A comedian walks into a bar …

True stories from a 100-day ‘directionless comedy binge’


Richard Saker / Guardian News & Media Ltd

I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took On Stand Up And (Almost) Ruined Her Life

By Viv Groskop

A comedian walks into a bar . . . to perform an unpaid five-minute set as part of a long bill of unknowns, for a laughably small audience. In 2011, Groskop, a 38-year-old mother of three, decided to do this 100 times over 100 days, at venues scattered across England, while working full-time as a journalist. This book chronicles her obsessive quest, which her harried husband—saddled with evening housework and child care—called a “directionless comedy binge.” Certainly it was a midlife crisis: she’d performed as a teen with a sketch group that once shared a stage with Stephen Fry, and when the comedy bug bit again years later, she decided to get the necessary experience (her tutor told her, “You need to do a hundred gigs before you even know you want to be a stand-up”) in the shortest possible time.

Unlike many a lengthy personal experiment undertaken purely to generate a book, this one has at its heart a journey with real stakes—Groskop truly wishes to engineer a career change (or at least a left turn). She books her own gigs and schleps around the country by herself, with no clear progression: a triumphant set can be followed by a disaster, and she’s as likely to receive patronizing or snide invective from her fellow performers as helpful advice. What’s more, stand-up itself invites humiliation from drunken hecklers, harassing promoters (one of the perils of being a female comedian), and, worst of all, silent, embarrassed crowds.

Groskop contends that generally, comedians are driven by the sense that they didn’t get enough affection or attention from their parents. In one of the poignant moments in her breezy, funny memoir, she declares, “There will always be a little deficiency in me that needs that bit extra.” There is crushing irony, then, in the sense of shame that a bad gig produces, and also in the possibility that her own frequent absences might make her own children feel “deficient.” The jacket calls this book “inspirational,” but it’s also about the dark side of self-improvement.

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