Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Character Comedy Challenge

My Stand-up Comedy Challenge

Margaret K Johnson

Last February I went to London to do a weekend stand-up comedy course as part of my research for my novel The Dare Club. The Dare Club is about a group of four people who meet on a course for the newly divorced or separated – they become friends and decide to challenge each other to do scary things in order to forget their troubles. Some of their challenges were fairly easy for me to imagine – for example, gate-crashing a total stranger’s fortieth birthday party. But when Colette – one of my characters – decided to have a go at stand-up comedy, I knew I had to try it too. I needed an insight into the techniques and the terror of it in order to write about her experience.

On the weekend course we learnt the basics of writing and performing stand-up comedy, and I also had plenty of opportunities to speak into a mic in front of a group of people – something I hadn’t done before. Gradually I lost my inhibitions, as I was encouraged to spout rubbish on such topics as why the Welsh have banned Scots men from Wales. By the end of Sunday, I had somehow managed to write and rehearse three-minutes worth of material; material I could return to perform to an invited audience, provided I found the necessary courage to do so.

To be honest, I never really intended to go back to do the performance, figuring that the weekend course would give me enough of an insight for my book. But somehow I felt strangely compelled to complete the challenge. After all, Colette was going to do it.

So, on 21st May last year, I returned to London and made my way to the Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich. Up The Creek seats around 200 people, and when I arrived, it was nerve-wracking to see the stage and all those rows and rows of empty seats. When we took turns to have a go on stage before the audience arrived, it was a shock. The lights were so bright; you couldn’t see anything at all! How the heck was I supposed to choose someone to deliver my punch lines to the way I’d rehearsed? Feeling daunted, me and the other rookie comedians went upstairs for a period of tense waiting and feverish practise. Finally it was time for us to go back down. The club was completely packed out. The audience were all friends and family, and some people had invited 30-40 guests. Mad! I’d only invited one friend. I could see her right at the front, her video camera at the ready.

While I waited to go on, I couldn’t sit down; I was too pumped up with adrenalin. Just before the MC announced my name, I did a few jumps and arm swings, limbering up. I expect I looked like a fool, but that was the least of my concerns at that moment.

Then it was time. And amazingly, a feeling of calm settled over me as I went up the steps to the stage. We’d been told to take the mic out of the stand and to put the stand behind us. I did so – it seemed to take an age. But then I looked out at the invisible audience, said ‘hello’ and dived in.

"I’m a little older than some of you here tonight. But that’s okay. All things come to those who wait. PAUSE. Like chlamydia.

"One thing about getting older is that you collect a lot of stuff – books, CDS, clothes, ex-husbands…"


Watching my performance back now, I can find fault with it. But I loved doing it! People laughed and that felt amazing. I didn’t want it to end. And when total strangers congratulated me later, I just felt so proud of myself. All the next day, I couldn’t stop smiling. And on the train home, I was already writing the scenes with Colette’s experience of stand-up in my head. I could never have made them so vivid if I hadn’t actually experienced it. Even now, if I’ve got to do something brave, I only need to watch myself on You Tube to gain some courage.

Would I do it again? Yes, definitely. In fact, I need to seek out opportunities to make it happen before I get scared all over again.

And Colette? How does she get on? Well, without giving too much away, she has a bit of a mixed ride. She’s got a particular reason for wanting to do this challenge, and because of that, she’s going to choose to ignore some of her tutor’s advice. So it could all go horribly wrong for her…

Author Bio

Margaret K Johnson was born in Hertfordshire, England. She writes women's fiction and readers for people learning to speak English.
Margaret's novel The Goddess Workshop is a roller-coaster comedy about a mismatched group of women with a common aim – becoming confident, sensual beings. Her second women's fiction novel, The Dare Club is about a group of people who meet on a Divorced and Separated course. They decide to challenge each other to do daring things as part of their discovery process. But is saying how you really feel the most daring thing of all?
Margaret's readers for people learning to speak English are published by Cambridge English Readers, Cambridge Discovery Readers and Cengage Learning. They are in lots of different genres including Fantasy, Romance, Human Interest, Thriller, Fact Book and Adapted Short Stories.
As well as fiction, Margaret has written plays and screen plays. Her comedy GODDESS was performed at Cambridge Drama Centre to rave reviews.
Margaret has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia.

The Dare Club

Aleysha, Nick, Colette and Emma are on a mission to scare themselves into forgetting their problems. But will it work? 

When four very different people meet at a Lift Up course for the newly divorced or separated, there are initial tensions. Aleysha hasn’t accepted the fact that her 7-month marriage is over. Nick is struggling with being a single parent. Colette is still dealing with the health problems that caused her husband to walk out on her, and Emma is a dumper, while the others are dumpees. 

As the group get to know each other, Colette suggests they start a dare club. If they’re cavorting several metres off the ground, or standing under a spotlight, it’s bound to help them to forget about their troubles, isn’t it? At the very least, they’ll have some fun, and who knows? It might just change their lives forever. 

Find Out More -

Link to see Margaret performing at Up the Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich:

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