Inspiration Hour: Viv Groskop

Launch a career in stand-up at age 40 while penning a book and sticking to the day job… Unusual? A little. Hare-brained? Certainly. But possible? Hell yes. Journalist, author of I Laughed I Cried and artistic director of Bath Literature Festival Viv Groskop tells us how.

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So, 100 gigs in 100 nights. Why so many?

That was the quickest way to work out if I was funny. Ideally in stand-up you have a huge reservoir of material to play with so you can roll with the punches when needs be. That many gigs improves your comedic instinct.

Why wait until you hit the big 4-0?

I wanted to do stand-up since I was tiny (I loved the performer Doris Schwartz on The Kids from Fame). But I grew up in the middle of nowhere, I’d never met anyone astoundingly creative, so I latched on to the idea that becoming a writer would be achievable. I downgraded my ambition into one I could manage. The push came from thinking ‘I’m not getting younger’. There’s a fearlessness that comes with that realisation – you can get comfortable working within your natural skill set, but when you push yourself, sometimes things that seem out of reach are actually entirely open to you.

How do you deal with heckles?

I tend to embrace them – sometimes they’re entertaining. You need to learn when to neutralise, when to ignore, and to see it as an opportunity to gather more weaponry in your comedic armour.

Do you change your material if you get bad feedback?

If you tell your favourite little nugget of a joke at three successive gigs and it bombs, you have to let it go. Don’t cling on, getting rid of one idea means you make room for ten new ones. Never blame the audience and don’t be dissuaded. If you have a bad gig, your instinct shouldn’t be to cancel the next one, it should be to book three more.

Best reaction from your audience?

Just being told ‘I couldn’t stop laughing throughout’.

And the worst?..

‘Never mind love, it’s a learning curve.’

You tend to publish both positive and negative feedback from readers about your work. Why?!

I use humour as a gauge – if it’s funny, I’ll put it out there. I don’t like it when people refuse to see themselves the way they’re perceived by others. For me it’s informative, amusing and sometimes useful. Their opinion is valid.

What would you say to those who say ‘I don’t have time for a new venture’?

Maybe you don’t really want to do it then!

Did you ever feel like giving up?

All the time?! You often think ‘I’m not making progress,’ or ‘I’m not as good as I want to be’. The only time I truly thought ‘I’m done’ was on night 49 of my 100 gigs, where I had a run-in with a not so gentlemanly promoter. It threw me but luckily I had a great gig a day later, which wiped all of that out. But yes for 24 hours I did think ‘I am never  doing this ever again’.

You’re essentially a self-made business. What’s the best bit about building your own brand?

Interacting with people who read my stuff via social media. And dreaming up ways to get people interested in a new idea I’ve had and events I’ve planned. Love that.