October has been a crazy month. As well as the usual book writing, family entertaining, event organising and school visiting shenanigans, I’ve also been doing comedy shows across the UAE as part of the Funny Girls Stand Up Tour, to encourage breast cancer awareness in the Middle East.
Doing these stand up gigs has been fun and has raised lots of money for a good cause. But it has also scared my pants off. It’s terrifying standing on stage, in front of hundreds of people, knowing you could be about to die horribly. (On a side note – why are all the verbs to describe stand up so violent? Even when you do well, you ‘kill it’).
Luckily, I haven’t fallen flat on my face yet, but I can’t help suspecting that just increases the statistical probability that next time I will.
So, why do I do it? Lots of people have been asking me this recently. Particularly when they see how nervous I get beforehand and how doolally I go afterwards.
It’s hard to explain why, but I’ll have a go . . .
I LOVE THE INTENSE FEELING OF FOCUS
People talk about authors getting in the zone, and I suppose I have experienced that. Last Wednesday, for example, I got so involved in a story line I completely forgot I was supposed to pick the kids up early from school until my daughter called and yelled at me. But that ‘zone’ is dopey and absent-minded and I don’t particularly like it as it makes me a bit spaced out and useless.
In contrast, the feeling I get on stage is a buzzy, energised, super-alert sensation that comes from using far more of my brain than usual – remembering my set, figuring out the timing for pauses and gestures, trying to be spontaneous (is that an oxymoron?), creating a connection with the audience, staying sharp enough to respond to comments or heckles . . .
I love alert brain. It’s crazily creative and I have some of my best ideas for stories just before and just after going on stage. So that’s one reason I keep on doing it.
COMEDIANS ARE MY PEOPLE AND THEY MAKE ME MORE CREATIVE
Being an introvert and a bit of an odd bod, I sometimes find people baffling and a bit scary. But not comedians, never comedians. Comedians are all my favourite things rolled into one – thoughtful, creative, courageous, vulnerable and just a little bit mad. They have a unique way of looking at the world and at themselves and they’re always open to learning more about both. I love people who’ve accepted their ‘quirks’ and are happy to share their failures to make me laugh.
I also feel brighter when my comedian friends are around. Brian Eno used the word ‘scenius’ to describe the creativity that groups, places and ‘scenes’ can generate. The theory is that when you’re involved in a productive like-minded group, everyone becomes better than they’d be on their own – sharing ideas, encouraging each other to take risks, becoming gently competitive, and offering support and understanding. I think that’s true – it certainly works for me – and it’s another reason I love being part of the local comedy scene.
IT’S GOOD TO SCARE MYSELF SOMETIMES
I have always been a slightly anxious person and my default setting is ‘run away’. So it’s tempting to cocoon myself on the sofa, watching old movies and eating cake. (Oooh, that does sound nice . . . I. Must. Not) But I think it’s healthy to petrify myself occasionally. It reminds me I’m still alive and saves me from sinking into a cake coma, only to emerge at the end of my life wondering what actually happened in it.
Somebody wise (I think it was Henry Ford but I’m happy to be corrected) once said, ‘“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” I don’t want that. I want to change and develop and laugh at new things and have new adventures. I want to lie there on my death bed, scaring the grand kids, thinking, ‘Well, life was fun. Bit weird at times, but always fun.’
And I’m not the only one.
I’ve realised recently that loads of children’s authors have done stand up. You’ve got the obvious examples of high profile comedians who’ve gone on to release funny books for kids. Russell Brand, David Baddiel, Danny Wallace and David Walliams are the first to spring to mind, but there are many more.
You also have writers who are best known (at least to me, others may know more about their comedy) for their brilliant kids’ books but also have a background in stand up – like Jonathan Meres, Louise Rennison, James Campbell and Ben Davis (whose promotional video for the latest Joe Cowley book is absolutely hilarious. Check it out here,)
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen author events by the likes of Steve Cole, Jo Craig, Darren Shan and Philip Ardagh that were easily as funny as any stand up gig I’ve ever been to. And when I watched John Dougherty entertain the kids at the Worcestershire Awesomest Book Awards last year, I laughed until my cheeks hurt so much it was a struggle to eat my chicken sandwich at lunchtime.
So, in an attempt to draw all the points in this rather long blog post together. I’d say that there are a number of reasons why I continue to scare myself silly on stage – not least being the fact that I believe it will makes me a better thinker, a better writer, and a better me! But if I’m honest, the key reason I keep going is because I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN.
About Rachel Hamilton
Rachel is a graduate of both Oxford University and Cambridge University and has put her education to good use by working in an ad agency, a secondary school, a building site and a men’s prison. Her interests are books, films, stand-up comedy and cake, and she loves to make people laugh, especially when it’s intentional rather than accidental.
Her books include Unicorn in New York (OUP, due for release in 2016), The Case of the Exploding Brains (Simon & Schuster, 2015) and The Case of the Exploding Loo (Simon & Schuster, 2014), which was nominated for the Redbridge Children’s Award, Leeds Book Award and won the Worcestershire Awesomest Book Award.
She has been nominated for Emirates Woman of the Year 2015 and would be huuuuugely grateful if you wanted to take a moment to vote for her here