Clive has fun...doing stand-up

PUBLISHED: 10:11 21 March 2012 | UPDATED: 16:47 20 February 2013

Photo: Kim Dolman

Photo: Kim Dolman

Last time, we left Clive Agran worrying if he would cut it as a comic. Did he leave them collapsed in the aisles or was there a deathly silence?

OF ALL the heroic challenges Ive bravely met over the years, there is absolutely no doubt that this is the scariest of them all. To be absolutely honest, if last months article hadnt committed me quite so publicly to going through with it then I would have pulled out long ago.

Quite why the idea of getting up in front of a room full of strangers and trying to make them laugh is so terrifying is hard to explain, but it is. Everyone Ive talked to about the challenge has responded in the same I could never do that sort of way and so at least I can draw some comfort from the fact that Im no more cowardly than most.

My terror is made up of a number of components. Chief among them is the very real worry that the audience wont think me at all funny. Ordinarily if a person doesnt smile or laugh when I believe that what Ive said is amusing then my immediate assumption is that the fault is entirely with them and their underdeveloped sense of humour. If two people dont find whatever Ive said funny then I consider myself unlucky to have come across two individuals neither of whom has a sufficiently sophisticated sense of humour to appreciate mine. Can you see where Im going? If no-one in a packed room is laughing then I must reluctantly accept that the problem might lie not with them but with me.

A non-laughing audience is only a problem when the sole purpose of whoever is addressing them is to make them laugh. If they dont laugh then that smacks of failure. Failure is embarrassing and failure on a grand scale is massively embarrassing. And no sensible person wants to be either embarrassed or embarrassing.

The other major terrifying element is rather more mundane will I forget my script? My comedy coach Sally has impressed upon me the supreme importance of knowing it off by heart. Now comfortably into my 60s, remembering anything requires an enormous effort. Names, faces, telephone numbers and whether Im supposed to buy skimmed or semi-skimmed milk; everything seeps rapidly through my ageing brain. Stress aggravates its porosity. Can I make a virtue of a necessity and improvise? Although a high-risk strategy, I may have no alternative.

My desperate efforts to learn my routine have not been helped by the fact that I abandoned my original script after Sallys muted response to my lame rehearsal conveyed the unmistakeable message that it wasnt terribly good. And she was undoubtedly right. I may not shape up into a decent stand-up comic but I can take a hint.

Probably because Sally hasnt heard it, I have more confidence in the revised draft. She told me to be a bit more personal and so my introduction is now about hyphens. St Leonards-on-Sea, where Ill be performing, has two and it was a hyphen that obliged me to quit the Civil Service 35 years ago. Mysterious link, eh? And so I shall start off by recounting the story of when I was sent to Eastbourne on a two-week Senior Management Training Course. Our instructor posted two lists at the front of the room. The list on the left contained qualities you associate with good managers, helpful, supportive, encouraging, optimistic, etc. while on the right were those of a bad manager, unhelpful, unsupportive, discouraging, nit picks, etc. He then asked if anyone had any observations to make about anything on either list. I put up my hand and said, Yes, shouldnt nit pick have a hyphen?

The single best thing about the story is that Ive recounted it so many times that I wont have trouble remembering it. The next best thing about it is that its quite long and will take up a sizeable chunk of my allotted five minutes. And, finally, it meets Sallys requirement to be a bit more autobiographical. Its vitally important, apparently, that the audience likes me and so to reveal aspects of my character and personal experiences should help endear me to them.

Because of the huge changes, my script isnt finally completed until three days before the show. Desperately worried about remembering it, I rehearse at every available moment. As I lay my head on the pillow at night, I go over the script silently in my head. Rather worryingly, I fall asleep long before the end and worry that the audience might do the same.

Its now the day of the show and serious panic is beginning to engulf me. Possible rescue looms on the horizon in the shape of an approaching snowstorm. To pull out now, however, would let a load of people down including Sally, Kim at the comedy club in St Leonards (who has me billed to appear), the paying public and, most important of all, you, kind followers of my exploits.

Feeling rather irresponsible about taking the car when motorists are being urged not to make inessential journeys, I slither into a parking space and slide along the seafront muttering my lines. The snows now extremely heavy and Im hoping that very few will venture out on such a nasty night.
Sally greets me and studies my face the way people do when youre feeling ill. Hoping that my pale features dont betray deep-seated anxiety, I tell her that Im okay although a little worried about forgetting my lines. There are four distinct parts to my script the nit-pick story, my career switch to journalism, good old Sussex Life and half-a-dozen jokes to round it off.

Alarmingly, the formerly empty room is now filling up and, equally bad, Ive been moved forward from third to second act on, which gives me less time to study my script. On a more positive note, Im given a drink voucher which means that, technically at least, Im now a professional comedian.

A fellow professional called Jason sits next to me. Although only on the circuit since June, hes done more than 30 gigs and oozes confidence. The lights are dimmed and I can no longer see my script as the compere welcomes the now vast audience and introduces Jason. Whether its my nerves or his material, Im not sure, but I struggle to smile, let alone laugh, at any of his stuff. Although I dont find him at all funny, I dont want his act to end. But it does, eventually, and Im suddenly on stage beneath the bright lights.

Feeling curiously calm, I hear myself improvising and people laughing. Five seconds into my act and Ive already departed from the script. This is crazy and so I lurch into my nit (-) pick story, which goes down reasonably well. Part two is also going well and Im thinking, hey, this is fun! when I forget how to segue into part three and start burbling nonsense. I somehow extricate myself and am back on track talking about Sussex Life. Doubtless having boosted sales, I round off with a few of my favourite jokes and leave the stage to warm applause.

Now the real challenge driving home in the snow.

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