Standing up

“Hi, my name is Paul and I’ll be your comedian for the seven longest minutes of your life”. It was with this opening salvo that my first, and thus far, only foray into the world of stand-up got underway. I even managed to squeeze a joke in there, I think.

Whereas a crowning achievement for the Irish familial unit was once to produce either a doctor or priest, our sense of humour ensures that the mere act of getting your umbilical cord cut on Irish soil gives you at least a fighting chance of another occupation – comedian! On Tuesday the 25th of January 2011 at 9:30pm I sampled this lesser considered occupation. At 9:37pm that same evening I handed in my notice, thankful of the fact that I had not given up my day job. That said, those seven minutes provided me with a feeling of exhilaration, joy, and downright fear which I have yet to recreate all these months later.

It all started in December 2010 when, in my ever more erratic attempts to find my niche in life and to try something new, the thought of an open mic comedy stint came to mind. Once the seed had been planted, it began to grow and develop like the badly formed jokes I would find myself writing. The more I thought of doing it, the more it scared me. Never one to take the easy way out, the resultant fear all but sealed the deal.

Having scoured the internet for places offering me the chance to humiliate myself, I stumbled across the Ha’Penny Bridge Inn, an old style pub on Dublin’s Wellington Quay. It listed Tuesdays and Thursdays as open mic nights. Having read every line of text and studied every picture on their website for some insight as to what I was letting myself in for, contact was made.

I was responded to almost immediately, and was faced was two further challenges straight out of the gates. I would need to learn my seven minutes off by heart and keep the content relatively clean throughout. With very little material already prepared, the thoughts of having to filter what came to mind put me under even more pressure. Despite the trepidation I was excited! Once accepted, I knew putting myself in front of a public who expected to be entertained would generate a fight or flight response unlike any other I had ever experienced. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

As the date neared, self reassurance became a daily necessity. After all, I thought to myself, I have spoken in front of crowds before. Failing to realise that I was in no way comparing like with like, this kept the wheels turning. Looking back now, I wished I could put this self confidence down to youthful exuberance, but I’m not sure whether, at 30, I am too tall for that particular ride.

With an entire three weeks to play with between sign up and stand up, you would be forgiven for thinking that seven minutes doesn’t sound like much, until you realise that, well, it is! Seven times as much material as I had when I confirmed the date and time of my gig, in fact. Pinching my arm to confirm that I wasn’t, in fact, dreaming, I sought a second opinion by pinching the other one. The only way to get the material together was to find the funny in everyday, which unfortunately had the effect of making every day thereafter appear decidedly unfunny. My past would have to suffice. Never one to fear self-embarrassment, tales from puberty were built upon, and dragged kicking and screaming into my routine. All bets were off!

Seven minutes of material scraped together, the night came for me to face my own personal Everest. With just my worried wife in tow, I arrived at the pub for 8:00pm, cue card in back pocket and backup in front pocket. The open mic was to take place upstairs, and it was here that I got an additional shock. It cost €5 to get in! At this point, the audience I would be facing took on a new dimension. While the majority would still be there to support their act on the night and would be good natured, they were paying for the privilege. How forgiving would they be?

As the other acts went on before me, I found myself gauging the reaction they received. Some jokes were laughed at, some weren’t. At least I knew I wouldn’t be the only one to go down in flames. Far too nervous to take alcohol on board, Diet Coke was the order of the night until, at 9:30, my name was called. The rest, as they say, is history!

Things got off to a good start, with my first joke getting a bigger laugh than I had imagined it would. This, however, delayed my routine, and before I knew it, I had drawn a blank. Other acts before me had already resorted to notes so I didn’t feel quite so deflated when I had to take my cue card out. Back on track, the rest of the seven minutes passed off without major incident. Signing off with “My name was Paul and you’ve been very understanding”, I was straight to the bar. A Diet Coke was not ordered!

Looking back now it still feels surreal. A comedian who took to the stage before me spent the first 30 seconds of his routine jumping around the stage screaming “look at me, look at me”, garnering laughter from all, especially those who were soon to occupy the same stage. Months later his humorous observation has stayed with me. What makes people want to become comedians? While there are those who believe the world needs their comedy and use it to effect social change, for others, the laughter is the motivation. There are also, of course, those who love the attention above all else, and the adulation that comes with success.

It takes a certain kind of person to stand up on stage and say “look at me, look at me”. Egotistical, I hope not. Confident, probably. Adventurous, I reckon. Having done it, I still can’t fully explain my reasons, or what kind of person I believe I am. What I can tell you, though, is that I’ve never felt more alive than when I was on that stage. Most of my friends still don’t know I did it. Will I ever so it again? Probably not.

What will never change, however, is that I, on the 25th of January 2011 was a stand up comedian in the Ha’Penny Bridge Inn and I made strangers laugh. Does my mantelpiece contain the “Rubber Duck” award (go there to find out what it is)? No it does not. Do I care? Absolutely not. The next time you feel that your week is looking a little too similar to last week for your liking, or that you are starting to take yourself a bit too seriously, do something new.

As your heart beats out of your chest, you’ll question why you broke your weeknight routine but, believe me, you’ll know you’re alive. After all, isn’t that what we all want to feel before our time on the really big stage runs out?

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