As Hunter S. Thompson said in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” The journey I took through the foothills of London comedy scene might not have been quite as trippy as Mr Thompson’s expedition, but it was nonetheless a voyage of discovery.
Picture the scene: a nondescript meeting room in a slightly dilapidated building near London Bridge. It’s 7pm on a Friday evening in mid-February. The weather outside is English grey. Myself and a small bunch of fellow do-gooders are nervously exchanging small talk whilst we get to know each other and wait for the start of our ‘Sustainable Stand Up’ course.
There we stand in a circle, whilst the course leader, Belina Raffey, coaxes out of us the first peals of laughter as she gives us our first improvisation game: we are to propel a ball of ‘energy’ at each other accompanied by relevant noises.
<‘Whish’>: “Oh my god… what have I let myself into” I think as the ‘ball’ gets propelled at me.
<‘Whoosh’>: “I’m going to be laying my reputation and ego on the line in five weeks’ time” as I send it off to the person opposite
<‘Whish’>: “There will be dozens of strangers, along with some friends… and my Mum… what if I’m not funny” I ruminate as the energy gets passed around.
<‘Whoosh’>: “I’ve never done any comedy before, what sort of madness is this… and there will be other sustainability professionals there… is this going to be seriously career limiting?!”
Belina then catches the ball, grins her beautifully impish smile, and assures us that our audience will be nice to us, and invites us to “aim for average”.
As she soothingly coaxes laughter and silliness out of us, I start to remember why I took this on. My objective isn’t to become a comedian; it is to learn a little about how to engage through humour. Oh, and I love a challenge.
The initial lessons pass in a comparative gale of mirth as we first improvise, and then create and share a few gags. So far so easy. Belina then gives us our first challenging homework: to script a two-minute routine on how we are destroying the planet. “What!” I scream to myself. “Doesn’t she know I’m an eco-warrior!”. My indigence starts to fade as I realise that I can play with this concept. Thinking laterally my hidden ‘dark side’ alights upon the theme that will take on a life of its own… Star Wars!
I’m given great constructive feedback on my little routine by Belina and my fellow budding comedians, but now our enthusiastic guide drops the bombshell. “This week’s homework is to do your first five-minute routine next week”.
Fear is a clever jockey if we let it ride us. After this invitation from Belina, mine rode me into the town called Procrastination. Then when the dawn of the next lesson broke, it pointed me in the direction of the twin cities Freeze and Anxiety Attack, and I blindly stumbled into them, leaving myself with an emotional black eye as I staggered into the lesson with no new material.
Dusting myself down, I bucked fear off my back by realising that I could enjoy the creative process. Blessed by being a freelancer, I sat one weekday afternoon in my flat with a stream of early spring sunshine energising my mind mapping as I had myself in stitches whilst I crafted my draft script.
A couple more lessons came and went in the blink of an eye, a few rehearsals with willing friends, and suddenly I’m there, on stage, dazzled by the lights looking out into the darkness of the audience. My mouth starts forming words: “I’ve a very important question… who here loves Star Wars?!”
Minutes pass by and I take a bow; discovering that I can bring laughter to this basement bar in deepest London town. Ticket bought, fear ridden, job done.