Nobody died – and nobody left.
12 days ago I was sitting on a bench in Soho, London when I was plucked from obscurity and put on stage as a Stand-Up comedian in central London by the great man of comedy himself, Arthur Smith.
Here’s an excerpt from my debut performance
Arthur had been my unpredictable but hilarious teacher on the Greek island of Skyros a couple of months ago and we’d kept in touch.
We were sitting outside Cafe Boheme in Old Compton Street. He ordered a plate of snails and said,
“Oy Jeff” for that is what he calls me, “you’ve got a gig on November 20th if you want”.
“Really? Is that 2015 or 2016?” I ask nervously, never having performed Stand-Up comedy in my life
“It’s sometime next week” he replies between mouthfuls of garlicky molluscs and dropping coins into the stretched out hand of yet another passing beggar.
“Pe-lent-y of time” I heard myself say.
What I thought is unprintable.
After lunch, and having given what looked like his entire income to passing tramps, some of whom I suspected were on a repeat circuit, Arthur walked me to a famous dressing-up shop where I bought a ball and chain, handcuffs and a moustache/beard. Read on to find out why.
Fast forward 8 days to last Thursday, and I am waiting to go on stage upstairs at ‘The Camden Head’ in Islington. Angel Comedy is a very popular venue where leading lights such as Dara O Briain, Lucy Porter and Rob Newman play from time to time, as well as Arthur of course. I was very nervous but thought it would look more daft to run away across North London in my sparkly glad rags than face the crowd. Quite a big crowd. Also I didn’t want to let Arthur down. I was to be the third act out of six. Like Henry VIII’s Jane Seymour who did die but at least she didn’t get the chop. That would be something at least.
A few mates who turned up at very short notice were sitting bright eyed and squiffy in the front row. They are used to me making a fool of myself – now they were going to get to enjoy other people seeing the same thing. I got changed in the ‘Dressing Room’ where I narrowly avoided getting flattened against the wall every time someone came in to do a pee.
At 8.45pm I walked onto the stage into the spotlight wearing my mother’s old sequined jacket and my husband’s 1970’s hippy tie (if hippies had worn ties). My props were a portable easel and sketchpad as well as felt markers. I’d decided against the false beard and handcuffs. After all, they were only a pointer to another stage cartoonist – now behind bars. ROLF bad, ROFL good I thought.
My stepdaughter’s ex is an entertainer and advised me not to turn my back to the audience for long by drawing on stage. As a result, I’d prepared a few pictures earlier and the only drawing from scratch was done by the person I brought on stage who “couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler”. I proved to her that she actually could.
A young women agreed to film me with my iphone which ran out of memory two thirds of the way through my set. She filmed the rest with her phone so am hoping she sends it to me one day. Hello Becky, I hope you see this.
Barry Ferns, a Richard Branson lookalike with his own engaging act, is the resident MC and was very welcoming. He might have mistaken me for his gran, which is fine by me as I didn’t have to haul a barstool upstairs by myself to rest the easel on.
When it was all over, it was past my bedtime. The thrill of performing and getting a fantastic response from the audience and my friends as well as Arthur made it all worthwhile. I was covered in glory and a fine sweat smelling vaguely of rum and coke. My friend poured me into a taxi and we went the scenic route back to her place to crash.
£24 later, her husband made toast and marmite for us and in the morning they ran around in circles yelling and rushed out of the door trailing daughter, bag and games kit in time for school.
We dodged the traffic and I sprinted down the platform onto a train out of Paddington. (Never did see that bear though).
If you saw a bedraggled but happy looking woman holding a very large, black, scuffed portfolio with a broken handle and a big smile on her face last Friday morning, that was me.
Ah, out of the limelight and back to reality.
Isn’t life funny
Brilliant first attempt at stand up Jo – or should I say Jeff! In spite of it being extremely nerve wracking I could see that you did enjoy it, as well as the audience. Let us know when you’re brave enough to do it again – we can’t wait!
Thanks for your vote of confidence. Hard to believe it all happened so fast after talking about it at Blogfest a couple of weeks ago. May try to do one in my home town so hope you can come if that happens
Fantastic – your career takes off!! Loved the show, laughed an awful lot – you must do it again!!! xx
Oooh thank you – high praise from such a talented woman! I’d love to do it again – shall we go up to Edinburgh and do music and laughter? X
That’s high praise from such a talented woman! Let’s go up to Edinburgh Fringe with music and laughter 🙂 X
I could never stand in front of a crowd and speak, but you, you were awesome!
A few weeks ago I didn’t imagine I could have done this Catherine. I’m in my ‘life is short’ mode right now. The average span is 28,000 days if you live to 75 years. I’ve lived the majority most likely. Just want to engage and respond to everything as much as possible before it’s too late. Thanks for your vote of confidence x
Oh Jo, you never cease to amaze me I’m in awe here! Can I come to watch your next gig?! I LOVE that you’ve kept in touch with Arthur, casually joining him for lunch. This made a great read 🙂
When I trundled up for lunch, he introduced me to someone called Mitch who was passing. Afterwards I realised it was Mitch Benn from the world of comedy. I had this picture of all comedians everywhere perching under the eaves of Soho cafes like wise and weathered old birds. Yes! please come and watch my next gig. Will save you seats in the front row of the Palladium and we can all go and get wasted afterwards. (must tell you though the palladium thing is made up. At the moment) X
Holy shit, Jo. You have bigtime balls. Is this why you’ve been renamed Jeff?
‘Jo has bigtime balls’ now this is what I call a proper quote. The reason I got called Jeff is because on the comedy workshop in Greece, Arthur asked us all for 5 unusual things about ourselves to tell the others. A couple of the facts had to be false so I said that the name Jeffrey had been passed down for generations to the women in my family. From that moment on, I was known as Jeff.
Jo – you were incredible! Well done. Onwards and upwards, I say. x
Thanks Emma – I do feel inspired. It was quite a cathartic really. I’ve decided never let a bit of terror get in the way of an improving experience x
Fabulous! Love your act and the story around it.
Thanks Monika – don’t forget that coffee we’re going to have one of these days …
Fantastic! Well done to you! So glad your first gig went so well – I bet there’s not many comedians can claim that! So are you going to brave another one?!
Was told that most comedians bomb the first time and I know if that happened would never have the guts to do it again. Arthur said the day before that if I got 3 laughs it would be good. So happy it worked out and feeling much braver now, so yes, I hope so! Thanks for writing Sarah – all these comments help confirm it really happened. Even with the video !! x
Well done hun… completely awesome as always & I expect to see more of Jeff on stage soon. You are so brave… I’m not convinced I could ever even attempt it!
Honestly Izzie wouldn’t have believed i could have done this a couple of months ago or even the week before last! Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂
Fantastic and well done for giving it a go. I’d love to try stand up one day.
Thanks John. I felt braver than when I did my skydive. Re. you having a go – The Time Is NOOOWW!
Utterly brilliant and hope to see you on #BGT – seriously!
Thanks Anya but what the heck would I do?!?! #BGT
I KNEW you’d be brilliant Jo! I was with you in spirit! Now, when’s the next gig…?
Bless you Hayley! Everyone keeps saying when’s the next one? Am seriously thinking of doing it again it was great! My cartoon mums want to appear with me though and that’s ALOT of sequins to sew on
I have been wi-fi less and have missed all this! AMAZING JO!!!!!!! I am so proud of you and it sounds like they loved you 🙂
I would never be able to do this in my wildest dreams so you are a hero to me. I want to know more though – are you going to share your act?? x
WI-FI less! That’s worse than the fridge being empty and no electricity. Glad you’re back though phew!
The gig did go better than i thought. Arthur had said to me everybody dies on their arse the first time, so was pretty determined to prove him wrong. Honestly, Katie, you could have knocked me over with a small piece of Lego two weeks ago if you’d said I’d be doing this, so nothing’s impossible. What do you mean ‘share my act’ ? With a chimp? A nun? It’s already on YouTube so let me know if there’s something else I should be doing X
Oh I loved this post! It was written so nicely and left me with a nice warm feeling in my belly. My sister does stand up and loves it. I think it is one of the bravest things you can do entertainment wise. Well done! She gets a lot of stick but is very good with the come backs xxx
That’s wonderful Emma I’m chuffed you liked it so much! Amazing about your sister – would love to hear more – does she do it professionally or not? Does she travel to clubs etc? Can imagine if she’s similar to you, she must be confident and be able to hold the stage. Must practise a few come backs, but hope they’ll just come out ok in one way or another even if it’s “bugger off” or something else subtle like that.
What a blast! Love the name Jeff too and the Old Compton Rd scene? Tell me, what time of day and week was it – i must go and hang out there then to comedian spot (oh hang on, i’ve no idea what they look like either – I listen to most of them on the radio!). You must check out my friend Vicky Arlidge. She’s recently become a stand-up comedian, extremely funny, being a mum and music is her subject. She recently won an award too. Go you – i’ll be you next….
That’s great Siobhan thanks so much for getting in touch. Any day of the week in Soho, just sit outside a cafe with the radio on and one of the comedians will come and sit with you and tell you jokes. Will look up your friend Vicky. Well done her for getting an award. Such a rich seam of material being a mum isn’t it. If she’s got music too ..
Am most annoyed. You’re supposed to be crap for the first ten years. Stop it. (Yes, come up to Edinburgh, it’s a blast! I’ll have a show on for the month, have a spot with me if you like!) xx
Ha ha. Yes I have been crap for the first ten years, just not on stage. Would LOVE to be with you in Ed. Can I ride my unicycle across the stage in the background please? X
Wow Jo – you are so funny and so clever! Being funny on paper and funny on stage are two very different things and you pull it off so well – how brave! (I finally got the chance to watch and read this having pulled my two babies off my ankles ha ha 🙂 xxx
Well done for unglueing your kids from legs – and so hard when you’re pushing a trolley around the supermarket. Glad you liked my gig – would never have thought it possible a couple of weeks ago, but that’s rather like childbirth first time around isn’t it? X
Brava, brava! Excellent news and I’m sure you were brilliant
Oh thank you Mari! What a lovely comment – I had a ball and the reaction has been excellent. Looks like it won’t be my first and last time x
You rock, nothing braver than getting on stage and letting go. You’re a natural, hope you plan to do it all again soon! Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x
Thanks Vicki. I’ve got another gig lined up so looks like it’s going to happen again. Life really is short, just got to say ‘yes’ to even the scariest things haven’t we? #brilliantblogposts x
I do love this, you’re an absolute inspiration! x
So cool – thanks for liking it. The hard part will be getting up and doing it again! Perhaps I should don Spiderwoman hat for extra courage 🙂
Fantastic stuff! Very brave, but you’ve clearly got all the right moves. I loved the Farage/Paddington bit, and the gag about Ed Milliband…
Thanks Nell. Am not sending it to Nige as he’d probably incorporate foreign bears into immigration platform of his election manifesto (as if he HAS any other platform)
Wow I’m in AWE of you! Having read through the comments I’m clearly behind the curve on this one but well done you for grabbing the comedy bull by the balls and going for it. Seriously impressive!
Ah that’s lovely of you to comment Michelle! Just decided I could wait around for rest of my life for someone else to make it happen, or start it off myself. If I can, anyone can 🙂 x