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It's the way I tell 'em

Siobhan O'Donnell learns the art of stand-up comedy. Did she fly or die?

Published on May 5th 2009.


It's the way I tell 'em

I’ve heard it said that you should do something everyday that scares you. I don’t know why you should and possibly there’s a quieter majority who feel that avoiding scary activities is healthier. One thing I’m sure of is that for many, the prospect of taking a turn on stage as a stand-up comedian would exceed their fear-factor quota for the year in one painful swoop.

The reason I feel confident in gauging opinion on the subject, is the strength of reaction from friends and colleagues, when I recently embarked on the Funny Business course, run by the Comedy Trust.

The idea is that after five weeks of tutoring with two professional comics you will take to the stage for your own showcase gig at Rawhide Comedy Club. If you read it quickly and don’t think about it too much, it doesn’t seem too intimidating, right? That’s how I was sucked in.

Being on various mailing lists for venues around the city, I was the curious recipient on a slow day at the office, of an email publicising the programme. Prone, during periods of boredom, to embarking on random challenges with very little thought, I signed up. I once, in the space of a tea break, committed to a six-day, 300km cycle ride around Rajasthan. But would potentially dying on my rear-end be as painful on the posterior as saddle sores and Dehli Belly?

The first two-hour class saw six very different pupils head to the top of Radio City Tower where we would develop and sharpen our wit. We all had our own reasons for being there. I explained that I have to make a speech at my best mate's wedding next year whereas, someone else had been signed up by his wife as a Christmas present. Well, men are so hard to buy for.

Sam Avery and Ben Schofield were the tutors who, with horror stories from their early days on the circuit, suggested that they’d honed their craft the hard way but were willing to help us avoid “trial and error” methods of learning. Why would anyone put themselves through this on a regular basis? The tension was palpable. Were we facing our nearest and dearest or a firing squad?

However, as one-by-one we completed our acts, I watched those who had gone before me talk about the sheer buzz they got from getting up there and doing it. A weird sort of calm descended over me, which was good, as my delivery would have been severely hampered if I’d remained hidden in the ladies’ loos.

When my name was called I decided whatever I did up there would have to be less embarrassing than dragging all my mates out and then bottling it.

And how did it go? Not too badly. When the Comedy Trust wrote to me asking if I would be part of the Best of Funny Business competition at the Liverpool Comedy Festival, I decided to give it one more try.

*Siobhan O'Donnell appears in the Best of Stand Out, Rawhide Comedy Club, Royal Court, tonight (Tuesday May 5, at 8.30pm.)

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