Comedian and Physics teacher (oh yes, our performers are a multi-talented bunch…) Anjali Shah writes our next This One Night guest blog, and tells us about her first ever stand-up gig.
33rd birthdays are not supposed to be significant. It isn’t a milestone. It doesn’t end in a zero and you are over 21 so it’s not usual to make an above average fuss. However, in my case, my 33rd birthday was pretty memorable. It was my first stand up gig – My ‘One Night Only’.
I can’t say that I just fell into doing stand up – it was something that I had considered giving a try for a number of years, but, lacking the confidence to turn up at the Frog and Bucket on a Monday night, I couldn’t see a way into it. Aged 32 I was living back with my parents and despite best efforts I had regressed back to being a slightly rebellious and private teenager. Every Tuesday evening for 6 weeks I got on a train to Salford, attending a stand-up comedy course which would culminate in a showcase gig. As far as friends and family were concerned, I was at a Trade union course – supporting my studies. It was my secret.
However, as the week of the gig drew near, a small wave of narcissism struck and I took the view that if I was going to take this step it might as well be with friends to witness it rather than an empty room with only my memories. In the end nearly 20 friends turned up and so my first stand up gig was to 42 people in a cramped pub room. It was nerve-wracking, exhilarating and one of the best evenings of my life. It was certainly my most memorable birthday. After the gig, friends who had been supportively silent confessed to being surprised at how well it had gone; having known me as being at times very intellectual and serious, they weren’t so sure that the more lighthearted side of my personality would come across. These are friends of many years who know well the internal battle that can exist between my somewhat reserved, hard but paper thin exterior and inner sensitivity. They had been nervous on my behalf with a true kindness and honesty. There were equally kind strangers in the audience whose laughs and words afterwards encouraged me to keep doing more stand-up such that it did not stop at One Night.
A lot of my set is based around anecdotes from my experiences as a teacher, and my first gig was just two days after I qualified. The previous 18 months had been somewhat of a roller coaster where I changed career, changed big parts of my life and as it turned out started to live my life. For 6 years I had been on the hamster wheel of a career I didn’t really want, in a job I didn’t really enjoy. Changing career flicked a switch for me – I discovered it was possible to get up in the morning and love what you do. Teaching is incredibly challenging, stressful and time consuming, far harder than anything I have done before, but also complete anathema to the clock watching, internet filled days of my previous job where I would get home at the end of the day and close the door and sit fairly numb until the next morning. It didn’t occur to me to put energy into any other activity. Teaching changed all of that for me. Gaining the confidence and energy to pursue standup was a progression from that.
The parallels between teaching and stand-up are many – both aim to entertain, involve honing your performances, playing to tough audiences, constantly reflecting and processing feedback, dealing with hecklers… and perhaps my love for my job and desire to succeed means that I have been able to take a fairly laid back approach to my stand-up hobby. After all teaching 19 lessons per week is just like 19 one hour gigs per week – and of course they provide a constant supply of material for my set!
I was unaware of the impact that stand-up would have on my life – opening up a world of culture and opportunities that I had not previously had, a social aspect that I have loved. I have been able to find supportive gigs and nights that I feel suit my style and are the sort of environment that I can enjoy and keep some protection of my thin skin. I feel incredibly lucky that I now have a career that I love and that I can be good at. I have a sense of fulfilment that I had not previously experienced.
Fast forward to a year later to my 34th birthday. I did my 19th stand-up gig. 19 in a year is a pretty low work rate by a lot of stand up standards but for me it has been just right. That night I got up and did 5 minutes of original material in the same room that I had done my first gig. Just as the year before people laughed and I smiled.
Make sure you join us for the culmination of this blog project: our next event on Monday 18 August, One Night Only!
Read all the other This One Night guest blogs here.
Join in the conversation and tell us about your most memorable live experience using #ThisOneNight