Gigs in suits are always welcome – proper earners I like to call them. These are the gigs that have afforded me enough time to write my 9 books and counting. Each book being a bullet in the barrel and a potential shot at the jackpot. Note the use of the word ‘potential’, but I am not despondent by my errant aim. What else might I have done with my time?
And so to this week when I found myself in another hotel ball room for such a gig and feeling anxious as ever. This is something I am accustomed to, and I am happy to accommodate. I have never performed in this ballroom which usually means my anxiety is heightened. The fear of the unknown or the ‘safety’ of familiarity?
But I have been in this room before, the Queens Ballroom at the Queens Hotel in Leeds, England. An evening that had a formative impact on me and I am unlikely to ever forget. A student at Leeds University, I had organised a gala dinner dance for our faculty. I was highly anxious but not because I was due to speak or perform. A humorous after-dinner speaker seemed like a good idea and somehow, I had secured the services of a man called Professor Munden. He was a highly decorated industrialist in the textile industry with several successful innovations and patents to his name and he very kindly agreed to speak and for no fee. I welcomed him and his wife and thanked them for attending. I assured him that he would have an attentive and appreciative audience.
With coffees served, he got to his feet and was roundly ignored by the inebriated throng. No doubt his speech was amusing but he was never given a chance by a bunch of entitled and ignorant students. Irrespective of his accomplishments in his field, for his seniority alone, he deserved our attention and why this short 10 minutes of my 3 years in the city of Leeds remains so vivid and impacts on me to this day. I feel even more strongly now that any speaker with the guts to grab the mic deserves at the very least to be listened to.
And recalling this unpleasant memory this week in the very same room I took stock of my life now. And I wondered how I might have reacted then had I known what lay ahead for me. That in years to come I would return to this room as a professional speaker to sing for my supper.
And gazing down at the gathered throng from the crew desks on the mezzanine I reasoned that I might need to sing as loudly as possible because the gig did not appear to be straightforward. The organiser hadn’t appeared to have done much in the way of organising for the awards ceremony I was expected to host and deliver. A raucous crowd of mainly men in ill-fitting dinner suits awaited me, amped up even more by the four dancing girls whom the organisers didn’t think to mention to me before I was introduced. The gig had a strong whiff of going wrong and I couldn’t help thinking of how the good professor had fared all those moons ago.
Which I am relieved to report was not repeated.
I did not allow the audience to dare ignore me. ‘Getting the room’, as we call it and once I had them…
The gig was a great success and because stand-up is never something that can be taken for granted, this success came as a great relief. Afterwards, I reflected again on my first evening in this ballroom against my life as it is now.
On that evening I was with a bunch of friends most of whom I have lost contact with, although not everyone and one person in particular – a red head who appeared to be pretty much disinterested in me.
A good thing then that I persevered because now we have four boys together and I am still able to make her laugh and why I think she finally gave me a shot.
Which is all we need, right?
A shot at the moving and elusive target just like I do now with my new book – Takes on Life Vol.2 – about to be published on May 1st. A book with much in its in favour: it is easy to read, it will make readers smile, occasionally laugh and crucially make them feel better about themselves. This is a good thing, surely, and worth my efforts however it fares.
I am pleased that I organised that student ball all those years ago and that I learnt what I did but I am most pleased that I gave comedy a shot and I didn’t give up either on the elusive Mrs Holland.
So, keep on keeping on.
It’s the only way to go.
Takes on Life Vol 2 will be published on May 1st
My podcast, Takes on Life begins on Wednesday 26th April