The Stand-Up Comedown

(Inspired by, who did it better!)

I’m a writer, first and foremost. There is no page small enough that I can’t hide behind. But when I attended a writers’ conference, and they invited us to fill some guest spots in an evening’s entertainment, well that was too tempting to resist. Some of the details are hazy and some are ingrained in my soul. Such is the gift of trauma. Here’s what I remember…

The opening act was a young girl, in a sparkly dress and makeup, singing Will Young’s Evergreen. While we were still processing that, a guest speaker at the event grabbed the radio mic and prowled back and forth, telling us in a boozy confessional that all his closest friends were either dead or in prison.

After fifteen minutes they managed to prise the mic from him and put him in the recovery position. I learned the next day that he went down to reception later, argued with a biker and head-butted him. There’s never CCTV when you need it.

The real headline act was a brilliant female comedian who went on to do TV work. She brought the audience back together and raised the energy level for the newbies. The way I remember it there were three of us. I went on last – probably because of the time I spent in the toilet beforehand (an honourable stand-up tradition).

I watched the two human sacrifices before me. The first had written jokes up his arms like freshly inked tattoos. The second recited gags off the television. I crafted an act on two small cards – years on, I still have one of them. Prepare for a couple of humdingers:

“I went out with a diabetic – she was sweet.”

“I read that men who do housework are good in bed. Now I practise upstairs with the vacuum cleaner.”

That wasn’t the worst of it. It was pretty late by now and the vino had flowed like the Exxon Valdez. It was also brutal. Here are a couple of the exchanges.

“Use the microphone. It’s part of an ancient tradition – it’s called comedy.”

“I’d like to thank my performance coach in row four.”

“Why don’t you say something funny?”

“You taxi’s waiting outside, why don’t you go home?”

After a series of rat-a-tat gags, I launch into a routine about my fictitious Manhattan girlfriend and how we ended our sexless relationship when her brother came to stay.

I would say five people laughed. And not holding your stomach laughter, more like ‘pity laughs’. I lasted for four-and-a-half minutes and left the stage to the kind of silence usually found in the middle of a funeral. My closing line was, “You’ve been a terrible audience.” I meant every word.

Cut to the next morning. It’s still very quiet. People are avoiding eye contact with me but one or two approach me privately and apologise for the audience. The hecklers are so hung-over they don’t surface until midday. They say nothing.

The TV comedian was kindness personified. She critiqued my act and asked me, in total seriousness, “Did your girlfriend really get pregnant accidentally by her brother?” I had to disappoint her.

I haven’t done any stand-up since then…although…

  • I always include comedy in my talks as a writer.
  • I’ve written stand-up material for UK and US performers, as well as gags for radio.
  • All of my thrillers contain humor, usually in the dialogue.
  • I never rule out trying again. I mean, how bad could it be next time?
  • I’m still open to the idea of turning this into a play.


This Derek Thompson is a British novelist, short story writer, podcaster and occasional comedy writer. He is still available for hire.

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