Last week I posted about how I was reading and enjoying So Anyway, the autobiography of my great hero John Cleese.
Reading about his background, and particularly his involvement in university revues, got me a bit thoughtful and sentimental, and that’s when I realised I’d just passed a major anniversary of one of my most significant milestones as a writer.
Hard as it is to believe, it’s now twenty years since I was involved in my first university revue. And although I can’t say it had quite the impact of John Cleese’s work, for me it was still a massively important experience. I might even say that it was life-changing.
All right, so we’re not talking about the Footlights Club at Cambridge University, and we’re definitely not talking about seasons on the West End or Broadway. It was the Players Society at humble Monash University in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, and we didn’t tour anywhere afterwards, but it was still a lot of fun. And as the first opportunity to actually put my writing out and get some feedback, it was a huge step in my journey to become a writer.
The show was called Truth, Pain and Dr Seuss. This was largely inspired by the rather good take-off of Fox in Socks, but also a nice synchronicity as in fact my very first attempt to write a comedy sketch had a Dr Seuss theme, so it fitted in perfectly. At that point, I wasn’t even a student. I’d begun a job in the Biochemistry Department but was itching to try something different. When I saw some flyers promoting writing workshops for the revue, I couldn’t help but take myself along.
There was one thing I learnt fairly quickly. After a couple of attempts at participating in some simple improv performance games, I realised I had no interest (or aptitude for that matter) in performing. I was more than happy to just stick with the writing game. Luckily, the next thing I learnt was that as a writer I wasn’t actually too bad. My sketches ended up comprising around a third of the entire show. And while some of them didn’t bear close scrutiny, a few others were actually rather good.
In the end, the show was a great success. People laughed loudly and regularly and I got to enjoy the thrill of sitting in the audience surrounded by laughter (and being in the audience also made it easier to hide during those dodgy sketches when not so many people laughed). A number of comics who came to see it even suggested our show was significantly better than a number of professional comedy shows also playing at the time.
So what happened next? Did Hollywood, or the rather more modest Australian television industry, come knocking? Well no, not exactly. Even now, twenty years later, I’m still slogging away. But that first experience of getting my writing out there was still, to me, a resounding success. It gave me the confidence and the faith in my ability to decide to stick it out – something I’m still doing all these years later.
And I still have a bunch of the sketches on video. Who knows – maybe one of these days I might decide to share them with the world.
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