Sunday 18 February 2018

Scared witless at the mere thought of trying to be witty

She's liable to fall down when nervous, so can novice Sophie White stand up to the pressure of having to be funny on stage

Standing up to be counted: Sophie White in happier times. Photo: Tony Gavin
Standing up to be counted: Sophie White in happier times. Photo: Tony Gavin

Here's how scared I am. Since agreeing to take part in this foolish act of self-immolation, I haven't changed my socks. Because I'm sensitive to 'taking notions', and the day I agreed to this gig, I also won €2 on a scratch card, and I was wearing my leopard print socks. So I haven't taken them off since. I am writing this with four hours to go until I have to get up on stage in front of a room full of strangers and try to make them laugh.

I've noticed that just telling anyone that you are even considering doing stand-up will garner you quite a bit of respect and admiration. "No way," they say, "I'd never do that." "Of course, you wouldn't," I want to say, "you're obviously not a complete masochist."

At first I lapped up their adulation without thought as to what I had actually signed up for. I sent off a few emails to track down slots in one of Dublin's open mic nights, 'Battle of the Axe' at the Ha'penny Bridge Inn.

I was careful not to say it around too much; it's like going on a diet, you don't want to tell too many people because then you'll have them questioning what kind of diet allows deep-fried Mars bars and red wine when you inevitably fall off the wagon. If I told too many people about the plan, then it would be way more obvious when I pussied out.

That's the thing, I'm sitting here fairly sure that I'll be pussying out. Pussying out seems like a way-more credible outcome to all this, certainly more likely then the thought of actually walking up onto a stage and going through with it.

The reason I decided to punish the world with my comedic stylings is that I personally couldn't think of a more frightening prospect than getting on stage and trying to make people laugh. Of course, I can't. It is statistically proven to be a human's greatest fear. As Jerry Seinfeld famously said, when going to a funeral, most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. So I figured it fit the directive of Get Out of Your Comfort Zone perfectly.

Also, I worry that I tend to play it a bit safe in life. I can't say that I ever challenge myself much or put myself out there. I wondered if this exercise might change me, perhaps make me a little braver.

A little background might be in order. I have no experience in public speaking. I didn't volunteer to do stand-up comedy because I am secretly really good at giving speeches or making people laugh. I volunteered because just the thought of speaking in public is terrifying. I don't have some secret amateur theatre past from my school days. Even just the stand-up part of stand-up comedy will not come easily to me. I do not stand well and am liable to fall down, particularly when nervous.

With four hours to go, my hands are shaking just typing this. And I feel really sick and full of regret for ever having signed up for it. Though in a detached kind of way I am noticing that I certainly feel a bit more alive than I usually do on an average Thursday afternoon, could this be one of the more positive sides of getting out of your comfort zone?

I told my husband, and he was not as impressed by the mere intention as the friends had been. He got this pained expression on his face that has been haunting me since. It's the look I imagine on the faces of the crowd, for whom my seven-minute slot will be interminable.

Since that dispiriting conversation I performed the routine I'd worked out for him and honestly the funniest bit was when he audibly farted at 2 minutes 15 seconds in. I may still pussy out.

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