Articles - 3rd May 2019

Think You Can Handle Being A Stand-Up Comedian?

Words by Ophelie Hocquard
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Whenever I mention that I do stand-up comedy, one of the first comments I’ll often hear is “I could never do that.” It’s not true, I tell them, you just don’t actually want to do it.

The main lesson I learned from becoming a stand-up comedian is that, more often than not, you can do anything you want to do, as long as you actually want to do it.

Two years ago, I couldn’t speak in front of a group of people without blushing. I’m not talking about a cute, slightly rosy-cheeked blush, I’m talking about my face turning so utterly red, it actually verged on purple, and sometimes even had veins popping out of the sides of it as though it was about to explode.  

The worst part about these extreme blushing incidents was the moment I realised everyone around me was fully aware of just how uncomfortable I was. I remember trying to hide my unnaturally red face with my hair as I spoke at a university seminar, during networking events, or even on dates… And the word vomit which would follow would often just heighten everyone’s discomfort, including my own.

What I’m trying to say is that I was never the confident friend in the group with that undeniable charisma; I was never the loud and funny one. I was the quiet one, verging on depressed; I was an awkward mess.

To say that stand-up comedy changed me is an understatement. Stand-up didn’t change me, it transformed me.

My first time on stage was meant to be my only time on stage. It was a challenge I had set myself thinking “just do this once, it will be one of the worst moments of your life, but everything after that will be easier.” I genuinely believed that if I got on that stage it would be like a sort of shock-therapy which would forever rid me of my red face.

When I told my friends that I was going to perform stand-up comedy, they were very worried. Some tried to talk me out of it, others ‘kindly’ informed me that they didn’t think I was that funny, but this tiny little voice in my head persisted and told me to do it anyway.

At that very first gig, I remember feeling faint, I was shaking, I held back tears as I mentally prepared to publicly die a brutal death, but surprisingly, that didn’t happen. On the contrary, the audience actually liked me, and soon after I came off stage I was asked to perform at other gigs. I felt euphoric, proud, but still had no intention of ever pursuing stand-up seriously.

Because my life motto was to never close doors, I agreed to keep performing, but I didn’t find it easy. Anxiety would cripple me for weeks before gigs and often kept me up at night. The truth is, no matter how good people told me I was, I didn’t believe that I was actually capable of being a stand-up comedian. I felt like an imposter, who was this person who could talk on a stage without turning purple?

A friend convinced me to apply to the BBC new comedy award competition when I was less than a dozen gigs in. I didn’t give it much thought, there wasn’t a single part of me that believed I stood a chance of getting through. But, not only did I get through, I won the first heat. That’s when I truly decided that stand-up was something I had to pursue.

Stand-up is an art form that constantly keeps you on your toes, you can never know how a gig is going to go until you get on stage. You can never be too confident, because often, if you are, you bomb. Ironically, the second I decided to pursue stand-up seriously I started bombing hard, and regularly, almost as though the universe was asking me to prove that I actually wanted to do it. There are very few moments in my life where I’ve felt more alone than when faced with a silent crowd, staring at me disdainfully, wondering who the hell let me on stage.

And yet, as much as I cherish the good gigs and that lovely ego boost I get from them, the gigs I actually value the most are the bad ones. They’ve not only taught me to improve as a stand-up, they’ve also taught me to love myself.

After a bad gig, you have to be kind and honest with yourself, you have to be your own best friend. It’s important to remind yourself that you’re okay, to take the lesson, and move on, otherwise, you give up.

Just over two years after my first gig, I’m now preparing for my second Edinburgh run, I’m now paid to perform, and I’ve started running my own night called Comedy Without Borders. I’m still taking this stand-up journey on a day to day basis, I’m still learning and growing, and I still occasionally blush, but it doesn’t bother me as much.

As a stand-up I’ve learned to appreciate the low points in life, and I’ve learned to love my flaws, because, without them, I’d have very little material.

So, if you actually want to try stand-up comedy, but worry that you could never do it, my best advice is to just go for it, because you can. Worst case scenario, you’ll bomb, learn a valuable lesson, and maybe even get some material out of it for your next gig.

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