“My friends always say how funny I am, so I decided to take a Stand-up Comedy course” One of the most common reasons listed for taking a class in. Haha. No one ever told me I was funny. Nevertheless, in 2014 I found myself signed up and enrolled in a class with easylaughs, a comedy improv group in Amsterdam.
I am not a stranger to the stage. At 7 years old, I wanted to be an actress. At 18 I was deciding between theatre and environmental ecology as study choices in university. I was terrible at chemistry, so drama it was. When I was in my early 20’s I moved to Chicago. I waited tables, I auditioned for shows and I took improv classes. I had lots of friends doing open mics in the city. I went to them, I laughed, I continued to take improv classes. I “got” improv. It was sort of like theatre, you just had to make it all up yourself. though… ooh. That was scary. I didn’t dare. I thought I could make people laugh, but I didn’t know how to write material, I was terrified of bombing.
Fast-forward 15 years, living in Amsterdam, and one of my best friend’s was giving a course in Stand-up comedy. The only one in the city in English. I decided it was time to stop thinking about it and as Nike says, just do it.
I’m sure there are plenty of natural talents out there, but I’m not one of them. The course was 8 people, mostly ex-pats, different ages and evenly divided between men and women We had exercises to generate material, some of them based on improv, my favourite medium. We had to go up every week in front of the microphone and say something, which was a great motivator to put paper to pen and get material written down. We had feedback from our fellow students, all very supportive and positive. We had professional feedback from our teacher to help make the material tighter or more logical in structure. We had a show at the end, and believe me, there is nothing like an actual performance to get you motivated to get up, get in front of the mirror and practice a few hundred times.
The night of the show I was completely petrified. I had not had stage fright but I had it that night. I couldn’t remember a word of my set, even though I had rehearsed in front of a mirror, made voice recordings to listen to on my bike. The small bar was packed with people. I was on last. I watched my fellow students kill it. The laughter was contagious and the crowd was friendly.
I went up and did my set in a blur. I’m glad it was recorded because after watching the video, I can say it went well. People laughed. I laughed. I did my set, pretty much as I had planned it. The ability to make people laugh is a powerful drug. The adrenaline that rushes through your veins, before, during and after I have only before experienced on a roller coaster or high-dive (which I’m also scared of, but that’s another self-realisation story). Even the experience of bombing, oh yes I have, is a learning experience. If you can handle that, you can handle any job interview or evaluation meeting.
The lessons I have learned from doing are useful soft skills. I observe more closely, I take actual notes of my observations. I am empowered by the knowledge that what I experience and find ridiculous in my life is shared and relatable by others around me. I am a part of my society and culture and also a speaker for it and a mirror. There is no comfort zone on a stage, so if you are looking to get out of it, is your chance. Hearing an entire audience roar with laughter… and then waiting a little longer so they laugh just a bit more is... amazing. It makes all the hard work of stand-up worth it.