Stressful, risky, scary ... how stand-up is good for a laugh

John Carruthers
John Carruthers

There’s something magical about making people laugh. Ask John Carruthers. He once stood on a stage and told jokes – and he loved it.

But it was stressful. So stressful that when he and his wife decided to have a family, they also decided that would be worry enough and the budding stand-up career would take a back seat.

However, things have a strange way of working out.

When John’s dad, Archie, became ill with cancer, it was stand-up that allowed John find a way to help.

He began to organise comedy nights for the charity Cancer Research at the Iron Horse in Glasgow. And when Eilidh Manson returned to her home town after living in Edinburgh for several years, she realised that a similar event would go down well.

Eilidh set up a charity comedy evening in Sportsters, which takes place on the last Wednesday of every month.

She said: “I realised there was nowhere for people in Falkirk to do stand-up, so I approached Sportsters and it turned out they had been thinking of doing something anyway.

“It’s going really well – a couple of nights we’ve had to put out more seats.

“I used to do comedy nights in Edinburgh and some nights there would only be the comedians there, but we’ve got a good audience which is brilliant.

“We support a different local charity every month.

“This month we’re helping the family of a wee girl, Laurel Allen, who has cancer. They have to pay to go to Birmingham when she gets taken there for treatment, so we are fundraising to help them.

“It’s good to support local charities. And it’s also good for people in Falkirk to have a local evening they can go to without having to travel too far.

“It’s easy to get to Glasgow or Edinburgh but it can be really expensive.”

But what is it about stand-up that means new comedy nights find no shortage of people taking a chance of grabbing the mic?

“Standing up there alone in the spotlight is exhilarating, scary and exciting,” said Alan Muir, former chief reporter of The Falkirk Herald.

“You take a risk every time you step on stage.”

You might wonder why anyone would take that risk – but more and more people are playing for laughs.

Alan (42), who is from Falkirk but now lives in Cumbernauld, has performed at John’s charity comedy night as well as The Stand and Yesbar in Glasgow.

He said: “I get a buzz out of making people laugh but never thought about stand-up comedy until last year.

“I was watching the American comedian Doug Stanhope and he had a routine about doing things your own way – it resonated and I decided that night to give stand-up a go.

“I’ve always written books and stories so it has taken me a wee while to figure out how best to use those skills on stage. It’s a lot harder than it looks but – unlike writing – you get immediate feedback.

“If it’s funny, people laugh – if it’s not, they won’t. There’s a brutal simplicity there that it is thrilling.”

Eilidh agrees that the buzz you get from standing up and making people laugh is hard to beat.

“The confidence you get when a set goes well – the buzz is incredible,” she said.

But there’s more to it than that.

“Something like 90 per cent of comedians have mental health issues,” she said. “I think it’s just a good way of sorting out what’s going on in your head.

“A lot of stuff would be bottled up without it.”

John agreed. “I won’t name names but a lot of comedians have anxiety and the comedy is a good way to explore the neuroses,” he said.

And he agreed that it can really boost confidence.

He added: “For some people it’s just a way to come out their shell.

“When my dad died, I didn’t want a stranger doing his funeral service, so I did it. I wouldn’t have had the confidence without my experience doing comedy.”

But all comedians are different, said Eilidh. “Some people like to talk about politics, for example – it really depends what you’re interested in.”

What is certain is that by playing local gigs, comedians can only get better – and we might even see a future star.

“One of the great things is that you see people getting better and improving their technique all the time,” added John. “You’ll see someone telling a joke and see them tell the same joke two years later and it’s turned into a work of art!”