Playing The Fool

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

29th April 2016
I'm seven, centre stage in the confusing enclosure that is the classroom. I remember the smells; mince drifting in from the kitchens, pencils and dirty kids, all mingling together in a mixture that will take me straight back there in an instant, if I ever nowadays smell it. (Once recently, I was on stage and someone had brought in a takeaway - it was meaty and I was back in the classroom, aged seven. Great confidence booster, it was, just as I was about to start.) Anyway, I'm centre stage, and something is about to happen which will change my life forever.

First I'll explain a little about myself. The term 'dysfunctional' was coined by someone who knew my family. That's a joke I use in my routines, by the way. My father was an alcoholic abusive bully, and althought we didn't have the words or awareness that would get us the help we needed, we knew he was dangerous. We learned how to sidestep his drunken lunges and we knew where it was safe to hide; under beds we could not be reached. My sister and I grew up thinking this was normal, until we got invited for tea at schoolfriend Marbella's house. Like her name, the house was glamorous and sparkly. Her parents were utterly eccentric, and incredibly loving. We had our tea, listening and gaping at each other the entire time. My mum was loving, but she spent so much time keeping Dad happy that she didn't get to do it very often.

Dad died in a fight, Mum remarried, the next daddy was abusive in a wholly different way, in a way that would lead to my sister's suicide. Being the oldest, he tried her first. See how I'm skipping this bit? Explaining it in one quick sentence? I'm sure you can read in those lines everything else that happened. Going over and over it doesn't - contrary to popular belief (and certainly the belief of one of the therapists I tried) - help.

So you get the picture. Life was shitty, hard and not fun. Back to the classroom. I'm centre stage, because I was being punished. I'd not done my spellings at home (for obvious reasons) and I'd got just one out of twenty. In those days they were big on tests and being a tad dyslexic, as I discovered later (I know, you just can't make this stuff up!), spellings were never going to be something I was good at. So I'm standing there, and the teacher is giving me a hard time. His name was Mr Smith and he was a frightening nightmare of a man - mind you, back then I was scared of most men. Still am. He asked me why I'd scored so low and, although it kills me to admit it, as it was my first ever stand-up joke, I can't remember what I said. But it got the whole room laughing, even the frightening nightmare Smith. I don't think I even meant to joke, but this feeling came over me, this feeling that comes over me now, every single time I stand on stage, that I could be anyone, say anything, do anything. It was like flying whilst standing still. Aged seven, my words took flight and transported everyone to a place they were amused. No, not just amused, Smith was crying with laughter. I remember his hanky coming out of a pocket and wiping his eyes, seemingly by itself, as I'd only ever seen his hands strking books with red ink and hitting with a slipper. I didn't think his hands could do something as tender as that. How I wish I remember the joke! But never mind - I remember the feeling.

I was let off the hook for doing so badly in spellings. And it marked the beginning of my life as a stand up comic.

I'm eight, on stage, cracking up the audience at a school show.

I'm ten, (just after my dad died), taking part in a school against school talent show - we won.

I'm fourteen, just after my stepfather ran off, at a nightclub, making extra money before the music started.

I'm twenty-one, mentally staggering from the shock of losing my sister, but being funnier than I'd ever been.

It seemed that the harder my life got, the funnier I became. It's easy to see it was an escape. Now, when psychoanalysis is a part of life and we're all doing it, whether we know it or not (that woman behind you in the till queue? She's making a personality up for you, from the items in your trolley - I know because mine are usually varieties of liquid, and maaaaaaannnn, you should see the looks I get), I can understand it all. Back then, when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, people just got on with stuff. Or they did where I lived, in the back of beyond in a village that was so small it hardly existed.

And the dyslexia never got diagnosed so I failed spectacularly at school (that's why I'm taping, sorry, recording digitally, the beginning of this, my autobiography) but I didn't care, I made a decent living from stand-up. When Mum married a third time and he turned out to be another abuser, I jumped into the Atlantic in a cruise ship, made people laugh the whole way there (that ship was fuelled by mirth!)and crossed the water. She was a walking bad joke, my mother, and beyond help because she couldn't see she needed it. I hated leaving her but she would not leave, would not come with me, stayed because Jim 'needed help, he's such a troubled man and I can help him.' I bought her that book that was fashionable in the 90s - 'Women Who Love Too Much' as I was assured it'd help her but guess what, Jim found it and threw it out.

Add to my mixed-up history a couple of divorces, a loss of love through death (again) miscarriages (I blame him my stepfather) and an autoimmune condition that nails me to the bed at least two days a week and you've got a heap f bad luck shoved into one life. It is that, yes, but it is also a bottomless mine of material for a show. Everyone knows it's real, but I present my history in such a way that it's hysterically funny. My audience laugh, knowing it's wrong to laugh at suicide, at murder, at abuse, but they can't help themselves because I am a master at making it funny.

I'm writing this autobiography with a ghost writer because for obvious reasons if I put pen to paper it'll be a disaster, but also because when I'm on stage, it's easy to face stuff. When I try to talk about it anywhere else, I can't. My words get stuck. That's why I can't make a relationship work (more stand-up material, hours of it, right here) - as I can never let anyone see past the show. I did succumb to therapy in the end. This is what Maya, my present therapist suggested. Write it down, she said. I burst out laughing and said, I can't, then explained, so she suggested speaking it, without trying to be funny, just telling the story.

I suppose this is an introduction. Or maybe it's just a picture for the ghost writer to get their own picture, and start shaping me into words on a page. I'm worried though: if I'm not laughing at myself I don't know who I am. What if this changes me?

I've said enough for today. I'm thirsty, my first drink of the day is calling to me from the fridge. Honest, I can hear it. Drink mmeeeeee! Drink meeeeee! And things are getting bigger in my head. A drink will make them smaller again, til I can let them out on stage. I don't want to let them out here, where there's no audience, no echoing applause to each spoken work. Without the audience, I'm nothing.

Without the audience, I am just that girl, seven years old, standing in the middle of a room, about to get a bollocking. Or that girl, stuck in a room of people, silent. Or a woman adrift in life, unable to speak. I'm mute in a crowd of talkers, all being heard.

My biggest fear is this: being that girl. I know my body can't survive if I keep doing what I do to it (the drugs and drink, I'll touch on that next time) and strangely, I don't want to die yet. I feel a calling - so so many people have been lifted by me making them laugh at misfortune. I get letter after letter telling me how I've saved them from a life of maudlin misery, because if I can laugh at what's happened to me, surely they can too becasue let's face it, my life is as crappy as they come. So no, I'm not ready to die, hence the therapy (sorry, I can't say that unless it's in a hammy American accent) and this is what Maya told me I must do.

What if I can't be funny, once I've faced it all on my own, without that audience?

What if the audience reads it (I've been offered a massive amount of money for my autobiography - too tempting to turn down) and suddenly, don't find me funny any more?

What if I'm on stage, lost for words?

What if on stage, I shrink back through life and find myself seven years old again, standing in a room smelling of mince and kids, and don't make them laugh? What if it's just me, and a sea of faces, and my fears and my misery and I get that telling off, after all?

What then?

I don't want to be seen, not really. I'm the funny girl, the one who can bare herself to a room of people and bring them to tears of dangerous laughter. On stage I'm hidden under lights and make up. What if they see me differently? If there's pity, not laughter thrown my way? My career - and worse - would be over, because people would only see a lumpy woman, standing on a stage, undressed by knowledge, by the written word, stripped bare and scared.

Oh, this is too much truth for just now. Too much at once.

I can wipe this recording, so easily. I'm the only person who knows it's being made. Apart from Maya, and I pay her to understand. I'll take my drink, and think on it.