So, recently I did one of the most terrifying and interesting things in my life. And in a few weeks, you can too. It was at the incomparably excellent Lawfest, from which the enduring lesson was the power of letting go, just a little bit. I was milling around after one of the early sessions, and it started a bit like this.
Steve: So, would you do something for me?
Me: [Non committally] Mmm-huh [sounds a bit like a yes, but may just be a groan]
Steve: Okay, great. Thanks. Just remember this – don’t panic. Relax. And enjoy it.
A few minutes later, Steve is about to step up onto a stage, and on his way there this happens:
Steve: In one minute I’m going to ask you to come on stage to do a stand-up comedy routine about your surname. You can prepare now.
And sure enough Steve gets up on stage, tells the audience later he is going to be giving classes in how to do stand-up comedy, tells the audience ‘we’ll’ be joined in a minute by yours truly, and launches into rather more than a minute of stand-up on his own surname. Pointers! I think as I desparately try to think of what I might say. All those moments in the 1970s when life seemed a bit like a non-stop Grange Hill episode and I was subject to day after day of really appallingly bad comments about my somewhat unusual surname. And I am fighting off the memories of some rather poignant conversations with my newly teenage daughter afflicted my surname and the stupidity of teenage boys in the era of the internet. I have not yet burdened her with the knowledge that as far as we can tell teenagekind didn’t actually discover certain sexaul acts and their American soubriquets – until the late 1980s, or that her grandparents were incredibly short sighted to give me a first name that when shortened and added to the surname is most aptly characterised as a sort of Benny Hill pornstar name.
It’s quite a good name for a professor, I suppose, she says wistfully when what she really wants to say is, Can I have mum’s name?
Anyway, as I am picking my way through this, I hear what appears to be a local darts compere hollering, So welcome to the stage, Ricchhhaarrrdddd Moooooooorrrrrrr-headdddddddd. I make my way on stage, noticing, comfortingly, that I probably won’t throw up.
The audience are whooping and clapping, they know to be nice and suddenly I see that this is, in fact, incredibly exciting. I had to get on stage, deal with a heckler (WTAF, but it turns out it relaxes the nerves slightly, gives me a moment to pause) and then think of things to say which might be, vaguely, in some way, funny, there and then, from the jumbled assortment of stories that had been assembling in my head. Assembling in my head without any shape or story or punchlines or any of that stuff. It was utterly terrifying too, even though the audience had been worked into a situation where they desperately wanted me to succeed, you could feel them literally willing me to be funny, and occasionally they laughed (nervous tension I think) and I started to talk a bit and string a few things together. It was incredibly disjointed but I noticed my brain was firing on all cylinders, desparately looking for ways of joining the last sentence to the next one, whilst being acutely aware of the audience (friendly, perplexed) and the possibility of me saying things which were well, frankly, inappropriate. And then I got off stage and no one died not even me, not quite and I thought: Next time, I’ll be ready. And for the next two hours I found myself writing a routine in my head, reliving deliciously awful bits of my life I’d forgotten about. Writing bits of a routine: incoherent, but less so than before. Next time, it was going to be great: the innocently awful 1970s meets postmillenial decay – my parents didn’t want me to be a lawyer. They wanted me to be a joke pornstar. And look what happened...
So, if this sounds like something you might like to try now’s your chance. Steve Cross runs these kinds of events for academics, inspired by Lawfest, now he’s trying one with lawyers. He provides training and there’s a chance to practice and then there’s the night itself. The atmosphere will be friendly and supportive yet still terrifying – a kind of GoApe for the mind, if you will. No ropes, but a net of sorts… You can sign up to do the stand-up or you can just buy a ticket and come and watch. All the details are below.
I really recommend you give it a try. If I can be forgiven a moment of utter cheesiness, I felt totally alive, (mis)firing on all cylinders, scratching around with a mind making connections between the disparate bits of my life, oddly loved (temporarily, irrationally, not really) by a group of near strangers, and experiencing a moment of profound but futile empathy for my poor daughter. I guarantee you’ll see yourself in a different way, for at least five minutes, and probably longer…. And if you don’t want to try this time, you can still come along, and next time you’ll fancy giving it a go. I guarantee it, or my name’s not Buck Quickie.
Details are here. All profit goes to the National Youth Arts Trust, who work to make the arts accessible to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds