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Dublin: 2 °C Sunday 17 November, 2019
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Here's what happens when you do a stand-up comedy course: Week 1

Follow my quest over 10 weeks. You’ll either laugh with me, or at me.

Me, being 'funny'
Me, being 'funny'

GOING TO A stand-up comedy class probably isn’t recommended when you’ve recently had surgery that makes it sore when you laugh… and yet there I was last week, ready for two hours of rib-tickling while nursing a tender tummy.

Why subject myself to the pain? Because the Gaiety School of Acting runs stand-up courses (taught by comedian and comedy writer Sharon Mannion), and for their latest 10-week course, I’ve decided to go along for the ride.


Source: Sharon Mannion/Vimeo

If it wasn’t bad enough that I’d signed up to mortify myself in front of strangers, I’ll be writing a piece each week about how I’ve been getting on… and you’ll even get to watch a clip of my final stand-up performance (gulp) during a class showcase in December.

Hold me.

Jokes about tampons

Am I someone who you’d expect to see at a course like this? Well, I always hoped my self-deprecating Corkonian wit might be appreciated by some, but when I told my mum and brother that I was to learn how to do stand-up, the conversation went a little like this:

Me: ‘So, I’m going to do a stand-up course…’

Mum: ‘That sounds cool! That would be great for Laura’

Brother: Are you going to be making jokes about tampons?

Laura is my younger and far funnier sister (you might have seen her on First Dates pointing out that a guy had ‘Kim Kardashian eyebrows’).

Source: Channel 4/YouTube

And as for tampon jokes? Well, let’s watch this space.

So even though my friends and family are a little baffled at this attempt, my inspiration comes in part from a newfound ‘try anything once’ attitude (I might even extend this to learning to drive), and in part from the latest wave of female comedians on our screens. It’s been pretty inspiring to watch Amy Schumer’s career blowing up, and heroes like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler presenting the Golden Globes.

These women’s varying careers kick that lazy joke about ‘women never being funny’ right in the ass. (Do people who say that know any real live human women? Just asking.)

To be funny or not to be 

There were 15 of us in the stand-up class, and to my relief only about three people had previously dipped their toes into the comedy or improvisation world.

Most of us were in the same boat – people who were intrigued by stand-up, but not necessarily fancying ourselves as the world’s next Michael McIntyre.

Some were there because their friends thought they were funny, others because they’d heard a course like this is a good way to get a bit of confidence when public speaking.

Source: Saturday Night Live/YouTube

The big surprise awaiting us? The first rule of Fight Club is ‘do not talk about fight club’, and the main rule of stand-up comedy class is: ‘Do not try to be funny’.

Mannion impressed on us that we’re not supposed to be constantly thinking of the funniest thing in each situation, and that the class wasn’t a chance to show off our incredible wit.

Phew.

But when you think about it, it’s slightly more terrifying to just be honest, and say whatever comes into your head.

We were encouraged to be unfiltered, to say whatever crap we thought, out of which would miraculously emerge some shiny gold nuggets of comedy. What that means, essentially, is talking shite in front of a room of strangers, and hoping you don’t make an arse of yourself.

You do draw some comfort from the fact that you’re not alone – everyone else is talking shite too.

The ice-breakers

After brief introductions, Sharon started us on some ‘exercises’. You know those ice-breakers that you have to do at work or group events?

Some people thrive on those. The fact my default body-language was keeping my arms crossed showed exactly how comfy I was with it. I’m outgoing and not afraid to go on TV or radio, but when it comes to ice-breakers, I freak out a bit.

Still, if you’re at a course, you have to build a bridge and get the hell over being self-conscious.

So I eventually was able to (mostly) throw off the shackles of embarrassment and embrace the process.

The most fun part of the two hours was the last activity, where we had to take turns to go up in groups of five and talk about something we loved.

The catch: whoever was speaking could be interrupted at any stage by any other speaker. That meant having the gumption to just step in and talk over someone, and the confidence to not care if someone talked over you. That’s a life skill right there.

Source: TheEllenShow/YouTube

The topics soon moved from things we loved to entirely random subjects: I yapped about my childhood fears (which included UFOs, spontaneous combustion, and ghosts), and being rejected by our family dog (who shares a name with a serial killer).

It’s hard to get up in front of strangers and just talk, especially when you reach that point where you’ve run out of material, but you have to keep talking anyway. Inside, you’re screaming ‘somebody rescue me!’.

But Sharon told us this was where the good stuff lies, when you move away from what you think are ‘great jokes’ and into the freestyling say-whatever-comes-into-your-head mode.

To finish the class, we were given homework: take note of three funny moments over the next seven days.

So far, I have one.

I’ll be writing once a week for the next nine weeks about how I’m getting on.

Have you any tips? Got a favourite comedian whose work you’d like to share? Just want to take the p**** out of me? That’s what the comments section is for…

Read: A DJ called Amy Schumer a ‘skank’ and what followed was the most excruciating interview ever>

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