage and interact with your audience.  You have to manage what I think are two diametrically opposites: a highly structured script and be present with your audience to be able to improvise and connect with them in an incredibly short space of time (we were doing five minute routines).    It requires thorough preparation and then you have to be present to improvise in the moment with the audience.

Content is everywhere and limitless

I found the process of building my own routine challenging but in a masochistic way extremely therapeutic and rewarding.   It was about pausing and looking at the obvious things in life and seeing the humour in it.  The support I got from my fellow comedians in developing my content was so important and I think makes it stand out as a profession.    Unlike many other industries I experienced real collaboration with a prevailing belief that there is no limit on content.  The funnies are limitless you just have to find them.  It’s about testing it with different people and continuously refining it.   Often each week I’d be frustrated that a script I’d spent hours on hadn’t worked but amused that it was an off the cuff remark, in the moment, that had worked.    It’s a process that requires constant testing and iterating.  You have to listen and adapt.

The world needs more laughter

2016 has been a pretty crazy year in so many ways.   It’s in that context that I think you have to find humour in everything we do.   Often it’s easy to take life too seriously – I do it all the time.    The beauty of the course was to get a different perspective on life and laugh at it.   Against the backdrop of some of the political, economic and social challenges we are all fronting up to it is so important to find laughter and fun in what we do.    The world needs more laughter and perspective.

Now is the time

Shamefully it was 14 years ago when I first thought that I would like to try stand-up.   For a variety of reasons (mostly driven by internal limiting beliefs and not prioritising it amongst the everyday noise) it’s taken this long for me to bite the bullet and just do it.   Life is too short.  You have to do things now.    It’s been an important wake up call.  The fear thing was a funny one (no pun intended).   Often in life you come up with a thousand reasons not to do something and never do it.   You have to shut out that voice in your head and do it.    I remember vividly waiting to go out on the stage.   My heart racing, palms sweating, I started to think of all the things that could go wrong and why was I doing it.   Then I remembered this is what living is all about – taking on the hardest challenges and shutting out that inner voice.    I remember when I came out on stage in front of the bright lights it just felt normal and with that my fears were kicked into touch.     You have to shut out your doubts and simply do it.

As I said to someone when I started the course I am not sure where this will take me.   But what I’ve learnt up to know has been incredible.   It’s been worth it just for that.    I still have so much to learn in the world of stand-up so I don’t want to hang up the mic just yet.    Not bad for six Thursday evenings in Camden.   I have to say a huge thank you to the great work Keith and the team at the Comedy School does and all the other people that helped me along the way.   Without them I would not have got this far.

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