Life’s a joke — a stand-up challenge

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg famously sets himself a yearly challenge such as learning a new language, or most recently, (presumably after watching too many Marvel films) creating a home AI like Jarvis in Iron Man.

In a similarly vein, last year I realised that as I neared the end of my 30’s, taking a data-driven approach (life expectancy in the UK is 80–85 years), I was now in prime ‘mid-life crisis’ territory.

However, that is a problem in itself: I already own a motorbike, I’m a keen participator of adventure sports such as snowboarding or rock climbing and I already have a dangerous hobby (I’m married :-)

So, a firm believer in ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, I crowd-sourced some suggestions on Facebook. Many of the suggestions were in my comfort zone — doing a trials day (off-road motorbiking), a few were motivational — sober for a week, lose some weight — and there were a couple that I thought:

“Now, these are REAL challenges!”

Parking busking for one moment — my repertoire being mainly crooner hits and booming renditions of the hymn Jerusalem at weddings — the big challenge was: try stand up comedy.

Did I tell you the time when…

Spending my teenage years in a beautiful — but dull — village in East Anglia (the average age was 67 when 13-year-old me did a survey for a maths project), I headed for university with a thirst for adventure and new experiences. With optimism that has seen me tackle tricky Alpine mountaineering routes and compete with a mountain bike to descend a Swiss peak — I flew a paraglider and it was a draw as I had to make an emergency landing after some optimistic thermalling on race II — I’m not short of a tale or two.

However, could I convert some of the bar tales my friends find amusing into material that would entertain complete strangers?

I found an open-mic night in Manchester and committed myself to a slot last Wednesday: there was only one way to find out!


In my experience, the best talks or presentations are always the one where the presenter has a deep knowledge of their subject, is passionate about it and knows the material inside out. I decided to focus around my subject of approaching my forties and weave some self-deprecating humour into my more recent stories.

I included one tale that I’ve already recounted in a best man’s speech and over numerous pints as a solid ‘in the bank’ section if the stage lights blurred my recollection of my new material.

I did a couple of test runs to get the talk length around the prescribed 10 minutes, building in the assumption I would be quicker on the night with some nerves.

The build up

Speaking of nerves, I can honestly say that it was one of the first things to have caused a ripple of nervousness for many years. My wife, who came along to support, said it was the first time she’d seen me nervous ever; given that we got married in 2014 and she’s seen me deliver a best man’s speech, this is saying something!

Beforehand, I was in two minds as to whether to invite people along but after mentioning my challenge in a colleague’s appraisal the week before, that comment meant I had four expectant work colleagues in the audience as well.

The buzz

Third on, the walk up to the stage was on a level with jumping off a bridge in Colombia, my first solo paragliding flight and banging the throttle open on a 160mph superbike.

I forgot one bit and focussed on one section of the audience too much but the laughs arrived where I expected, some material was more engaging on the stage and the feeling afterwards was fantastic.

Congratulations from some strangers in the audience, my wife and colleagues and an invite by the organiser to return told me I had pulled it off: a genuinely funny stand-up routine.

Days afterwards, I’m still feeling ‘the buzz’ and as January, the month of motivation lists and ’10 must-dos’ draws to a close, my advice is only one thing:

Get at least one of your challenges from the ‘to do’ to the ‘done’ list and it will feel great!