I’m doing stand-up in Cologne on Wednesday night, as part of the Cologne Comedy Fest. The thing is I actually really hate doing stand-up. I really fucking hate it. I hate doing poetry slams, too. I don’t even like Lesebühnes that much, if I’m honest. But I really fucking hate stand-up. I hate it.
When you’re about to go on stage to do a stand-up gig, it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun. It’s awful. I get this black, black, black, hideous empty feeling.
The only other time I’ve felt that black and hideous and empty was when was a teenager and I found out I was pregnant. I sat on the floor in our tiny bathroom – we’d just left it undecorated for years, you know how working-class people in Britain do sometimes? I think it’s a really beautiful thing, by the way, I think it looks really gorgeous, actually. I think everyone should do it. It’s one of the things I most love working-class people in Britain for. You just take the wallpaper off and then you just never get round to putting anymore up. You just leave it undecorated for three, four years. The lino didn’t fit the floor, either.
I sat on the floor and I sobbed and my mum came in and whispered to me: “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay, actually. You can have a baby – or you can have an operation. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”
I couldn’t look at her. I just looked in front of me, blankly, blackly, bleakly. My mum’s idea of solace – you can have a baby or you can have an operation – it just filled me with dread, I was so black, I was just a black hole, that’s all I was, a black hole on the floor of the bathroom staring at the bit by the wall where the lino didn’t fit.
And that’s exactly how I feel before a gig, too. Well, before a stand-up gig or a poetry slam. I must admit, before a Lesebühne I just feel like how you feel before you go to the dentist or the Meldeamt or something. A quiet sense of dread, basically wishing you could get it over with, fairly unhappy, relatively miserable, but basically okay. But before stand-up or a poetry slam, I go all black holey. It’s horrible.
I’m just emptiness. I’m all emptiness. I’m just empty. It’s like I suck my soul into myself like a vampire bat sucking the blood out of an injured pig. My stomach churns. And sometimes, if I’ve eaten lentils or beans or chickpeas for dinner, I kack so much I actually break the toilet.
So, this whole sucking your very soul out of yourself like a vampire bat sucking the blood out of an injured pig can be a bit anstrengend and annoying and, well, I guess, exhausting, for the other performers. They look at me, all bewilderedly and say things like: “But you’re basically a Profi – you’ve done this so many times before! Think about how nervous the beginners must be feeling.”
“I can’t believe you still get like this. You’ve been on stage three, four times a week for the past five years. I can’t believe you still get like this.”
“Come on, Jacinta, you must know you’re good. You wouldn’t keep on doing it if you didn’t think you were good. You know you’re going to be good. Just chill out.”
So I look at them then, these comfortable people who are only trying, to be fair, to comfort me but it’s like they’re really, really far away. No, it’s like they’re in a fish-tank. No, it’s like I’m in a fish-tank. Or maybe it’s like an actual universe separates me from these people. They’re so comfortable. And I’m in pain.
Because the thing is, you know, I’m not scared of not being good. I’m not scared of fucking up; I’m not scared of “dying.” I’m not scared of failing. I’m not scared of failure – I mean, I’m a tiny bit scared of that, but that’s not really what I’m scared of scared of.
What I’m really scared of is just that moment when I have to walk onto the stage. Oh, my God. And you know what? In those few moments, waiting to go on stage, I can’t even imagine what life is going to be like afterwards. It’s like I’m waiting to die. It’s awful. I’m Marie-Antoinette, all dignified and queenly in that open cart, I’m Katherine Howard, not yet 20 years old, spending her last night alive practising placing her head on the executioner’s block without crying or trembling. For those agonizing few minutes while I’m waiting for the cunt who’s on before me to get the fuck on with it and shut the fuck up and get the fuck off the fucking stage – those agonizing minutes, which last forever, and also no time at all – those agonizing few minutes – oh, God, unbearably hideous if the person is totally crap, and hideously, hideously unbearable if they’re halbwegs gut – I don’t believe I’ll be alive after this. I can’t believe it. I can’t imagine it, anyways. It’s like a precipice.
“Why do I do this to myself?” I moan, banging my head against the wall in the style of a 19th century mental asylum-type person. “I’ll never do this to myself again.”
But I always do, like an idiot. I don’t know why. I guess, the thing is, I must really, really, really, really, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, really, REALLY, really fucking hate myself.