This is Part 2 of a series of articles in which Craig explains how he went from being terrified of the idea of getting on a stage, to performing his first stand-up gig for charity. You can read Part 1 here. Below he shares his diary of the 8 weeks he spent undertaking a stand-up course...
The first class. This is it, no backing out now.
Upon meeting everyone they all seemed so confident and happy (despite their claims to the contrary). One guy even admitted to having performed stand-up before. The bastard.
We sat in a big circle and the tutor, Logan Murray, talked to us about comedy - what it is and why we do it. It was genuinely fascinating but more importantly as long as he was speaking I didn't have to do anything. He could talk all night if he wanted. But he didn't. The bastard.
Then we played a few games. Most important was the game where we had to act as if we were the greatest, most important person in the world. This, of course, really helped to loosen us up - after all, the number one lesson in comedy is fake it until you make it, so a room of people walking around pretending to be Billy or Belinda Big-Bollocks (with the women presumably keeping said items on the mantelpiece as trophies) really helped you feel you could do this comedy thing.
I came away feeling... quite good! Maybe Logan's on to something...
Just a shame everyone on the course is so much more confident than I am. The bastards.
It's only the second week and I think I finally understand why stand-up comedians enjoy it so much.
Today we were told without warning that we had to get up and talk for one minute on a completely random topic. No time to prepare, we were literally stood looking out at the 14 people there before being told we need to speak about the difference between fruit and vegetables, our preferred child-rearing technique, or the correct way to refer to the Queen.
And everyone got laughs. Big laughs too.
But the most empowering moment for me wasn't the fact I made people laugh, it was that I didn't die when they didn't laugh.
OK, that sounds a little melodramatic, but the honest truth is I didn't think my fragile ego would survive if I was talking on stage and people didn't laugh. I thought my mind would just go blank, and I'd probably burst into flames. Or at least pray I did. But when it came to it I was in a flow, so that instead of "oh God, they're not laughing, oh god" my brain took a more detached view of "huh, they didn't like that, but I wonder what they think of this..."
And I really enjoyed it.
In fact I'd quite happily have gone again straight away if they'd let me. It was the first time I ever understood that a stand-up comedian can actually enjoy what they're doing and feel free to play around, rather than sticking to a script. That's a pretty major breakthrough for me.
This was the first time we'd properly had to prepare something. We had to write a thank you letter to someone we hate. Now passive-aggressiveness comes naturally to me (I'm British) but I was very aware for the first time since we started that I wasn't improvising. I've got no safety net of "oh it was just something I came up with on the spot". This was me opening up and admitting "I think this is funny". And desperately hoping people agreed.
The most fascinating thing is the completely different ways people take it. One of the other people on the course writes to a customer she'd served at work, one addresses a medical condition he has, and one guy even penned a surreal complaint letter to Ann Summers over a purchase he'd made. It was fascinating to see the difference, and bloody hilarious to watch everyone perform.
Week 4 saw the introduction of the microphone. I'm not sure I'd ever held a proper mic before today. Definitely not if we take the computer game Rock Band out of the equation.
However, the most important part of this night wasn't the class itself, but what took place afterwards. Quite a few of us decided to stay for drinks, and for the first time I realised everyone was as horrifically nervous as I am.
See, on a rational level this makes sense. We're all new to this, so to you sat at home I'm sure you're starting to think I must be a self-centred moron. But to see some of these people perform is already a thing of beauty. Some have developed characters which they completely own when on the stage. Others just carry themselves so naturally that it's like they've been doing this forever. To find out they're just as nervous as me is fascinating - and to hear them say I look so confident is frankly bizarre to me.
Then again they don't know I've not had a solid bowel movement for the past 4 weeks.
After last week's conversations I'm feeling more confident than ever. No longer am I the guy trying to play catch-up, instead I'm amongst equals. Friends.
This week saw us complete another assignment - writing a list of things we're thankful for. From a tightly-scripted piece focused on a deep distrust of zebras to a wonderfully dead-pan delivery of "I'm thankful I've never known war or hunger. And for M&S."
But the beauty was from those who started to delve deeper, digging into really personal areas. Maybe it's the discussion after last week's class, maybe it's just that people are becoming more confident and happy to show parts of themselves. But what is clear is that every single person in the room was starting to find, if not their final routine, then certainly fertile soil for it to grow from. I'm not worried about a single one of them. Except, of course, myself.
No class this week, but I did go to an open-mic night with some of the people from the course.
I can't help but smirk now every time I see a stand-up comedian move the mic stand out of the way.
We agreed before the show that we weren't going to say anything about our classes to the performers. We were just normal comedy fans there to watch the show. So imagine our surprise when, within 30 seconds of the compere taking to the stage and asking why we're laughing so hard, one of our number yells "we have secrets". Ah.
But it turned out for the best. One of the acts there had been gigging a while and was actually on a different course with Logan. He gave us lots of useful advice for any of us that might want to consider carrying on afterwards.
Most of us are just hoping to make it through the one show, but I think we all filed away everything he said, just in case...
The penultimate week. To make up for last week, we had two sessions this time with Logan (pictured), and we had to arrive with the foundation of our five minute set ready.
Considering we've all been through the same journey, it's fascinating to see the variety in what people come up with. With a lot of comedy courses, people worry that you're taught to be very formulaic - 'this is what a comedian does', 'this is how a joke works'. But we've had none of that, and have instead been taught to follow our instincts, play around, and examine all the hilarious places that can take us.
The first session of the week everyone is sat in a circle, taking turns to read from their notes. There's a lot of good stuff going on here.
Once we're sure there's potential in what we've written, the second class saw us perform it, standing up, mic in hand and doing a full run through (with notes still allowed). We all try it without completely reading the script - sure we don't hit every joke, but what we say is far more energetic and, well, funny.
A lot of people are asking me about the classes and saying "it must be so hard thinking of things to say?". In truth, that's the easy part. The hard part is knowing when to shut the hell up. To me there is nothing more painful than standing on the stage without saying something. Leaving people time to laugh seems, well, arrogant - confessing you think you're so funny that you'll give them some time to fully absorb your wit.
As a result my main problem is talking too fast. Filling the time. Making sure when one joke has finished I'm off to the next one without time to pause for breath. Everything I know about comedy (admittedly not a lot) says this is a bad idea, but it is instinct when on stage.
I also filmed myself for the first time this week. Watching it back I could definitely see what everyone was saying about slowing down. While I'm happy with my material, I just need to work on the delivery...
Over the weekend I realise that a lot of the filler-talking I do is because I don't 100% know my material. I basically keep nattering away until the next bit pops into my head. So I record myself, then listen back while reading everything I'd written, to see what I missed. Then again. And again.
By the time the final class rolls around I'm feeling more confident than I ever have. Not even just about the course, but life in general. I know the set front and back. Which is a bit of a waste of time really because it only works if I start at the beginning.
There was much, much less "oh shit, I missed a bit" and far more playfulness with the audience. Some people tried out entirely new material just to see how it worked, safe that they've got the old set to fall back on if needed.
If tonight had been the final performance we'd have all killed, no question.
In an odd way, whatever happens on Saturday's show doesn't matter. We've proven that we're all funny. I'm not even nervous. The only difference between tonight and Saturday will be the 200 faces staring back at us.
With the camera on us.
Recording footage which will last for all eternity.
No, I'm not nervous at all...
The course Craig took was run on behalf of the charity Changing Faces as part of their Face Your Fears campaign. In the next article Craig will discuss how the final gig went...
For more information about Logan Murray and the workshops he runs go to www.loganmurray.com