I’ve done a few scary gigs in my time but the scariest one I ever did saw me ending up inadvertently at the grave of Bertolt Brecht!
I’ve done a few scary gigs in my time such as performing to 1,500 mainly black teenagers/young children in Croydon. (It turns out that when your average youth sees a woman of my mature years walk on stage, he has an uncontrollable urge to check his phone for messages). Performing in Manchester to an audience that can only be described as Shameless Live where in the battle between the comic and the audience, the 2 male comics were the decisive losers. In fact, after 5 minutes one of the comics, by this point almost in tears, stated he didn’t care about the money and walked off stage just a quarter of the way through his set. The compere went back on stage, but drowned out by a sea of insults from the crowd, pulled the night. The bar owner asked me if I’d go on anyway and I said hell, yes and went on to storm it. Given the crowd, I decided to open with a knob gag rather than my Wittgenstein/Kierkegaard material (this of course was also due to the fact that I don’t have any such material).
However the most scary gig by far was when I was about to perform my 6th ever gig in German (!) to a literary crowd in Berlin at 1 pm on a Sunday afternoon. Imagine a room full of the German equivalent of Guardian readers and Radio 4 listeners, and I was about to give them my version of British stand up in German! It’s the first gig I have actively tried to talk myself out of. The organisers however weren’t having it. I went on and stormed it for the first 5 minutes and because this is life and not a movie, the last 5 to be honest didn’t go that well. But I did a lot better than I thought I would, got good feedback from the audience and fellow performers (in this case literary writers) and got booked back. That night I gigged again in German and with renewed confidence. I actually ended up doing a lot better than most of the other German comedians who, though admittedly new acts, did have the definite advantage of having German as their mother tongue.
The MC had been most disdainful of me when I arrived. Clearly assuming I was new to stand up, moreover a foreigner and a woman, when I asked how long I should do, he said as short a time as possible. (And no, he hadn’t seen the act). He introduced me in the following terms: “Some woman I’ve never seen is backstage, let’s hope she’s still there, here’s Maureen Younger”. I can’t tell you how much I savoured having a ball on stage after that introduction. He on the other hand seemed totally annoyed I’d done well (result!) and that’s when I just happened to let slip into the conversation I was a professional comic in the UK.
However to prove again that this is life and not a movie, the second time I performed at the literary review, I died a horrible death and even had someone walk out on me. To console myself, I decided to take a walk round what I thought was the local park, only to find on entering, that it was actually a cemetery which had the remains of Berthold Brecht as one of its inhabitants. What did this experience teach me? – Apart from the fact that some jokes really don’t translate. I have no idea but I’m glad they convinced me to do the original gig I’d been so desperate to get out off. It’s good to challenge yourself and there was definitely a sense of achievement even if I hadn’t had them rolling in the aisles for the full 10 minutes. I’m definitely funnier in English, but it’s great when I do get it to work in German. There is an art to stand up and to do it in another language and master all that that entails is definitely no mean feat. In addition, there’s always the hope that one day I’ll wangle it and end up being just as funny in German as I am in English! Naja, mal sehen!