“HYou’ve gone mad? asked a friend. You are so brave. I could never do that. Wouldn’t meditation be wiser? said another. For someone with a long history of depression and anxiety, in addition to a morbid fear of public speaking, taking up stand-up comedy can seem like a masochistic decision. However, it makes perfect sense to me. The unbearable fear of failure is at the heart of most people’s aversion to trying to make a room full of strangers laugh. But controlling that fear, and not succumbing to it, is the main reason I chose to expose myself in this very public and potentially humiliating way.
I grew up in a comfortable middle-class suburb in Hertfordshire in the 1970s and 1980s, but my upbringing was one of emotional uncertainty. Years of therapy have helped me understand how I learned to cope over the years. To avoid facing difficult problems during my childhood and adolescence, I buried my emotions, and that avoidance only intensified in adulthood. In my 20s, I was mentally ill equipped to face life’s thorniest challenges.
At 22 I suffered the first of many breakdowns. My parents divorced when I was 15 years old, and my education simply hadn’t provided me with the set of psychological tools that we all need to navigate life’s unpredictable journey. In the 28 years since then, there have been numerous relapses, culminating in an almost catastrophic collapse six years ago. Barely able to work, parent, or communicate, I felt suicidal depression and chronic anxiety for over a year.
Thanks to the selfless support of my ex-partner, the life-saving efforts of my local NHS mental health team in East London, and the mood-stabilizing properties of lithium, I have finally recovered, and by knocking on wood, I have been working. relatively. usually since then. But the last episode magnified my need to face my fears head-on, not bury them.
When I was a kid, always I used humor to protect myself from emotional discomfort, and as a freelance writer I have tried something similar, albeit through the written word, not the spoken word.
I’ve flirted with some journalistically baffling endeavors in recent years, including spending the day in drag and the night as a role model. The desire to try standup was always there, but I felt that, thanks to my shaky foundations, exposing myself to public scrutiny in this way was too great a risk to take. Until this summer.
Whether it’s my marital breakup, isolation locks, or a midlife crisis, I finally jumped in in June and signed up for a beginner stand-up comedy course, led by seasoned comedian Andre Vincent at the comedy collective. From london. Funny moose, whose alumni include Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican, Jack Whitehall, Greg Davies, and Romesh Ranganathan.
Through a combination of gentle confidence-building exercises and some impromptu puns, Andre created an intimately welcoming atmosphere in which my nine standing virgin companions and I relinquished our inhibitions long enough to share some very personal and personal stories. hopefully fun.
We soon discovered that there is something about the immediacy of comedy that allows you to speak honestly and openly on even the most painful subjects and that, however dark the material, there is always a humorous angle. A 50-something-year-old student wanted his material to focus on his recent battle with testicular cancer. Another man decided to share his experiences coming out of the closet in London in the 1990s. One woman in the course discussed the absurdities of racial and cultural confusion in Yorkshire, while another discussed the challenges of being a young Chinese immigrant in London .
Before the course, I had no intention of talking about my mental health, but a brainstorming exercise elicited a response that inadvertently led me down that path.
When asked to list as many things as possible for which we were grateful, my first thoughts were a healthy family, Tottenham finishing above Arsenal, again, and a Jack Russell rescue dog who adored me and kept me sane for the pandemic. However, the word I wrote at the top of my gratitude inventory, half-jokingly, was “lithium.”
Andre delicately teased a few more details, and before I knew it, he was telling a room full of strangers how the psychiatric mood stabilizer had been instrumental in overcoming the suicidal feelings that had plagued me five years ago. A strong proponent of the “there is comedy in truth” school of thought, Andre encouraged me to explore the subject more deeply and realized that although the material was dark, it also had comedic potential.
In the depths of my last depressive episode, humor was a strange concept, but releasing in a safe and supportive environment felt cathartic. However, I was also aware that sharing this material with forensic details on stage was perhaps a step too far, and the last thing I wanted to do was unleash someone who had been through an experience similar to mine. So, I moved sideways and focused on the fertile ground of parental shame.
My own children had been especially supportive of my comic ambitions: “Why are you doing this, Dad? Nobody thinks you are funny at all. No one will ever pay to take care of you, ”my 16-year-old daughter said reassuringly when I informed her.
From this, a comic narrative developed. I was able to express my children’s parental embarrassment over my escapades, such as having the recklessness to talk to their friends at teen parties using Gen Z slang, and also that of my parents, primarily their predilection for “sun clubs.” naturists, finally freeing me to publicly air my most galling teenage anecdote, which still haunts me nearly four decades later.
Spending the weekend at a naked camp, trying not to see middle-aged nudists play badminton, was never the top of my teenage wish list, but thankfully the years have erased those memories. Except for one, which is still hauntingly etched into my brain. I was a clumsy 13-year-old boy who was standing shyly at one end of the naturist pool when I saw someone surprisingly familiar. She was a 50-something Rubenesque nudist about to dive into the water. She was also my history teacher. As you can imagine, he wanted to die on the spot.
Dying on stage is every entrepreneur’s greatest fear, but as Andre, who speaks regularly on stage about the psychological impact of his own battle with cancer, says, it is groundless anxiety.
“Every time I teach a group of students, someone says, ‘What if I go on stage and they all hate me?’ But that doesn’t make sense. The public does not go to see comedy to hate people. They’re there to have a good time and that’s the idea that people need to get rid of. “
As my debut at the Water Rats pub in London’s King’s Cross approached, it became clear that my main obstacle to avoiding five minutes of treadmill was not my material itself, but my ability to remember it. But I remember or I don’t remember, 7.30pm that Sunday came quickly and there was no going back.
Watched by a room full of supportive family and friends, the show opened and five acts later I found myself in the limelight, grabbing the mic for my life and watching people laugh at my tales of nudity from the decade. 1970s that curled and awkwardly remembered.
Euphoria might be exaggerating, but there was certainly a wave of relief and satisfaction when I realized that the whole experience was not as scary as I suspected. No one died. Most of the people laughed and several nice people, probably lying, who cares? – He told me later that it was funny.
Two months later, it’s fair to say that Jack, Jimmy, and Romesh aren’t nervously looking over their shoulders, but now I’m getting closer to gig number four. I’m still a million miles from feeling completely comfortable on stage, but I’m also a million miles from being the mortally mortifying experience I thought it could be. So for now I plan to keep feeling the fear, on and off stage, and do it anyway.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism