2014 has turned out to be a land mark year for my development journey. Over recent weeks I have been attending workshops to learn the skills of stand up comedy. The intention was to raise money for Claire House, a children’s hospice in Liverpool, England. The event was sponsored by Laughology, a business focused on developing people and organisations through humour and laughter.
I was approached in the previous 2 years to take part but declined out of shear terror at the thought of standing on stage and trying to be funny. Everyone’s worst nightmare would be stoney silence; tumbleweed rolling across the front of the stage. I was no different.
This year, at the third time of asking, I agreed. I’m not entirely sure what was different for me this year. I had been reflecting on my development journey over the last few years and wondering what my next development adventure might be. Maybe this was the trigger. Never say never.
Over four weeks, myself and 8 other novice comedians were taught the tricks of the trade. We went through exercises to explore our natural styles and to experiment with material. I rehearsed my material dozens of times. Whilst walking the dogs, shaving, showering and travelling by rail or road, I was telling my story and fine tuning my inflections and timing.
On the big day, in front of over 100 people, I delivered my 5 minute set. I heard laughs where I wanted them to be and a loud cheer at the end as I wrapped up my material with the ‘loop back’, big finish.
Contrary to what I predicted, I was able to relax during the live performance and enjoy the moment. The rehearsals had paid off and the lines flowed reasonably effortlessly.
Three things stand out from this experience.
The first is the marked difference I feel in my confidence and presence. I feel more alive, alert and ready for life. I really do feel ‘different’. I think the challenge, feeling and conquering fears, accomplishment, recognition and acquiring new skills, all seem to be contributing to this.
I’m also wondering whether this experience has put a spotlight on a long-held curiosity about performing. I have a lasting memory of being very young and one of my parents predicting that I would “end up on stage one day”. I’ve always considered myself being on stage in my work facilitating groups and speaking at conferences. However, this is the first time since my nativity donkey disaster (don’t ask) that I’ve performed in the truest sense of the word. It was exhilarating and liberating.
The third area I find myself reflecting on is the autobiographical nature of my material. We were advised by our fantastically talented comedy coach, Kerry Leigh to pick a story from our lives and to think of something that the audience could relate to. This naturally led to more or less autobiographical material for all of us. The way my material emerged over the four week period was particularly enlightening.
My intention was to simply pick funny moments from my life and write about them. I looked to my family, friends and colleagues, my upbringing, school, work, and general experiences. Once assembled, I started to explore whether the raw material had any legs. Lots was written. Much was discarded. Without intention, I ended up with a story line that starts in my teenage years and ends with the present day.
In 6 minutes I tell the story of my desire to achieve and to move in different circles to those found at my school and home town. Essentially, I tell a story of a northern lad who had aspirations to be a little bit posh.
It was meant to be a joke. And it is. But, having had some time between finishing writing and seeing myself on stage delivering the finished product, I realise it is also quite close to the truth.
There is both ambition and pretentiousness in my life story¹. I can see that more clearly now. I think I’ve always recognised it, but writing about it and condensing it into a 6 minute set, certainly puts a spotlight on it.
The art of good comedy seems to be about exaggeration and emphasis, the unexpected, being willing to laugh at one’s own beliefs and behaviours, and sharing stories that hint of, or point directly at, the truth.
They say comedy is truth. I agree. My comedy debut has revealed truths about my journey that are both enlightening and entertaining.
¹ Watch the video to see what I mean by ambition and pretentiousness. Be warned, it contains strong language.