As my turkey and chocolate stuffed body started to disappear into the icy waters of the North Sea earlier today, so my yearlong series of challenges on behalf of the mental health charity Mind came to an end.
Some were relatively easy, some were fun (one or two definitely weren’t), others genuinely tested me, but more important than proving something to myself – or anyone else for that matter – were my joint aims of raising awareness of mental health, and raising funds for Mind.
I really hope I achieved the former. I’ve had some lovely feedback from the charity, but ultimately awareness is intangible – and subjective. As for the latter, well I wanted to raise £1,000 and to say I was thrilled to reach that milestone would be a huge understatement. So many people were so kind – and generous. My sincere thanks hardly seems enough, but the support has been genuinely humbling and has made this whole [insert any word except journey] worthwhile.
I’ve also had a remarkable amount of help and support to turn what was effectively a list of ideas into a series of realities. There are too many people (and one Golden Eagle) to name here, but so much of what I’ve done has only been possible because others were willing to invest their own time and effort, often to help someone they didn’t even know.
Again, thank you.
In the cold light of a cold winter’s day, three challenges were replaced along the way when it became apparent that however hard I tried, or however much support I was given, success was going to prove elusive. That said two of the replacement tasks were to get a new job (after notice of redundancy was given last January), and to perform a stand-up comedy routine in front of a live audience – hardly the “easy way out”!
I won’t deny that I am proud of what I’ve been able to do – especially given my lifelong half-empty glass – but having a wonderful wife who loves me, and believes in me more than I believe in myself has made a massive difference. Elaine has been there pretty much every step of the way… including an eight hour round trip for a fifteen minute meeting with five medallists from London 2012. Dedication above and beyond I would say…
If I had to single out just one moment from the past twelve months, it would be the end of that stand-up routine. My mouth was dry, my nerves were shredded, but as I walked off stage, I saw Elaine (because of the lighting, I couldn’t see her from the centre of the stage) and she just looked so happy. The whole year was encapsulated into that split second; I’d made Elaine proud… and it was a wonderful feeling.
Thank you darling. I love you.
Favourite challenges? The stand-up was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and that has to be top of the list. Next would be the netball. The spirit says I can still play my favourite sports… the body says “try and you’ll not be able to walk for the next couple of days”, but during my first and last appearance on a netball court I got the briefest rush of adrenaline that you can only get from sporting competition. It only lasted a few moments, but chances are I won’t get that feeling again and that’s why this meant such a lot. Third place is a tie between the darts and the boxing. The former to prove I had the bottle to take on my fear of failure; the latter to show a very small amount of a different kind of courage. Both great experiences, but there’s only one I’d be willing to repeat!!!
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been nervous about several of my challenges, but at precisely 9:26pm on Wednesday December 3, I was officially petrified.
That was the moment when compere Allyson Smith introduced me, and I made the short walk onto the stage at The Stand Comedy Club in Newcastle city centre.
In the preceding days, I’d been practicing my “routine” in the car to and from work, making the odd adjustment here and there, and trying to ensure I could keep to what I’d been told was my five minute time limit. The prospect of standing in front of an audience, pretty much all of whom I wouldn’t know, and trying to make them laugh was daunting, but nothing compared to how I felt when I actually arrived at the club and saw the stage, with the nearest table and chairs no more than five feet away from the microphone.
Remembering lines whilst trundling along the A172 is one thing, but prospect was now reality, and it didn’t take long for the doubts to start creeping in. Would I forget my lines? Would anyone actually laugh? Would I make a complete fool of myself?
The evening hadn’t got off to the best of starts: £9.60 to park in a multi-storey that was due to close just after ten o’clock. You could get a bloody meal for two for that price…
Incidentally you still can; our bill in Burger King came to £9.58….
Back in the club, Elaine and I sat at one of the tables near the front, and slowly but surely the room started to fill. After a while, I ventured into the “Green Room”, which was actually a couple of sofas and a table in a small alcove; with walls covered in pages from comics. There were a few people in the room, so I did the sociable thing and introduced myself. They were all performing in the show, but I was the only “first timer” (which didn’t make me feel any better).
By now a few friends had arrived: Heidi (an old work colleague I hadn’t seen in years), John (from the Gateshead football terraces) and Stephen—aka Kev—a former Gateshead Fell cricket team mate. I had a chat with each of them, and then suddenly realised that because of the noise in the room, I’d had to talk louder than usual, and I was starting to lose my voice!
The show started at half past eight—another hour for me to wait—with Allyson (who hails originally from Canada) doing an opening spot that went down well with an audience that, by now, had probably reached three figures.
One by one the acts came and went; the standard seemingly getting better as the first half progressed. I was first on after the interval, and I was getting more and more panicky by the minute. During the break, I found a quiet corner to have one last look over my script, and Allyson gave me some reassurance, as well as advising me just to concentrate on my opening line. If it went well, the rest would flow.
Allyson gave me a really nice introduction, and all of a sudden with totally unexpected cheers and applause ringing in my ear (only the left one works), I was standing on the stage with a microphone in my left hand, with my right resting on the stand in a futile attempt to look calm and relaxed.
I could only see two rows of faces; the rest of the room was in total darkness, and I think that helped. My first shakily delivered line got a positive response and I was officially underway.
I had three stories—respectively concerning Star Wars, an Italian restaurant, and being overtaken by a pineapple during a Great North Run. All were basically true, but “exaggerated” shall we say, and I was both amazed and thrilled that the punchlines got laughs and the puns got groans.
A few moments stood out: my Yoda impression, the now legendary “deep pan thrombosis” gag (never eat pizza after a long haul flight), and one little aside about a child holding his mother’s hand. That said, most of those five minutes were—and remain—a bit of a haze, but the reaction I received at the end of my routine was so much more than I could possibly have hoped for.
As I left the stage, I saw Elaine, who looked so proud, and at that moment I was hit by a sudden surge of adrenaline—probably tinged with a hint of relief. As I made my way back to my seat, I walked past most of the other acts involved on the night, and received a warm handshake from all of them.
It felt fantastic: almost overwhelming.
Unfortunately, because the bloody car park was due to close, we couldn’t stay until the end of proceedings, but even the delays we encountered on the journey home weren’t going to detract from a truly memorable experience (although the £9.60 car park fee still rankles).
I’m so close to the finishing line now, but when this yearlong challenge is over, my stand-up comedy debut will surely be one of the absolute highlights.
Here are a few comments from those who were there...
“It was a joy to be part of your experience. Thank you!” – Allyson Smith
“I am so proud of you xxx” - Elaine
“Richard, very well done. That took some bottle my friend. An unbelievable effort; I really enjoyed the night and you are a true inspiration. I salute you mate.” – John Young
“I really enjoyed it and you are definitely one brave man! Some people barely made an impression on the crowd but you had us laughing the whole time. You have definitely inspired me to do more challenging things, however seeing how scared you were beforehand (even though you didn’t show it on stage), I might need to start smaller than a stand-up gig! Thanks for inviting me; it was great to catch up x” – Heidi Thompson
And finally, this review from Stephen “KP” Devenport (that is actually longer than my routine!): “It was great to be there at Kirbs’ latest challenge, and what follows is an eye witness account of events!
“I can confirm that as the show started the realisation of what he had to do rapidly dawned! The pressure was visible as he wrung his hands in the chair next to me, and audible as his vocal chords tightened, and began to fail him—all this whilst he was a member of the audience!
“Having formed a friendship with Kirbs through playing the wonderful game of cricket, I’d seen these signs before, usually as he was waiting to bat, and that gave me great confidence that he’d come through it, as I knew he’d be trying his all as he always did on the pitch.
“As the acts came on and the night got going, the quality of performance seemed to be going up and up, and Kirbs was questioning why he’d dropped himself in this predicament! Time was now his tormentor; he wanted his spot over with… he wanted his moment in the spotlight never to come, but come it did.
“Enter Kirbs stage left to deliver his material and he certainly delivered. It was very satisfying to see him nail his first punchline and, as it was met with appreciation by the crowd, punch the air in celebration! The demons were leaving him and he was settling into his ‘act’. But for me by far the most polished, funniest and genuine part of the piece was a joke Kirbs hadn’t rehearsed or agonised over; one he hadn’t spent hours reciting to himself or practising in front of the mirror. He was performing a mime to embellish one of his stories and mistakenly (I think) mimed a young boy reaching DOWN rather than up to take his mother’s hand. To be honest I don’t think anyone in the room had noticed, but Kirbs had, and quick as a flash he quipped: ‘he had a very small mother’. Instantly the masked slipped and the hesitancy of trying to remember a rehearsed script disappeared, to reveal and man who has genuine quick wittedness and the ability to produce comedy from nothing—the reason I’m mates with him!
“Well done Kirbs it was a brilliant effort; and it was all the more pleasing that the audience got a glimpse of the real you too!”