Competition Time!

On Tuesday night (29 April), accompanied by my wonderfully supportive friend Sarah, I braved a tube-strike affected London to make my way to Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington and my heat of the Funny Women Awards 2014. I had hoped to be able to bring you footage, but that’s proving to be more problematic than I’d thought it would be. Hopefully I will be able to post it some point fairly soon.

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My one and only other stand-up performance was in May 2013 – almost a year ago, and I did it as research for my novel The Dare Club. Since then, I have been focussing on writing and marketing the book. Besides, I didn’t need to perform again, did I? Those scenes were written now. Surely I didn’t want to do it again? Except that…I did. When I was setting some goals for myself in the New Year, performing stand-up comedy again appeared on my list. Clearly, I hadn’t finished with it. Or it hadn’t finished with me! I needed to try it one more time to see if it was something I wanted to continue with or whether I could say to myself, “You did that. Well done you!” And put it behind me.

So the idea of performing at Funny Women Awards 2014 was born.

On Tuesday evening, Sarah and I allowed lots of time to get to the venue – just as well too, because it took us at least half an hour to find the right bus stop –sorry, Sarah – since I was doing the map reading, I take full responsibility! Finally we arrived – after a fortifying break in a pleasant local park to chill out and fuel up – and went downstairs to the function room. How small it looked after Up The Creek, where I’d previously performed! This was going to make it easier, wasn’t it? Although that empty stage with the waiting microphone was still pretty intimidating.

With both the event organiser and the compère held up by the effects of the tube strike, there was time to chat to some of the other contestants. All of them were really lovely, but also a lot more experienced than me. Gulp!

One woman who was in her sixties and told me that she’d decided the previous November to try comedy because “as we get older, things scare us more, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.” She has performed 18 times since making that decision. Wow! How inspiring. All the time I was chatting to everybody, I felt fairly calm – and excited too. I’d practised a lot, and I suppose I was confident that I’d done everything I possibly could to prepare. I could also vividly remember how amazing it felt the previous May when people laughed at my jokes. I wanted more of that feeling!

The organiser arrived, and the running order was shared. I was up fourth out of nine contestants – the same position I’d been in last time! Perfect. I was wearing the same outfit I’d worn on that occasion too. Note to self – find another outfit, or that one may become your ‘lucky’ outfit, and what will you do if it a) wears out, b) is in the wash or c) you change shape and it doesn’t fit anymore?!!

 All systems were go.

 

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Funny women Contestants, Heat 1, Ryan’s Bar 29.4.14. Me on the far right.

Sorry, contestants 1, 2 and 3; I was watching you, but I can’t remember too much about your acts. Except that the woman before me played a character that was very loud and very Australian. She seemed a very formidable act to follow on from, especially as she ended her act with a joke about chlamydia – something I was about to make a gag about myself…

Then suddenly the compère was announcing me and it was time to go on. Like before, it seemed to take me an age to take the microphone from the stand and to move the stand behind me – I definitely need more practice at that – but then I was turning to say ‘hello’ and plunging in. And finding that, although the venue was small, I COULD SEE ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY IN THERE. At Up The Creek, the lights were so bright the audience was completely invisible. Not this time. I could see who was laughing. And who was not… Also, with fewer people, when there was laughter, it was inevitably not as loud as it had been on the previous occasion. My left hand – the one holding the microphone – was shaking. I just hoped no one could see. Luckily, my voice was not, and I pressed on, remembering all my jokes – hurrah!!!

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Spouting lies about ex-husbands.

 

Then the microphone stopped working.

 

Cold panic. It was a bit like my first driving test when I got to a busy crossroads to find that the traffic lights were out. What the hell should I do? The only thing to do in this situation was to carry on, so that’s what I did. Fortunately, people could still hear me because the venue was small, but I did feel very alone and vulnerable without the mic and it was a huge relief when it began to work again.

 

I got to the end and experienced that same amazing buzz when everybody applauded. I’d done it! Yay! And now I could sit back and enjoy the other acts. Everyone was amazing, and there was so much variety. Fortunately we weren’t in competition with each other at that stage – any of us – or none of us – could be picked to go through to the semi-finals in July. There are 12 more heats to go, and around 60 women will go through to the semi-finals. So, it’s a case of wait and see now. But whatever the outcome, I’m so glad I did it, and I know now that I definitely want to do it again. So I’ll be walking round everywhere with a notebook to jot down things I think I can use for material, and Googling to find opportunities to perform.

Watch this space. And do be funny and inspiring if we should happen to meet up. I promise not to mention any names.

 

 

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If I hadn’t checked for typos – welcome to The Dane Club

Today’s light-hearted blog post was inspired by a friend who sent me a hilarious link to book-titles which were changed completely by changing one letter. It got me thinking about my novel The Dare Club. How different it could have been….

How about The Dane Club?

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Or maybe this version The Dane Club?

 

Or how about The Dart Club?

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Or The Dame Club?

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No, on second thoughts, I think The Dare Club is best.

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Four very different people challenge each other to do scary things in order to forget their problems. But will it work?

If you’d like to see the original – and very funny – link that set me down this route, here’s the link. Cheers!

My Stand-up Comedy Challenge Achieved!! Yay!

I did it! Last Tuesday night I went to London and performed my 3-minute stand-up comedy routine at Up the Creek in Greenwich in front of an audience of around 200 people! I’ve been waiting to tell you about it until I had the footage, and now I can reveal all!

Those of you who have been reading my blog regularly know that I set myself this challenge as part of the research for The Dare Club – the novel I’m writing about a group of newly divorced and separated people who set themselves challenges as part of their recovery process. My character Colette is going to have a go at stand-up comedy, so I had to do it. I don’t feel the need to try out all my characters’ dares – after all I have got an imagination. But I really felt I needed to experience the terror of this particular one.

The day started at The London Theatre with a 1-1 with Harry Denford, the comedian who delivers the course. Feeling nervous, I ran through my material, and Harry suggested I cut some things and change others. I wasn’t entirely sure I agreed with everything he said, but hey, I’m the rookie – he’s been doing this for 20years or more, so I took his advice. Then we ran through it again, focussing on how to perform it so that the audience was involved rather than just being recited to. The session finished with him telling me that the other comedians were meeting in a noodle bar near Up the Creek at 5.45pm. “Look for a group of people who don’t look as if they should be together,” he advised me. “All sorts of people do this course.”

I went to Greenwich to look at the outside of the venue. It seemed surreal that later on I would be performing inside! But I didn’t feel tempted to flee to the nearest station to get the hell out of there. It had been far too difficult arranging childcare etc for that! Besides, I wanted to see what I was capable of.

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I killed the rest of the afternoon by alternately taking in the sights of Greenwich and practising my act in toilet cubicles. Close to the Cutty Sark, I spotted a man walking round talking to himself. “I bet he’s one of the comedians,” I thought, and sure enough, when I approached a group of people in the noodle bar at 5.45, there he was.

I made myself eat something and exchanged nervous chatter. Then all too soon it was time to go. I loved the inside of the comedy club, but all those empty seats were daunting. The other comedians had invited between 20-40 guests each! Mad! I’d invited 1, my mate Sharon, who I met when I went on holiday to Cuba. She had promised to film me doing my act.

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Harry told us all to have a go on stage, to practise going on and off and looking at the ‘audience’. The lights were so bright, you couldn’t see anything! How the heck was I supposed to choose someone to deliver my punch lines to? Then we went upstairs to a room dominated by a picture based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, but with the faces of 1980s comedians replacing the usual cast. Julian Clary looked particularly fetching.

The Comedy Last Supper painting

The Comedy Last Supper painting

After a long wait and lots more angst and practise, Harry announced the running order. I was to go 4th, after a guy who looked like a younger Colin Firth. I was happy with 4th – not 1st, but not having to wait too long. Good.

Then it was time to go downstairs.

The place was packed out – not a spare seat! Sharon was at the front with her video camera. It was real – it was actually going to happen!

The chairs for the performers were arranged around the back of the club. It was a bit like one of those hairdressers where you don’t need an appointment and you keep moving round until it’s you turn. But when I got to the last seat, I couldn’t sit down. I was too pumped up with adrenalin. Just before the MC announced my name, I did a few jumps and arms wings, limbering up. I expect I looked like a prat, but that was the least of my concerns at that moment.

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Then it was time. And amazingly, a feeling of calm settled over me as I went up the steps to the stage. We’d been told to take the mic out of the stand and to put the stand behind us. I did so – it took an age. But then I looked out at the invisible audience, said ‘hello’ and dived in.

Ok, it wasn’t perfect.

I didn’t have the mic quite in the right place to begin with so I started off a bit quiet.

I forgot to include one of my jokes, which meant the one that preceded it didn’t work quite so well.

Because I’d made some cuts, my routine was slightly short.

But I loved it! People laughed and it felt amazing. I didn’t want it to end. And when total strangers congratulated me at the bar later, I just felt so proud of myself. All the next day, I couldn’t stop smiling. I felt transformed. Who’d have thought that I, who’d once been so painfully shy I couldn’t speak up in front of people at all, could actually go up on stage and entertain a large crowd of people?

I whole-heartedly recommend the experience to everyone.

If you’d like to see my performance, you can view it on YouTube by clicking here. But be warned, it contains swearing, lies and smut, so give it a miss if these are likely to offend you!

Would I do it again? You bet your life I would! In fact, I need to seek out opportunities to make it happen.

And Colette? How is she going to get on? Well, she’s going to have a mixed experience. She’s got a particular reason for wanting to do this challenge, and because of that, she’s going to choose to ignore some of her tutor’s advice. So it could all go horribly wrong for her… Well, it’s fiction, isn’t it? I can’t give my characters a completely easy ride.

Watch this space!

The Dare Club will be out later in 2013. It is the follow up book to The Goddess Workshop, which is available on Amazon now.

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Available for Kindle and in paperback from http://www.amazon.co.uk

 

Coming later in 2013!

Coming later in 2013!

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk

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Beating Word into Submission and Telling Jokes to the Mirror

It’s been a busy few weeks and the house is not looking its best. I’ve done the basics – washing, food shopping and preparation and essential dog walking and child organisation. But that’s it.

I’ve had my nose to the grindstone trying to publish The Goddess Workshop as a paperback via Create Space. A writer friend I know through the Women’s Fiction Crit Group on http://www.authonomy.com told me that “publishing through Create Space is a matter of beating Word into submission” and, I can tell you, she’s right! I now know such things as how to have page numbers in some places and not in others and how to stop the widows and orphans control function. Don’t worry, I haven’t been going about being unpleasant to  any bereaved people – it just means that now the bottoms of all the pages in my book line up the way the tops all do. Might sound like a small thing, and obviously the story is what counts, but you don’t want to have anything to distract readers from the story, do you? But hopefully everything’s OK now – a proof copy should be winging its way to me as I type, and then provided it’s all right, it should be all systems’s go. Hurrah!

I haven’t wanted to lose momentum with The Dare Club while I’ve been occupied with all this stuff, so I’ve been doing an hour’s writing every morning before my son wakes up, starting around 6.00am. I know, dedicated or what? Some might prefer to say crazy, I realize.

Anyway, next Tuesday – 21st – it will be time for me to go to London to complete my comedy challenge by performing for 3 minutes in front of an audience. So I will be doing lots of talking to myself as I practice and memorize my routine. Not to mention choosing the outfit to wear on stage… Is this an excuse for a shopping trip I wonder?

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I’m trying to look goofy, silly! It’s all part of the act!

And then I’ll definitely have to turn my attention to my house, because my mother-in-law is staying overnight to help out with childcare, and if you could see how pristine her house always is, you’d understand why I turn into a whirling housework dervish every time she visits.

Think of me next Tuesday night! 🙂

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Click here to see The Goddess Workshop on http://www.amazon.co.uk

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My Stand-Up Comedy challenge – Part Two Approaches

I’ve gone and done it!

I’ve arranged to return to London on 21 May to complete part Two of my Stand-up comedy challenge! Part One was a weekend course where I learnt to move a mic without it falling over, got to spout rubbish, found out about set-up punch and had a go at writing and delivering it.

Part Two will involve doing a 3 minute slot in front of an audience, instead of just the other members of the course, at Up The Creek, in Greenwich. Only friends and family of course members are invited, and I’m very pleased that my friend Sharon, who lives in London is going to come. She’s also volunteered to film my debut, so provided it doesn’t go too badly, I’ll be able to post that film. I kind of hope the film is all shaky because she’s laughing…

I wanted to complete the challenge on a personal level to show myself and others I could do it. But also, if I don’t complete it, then the scenes in The Dare Club where my character Colette takes to the stage won’t be so authentic.

I’ve been very inspired by peoples’ reactions to me doing this too – so thank you, everyone!

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Here’s one of my gags to be going on with. (All lies, by the way, and I hope you don’t mind its moderately saucy nature).

One of my ex-husband was a trombone player. It was exhausting. He was in out, in out, all the time.

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My Stand-up Comedy Challenge

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I’ve completed the first part of my stand-up comedy challenge!

On Saturday and Sunday I attended a weekend stand-up comedy course in New Cross, London.

As I went down the steps to the fringe comedy club, I was feeling excited and nervous at the same time. I’d been looking forward to doing the course, but would I be able to do it? Would I think of anything to say? Would people find me funny? Would I have to do what someone on Twitter advised me to do and strap an onion to my forehead to make people laugh at me?

I needn’t have worried. The course was really good fun, and I learnt loads – about writing and performing stand-up comedy, and also about myself. I’d wanted to do the course partly as research for my novel The Dare Club – and it was hugely useful for that. My brain is teeming with ideas! But I also wanted to do it to see what I was capable of – and that’s the bit that’s really going to stick with me.

Within minutes of the course starting, myself and the other 4 students learned how to use the microphone – something I’d never done. Not very long after this, we all found out what we looked like on the stage – the image we presented and how we came across. This started out by us saying how WE thought we looked and how we came across. It was very interesting to see how the others saw me. I’m apparently a bit hunched, and put my weight more on one leg than the other. I also have very long arms (I’m thinking a bit orangutan by now). But good news – the lines and face sagging I mentioned, were disagree with – huzzah!

One activity I particularly enjoyed was when we each took a turn to spout absolute rubbish into the microphone – on a subject we had about 5 seconds to think about. My imagination ran riot as I talked about why the French have banned Staffordshire Bull Terriers – (staffies are such good clothes designers that French doggies are leaving handbags across the land to run after the muscle bound hunks as they strut their stuff). It was great fun. And it’s amazing what you can come up with!

By the end of the weekend we all had 3 minutes of material which we had rehearsed in front of the group. The course tutor, Harry Denford, seemed to genuinely like my stuff, which did my ego a lot of good!

Stage 2 of my challenge, if I choose to accept it (and I really think I should, don’t you?) – is to return to London to deliver my 3 minutes’ worth to an audience.

“It’s a long way for 3 minutes,” I’ve been told, and yes, it is. But that’s missing the point, really, isn’t it? It’s a personal challenge. And also, a way of feeling really alive! Yay! Bring it on!

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Is Comedy from Adversity recommended?

This coming weekend, I shall be attending the long-awaited Stand-up comedy course I booked on ages ago in London! No, it won’t snow again,and I won’t get ill or anything else. I’m going!

I wanted to do the course for a few different reasons. I used to teach, but now I just write, and I miss that element of performance in my life. It’s a muscle I want to keep using in case it shrivels up! It’s also the biggest buzz when you make people laugh!

Another reason is that one of the characters in my next book, The Dare Club, is going to be dared to attend such a course, so it’s research too. The character, Colette, has been through some very tough times in her life, and I’m interested in thinking about how she might use humour to laugh about all of this painful stuff and in the process make herself feel better about this.

But do you like this kind of humour yourselves? I’d be really interested to find out what you think. Personally, I don’t enjoy comedians who just make fun about the fact that they’re overweight etc. It doesn’t do it for me. But what about people who make fun of their own cancer treatment etc? Are you comfortable with that? Is it a good idea, or self-indulgent? Obviously nobody would find it amusing for a comedian to laugh at anybody else’s cancer treatment. And there will be people in the room who have loved ones who have suffered or died. So it’s quite possible that Colette’s journey into comedy won’t work the way she expects it to… What do you think?Image