'It turned out that the front table were Tourette’s sufferers' | Tania Edwards recalls her most memorable gigs

'It turned out that the front table were Tourette’s sufferers'

Tania Edwards recalls her most memorable gigs

The gig where I learned a different way to die

There are three types of death: (1) when everyone tells you it wasn’t that bad and you believe them (2) when no one can look you in the eye (3) when you die so hard everyone shares their own stories.

I’ve had two category (3) deaths. Let’s talk about Jongleurs Watford: the busy room, the blank faces, the funereal silence. A woman opened a bag of crisps and the crackle ripped through the club like gunfire. ‘Sorry’ she whispered. We all heard her.

‘I think it’s more my fault than yours’ I quipped. A table started hollering, ‘At least you’re up there!’ I was to be killed with the kindness crowds save for amateurs:

‘Keep on going sweetheart.’ I did. I managed 13 minutes and 47 seconds of my twenty. (NB: Never underrun). On the plus side, I heard about some great deaths that night.

The death I couldn’t enjoy

Risk is the point of stand-up and is why it doesn’t work as well on TV. It’s great watching your peers die, because you can talk about Watford again. But one early death was too painful to enjoy.

We were playing at the new act night at the Comedy Café. The opening act (whose first language wasn’t English) hit trouble when the front table started heckling wildly. Worse was to come as a back table of drunk City types joined in. This comic -who had never understood a tight five – doubled down. I had to leave the gig.

I smoked at the time. I got through three cigarettes and he still hadn’t left the stage. (NB: Never overrun). It turned out that the front table were Tourette’s sufferers on an outing. The management had opted not to tell any of us newbies. And no one in the room knew either, which was why the lairiest punters figured it was a free-for-all.

Afterwards the MC explained to the audience how that table could do what they liked but anyone else would be thrown into the road. That was a crazy evening: watching acts destroyed by people who literally couldn’t help themselves. Weirdly I loved playing that night. But I’ll never forget the death I couldn’t watch.

The gig that changed my life

My most important gig was my first, at Electric Mouse Big Ben. I thought better of it and would have left the venue but it was a teeny tiny pub basement and to get out I had to cross the stage.

I did my time. By the end of my five I knew I had found my vocation. Whether or not you stuck with stand-up wasn’t necessarily connected to the quality of your jokes. Some people were too successful in their real lives to commit, some people were too nervous to keep going, and some of us were hooked. For better or worse, I was hooked.

The gigs where I discovered nerves are a decision

You can decide how nervous you want to be. I read a great book about the brain by a neuroscientist called Dick Swaab (his parents had a sense of humour) that described the impact of stress on a developing baby. It wasn’t positive.

When I was pregnant I did a few support spots for the sublime Katherine Ryan that I would previously have worked myself up about, and then wound myself down about with a pint. Instead I embraced the joy of it.

That’s when I saw nerves are a decision. Any kind of stimulant (coffee, booze) makes that decision harder. But it’s a decision. I’ve started to forget that now. Maybe it’s time to have another baby, or twelve.

The gigs that offered the steepest learning curve

The toughest gig is the Gong Show at the Comedy Store. This is the exception that proves the rule about nerves being optional. It’s so brilliant because lots of the people trying out really aren’t good yet, and the audience is encouraged to bay for their blood.

At first (unless they’re regulars) they’re reluctant to boo fledgling acts off the stage. But it gets to a point in the night where they’ll boo you off before you hit the mic just because they haven’t shouted for a while.

That’s a great show to do. It’s unusual for 400 people to roar ‘off’ so consistently. It’s gladiatorial. It’s violent. It’s exciting. It’s a while since I’ve been. Thinking about it I might go back. As a punter.

Tania Edwards: Not My Dog is at Just The Tonic at the Mash House, 15:15

Published: 23 Aug 2018

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