Written by London comedian Christina Owen (who sometimes brings her big sunglasses, just in case).
Attention seekers: Get a pen and paper. You’re going to want to write this down.
There are several ways to make yourself feel famous when you’re not. One is marry a celebrity. I nearly did that once. It was pretty good. I got to walk around festivals with a backstage pass swinging conspicuously round my neck and great big sunglasses perched on my face, and everyone kept looking at me wondering who I was. I may have told a couple of strangers in the queue for the toilets that I was one of The Saturdays. But in the end I decided I wasn’t satisfied with that sort of borrowed notoriety. So I plumped for option B, something dozens of people turn to every week in a bid to become incredibly important incredibly fast. Stand up comedy.
It’s definitely a growing industry. There’s now a Facebook page completely dedicated to the pursuit of forcing arts councils nationwide to recognise stand up comedy as an art. And every month, clutches of hopeful, starry-eyed newbies spill out of comedy graduation classes and sign themselves up for every open mic night they can lay their signatures on in a desperate bid to be the next Jack Whitehall or Holly Walsh. I call them the T4-Wannabie generation. And a while back, bored with being a nobody, I decided that I must not rest until I was one of them.
It’s easy, actually, to become something like a comedian when you live in London. The new act circuit is thriving, with a new night popping up in the basement of a grotty pub somewhere along the Circle Line almost every week, usually put on by an enthusiastic young newbie who has cottoned on to the fact that by doing so, they can get a bit of a leg up in the ever-growing world of voyeuristic giggles. And it’s true. I’ve spoken to people who’ve set up their own nights and have been absolutely bombarded with texts and e-mails right from the off, all from fame-hungry attention grabbers; a testament to just how many budding comedians there actually are out there.
Only a few have staying power. Most have become disillusioned by the time they’ve performed at their first 3 gigs and it turns out BBC3 are not only not knocking persistently on their window, but they’re nowhere in sight. Even less are actually any good. The good ones, of course, will rise to the top quicker than the time it takes for the 176 to appear in view of the bus stop on Charing Cross Road at 3am when it’s raining and you really need a wee. I’ve been on the circuit now for 18 months on and off and I’ve seen the cream of the comedy crop rise up and soar past me because, actually, they are bloody funny. I’ve also seen more terrified jokers die on their behinds in front of a blood-hungry audience than you could shake a microphone at, whatever that analogy actually means.
And me? I’m okay. I’ve stuck it out. Because more often than not, I can make a room full (or half empty) of people snigger. On the odd occasion I’ve even managed to get someone to spray Coke out of their nose through the sheer amusement of what I’ve had to say. Why have I stuck it out? Because, as previously hinted at, I’m an attention seeker. There’s nothing quite like coming off stage knowing everyone in that room now knows who I am. Why have I not yet made it big? Because by equal measure, I’m a coward. It’s a nerve wracking experience, foisting upon myself the burden of amusing a crowd. And sometimes it hasn’t worked, and I’ve felt like collapsing through the floor. A couple of times I’ve even sneaked out through a side exit to avoid the accusing stare of an audience who expected better. And then spent the next 3 weeks hiding under a duvet, rocking slightly and muttering ‘never….going…back….up…there…again’, before the lure of fame has once again gripped me enough to send me back in exactly the direction I just fled from. It’s a lot of ups and downs, comedy.
After 18 months though, I’ve found a balance, a solid reason for doing what I do, as well as the correct method of honing my material and on-stage persona so that I can keep the awkward silences to a minimum. For me, stand up comedy is a hobby. A bit of a break from reality. An evening twice or three times a week when I can go out, socialise with some like minded people and forget about everything else going on in my life. There’s sure as hell no money worries, career stress or boy troubles when I’m up there, squinting into the harsh stage lighting and reeling off some punch lines that are tried and tested enough to be halfway successful. Everything else except blind panic swiftly followed by focussed stage persona melts away until the clapping signals the end of my set and my return to the real world. And when it goes well up there…well, there’s no feeling like it. Sure, I did go through a period of letting the fame aspect get to me. It was coupled with a lot of pouting and stomping about because I wasn’t being noticed enough. But I’ve come through that and now just do it for the sheer buzz of the activity and the opportunity to see the friends I’ve made along the way.
So my advice to you, London-based attention seekers? Get out there and try it. Take a class, or just write down some hilarious anecdotes and get out there and give it a go. You may not be presenting Big Brothers Younger Uglier Cousin by this time next year, but you will have an adventure, and you will get something good out of it. Even if it’s only a famous husband or wife. And who knows, you might be really bloody good. So get your giant sunglasses ready, just in case.
Christina takes her warm, dry wit up to the mic at various venues around central London every week. For a list of her upcoming gigs, visit http://www.myspace.com/irisvaseline.