Take one recent graduate undergoing a major identity crisis. Place in London. Stew with unreliable employment, expensive booze and a generous helping of debt. Strain the graduate. Serve with an unhealthy portion of cynicism.
Perfect with a pint of lager in a dingy basement – the preferred drink and setting of my very first gig.
For as long as I can remember (a year) I’ve wanted to give stand-up a try. As a student, I kept notes of amusing things that I’d observed and for a long time very little came of them. That was probably just as well. Looking back, some of them really were awful. ‘A sign that refers to another sign’, was hardly going to win a British Comedy Award – at least not without some sort of context.
A few months ago, I had a shit day. Naturally, I gorged on sitcoms and stand-up. My gloom readily and reliably faded. Then, somewhere between Comedy Vehicle and Peep Show, something clicked. I had to be part of this. It was time for me to book a slot at an open mic night.
I scoured the web, found a place that looked reasonably forgiving and fired off an e-mail. Within a couple of days I had a date. I was excited for about half an hour then promptly forgot all about it. The slot was over a month away and I had plenty of time.
Fast-forward five weeks and Google Calendar sprung into action. My phone loudly informed me that I had under a week before my first ever gig. I was less prepared and more nervous, than I had been for any exam, driving test or sexual experience.
Over the next few nights I went through the material I did have in order to cobble something semi-coherent together. Then I practised. Relentlessly. In the bathroom mirror, naturally. But also, under my breath on long evening walks, on the bus to work and into the ears of my sleeping flatmates. For the best part of a week, my five minute routine became my life.
The night itself was somewhat surreal. I went with two close friends, both of whom were (not so secretly) hoping I would bomb. My name was called and I stumbled to the front. I looked up at the audience and then it hit me. A massive dose of adrenaline went straight to my head. Suddenly, I was shaking.
I wasn’t expecting to be so phased as this wasn’t my first time in front of a crowd. In the past, I’d given plenty of speeches to large groups, but this was different. Here were thirty to forty people, waiting for me to prove to them that I was as funny as I thought I was. The words finally came and I’m told things went quite well. I managed to cover my various cock-ups and even engaged in a bit of impro. At one point, I offered to strip naked for a member of the audience. It was all a bit of a blur.
When my five minutes came to an end, everyone seemed reasonably happy with whatever it was I had done on stage. A number of the other performers congratulated me – something which was genuinely appreciated.
As the night wore on, plenty of people told me to ‘keep it up’ and ‘find another slot’. The obvious joke lingered and then the moment passed. I had blown my chance for a final laugh but also developed my sense of timing. It was clearly a joke best left for my first Jongleurs gig.
I’m sure that one day, a stag do will find a somewhat more bawdy account of my ‘first time’ utterly hilarious. In the mean time, this one will have to do.