Our 2019 Funny Women Stage Awards winner, Laura Smyth, took up stand up at the end of her third batch of maternity leave. Here’s fellow funny mother, Louise Leigh, who runs the Time of the Month South West in Bristol, on why mums who want to give it a try will find it surprisingly accessible.
Dear Woman On the School Run,
So, you’ve got kids. They’re no longer waking you up at stupid o’clock, then half-past foolish and of course at twenty-five to ‘wearing a lobster as a hat’. You’re no longer exhausted.
You can imagine leaving the house in the evening. You can imagine doing something – sort of – fun again.
Yes, there are the prosecco-fuelled bitch-fests that pass for a mums’ night out, but the hangovers are ruinous when you still have to get up at 6.15 am for the school run; same with nights out with your child-free friends. Maybe you could get a hobby that doesn’t have to involve being hammered the whole time or – worse – knitting.
You always liked performing. What are your options?
You’ve thought about joining the local amateur dramatics group, but can’t cope with the walnut-faced perverts that appear to be its denizens. Plus, they have these seven-hour rehearsals the week before a show. And Oh GOD the SHOWS! I have personally performed in a three-hour retelling of Euripides’s The Bacchae, set in 1960s California but bafflingly performed entirely in South London/Birmingham/Queen’s English. Nobody’s idea of a good time.
You contemplate joining a band – you’ve heard local middle-aged tribute band the Grateful Dad are looking for a singer/tambourine player…
The thing is, every evening away from the family nest has to be negotiated with your partner. You don’t want to waste that energy on something that might be rubbish. Or at least, where you can’t control the quality.
Here’s where stand up comes in, and why it makes particular sense for mums who want to perform:
Hardly any liaising
When your kids were small, you had to make arrangements just to have a poo alone. Now, you spend the day on ‘under 12s burlesque’ WhatsApp groups trying to negotiate who is going to pick up six children at the same time, from two separate locations on the opposite sides of town. Unlike improv or sketch comedy, with stand up, you don’t have to manage anyone’s diary but your family. With the open mic circuit, it can be as easy as “Gary, I’m going out next Thursday” Then you saunter out of the house on your own. The JOY!
You don’t have to sit down and write a huge chunk of prose. The creative process can be as simple as ‘remember that funny thing that happened – make a note of it – talk about it at an Open Mic Night.’ You can ‘write’ in the car, at work or while nit-combing your children. If you can steal a half-hour, you can smush those bits of bits into a five-minute set. You start with a five (at most) and can spend years building up to ten minutes if you like.
No rehearsal space to find
Rehearsing stand up is basically walking around talking. Yes, I talk to myself. So do you. No, you’re a weirdo – I am a creative. I have been known to use the hose of my Henry vacuum cleaner as an impromptu mic while cleaning the house. Simple.
You can wear what you like. You don’t even have to wear lipstick. I have done gigs with spaghetti-hoops still encrusted on my top and memorably once with my shirt on inside out. I have also done them with a special sparkly jacket on, because that’s what I felt like that night. No props, either. I did once have a badge that was the punchline to a gag. It drove me nuts that I had to remember it every gig. So I ditched it. As long as I have my notebook, everything I need to perform is on me at all times.
Secretly, I do this because one day, I could be at a Big Comedy Show and the star could collapse backstage and the manager would come out and say “is there… is there a comedian in the house?” and I could look around and say “well… I have got a tight ten I could stretch, I suppose” with a surprised expression on my face. Then I would astonish the crowd with my stuff about spaghetti hoops and itchy bum worms and end the night a TOTAL SMASH HIT.
Here’s where the quality control kicks in. Imagine if you’d joined the Crappy Players and spent 10 weeks rehearsing The Bacchae of Santa Monica, only to find it was a) a load of old pump and b) you had to perform it again and again, even though Malcolm was ruining it every time. With stand up, if people don’t laugh at that bit, you drop it – or rewrite it until it’s good. The only person that can let you down is you, and there’s freedom in that.
It’s in the pub
I like pubs. Do you know who’s in pubs? Not children. You will meet loads of new and interesting people, some of whom will be proper friends. Some of them may perhaps a little immature, but not one of them will expect you to wipe their arse. Bonus!
Sometimes, just sometimes, you might get paid to do it. Gary never gets paid to do his triathlons. In fact, he’s forked out thousands on his special bike, and his special helmet and his special easy-release shoelaces and his special weird garment that is at once both heavily-padded around the groin and also a swimming costume. You might get £20 for driving to Surbiton and back. Winner!
In short, if you’ve even thought about it, give it a go.
It’s fun. Scary, but fun. And scary won’t bother you. YOU MADE A PERSON AND KEPT IT ALIVE.
See you on the circuit.
If you’re a comedy-curious mum (or non-Mum), join Louise and a host of fantastic women at Time of the Month South West, on 9th October at Alchemy 198 on Gloucester Road, Bristol, every second Wednesday of the month.