Two weeks ago I did something* that it had never occurred to me I would ever even consider, let alone actually do. About four times a year, at The Stand Comedy Club Newcastle, they have a special evening called Bright Club. Billed as “the thinking person’s variety night” and described as “researchers become comedians for just one night”, Bright Club started at University College London and has expanded to a dozen cities around the UK.
Here’s the video of my performance. I suggest you watch it before you read the rest of this post , or you could find your viewing enjoyment degraded by spoilers.
It all started with an email from The Graduate School at Northumbria University. (Well, I suppose it really all started with last year’s performance by Pablo Puente, husband of someone who recently got a design PhD at Northumbria.) I had heard it was great fun, and in the spirit of public engagement, getting more involved in the community, and just having a bit of fun I decided to attend the training session to find out more and decide whether I wanted to perform.
The trainers included two organizers and experienced comedians from Public Engagement at Newcastle University’s Life Science Centre, plus a professional comedian. We started off with a go-around about where were from and what our subject area was (most of us were from Northumbria), and then they talked to us about the structure of comedy and how we should formulate our sets. I wasn’t sure I could write one and have it ready to perform in two weeks, so I said I’d come to the first of the three rehearsals and decide then. But an email the next day said they already had four of the eight slots filled, so I went ahead and signed up to do it.
We were required to attend two of the rehearsals, but as a major newbie and OCD suspect I went to all three. The first time all I had was some notes I had made, while most of the others had draft scripts. Even though they had told us we didn’t need to have anything written for the first rehearsal, I felt woefully unprepared. But I got some good feedback, and I went home and started writing. The second rehearsal revealed that my script was too long, and again I got some good feedback about what to cut and how to present some of the material. People really liked the faces I made at the audience. The third rehearsal came in at just the right time. (We were allowed eight minutes, and they suggested we plan it for 7.5 to allow time for laughing.)
I was really worried about not being able to remember it all. I had started with a set of questions that I often get from locals about my experience as an American living in the North East of England, and to help me remember the questions in order, I invented an interviewer who would ask me the questions as she read from her notes. I was also going to read some of the comments on the YouTube meditation videos that I had analyzed in one of my studies, and the advisors said that it could be very effective to pull a list from a pocket and read them that way. So I did.
In the end I forgot only one line, and although it was funny† it wasn’t critical to the gist or the flow. I did go over my time limit by more than three minutes, however. I ad-libbed a little, but I like to think it was mostly because the audience laughed. They laughed a lot.
And afterward, two women over 50 came up to me and told me how important they thought it was that older women are participating in these kinds of events, that our voices are being heard. That was as gratifying as the laughter. Maybe even more so.
* I haven’t blogged about this before now because I was waiting for the video to become available.
† As the last part of the answer to the question about what I like about living in the North East: “I also like all the ancient ruins I find around here. (Don’t anybody take that personally.)”