Before my first attempt at hosting a festival gig, I sought out some tips in how to quell nerves. “Try and imagine your audience without any clothes on,” they said. “Imagine that all of the crowd are on the toilet,” they said. And “Just imagine you’re only talking to one person.” I tried my best to take it all on board, but I was still feeling nervous. There’s a big difference between listening to advice and actually using it when you’re under pressure. As I walked out onto the stage, I immediately lost track of my script, and made some awful ad-lib about feeling nervous. My eyes fixed on one poor woman in the crowd, who began to shift nervously in her seat. Somehow, my brain kicked out a mutated hybrid of the advice I’d been given: “I’m going to imagine you having a poo, naked,” I shouted at her. Suddenly, I was having an out-of-body experience as my consciousness attempted to flee the scene.
There’s a big difference between being a funny person and being a comedian, which I learnt in the most humiliating way imaginable. My mate was turning fifty and, being the skinflint he is, asked me if I’d tell a few jokes at the party he was throwing. I’d always been the ‘funny one’ in the group, and a bit of a gobshite, so I said yes – if nothing else, it would save me having to buy him a present. What’s the worst that could happen? The answer to that question is: the most embarrassing experience of my life. I hadn’t even written anything – I thought I could just wing it. After attempting to crack a few jokes at his mum’s expense, I realised that not only were people not laughing, but they’d stopped listening and just started talking amongst themselves. I didn’t even get to finish my awful ‘set’, as the pub just drowned me out with music. Brutal.
I saw a poetry night listed, so I decided to get myself across town to Hotel Deux to see what it was all about. When I arrived, not much was happening apart from a load of hippies chucking some fire poi about in the yard, so me and my mate tanked two or three bottles of red wine, smoked a load of fags, and tried to avoid having our eyebrows singed off by Tarry – the level-three pyromaniac who happened to be missing a finger. We headed back inside to find the poets, who were now in full swing. I was battered and struggling to walk straight, which my friend took as a sign to put my name down for the open mic. When I got up there, I slurred my way through a few teenage Tumblr scribbles, and tripped over the mic cable as I was leaving the stage. Luckily for me, the audience were very kind people.
Something happened during my teenage years that seriously knocked my confidence, so much so that I would rather run and hide than get up on stage and speak. When I was 22, I had a new job recruiting students across the country. My shitty boss called me one day to tell me that I would be speaking at a lecture with less than an hour to prepare. When I got there, my head was spinning. Palms sweating, I nervously stood up in front of the students. I introduced myself, and it was going fine until I froze and didn't know what else to say. My heart was racing, I felt overwhelmingly dizzy and had a complete inability to talk. I was having a panic attack in front of over sixty strangers, some of who were laughing. I bolted for the door, leaving my bags behind, and proceeded to hide in a café for the next thirty minutes, feeling mightily embarrassed.