Did I die on my arse as Arthur Smith my esteemed comedy teacher might ask? Well the most important thing for a middle aged female comedian was not having bingo wings flapping out of a sleeveless dress ready for flight front of stage. No laughs I could handle. Unless they were going to laugh at my wobbling ‘triceps’. Well even those were up for grabs. In a very real sense.
In an attempt to keep upper arms as taut as possible, i’d been doing windmill exercises (see January post). The Get fit video and bench pressing inevitably led straight to a karate session with the chiropractor after my upper body rebelled and went into shutdown, locked muscles, trapped nerves and all. Could I be funny standing on stage with a seized up trapezium? I was going to bloody try.
Sadly no photos were permitted at The Oxford Playhouse, but here’s me in the dressing room with my outfit half an hour before the evening kicked off.
I was first on after Arthur’s introduction in a line-up of six acts which included the very funny, rude and energetic Shirley & Shirley, the extraordinary and almost naked magician Pete Heat, and the amazing Hal Cruttenden, one of the best comics around. Most people in my home town are Eggheads and it seemed they were all there thinking,
“It’s Friday night. I’ve had a very tough week at work. It wasn’t my idea to go out tonight. I just wanted to drink alcohol and finish my eighth PhD over the weekend. You’d better make me laugh COMEDIAN!”
So No Pressure then.
The first few rows of The Oxford Playhouse were empty due to a mix up between the production company and the theatre. I could make out only one scowling face in the distant crowd, that of a girlfriend who was really laughing but her face often looks like that. Or maybe she was actually scowling.
Arthur had said in his warm up,
“I hear a few of Jo’s friends are here tonight”
Standing in the wings, the sound of more than 30 mates (new comedy friends; mum friends; son’s teachers; neighbours; elderly couples and young singles from community clubs; people I collared out shopping; relations; relations’ other halves) cheering as one, gives me a boost though brings into reality the fact that nearly everyone I know is a would-be witness at my potential public execution. Arthur dispatches me into the world beyond with,
“… Jo is also known by her stage name, so please give a VERY WARM WELCOME to JEFF!!” (Wondering whether adopting a male name was a great idea, I walk onto the stage in my sparkling Wizard of Oz shoes and straight into the brightest light I have ever seen. Have I died already?
Well I remembered most of my set – the forthcoming General Election provided some of the material (which had worked brilliantly at the London gig) with voices to match – an unusual take on the Charlie Hebdo massacre didn’t go down as well as it did when I ran it past a friend a few days before. Referencing my being a cartoonist, I said,
“… and if I start to pace up and down the stage its because its harder to shoot a moving target…”
The second half of my act was live cartooning. I drew on my ipad and the images were projected onto a 12 foot screen behind me. It was my take on evolution from early man to egghead and back again. Was it a good or bad idea to mention Blackbeard, the antipodean paedophile with the extra leg?
I hadn’t had a chance to practice any of this on stage as the theatre was at full tilt with performances since Christmas. Try drawing and talking at the same time. I bet even Nigella would be hard pushed.
Now HERE is what I wanted to do. The stage manager said ‘NO’, it would be too messy. What do you think?
The best bit for me was hearing the applause. That way I knew my act had ended. Coming off stage and seeing everyone I knew in the front lobby at interval time reminded me of my wedding. (When I wanted to introduce old muckers but couldn’t for the life of me remember their names in the right order). Later, I was dragged kicking and screaming to a nightclub where we danced and drank way past the shipping forecast and my usual bedtime.
Two days later I was in bed. I was pretty ill. Bronchitis and wobbly arms. Seven days later and wobbly all over, I was on a train going to Durham for my third gig. Again in a big theatre. But no eggheads. Just an auditorium full of gimlet eyed Geordies. It was also a Friday night.
“Make uz bluddy laff then, yer soft sutherner”
Again, No Pressure.
After another long train journey back home the next day, I took to my bed for a long time.
The local hack who saw the first show decided I was a bloke. Because I am called JEFF.
He didn’t think much of my Ed Miliband impersonation, (but it might JUST have been better than the real thing), though he cut me some slack as it was only my second ever gig, but A BLOKE?!? ME?!? Great, every parent of every child at my son’s school is going to wonder, just a little bit, if I wasn’t a Joe rather than a Jo. Good grief. Am I going to have to start the Summer term at drop-off in my booster bra and tight lycra running shorts. Would that even stop them wondering ? Well I couldn’t possibly be Arfur – there’s only one of him. I MUST be Marfur.
The execution was yet again deferred, though I rather fancy I spied Mark Rylance in the shadows, wearing a floppy hat and raising one inscrutable eyebrow in the wings, Stage Left.