I have loved comedy all of my life. My first exposure probably began with tapes of Roy Chubby Brown and Mike Reid secretly handed around school. These tapes were then copied and labelled ‘Chart Mix’ or some other parent-fooling title. I would listen to those tapes again and again, learning the jokes and trying to figure out how they work.
Then my Dad introduced me to the Marx Brothers. A Night at the Opera is still one of my top 5 films. It had everything, puns, witticisms, slapstick and the man who would become my comedy hero, Groucho. I borrowed biographies from the library about him. I memorised a few of his zingers to try out.
From Groucho I moved onto Richard Pryor and then to Eddie Murphy, they were the first stand-up comedian videos I saw. From there my comedy fandom grew. Every birthday and Christmas I would get videos of stand-up and we get to today where Andy Kaufman, George Carlin and Bill Hicks are among my favourites.
Now, I know what you might be thinking (I say ‘might’ as I am no Derren Brown), what has all this got to do with mental health. Well, yesterday I attended my first ever stand-up comedy class.
I have written down ideas for jokes or puns for years and then lost the scraps of paper and receipts I had them written on. Then, last year I started to seriously think about writing comedy. I began to use Scrivener to record my thoughts and whilst driving I would get my Wife to WhatsApp words when I thought of something funny. Some of these came to nothing, but every once in a while magic happened and a fully formed joke would appear.
But that was the limit of my ambition. I was happy writing jokes that only the circle of people around me would hear and groan at. I progressed to submitting jokes to Newsjack on BBC radio, but mine were never chosen. But, the thought of standing on a stage with a mic terrified me.
At the start of the year something changed. Maybe it is my impending big birthday, or perhaps after years of therapy I actually began to believe in myself. Whatever it was led me to enquire about comedy classes and by pure luck one has started near me.
So last night I went along, absolutely bricking it. Not only about the comedy element, but also meeting new people. We were taught about the different types of jokes there are and why they work. We looked at both writing and performance. Then at the end of class we got to do some of our jokes for the others. Armed with my phone I nervously delivered 2 minutes of jokes. Some worked and some need work, but there were laughs (which I took as a good sign).
I now have a problem, though. I’ve used jokes that I have been honing for a couple of years. It’s like a band who release their first album to great critical acclaim as they had been practising and tweaking the songs for years before they had that record deal. I now have difficult second album syndrome. I have to come up with new jokes in a week. I have no luxury of time to write and rewrite gags.
But I did it, I stood behind a microphone (albeit an unplugged one) and told a room of strangers my jokes. It was amazing. I had quite the buzz off of it. Now, I’m not saying I am going to be heading to the nearest comedy club and demand a 20-minute slot, but I overcame a barrier. I do not know what lies over that barrier, but it’s going to be an adventure.