Personal growth Behaviour / neuroscience Comedy


At the end of the session, our tutor would give us feedback and suggestions on what went well and what didn’t. I listened and wrote it all down. Always be learning. If you can’t take feedback, you won’t grow.

20 February 2023 • 4 min read

Photo by Pixabay from Toa Heftiba Sinca

Written in June 2020

A couple of years ago I started collecting side-hustles – projects and passions that I had an itch for that I wanted to delve further into – and they were pretty varied: writing, mudlarking, cheese-mongering, comedy and most recently foraging.

I’ve written about all of them on Medium before, and how one small step into the unknown can take you on an unscripted journey you might not have thought possible. You can become open to completely new opportunities, find new tribes and of course, get hooked. And get paid.

I’ve been asked to write about stand-up comedy, ironically when I haven’t been able to perform my final stand up show due to Covid-19.


Hi, I’m Claire.

I’m the type of girl who went to her careers teacher at age 16 and said I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. It was clear she hadn’t heard that one before. She folded her arms and said: “Well, I don’t actually find comedy funny.” Mrs Johnstone – this one’s for you.

I think a lot about what will happen when my 7-year-old niece Eve goes to her careers teacher in about 9 years’ time. What would be a desirable job then? Prime Minister? TikTok Influencer? Kim Kardashian?

Last time I was with my niece, the hot topic was who was coming to her birthday party. I looked down the list: Tyler, Sabrina, Mac, Theo, Scarlett – these names were all alien to me. I decided there have been three phases of kids’ names. When I was growing up names tended to be biblical: John, Daniel, Ruth, Mark – wholesome and easy to spell. Although that Jesus guy was a bit full of himself. I did go to school with someone called Emma Dale.

The next phase was “celebrity” – your Kylies, Jordans, Crystals and Waynes (inappropriate names if Crystal gets caught doing drugs behind Tesco). In recent years there seems to have been a “parents showing off” phase: Atticus, Gabriel, Margot… these are all names I’ve heard parents shouting. In fact, on the beach in Margate last summer the cry for “Atlas!” came up. Me turning round half-expecting to see a dog …no, it’s a 5-year-old with a beachball on his shoulder.

What would I call my kids? Oh don’t worry I’m not having any.

My niece Eve actually asked if I have a boyfriend. Awkward pause. I told her no.

I didn’t tell her I’ve come to the conclusion my ideal boyfriend would be a drag queen.

Why? We can go shopping together, we can do each other’s hair and makeup and quite frankly, any man that can tuck in his balls is alright by me.

I was meant to perform on 24th March 2020 before the pandemic stopped us in our tracks.

I’d spent 7 weeks learning, alongside 11 or 12 other budding stand-up comedians keen on baring their soul, confronting their confidence issues or just doing a course their wife had sent them on.

I had taken this pretty seriously, despite being utterly terrified and had, without realising, followed the usual steps one might take before leaping into the unknown. So here’s my advice:


I’ve been enjoying comedy all my life: I grew up with Monty Python, Carry On movies, and Only Fools and Horses. One of the first performers I saw when I moved to London was Eddie Izzard. For five years straight I made the pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Festival, always staying a week, always seeing as many acts as I could: sometimes five shows a day. Following that I made a conscious effort to support as much comedy in London as I could, going to clubs like The Bill Murray, Up The Creek and The Invisible Dot (RIP). I also became a fangirl of Tim Key, Daniel Kitson and John Kearns. All left-field performers who made the mundane seem surreal with incredible creativity.

But I hadn’t realised this was research at the time. I was fascinated with the way the performer interacted with the audience – how did they deal with hecklers? Ignore the audience completely, get participation, use technology? All of this was groundwork.


There are a lot of things in life to be afraid of: death, spiders, getting divorced, getting fired. I’m quite scared of heights but I managed to climb the O2 a few years back without losing the plot. Last year I drove a car for the first time in 12 years, a goddamn automatic which I’d never driven, and nailed it.

The best way to conquer a fear is to do it anyway. Because being afraid is easily cured by doing the thing you are scared of more than once.


‘Comedy comes from the truth’ was one of the first things we learned on the course. Having already done two improv courses, I could tell when people were trying too hard to be funny. The whole point of improv is that you blurt out whatever comes into your head – no matter how fantastical. Because nothing you say at that moment is wrong. In fact, if you mess up it’s even funnier. So be you at all times. Improv made me look at all my interactions both in work and life completely differently: I can sure tell when someone isn’t being truthful or just reading out something by rote. It’s from the heart that really gets you. Just watch Hannah Gadsby, who is redefining stand-up comedy simply by telling her truth.


In every class we were set homework: write 2 minutes of stand-up and perform it in front of everyone each week. Brutal. But it made us all do it. Some riffed, some had it all written down, some went over the 2 minutes. At the end of the session, our tutor would give us feedback and suggestions on what went well and what didn’t. I listened and wrote it all down. Always be learning. If you can’t take feedback, you won’t grow.

Behaviour / neuroscience Comedy Personal growth

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