Monday, 15 July 2013

Interview with Viv Groskop

In 2004, casting around for something new to do with my time in the light of all my friends having partners, I decided to take a comedy course run by comedian Logan Murray. I was having a pretty hard time that year - new job, moving out of the flat I shared with my best mate, heart break, a family bereavement, a new job I hated - and needed something new. The comedy course was so good, and something so new to me, that I think of it as one of the best choices I have ever made. I didn't want to be a comedian, but I did want to improve my microphone skills for the broadcast appearance I was occasionally making and I wanted to make new friends. And, of course, I wanted to see whether I really was funnier than all the terrible comedians I have seen over time.

The course was brilliant and I took another straight after, on comedy writing. Was I funny? Ish. Funny enough not to die on my arse at the few open mics I did in London and in New York when I spent a summer there and where, surprisingly, the comedy was far less sophisticated than it is in London, but nowhere near as funny as some of my classmates, particularly Rob Broderick and Judy Batalion, and from the writing class, Holly Walsh.

So I was particularly interested in the journalist Viv Groskop's adventure in comedy in which, after taking Logan's course, she decided to perform 100 gigs in 100 days. I wanted to know how such a challenge worked alongside being the parent of three children (I have two and frequently struggle to find time to brush my teeth) and its impact on her relationship, as well as how the actual gigs went and where her career, already one I admire journalistically, will go next.

Can you briefly tell me about the 100 day thing?
In the middle of 2011 I was trying to decide whether I should take stand-up more seriously or give it up completely. My third child was not yet one. I had done maybe 20 gigs, if that, over the course of 18 months. One morning I woke up and thought, "I know. I'll do 100 gigs in 100 nights. And then I will know within 3 months whether I should go on or give up." And the thought would not go away. So I waited for Jack (youngest child) to turn one and the day after his first birthday I did it.

I did Logan's course myself in 2004  and I really credit Logan's course with saving me emotionally - opening up a new interest and challenge and introducing me to new people. I wonder whether everyone who does it is searching for something new or running from something - it certainly seemed that way on my course. Was there any emotional impact for you?
I stumbled onto Logan Murray's comedy course almost by accident when a careers counsellor asked me the question, "What do you most want in your life that you don't have at the moment?" Without particularly meaning to say it, I answered, "Stand-up comedy." And I suddenly remembered that I had read about Logan's workshop. It seemed an incredibly stupid waste of time but I had paid the careers counsellor a lot of money and that meant I really had to listen to her advice. I signed up and the first day I came back and my husband said, "You are the most relaxed I have seen you in five years." You shouldn't really use those courses as therapy (if you need therapy, you should have therapy). But they pretty much work as therapy whether you intend them to or not. 

Lots of comedians milk their own lives for jokes. Do you do this and do you worry about privacy issues for your kids? The same question goes for your journalism too.

I suppose I believe in being open without putting everything on display. I do write about my family and talk about them on stage but I try to do it in a controlled way. I think you can be honest without doing the full Liz Jones.

Do you think mothers often hide away their ambitions, either because their confidence is knocked or they just can't see a way to achieve it, and what gave you the impetus to actually go out and do it?
For me motherhood had the opposite effect. It boosted my confidence. Possibly the birth of my second child, my daughter, Vera, played a role in that. I had her in the kitchen at home next to the dishwasher and the midwife was only there in the last twenty minutes. It wasn't like I chewed through the umbilical cord with my teeth whilst holding the placenta aloft and screaming "I am the source and the power". But there was an element of that. After I had done that, I didn't really care that much about anything anymore. I think I realised pretty quickly after having children that if you are going to spend time worrying what other people think about you and the way you raise your children, you will not have a lot of time to actually do anything. So I made a decision to do what I wanted to do according to what I thought was right -- and let other people think what they want. It helps that my husband does a lot. There is no primary parent in our household. I know a lot of women who would never give up being the primary parent.

What did your husband think? And your children?
A lot of the book is about the challenge that our marriage faced as a result of me doing something that was pretty selfish that took me away from the house for nights on end. Even within a limited time frame (100 nights), it was tough. It wasn't so difficult for the children because I would usually be able to put them to bed and then go out. There were times during the experiment that I almost abandoned it because it was really awful for Simon. 

Was it worth it?
It was worth it in terms of improving my comedy and getting an idea of whether I wanted to continue with it or not. (Spoiler alert: I did continue and am doing a solo show at Edinburgh for the first time this year -- at Funny Women Pop-Up Fringe on 18 and 19 August.) But whether it was worth it in a wider sense… It's hard to say. It was a massive challenge for any marriage. But I think sometimes you need to do something extreme in order to work out exactly where you stand.

I feel now I am a mum what happens at work is less important, because whatever happens I get home and I have my family. This actually makes me feel a bit invincible in the workplace - I don't care about office politics any more. Does that help when you die on your arse on stage?
Yes and no. I don't walk away from a bad gig thinking, "Oh, well, at least my children love me." I walk away, thinking, "Please let me just die quietly now." Maybe I should focus more on the love of my children…

What next?
I'm still plugging away on the amateur circuit, trying to get better at stand-up. I do a lot of MCing and I love that. I'm also in Upstairs Downton: The Improvised Episode, a cross between Downton Abbey and Whose Line Is It Anyway? in full period costume. (Also at Edinburgh -- at The Hive with Heroes of Free Fringe, 5pm, 1-25 August.)

I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took on Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life 

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