I am a single parent and middle-aged woman who desperately doesn’t want to be middle-aged, or single. In a bid to swerve the horror of dating apps in my forties, I grabbed a microphone and stumbled my way into stand-up comedy. Here is this woman’s account of what it’s like to be an older woman, in a sea of beautiful, funny, young people (bastards), desperate to make people laugh at her.
I started seeing a therapist about my issues surrounding my desperation not to age. (This also brought up issues about men, sex, relationships…all the pretty standard stuff that we give therapy to one another about over the odd bottle of wine or three all the time). He said I needed to think carefully about my attitude towards myself – essentially to be kinder to me. He told me to appreciate myself as a person who is rounded, and has lots of different compartments to their personality: “Think of yourself as a giant dartboard”, he suggested. (My snigger and “full of pricks?” response was not appreciated) “Jules,” he coached, “you’re spending a hell of a lot of money on Botox, surgery, men, alcohol…you’ve got three children. You’ve given birth to three humans. What should you be spending that money on?” He didn’t laugh when I responded with “Labiaplasty!” so I haven’t been back to see him for a while.
But I can see that he has a point. We’re all constantly bombarded with messages from the media telling us to look, dress and behave a certain way; it’s becoming a minefield to negotiate. Most recently? Be as thin as you can be, but don’t get “diet face”. “Best get some fillers bunged into your corpse-like cheeks. You’re the wrong kind of thing, love.” Elizabeth Hurley was recently the subject of a magazine article on “How to look this good at fifty-four”. She looked seriously amazing in Daisy Dukes and the tiniest bikini top. Her face looks like she stopped time at some point around 1995. She defies gravity. My God, I read hungrily, desperate to know what she’d done to look so bloody fabulous. Has she sold her soul to the devil? Drunk the blood of sacrificed virgins? Given her first-born child to a witch? I needed to know! “Elizabeth applies a rosy blusher in a clockwise motion just above the cheekbones”. F*ck off. Our Liz has clearly had some fantastic surgery…I want to know where to get surgery that makes you look like you haven’t had surgery. The woman is hotter at fifty-four than most of us were at twenty-four. I have no issue with that. Just don’t patronise me and tell me a bit of rouge is all I need to pull off that centre spread sass.
In my comedy sets, I deliberately steer clear of the topics that, over the years, have resulted in audiences saying things like, “I don’t usually find women funny, but you were quite good.” Or, “I bet you do loads of stuff about periods and tampons and the menopause and that, don’t you?” As it happens, I don’t. (Can you imagine though, if men bled from their genitals every month and had the ability to reproduce taken from them by the forces of nature in their mid-lives? We’d never hear the end of it.) Also, I choose not to talk about it because I struggle with the idea of menopause. I hate that as young women we’re taught to be embarrassed by the fact that we menstruate, then, as older women, once the ability to reproduce comes to an end, we’re seen as dried-up old hags. Why is it that men become “silver foxes” or “eligible bachelors”? Men age like a fine wine, women age like milk, right? Who made the rules? How come men can reproduce until their dying breath, and we’re kicked to the kerb as soon as the first grey pube kicks in? It’s so unfair! I’ve reached a point where I’m picking up my super-plus Tampax, waving them above my head in Boots and talking way too loudly about how regular, well lubricated and fertile I still am. There, just talked about the menopause, periods and tampons.
Last week a friend told me she’d like to go out with a comedian. “I’ve said to my kids, ‘We could do with someone to make us laugh couldn’t we? Next time, I’ll date a comedian!’” Don’t! Comedians tend to be morose overthinkers who find the world such a horrific place that the only way to cope with it is to make inappropriate dark jokes about the horror, drink too much, and cry quite a lot of the time. I know, I’ve become one of them. If you are looking to spice up your life, do not date a comedian. As a comedian, however, a lot of your initial material comes from being single: the shenanigans that ensue, the dating website disasters, and the carnage of past relationships. Then one day you realise…comedy is now your boyfriend. There is no time for an actual boyfriend, and anyway, you no longer believe that anyone has a GSOH as you analyse every goddamn last word that anyone ever tries to present as a joke. Comedy, it turns out, is a serious business. That said, comedy is a great way to make amazing friends and be part of a supportive, kind, thoughtful, clever, creative bunch of people. I can’t believe it has taken up until this point in my life to find them. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
Cliché though it may be, comedy is a rollercoaster. You can do a set one night that goes so well, it’s clearly only a matter of time before you are discovered as The Next Big Thing, and that Las Vegas residency is such an obvious next step that you pity anyone on the same line-up as you. The next night, you do the same set in a different venue and to a different crowd. You go home and cry because, frankly, tumbleweed would have been kinder. The highs are addictive, whilst the lows are soul-destroying. But once you’re hooked? You’re in it for good.
It’s been weird to find myself developing the confidence to participate in this comedy malarkey in my forties. I really didn’t like myself, physically or emotionally, up until quite recently. I mean, ten years ago (before it became as compulsory as it now seems to be) I had a boob job. A breast enlargement is invasive, traumatic surgery. I talk about it a lot on stage to get laughs, but also with what I hope is a sub-text, because we live in a world where this sort of elective vanity surgery is over-normalised. Do I regret it? God no, the girls and I have had some right fun.
Would I do it again though, knowing what I know now, about capsular contracture, leakage complications, or the horror of a breast cancer scare, and not being able to have the usual, fast checks because you chose to have these alien objects inserted over your breast muscle? Possibly not…but you have to live in the moment, y’know? If I’ve learned one thing from standing on a stage, wondering what on earth I’m doing there some nights, and fantasising about being at home in my dressing gown watching The Chase with a bag of Asda Cheesy Wiggles (they’re nicer than Wotsits), it’s that life really is too short.
I am a single parent, pushing fifty, who, for the longest time, felt indescribably lonely, lost and insecure about myself. I’ll probably never be Joan Rivers, Amy Schumer or Katherine Ryan, but I’m having a ball – highs, lows and all. Comedy has changed my life. If you want to baby-step your way in, there are comedy courses all over the place that you can search online to start dabbling with. Even if you never take to the stage, the camaraderie and fun alone are huge boosts for your self-esteem. Try it, trust me, it’s fun…and we need more women in the comedy world!
Jules runs a night of stand-up comedy at Christopher’s on the first Thursday of every month at Christopher’s restaurant in Tamworth.
Written by : Jules O’Brian