Why stand-up is easy | Helen Keeler has it all figured out (Well, just comedy, really)

Why stand-up is easy

Helen Keeler has it all figured out (Well, just comedy, really)

If there's one amazing thing about doing stand-up, it's that people are impressed.  Even before they know if you're good or not.  If I had a pound for every time someone had said to me, 'I don't know how you do stand-up!' I'd have enough to pay for the petrol to travel down the M6 at 12mph to the arse-end of nowhere to gig in front of nine people in a pub with no stage and a carpet that sticks to my feet.

And yet, stand-up is easy!  Well, not EASY easy, but just easier than life.

This week I've said, 'I do stand-up and I'm really good at it' to four people: a co-ordinator at Mind, two mental health nurses and a psychiatrist.  The conversation usually goes something like this.

THEM:  So is there anything you do that makes you feel as if you're worthwhile?

ME: Well, you're not going to believe this, but...

Because I suffer from bipolar disorder.  At times, rather severely. 

It's difficult for not just me but those around me.  I don't blame people who don't want to be around me in everyday life; to be honest with you, very often I don't want to be around me in everyday life.  But on stage it's a completely different story. 

I can't do life.  It's frightening.  It's hard.  There's too much to remember.  But with stand-up, I only have to do one thing: make them laugh.  That's it!  People who see me on stage would never in a million years guess that earlier that day I had to talk myself out from under the duvet and it took me three hours, or that when I left the house, I walked past a huge pile of letters because even the thought of opening my mail terrifies me, or that just 15 minutes before I took the mic out of the stand I was sitting in the car park trying to stick a second layer of make-up to my tear-stained face.  

After one gig, a woman said to me, 'Ooh, I bet you're so funny to live with!'  To which I replied, 'Not really!  I spend most of my time sobbing in a heap pondering my own pitiful existence and wondering how long I have to tolerate it.'  She laughed.  I wasn't joking.  See how easy stand-up is?

I think part of the reason people think stand-up is difficult is that for them it is very different from normality, whereas I pass through normality like a tourist, so those extremes are much easier for me to cope with than most people.

The way I look at it, to do a single stand-up gig you have roughly the same number of steps as to make a cup of tea.  Stand-up is easier because I am very determined not to let people down because of my bipolar.  I want to be reliable, I want to have a good reputation; making a cup of tea is a gig I can pull anytime without fear that no one will ever ask me to make a cup of tea again.  I literally have done more gigs this year than make cups of tea.

The only thing left to say is that I hesitate to tell people both that I do stand-up and that I have bipolar because the tears of a clown cliché makes me cringe.  But I can't deny there's something in it.  In August a lot of people were talking about Robin Williams.  I had this conversation with a friend:

HER:  Don't you think he was brilliant?

ME: I admire Ben Stiller more.

HER: Seriously?  Why?

ME: Because Ben Stiller has bipolar disorder and is still alive.  Robin Williams could only make millions of people laugh.

Published: 8 Dec 2014

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