“Something I always wanted to try was stand-up comedy…”

Something I always wanted to try was stand-up comedy, for a long time I spent a lot of time researching, reading books on the profession and watching a diverse range of comics to inspire my act.

From there, I began lurking on stand-up forums sourcing promoters who were offering 5-minute open mic spots for aspiring talent.

For many months, I feared putting myself out there, opting to keep writing, and doing a mock act in front of a mirror.  It got to a point where I realised if I was ever to take the next step, I needed to stop fearing failure, and do more than look at a piece of paper containing my set, wondering if anyone would actually find my words funny.

A Lesson in Fearing Failure From An Open-Mic Comedian

When I prepared to send an email to one of the organisers, I overthought what I was going to say on the message.  There was no need as I got a straight forward response and was booked onto my first gig – scary!

Because of my nerves I decided to perform a series of one-liners, my logic was if I panicked, a narrative driven routine would be messed up if I forgot part of the act, with a series of gags I could just move onto the next joke.

That evening gave me the answer to my initial fear, the question “Am I actually funny or am I just deluding myself?”   I enjoyed playing to a friendly crowd, receptive to my set and was rewarded with a few laughs.

No other profession in the world gives you such clear feedback on your performance. Image courtesy of Pexels.

This gave me the stand-up bug and I was eager to find more opportunities to perform.  If you are an aspiring comic down in London,  you could pretty much perform an open mic slot every night.

Unfortunately, I lived in the North of England, opportunities were limited and the only regular comedy was from the established scene from Jongulears, though this was for the more experienced comic, performing to a weekend crowd looking for laughs, from professionals, not the hit and miss nature of an amateur open mic set.

Desperate for stage time I entered a talent show, which in hindsight was a terrible idea as this was only my third gig, and was not like your usual open mic evening of comedy.

The audience was distanced away from the stage and an X-Factor style judging panel sat in front of them.  For the performer you looked down on everyone from a tall stage.  As I prepared to make my entrance, I realised the only other acts in the talent show were singers, so I wasn’t feeling optimistic that the crowd were going to be ready for the changeover to comedy.

To top it off as I walked to the stage, I caught sight of an eight-year-old boy in the front row, this freaked me out as I had a couple of crude jokes in my set, which I didn’t feel comfortable performing in front of a family crowd.

Losing confidence that this was a good idea, I started my set, removing the opener which was a silly gag about having a faecal accident when going onto the stage (my character was inspired by some of the weird one liner comics of the 80/90’s alternative comedy scene).  This led to the most painful five minutes of my life, performing to an audience sat in complete silence.

To rub in my defeat, as the evening was doing a light entertainment Saturday night variety show gimmick, I had to endure the judges giving me some constructive criticism, feedback that would normally be appreciated, if it wasn’t being done in front of an audience.

Humiliated, I just wanted to get off that stage and hide!

When the opportunity to leave presented itself, I quietly nipped around the audience locating a side door to avoid the spectators.  If I could have been struck down at that moment, I would have taken it, instead the world gave me another mercy, swallowing me up into a throng of revellers out on a Saturday night.

When I felt safe to know I was far enough away to avoid recognition, I nipped into the next bar to drown my sorrows, where I would reflect on my lack of success.

This was a typical Northern boozer, drunken boisterous laughter echoed through a room filled with the stench of real ale.  I grabbed a drink from the bar and huddled into a secluded corner in the room, sinking into a murky beer-stained cushion of a chair.

On any other night the loud banter would have been too much, but it was a reassuring distraction from endlessly playing my shame around in my head and drowning out the negative self-talk, which had taken great delight reminding me what a loser nobody I was.

The glare of the lights on the fruit machine flickered away with bloops and beeps enticing you to play, the women were dressed up in outfits not becoming to their figure and conversations rung out, sounding how they normally do when people drink too much.

People were out enjoying themselves, getting on with their lives, big burly blokes kept eyeing me up and down, not in recognition, but more likely looking for a table.

What This Taught Me About Fearing Failure…

It was evident how oblivious everyone was to the failure I felt at that moment – a humbling experience to remind you that you’re not as important as you like to think you are.

And this taught me something massive about failure, no one really cares that much about you failing as much as you think they do, actually most people are too consumed with their own lives to care about yours.

Therefore, the lesson is, stop putting so much fear into failing!  By worrying about this it can paralyse us into ever taking any risks.

If I had continued to overthink the hundreds of ways, I could look stupid at stand-up, then I probably would still be stood in front of that mirror, frustrated I lack the guts to take a chance.

Yes, you could potentially look silly, have people mock you when you fall or not gain the acceptance of someone you want to impress, but these all don’t matter, as people are quick to forget.

The only person who remembers it the most – is you.

But you know what is worse that failing?

Living a life thinking “What if?”

So, when it all goes wrong, you fail and feel stupid.  Simply, brush yourself off, learn from your errors and get ready to go again.

Get comfortable doing things that make you feel uncomfortable.

<<For more insight into my experiences stepping into the world of stand-up comedy check out my post: The rise and fall of an open mic comedian>>

Thanks for reading, wishing you the best in your success.

James @Perfect Manifesto.


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27 thoughts on “What Being An Open-Mic Comic Taught About Fearing Failure…

  1. The fear of failure can be so overwhelming powerful, I know it’s a problem for me, but at least you put yourself out there. I could never do that, let alone have to endure literal judgment infront of people on stage. Be proud that you managed to do that

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Amazing man. Yeah that initial hurdle is the biggest step and i guess will teach you a hell of a lot about yourself. Cant wait to bomb so i can put that experience in the bank lool. Appreciate man. This blog is awesome

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I really really enjoyed this post and I loved the bit about “you’re not as important as you like to think you are”. This was such an insightful read and I love that you threw yourself in the deep end. Amazing job! Amy at amymarshment.com x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much – now I just attribute it as part of the business of stand-up comedy, if you can’t take the bad nights then it’s the wrong thing to do!

      I ended up having a break from it while I finished university as I was more in the habit of writing jokes than studying and other priorities have taken place but I will go on stage again one day.

      Thanks for your comment.


  3. I admire your bravery; I heard being a stand-up comic is one the toughest things a person can do. That’s why I have such respect for them, well at least most of them… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much! You really need a thick skin for that job, being able to persist, embrace that you will fail and also not to take it personally if they go bad.

      One of the big things I got from it was it gave me great confidence with public speaking, my attitude being that when facing an audience at least I don’t have to try and make them laugh!

      At the time I dreamed of being a big money mainstream comic, but I think I’d quite happily do it again just for fun as a way of expressing some ideas.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I used a stage name and only a few people knew I was doing it (not even family was aware) though I did that more for naysayers saying I’d fail rather than keeping it private.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That can work both ways. I’ve had friends in the crowd, at some good gigs saying “I can’t believe how funny you were I thought I’d have to fake laugh”, then I had bad gigs where its then been awkward with friends the rest of the night!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I read the rise and fall post but it’s not letting me like/comment

    I wanted to say it really resonated deeply.

    The set opener made me howl 😂

    You’ve inspired me to write more about my comedy journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for checking it out, I think I might have turned the comments off from that one a couple of years ago due to someone trolling who was just getting obnoxious when I wasn’t going into their game.

      I’m glad you liked that joke, it made me realise how particular gags really set the image of your stand-up character, so with that I had to settle for being a weirdo, and would wear odd fitting clothes to try and get that across.

      I’d love to read that, there is a lot of gold in comics touring that doesn’t always get talked about.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Trolls are the worst, there’s just no need.

        Well I’m more than happy to dig for paydirt if you feel like a collaborative project on the subject?

        In terms of sets and image, frazzled mum seems to be my signature 😂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Happy to discuss collaboration if you want to drop me thoughts the ‘Contact Me’ page goes to my email. Sure I can do some more lessons/stories.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. As a stand-up myself, this blog post was extremely relatable.

    I’ll never forget my first gig nor the 4 hours stuck to the porcelain throne beforehand.

    I’d love to connect with you (as I’m in the NW of England) on social media is on my blog here. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi thanks for the comment. I’ll go check out your work 🙂

      Those pre-gig nerves can do all sorts to you, I remember having to run off behind some bushes while waiting for a train!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d quit smoking for 6 months just to start again ten minutes before first gig 🤦🏻‍♀️

        I often wondered why I put myself through it then I realised “it” is my “why”

        I tackle my obstacles, adversities and challenges with humour and the laugh I get from it makes it so worthwhile.

        Liked by 1 person

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