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Stand-Up - The toughest public speaking gig

So What's It Like?

So what's it like in the run up to your first stand-up gig? Everyone's different, of course, but sheer excruciating gut wrenching bowel opening panic is a common experience. Here's a window into in the days, hours, minutes and seconds leading up to the moment when you hear your name, the audience claps and...you're on!

2 weeks before

The open spot booking that you phoned up so confidently about two months ago is beginning to stir in your consciousness. It suddenly pops into your mind while driving, eating or watching TV. You wonder if it's time you started learning your material. You decide not to over-rehearse. You start reading a book on memory techniques. You realise with mounting concern that you'll have time to learn the techniques, or your material, but not both. The irony of the situation would amuse you if you still remembered how to laugh.

1 week before

The nightmares have started. All those cracking gags sprinkled liberally around several sheets of A4 paper seem to have dissolved into thin air. You seem to have mastered the art of the punch-less gag. You are seriously considering phoning up the club owner and telling him you will be sick in one week's time. You are not lying, most of your time awake is spent feeling nauseous, and you have every expectation of this feeling continuing. You will be proved right. Manfully you rehearse your pointless gags into a Dictaphone. Your weak, high-pitched voice gabbles your lines back to you like a dalek on speed. Maybe they'll laugh out of pity for your obvious speech impediment.

3 days before

Nothing is funny. Humour does not exist. Every gag you mouth to yourself in the shower or on the way to your day job is so painfully obvious that you begin to feel an almost constant warm flush of embarrassment at the thought, the brazen impertinence of your fading belief that you could ever make anyone laugh - even the laughing policeman's hysterics would freeze into instant dismay at your excuse for a gag. You grit your teeth and carry on rehearsing.

2 days before

Your bowels are sending you a clear message - Just Say No! The extra time you are now spending in the toilet is arousing suspicion at home and at work. Colleagues and family swear they can hear you muttering away in there. Your temper is visibly fraying, as you demand to know why they are eavesdropping through the lavvy door. And if they are listening, for God's sake why don't they laugh!

The day before

You are now beyond fear. You are in a safe place where no one can harm you. All you have to do is stand up, recite your miserable lines and leave. Try as you might, you cannot for the life of you recall why you wanted to do stand up in the first place. You have your topics biro-ed on the palm of your hand. You stare at them, glassy-eyed, wondering what on earth they mean.

The evening before

A measure of relief sets in, as you tell yourself there are only 24 hours of torture left. You seem to know your lines now, even if the mechanical manner in which you deliver them leaves something to be desired. You try to inject some expression into your voice by raising the pitch of every third word. Your Dictaphone faithfully plays back your Swiss-style yodelling. There's no denying the humour value of the results, although the gags themselves are casualties to this bizarre vocal style.

The night before

You awake with a scream in a cold sweat and sit bolt upright in bed as you realise you've completely overlooked a vital aspect of your act - how will you deal with hecklers! You can just about get through your 5 minutes, but if people start throwing abuse you'll be completely thrown. You desperately try to decide whether to take the buggers head on and make them look stupid with your incisive put-downs, ignore them and plough on, or (your personal favourite) run whimpering off the stage. You hold yourself tight and croon yourself to sleep with a lullaby from long ago.

The day - 6 am

Long before the alarm clock rings, you are wide awake. Over and over you grimly whisper your act. You spend 50 minutes in the shower using the showerhead as a microphone to go over your act several times. Finally you exit the bathroom, your prune-wrinkled hands resembling those of Mother Teresa.

Lunchtime on the day

You had decided to eat a high-carbohydrate lunch like pizza to give you energy for your performance. Sadly, food is out of question. Against the natural laws of physics, more matter is coming out of your body than is going in. Far, far more, and at hourly intervals.

3 hours before

As the dread moment draws near, a strange light-headedness comes over you. It won't be that bad, surely - after all, people do go to comedy clubs to enjoy themselves. They want to be amused. By the main acts they've paid good money to see. Not by the open spots, peddling their amateur wares, daring to presume to appear on the same stage as well known comics from TV or the Edinburgh Festival. The amphitheatre is packed, the crowds baying ravenously for blood, the emperor's thumb twisting steadily downward as his cruel sneer betrays his unwavering intention to give them what they want, what they really, really want. Time to don the gladiators garb. Let the games begin.

Arrival at the club

You don't quite know how you got to the club. You smile wanly at the club manager and get introduced to the compere. He grimaces at you briefly as if he is trying to work out what you're doing there. You mumble your name as he walks away. Perhaps it's best if he doesn't get your name right. You head for the bar, hoping a drink or six will loosen you up.

Start of the show

The punters are in now, seeming to be in good spirits. Of course they think they're going to get quality acts all night. The compere kicks off the night with some excellent openers. The good-spirited faces now seem to be blank. They smile a bit, chuckle sometimes, but don't laugh. Why don't they laugh? It must be a special outing for a bunch of accountants, funeral directors or poker players.

End of the first act

Hey the first act was good! Bloody good! The audience loved him! They laughed like drains, even when he wasn't saying anything. Why did he have to be so good?

10 minutes to go - in the toilets

Bowels now opening and shutting so fast it sounds like the clapping you know you'll never get. Lucky you brought moist toilet tissue with you - but only one box. Lucky it's stand up comedy 'cause you're in no position to sit down. You wash you hands and - oh damn - there go your prompts! Has no one got a pen in the whole club?

5 minutes to go - back in the toilets

Now it's waterworks time - extreme care taken to avoid dripping onto the - why the hell did you wear - white trousers? Wash your hands again - damnit! Still got the biro, write the prompts back onto your hands.

1 minute

There's a marching band bass drum where your heart is supposed to be. You wait for the compere to say your name, hoping you'll recognise it. For one insane moment, you are convinced he's forgotten all about you. Then you hear...

The moment of truth

...your name, and you walk briskly onto the stage.

A sea of faces greets you through the harshly blinding stage lights. Eager, expectant faces. You fumble with the microphone, liberating it from the icy grip of the stand. An infinite silence later you manage to voice your opener, the words shoot out automatically as you force yourself to meet their eyes and smile. A few smiles break out. You can feel the sweat drip out from under your arms.

You carry on with your next gag. More smiles. They're not laughing much, but they are listening. You start to relax a fraction. An unexpected guffaw from a man in the front row throws you slightly. You launch into your favourite gag. The muted reaction tells you its too early for Diana gags. Guffaw-man purses his lips. You begin to gain some ground with some revelations about your schooldays. Finally you muster up all your energy and do your one impression, waving your arms like jellyfish tentacles. A warmer reaction this time, one or two quiet laughs. Guffaw-man is grinning now.

The light is flashing - you know it's very important, but you can't remember why. You become aware of the compere waving from the side. You're over your five minutes. You hear yourself say "Thank you, and good night!" and leave the stage to polite applause.

1 second after

Your legs are in fact made of wobbly jelly, and your face resembles a beetroot. The adrenaline is still pumping and you could actually run a mile in 2 minutes. Instead you head for the bar, not quite sure whether to make eye contact with people you brush past or not. They seem to smile at you, but it could so easily be a grimace.

Back in the toilets

Still shaking, you grin at yourself in the loo mirror. You got some laughs, you got through it, and it's over - until next time!

Of course, it would be so much easier if you first went on a workshop